As food historian Ken Albala writes in Pancake: a Global History "Grains (wheat) in general cannot claim exclusive dominion over the pancake." Though we tend to think of pancakes as a batter made with wheat flour, anything that can be pounded into a flour or starch and moistened to make a pouring batter will do. And it's the pouring element that distinguishes pancakes from the more doughy flatbreads and wraps, even though they all share a similar purpose –
a cheap and nutritious carrier for a variety of fillings – in other words an
There aren't many national cuisines that don't have a pancake – Russian blinis, South Indian dosas, and Italian farinata immediately come to mind. Then there are Hungarian palacsinta, Swedish aebleskiver, Japanese okonomiyaki (literally meaning 'whatever you like') and many other equally tasty but less well-known examples.
Though they share simple ingredients and a straightforward cooking method, pancakes vary enormously in thickness and texture – there are lacy crêpes, huge puffed-up Dutch babies, and chewy Moroccan baghrir, for example. Some are cooked straightaway, others are fermented for several hours, creating a distinctive tangy flavour in the process.
Of all my recent experiments, favourites are one sweet and one savoury: Coconut Flour Pancakes with Lime and Chick-Pea Pancakes with Nigella Seeds and Turmeric. Do give them a try and let me know what you think.
Tips and techniques
Though pancakes are easy to make, there are techniques to be aware of. Remember that the first pancakes in a batch should be looked on as a trial run. Things will improve once the pan has revved up, you've got the heat right, and have become adept at swirling the batter.
• Use a large whisk to mix the ingredients. The larger the whisk, the more air
gets into the batter, and the lighter your pancakes will be.
• Batter must be lump-free. Push it through a sieve if necessary.
• Use a shallow non-stick pan with curved sides. This makes it easier to flip
the pancakes and slide them out of the pan.
• Heat the pan before adding the fat.
• One ladleful of batter is usually enough to make one medium-sized pancake.
If using flours other than wheat, a certain amount of experimenting is needed but it's fun and interesting, especially if you are cooking for people on
• Be aware that alternative flours absorb different amounts of liquid – coconut
flour sops it up like a sponge.
• Others are gluten-free and may produce a more fragile pancake. If so, try
adding an extra egg – the protein in the yolk will help hold the batter together.
• Take a look at Christine’s epic book Flour: a comprehensive guide, an
in-depth look at 45 flours, both wheat and gluten-free, plus must-try recipes
© Christine McFadden, February 2023