As part of the acculturation process with my English friends, I have fully embraced the holiday Pancake Day. Known more prominently as Fat Tuesday in the States, this is the last day before Ash Wednesday – signifying the start of Lenten. According to my tea-guzzling, history buff source, the holiday came about with Brits needing to use up leftovers in their pantry before the start of fasting. Before I go any further, let me point out a few things that I have learned in my compulsory cake revision (from English revise, meaning “to study”).
1. All pancakes are not created equal.
American pancakes tend to be light and fluffy and English pancakes are denser, flatter, and more similar to a crepe. Both have a “doughy” quality, but the English version is much more chewy and dense.
2. Pancakes aren’t just for breakfast (and midnight runs to Denny’s) anymore.
Smothered in butter and syrup, American pancakes bridge the gap between savory and sweet. Generally, their presence is reserved for morning time, with the exceptions of “breakfast for dinner” concept meals and liquor-fogged trips to the diner. English pancakes are generally thought of as a dessert item, or an extra-special sweet start to your day.
3. Pancakes are best paired with a cuppa.
Americans: forget Joe and befriend Elizabeth. Cuppa – English for a cup of tea. Preferably unflavored, black tea, served with a bit of COLD milk and sugar if so desired.
4. There’s not just one way to flip a pancake.
In my experience, pancakes were always accompanied by the flicking of wrists and the swift movements of a spatula. On my first Pancake Day, however, I was introduced to the idea of pancake accountability. In order to enjoy the calorie dense delight, each person must in fact flip their own pancake. The spatula plays only a supporting role – – it’s in the wrists and a carefully orchestrated airborne technique. Like, the one I thought only profession chefs could master.
In my case, this brought back flashbacks of that time on a friend’s boat in Missouri when I was forced to abide by the Bagby Family “You’re not coming back on this boat until you stand up on those water skis!” Policy. It ended about 3 hours later in disgust with a lot of water up my nose. With this springing to mind, I was immediately overcome with anxiousness. I think Jeanette’s face about sums up the sentiment. It’s not as easy as it looks!
5. When living in Korea, disregard everything you thought you knew.
One of the peaks of my schedule last year came Thursday afternoons at one of my elementary schools. As part of their after school program, the mothers of a couple students would come in to teach grades 3-6 cooking lessons. After lurking around, I managed to wriggle my way into one of the assigned cooking groups. I enjoyed learning the Korean recipes as much as my 8-year-old counterparts, but let me tell you, this was not smooth sailing. 5th graders are much more critical of technique than any Le Cordon Bleu trained chef. They made me prove my worth on more than one occasion to avoid dishwashing duty.
In class, we learned to make an assortment of items, ranging from sweet and sour pork to kimchi. For our last class, I was told excitedly by my students that we would be making “American hot cakes.” I thought this was a little bizarre but didn’t really think much of it until class time. Until now, I hadn’t really been aware of a Korean familiarity with “hot cakes” but who knew?
To begin, we mixed up our packaged batter and slowly drizzled it into a greased up frying pan. Innocent enough. With the first pancake hot off the griddle, my group moved along to start frying up another. One from our group scurried off to fetch an allotment of jam and various fresh fruits. This wasn’t really standard, but I figured it all still fit loosely into the category of “breakfast foods.” It was when the Cool Whip became involved that I grew suspicious.
I watched my group evenly spread the jam between layers of stacked pancakes. When all the pancakes were layered, I observed (a bit horrified) as they slopped on the Cool Whip. Suddenly, it clicked. We were making a pan-CAKE. DUH! Why hadn’t we thought of this!? It just seemed so OBVIOUS! So THIS is how they make cakes in the land without ovens!!
When fully frosted, my group took their time delicately arranging each wedge of fruit in careful symmetry. Upon completion, they summoned over the teacher. Our creation was unlike any hot cake I had ever encountered. I was silently praising my ability to take it all in stride and commend my group members on their grasp of an American stand-by. When the garnish came along, however, it all fell to pieces. With pride, the teacher scurried over with the finishing touch. Digging in her apron pocket, she pulled out a sprig of fresh rosemary and stuck it right in the middle. Glory be!
When it came time to devour our creation, my reluctance quickly turned a bit ravenous. It worked. It was truly delicious. In the land of sugar sprinkled garlic bread and sweet potato lattes, there is a lesson to be learned. While it generally is not in your best interest to disregard all rules of food pairing, when done correctly, it works. I’m still a bit skeptical of chocolate-covered bacon, but I guess now I must give it a try. We’ll save that for next time.
This Pancake Day, our celebration converged with the birthdays of two friends. In the spirit of things, we broke out the chocolate hot cake mix, jam, and added a special twist with Nutella and candles. It was spectacular. Here’s to a new tradition.
English Style Pancakes
8 Heaping Tbsp Flour
1 Pint Milk
1 Tbsp Oil
Combine first three ingredients in mixer until blended. Melt oil in pan on medium to high heat. When pan is hot, pour in only enough batter to thinly coat the bottom of pan. Cook about 1-2 minutes or until browned, then flip (to each his own!) and repeat. To serve, place chocolate squares, jam, fresh lemon juice and sugar, or filling of your choice in center and roll.
Special thanks to Sally for this recipe, my first cup of proper tea, the addition of twat to my everyday vocabulary, and for her patience and encouragement throughout the learning process.