What if I told you I’d got a recipe for the floofiest pancakes you’re every likely to make, AND that the secret behind them is cheaty, home-made buttermilk, AND that you can make them all in advance, keep them warm in the oven and they don’t even sink a teeny, tiny bit? I know, right? Feeling pretty smug right now. So, quick sciencey bit: buttermilk is more acidic than normal milk (it’s also thicker, making your batter less runny) so using buttermilk in your pancakes (and indeed scones or whatever) means that there’s more acid to react with the baking soda, therefore making more bubbles and making the pancakes lighter and fluffier. See? It’s not magic, it’s science. But I never remember to buy buttermilk, so I use the next best thing: normal milk soured with lemon juice and left at room temperature for a couple of minutes. It works in exactly the same way and will give you the perfect, fluffy pancakes. Want the recipe? Read on!
When I’m on a plane, I ALWAYS watch really happy, upbeat films. I don’t want to watch anything miserable or complicated when I’m flying – I just want to have a bit of fun to pass the time. On my journey home from Orlando last week, then, I gave Hotel Transylvania 2 a go. It’s fantastic fun and even if you haven’t seen the first one (which is awesome), you really must give it a go.
So how did you feel this morning when the alarm went off? After all the lovely festive lie-ins, English Towers was not a happy household. I find that what you really, really need on these cold mornings (apart from a hug, obviously), is a mahoosive tower of puffy, fluffy American pancakes. The lovely chaps at Flora were kind enough to share their wonderful recipe for American pancakes with me, and challenged me to come up with some awesome breakfast recipes to help you all through all these ffffrrrreeeezing mornings!
So in honour of this momentous number, I decided that I should have a birthday week (what? it’s a thing) of fun, celebrations, yummy food and seeing the people I love. 7 happy days to celebrate. Here are some of the things that have happened so far. My Disreputable Dad’s first ever selfie – at 78! (above)…
It’s Pancake Day! Pancake Day is a huge deal in this household, and it generally means eschewing dinner altogether for a major league pancake fest.
Pancakes generally come in two forms: what I would call the traditional, flat type of English pancake (a crêpe, if you’re of the French persuasion), and the fat, fluffy, American type (sometimes called drop scones – I think maybe more in Scotland). Whatever you call them, for us, Pancake Day means proper flat English pancakes, rolled up with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of crunchy sugar (or maybe a drizzle of golden syrup), but if you’d rather go fat and fluffy (our usual breakfast preference with bacon and maple syrup), I’m not a pancakeist (what? it’s a word), I’ve got a recipe for that too. You’re welcome.
So the other night, I was driving the boys round to meet their buddies, the lovely Marshes (they’re twins so they’re always referred to this way – makes it easier). As we drove along, a little black speckly cat ran straight at us from the grass verge. We all saw it and gasped and, of course, knew exactly what was going to happen – I slammed on the brakes (without even checking my mirror, I’m horrified to say), there was screeching (both from me and the tyres) and… BANG! Of course I did what any animal lover did, which was to stay rooted to my seat and burst into tears – I couldn’t bear to get out. The boys, smothering me with cuddles and reassuring me it wasn’t my fault, took a deep breath and got out to look…
No cat. And it was a big bang. We looked all around grass verges where we we’d stopped, then a very kind couple stopped and asked if we were okay and the man checked all underneath the car… but really, no cat.
Sooo we heaved a deep breath, got back in the car, thanked our lucky stars there were no cars behind us when we screeched to a stop, and I dropped them off. When I got home, I walked down to where it happened to have another search and there, under some bushes, was the little cat, definitely the same one, looking a bit dazed and wide-eyed, but no visible damage. I went to touch it, but it got up and ran away. Incredible.
Anyway, to soothe myself after this ordeal I headed home for comfort food, and spotting the punnet of blueberries in the fridge, I set to and made myself an enormous stack of blueberry pancakes. What? They were medicinal. For the shock…
225g self raising flour
4 level tbsp caster sugar
2 large, free range eggs
1/2 pint milk
Couple of handfuls of blueberries.
Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and whisk in the eggs and milk to make a thick batter. Now you can either stir in the blueberries, or wait until you’re cooking and pop them on to the pancakes – I prefer this way as it makes it a bit more even – plus it looks prettier.
Next, heat a heavy-based frying pan and lightly brush the surface with oil (I use rapeseed). Dollop a couple of tablespoons of the mixture into the pan, trying not to let them touch. Pop the blueberries on, then wait until you see bubbles on the surface before flipping them over. If you’ve got big blueberries (ooer), you might need to squish them gently just to make sure the pancake batter touches the surface of the pan, but generally I’m not an advocate of squishing pancakes as it forces the air out.
So after a big pile of light, fluffy pancakes studded with beautiful soft little fruity jewels, with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey, I felt a bit better.
Bet that poor cat’s got a headache.
So when it comes to the weekend, breakfast has become a thing of the past, especially now we have teenagers in the house who don’t emerge until a) there’s a phone call inviting them somewhere exciting, or b) they smell bacon.
