Shrove Tuesday, which falls tomorrow, is the day before the start of Lent in the Christian calendar. Traditionally, one of the ways to use up eggs and fats before starting the Lenten fast was with pancakes, and so the day became known as Pancake Day.
Malaysian Christians may not clean out their fridges and pantries the day before Ash Wednesday by making pancakes, but many of us do like this flat cake.
Here’s a recipe for basic pancakes and three ways to eat them.
Makes 12 (20cm)/15 (15cm)
60g plain flour
2 tsp caster sugar
pinch of salt
2 medium eggs
60g butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk together until well incorporated and free of lumps. Cover and leave for 10 minutes.
Heat a non-stick frying pan and add oil, wiping off excess. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of batter into the pan and swirl evenly over the base. Cook over medium heat until the underside is golden, about 30 seconds. Turn pancake with a spatula or fish slice and cook the other side. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the rest of the batter, stacking them.
Pancakes will keep well in the refrigerator covered tightly with cling film for 2-3 days, or in the freezer sealed in a plastic bag for a month.
Pancakes with Sugar and Lemon
When I first read about the typical French snack of pancakes eaten with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice, I didn’t think much of it. But after trying it for the first time, I was very pleasantly surprised at how good something so simple could be.
Fresh lemon juice
Place a pancake on a plate, sprinkle with ¼ tsp caster sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Fold the pancake in half and half again to form a quarter circle.
A blintz is a thin pancake folded or rolled around a filling, usually cheese or fruit, and fried or baked. They’re said to be Hungarian in origin.
120g cream cheese, softened
30g butter, softened
30g sugar (or to taste)
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
½ tsp vanilla extract
Beat together cream cheese, butter, sugar and salt until smooth. Beat in a little egg yolk so the mixture is lighter; you may not need to add the whole yolk. Fold in the vanilla. This makes about a cup of filling
Scoop 1½-2 tablespoons of filling onto the centre of a pancake. Fold the bottom edge over the filling, then the two sides and roll up the blintz into a parcel. Make more parcels this way.
Heat up a little oil in a pan and fly the blintzes until lightly browned. Serve with chocolate sauce, jam, or fresh fruit.
There’s a picture of Martha Stewart’s Darkest Chocolate Crêpe Cake in the January 2006 issue of Living magazine that I find mesmerising. It’s a 32-layer tower of thin chocolate-flavoured pancakes filled with hazelnut cream, enveloped with chocolate glaze, and garnished with dramatic looking caramelised sugar-coated hazelnuts.
That recipe is a lot to handle but a simpler stack of pancakes filled with pastry cream could taste good too, even if it doesn’t look as impressive.
For me, the most painful part about making the cake is standing at the stove cooking 20 to 25 pancakes.
You will need double the quantity of basic pancake batter for a cake this high. It’s made with 21 pancakes, each one 15cm wide. I had to stop layering when I ran out of pastry cream.
Vanilla pastry cream
Makes about 2¼ cups. Use as a filling; not suitable for frosting
30g custard powder
pinch of salt
100g caster sugar, divided
200ml whipping cream
seeds from half a vanilla pod or ½ tsp vanilla extract
Whisk together the custard powder, salt and 50g of sugar in a mixing bowl.
Put the cream, milk, the remaining 50g of sugar and the vanilla seeds or extract in a saucepan over medium heat. When tiny bubbles begin to form on the edges, remove from heat and add gradually to the dry ingredients, whisking continuously until smooth. Pour this back into the saucepan and return to the heat. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens, about 2 minutes. Transfer custard to a bowl and place cling wrap directly on the surface. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours; it will become firmer.
Before using, whisk to soft peaks.
Assemble the crêpe cake: Place a pancake on a serving platter. Spread with 1-1½ tablespoons of pastry cream. Keep layering until you run out of pancakes or pastry cream, whichever comes first. The centre will start to dome; press down lightly to even out the filling.
Cover with cling film and refrigerate for about an hour for the filling to become slightly firm. Dust the top with icing sugar, if desired. Cut into wedges to serve.