Brunch has become the new breakfast, and it’s a great opportunity for me to get baking (which also passes the time until everyone’s out of their respective pits).
What to cook, then?
Well, the aforementioned bacon happens to be a staple of our brunches. Free range and preferably streaky, it’s stuffed into crusty bread and piled onto teetering mounds of pancakes before being drenched in maple syrup. You can use any flavour yogurt for the pancakes, but if you’re planning on eating it with bacon, sometimes natural is best. If you’re going to eat the pancakes with fruit, then try Yeo Valley’s raspberry flavour. It goes deliciously with maple syrup for some reason. Dollop a bit more yogurt on the top too:
150ml Yeo Valley yogurt
225g self raising flour
4 level tbsp caster sugar
So sieve the flour and stir in the sugar (f you’re using a sweetened yogurt, cut this down to 2 level tbsp). Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and whisk in the eggs, yogurt and milk to make a thick batter.
Next, heat a heavy-based frying pan and lightly brush the surface with oil. Dollop a couple of tablespoons of the mixture into the pan, trying not to let them touch, then wait until you see bubbles on the surface before flipping them over. The first one will be a disaster, it always is, but after that you’ll get light, fluffy pancakes.
Might I add that these also make a lovely dessert, served with some boozy fruit and a big dollop of creamy Greek yogurt.
To serve your brunch, pile the table high with bowls of fruit and yogurt, piles of gorgeous pancakes, a big tray of sizzling bacon and some crusty bread. Some of Yeo Valley’s fruity favourite muffins would be an excellent addition here too.
And then it’s completely permissible to go back to bed for a little snooze. Or is that just me?
We love pancake day. Let’s face it there aren’t many days in the year when we go ‘sod it, let’s skip dinner and go straight for dessert’ so being total gluttons, Shrove Tuesday (21st Feb) is a big favourite in the English household.
Even if you’re not very confident at cooking, it’s really easy to make pancakes. Here’s a little step by step guide.
I usually make an obscene amount of batter, but this amount will feed a family of four quite generously. You’ll find a gazillion different pancake recipes, but this is an old favourite and works a treat, so why mess with it?:
All you really need is:
200g plain flour
2 eggs (make sure they’re cage free – see below)
So just sift the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour and crack the eggs into it.
With a wooden spoon, break up the eggs and start stirring gently, gradually bringing the flour into the mix.
Now, slowly add in the milk, stirring all the time (you can change to a whisk here if you like) until you get a nice smooth batter (this batter can be made up to a day in advance and kept, covered in the fridge).
When you’re ready, add a tiny splash of oil into a heavy-based frying pan (you really don’t need a lot at all – I very rarely top up after that initial splash – as long as you’ve got a decent non-stick pan). Pour in enough batter just to cover the bottom of the pan evenly when swirled around (any more and your pancake won’t cook evenly). Now leave it to cook on the bottom. Carefully lift up an edge to check how it’s cooking, and when it’s lightly browned, give it a shake to free it from the pan. Feel free to flip here, or just flap it over with a wide fish slice.
Keep your finished pancakes warm in a low oven, covered loosely with foil, while you make the rest.
Now to fillings: we’re classic lemon and sugar, generally, but try fruit compote, Nutella, bananas and honey, or that lush salted caramel sauce stuff from Marks and Spencer (nomnomnom).
If you don’t fancy big, flat ‘crepe’ style pancakes, you can also make ‘Scotch’ pancakes, the small, American-style ones. Here’s a link to one of my recipes (my lot prefer these for breakfast with bacon and lashes of maple syrup:
And now a note on the humble egg. It’s true that battery cages have been banned in the EU, but so called ‘enriched’ battery cages are still allowed. This horrible practice gives each bird just about the size of an A4 piece of paper. I know, right? That teeny space for all the lovely perchy, scritchy rootly, flappy stuff that hens love to do. Obviously meaning that they have great trouble doing it. And as a former hen-keeper, and knowing what lovely, intelligent, happy little dudes they are, this upsets me.
All of us can vote with our feet (and our wallets) and make sure we don’t buy eggs from these cages. The less we buy, the less demand there will be and, hopefully, the less ‘enriched’ battery cages will exist. At the very least, switch to barn eggs (I’m not a huge fan, but at least they’re cage free).
The RSPCA have produced this handy guide to the (often confusing) wording on egg packaging. And it’s not just boxes of eggs that could contain these caged eggs – there’s sandwiches, mayonnaise, pasta, cakes and quiches. I think it’s time for a little transparency so we all know what we’re buying. Lots of supermarkets already offer ranges that contain free-range eggs, including ALL Marks & Spencer products, all Waitrose own-brand products, all Sainsbury’s own-brand products, all Co-op own-brand products, Morrisons ‘The Best’ range, Tesco ‘Finest’ range and the Asda ‘Extra Special’ range.
Let’s all make sure we pick wisely eh?
More information about the RSPCA’s campaign and cage-free eggs: http://www.rspca.org.uk/eggs
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