Exploring Pancakes: Fables, Facts, and Fabulous Recipes
Oh Yummy! Ferns, Cattails, and Sour Milk
Pancakes, the flat little cakes made of flour, liquid, and (sometimes) egg, are one of those “tales as old as time.” Anthropologists believe that Stone Age cooks were gathering ferns and cattails to make what could loosely be defined as flour, combining it with water, and cooking on a hot rock. I’m sure these delights were not anything like the fluffy stacks we enjoy today with butter and maple syrup, but it was a start.
Greek poets in the 5th century B.C. mentioned pancakes in their works. Actually, the Greeks called them tagenites (named for the pan in which they were cooked), concoctions of wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and curdled milk. (I know that when you read “curdled milk” you grimaced, but honestly, it’s not that far removed from the taste of buttermilk or sour milk which we use today, and curdled milk is the first step in the process of making cheese).
Penance and Pancakes
Centuries later in Europe, pancakes were a part of the pre-Lent feast known as Shrove Tuesday, a day on which all those yummy (and forbidden) perishables such as eggs, milk, and butter had to be used up or discarded.
Centuries later, across the Atlantic in Colonial America, cooks created hoe cakes with cornmeal and buckwheat (you do the best you can with what you've got). The first mention of pancakes was in the 1796 publication “American Cookery”, by Amelia Simmons.
But Then the French Added Flames and Illicit Sex
Obviously, I am shameless. I knew that subtitle would grab your attention. We're going to talk for a moment about crepes, a pancake that is...more.
When you line up the list of ingredients, side by side, a pancake, and a crepe are nearly identical. But, if you've ever tasted a crepe, you know they are thinner, more luxurious, a perfect foil for a myriad of savory or sweet indulgences. In his book "Pancake: A Global History" Ken Albala writes of the "discovery" of Crepes Suzette:
"They were said to be invented by accident by one Henri Charpentier at the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo. As a fourteen-year-old apprentice making crepes to be served to the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, Charpentier accidentally let the cordials in the sauce catch fire. Finding the result sublime, he served it to the regal party. Crêpes Princesse was put forward as a name, but the Prince himself suggested Crêpes Suzette in hour of a woman present in the party (perhaps a mistress)."
So, flaming elements and sexual liaisons. Put them together and you are guaranteed the stuff of movies or at least the makings of a swoon-worthy dessert.
But What Do You Call Them?
In the United States, we have many names for the pancake. Hotcakes, hoecakes, griddlecakes, and flapjacks are the ones that immediately come to mind. Almost every ethnic group and culture has their own name for the quick little flat cake. Here is a sampling:
- Banh Xeo—Vietnam
- Blini—Eastern Europe
- Cong You Bing—China
- Dosa—South Asia
- Dutch Baby—The Netherlands
- Pupusa—El Salvador
As Flat as a Pancake?
Rebecca Rupp, writing for National Geographic tells us that
"...this recurrent comparison led a trio of geographers with senses of humor—after a dullish trip across the American Midwest—to attempt to determine the relative flatnesses of pancakes and Kansas. They constructed a topographic profile of a representative pancake—bought from the local International House of Pancakes—using digital imaging processing and a confocal laser microscope, and a similar profile of Kansas, using data from the United States Geological Survey. The tongue-in-cheek results, published in the Annals of Improbable Research, showed that though pancakes are flat, Kansas is even flatter. Where, mathematically, a value of 1.000 indicates perfect tabletop flatness, Kansas scored a practically horizontal 0.9997. The pancake, in contrast, scored a relatively lumpy 0.957."
- The largest pancake in the world was cooked in Manchester in 1994. It measured 15 meters in diameter and weighed around 3 tons. Nutritionally it had a mind-boggling 2 million calories.
- September 26 is National Pancake Day.
- If you prefer blueberry pancakes, their special day is January 28.
- The first ready-mix food which was sold commercially was Aunt Jemima pancake flour. It was invented in 1889 in St. Joseph, Missouri.
- In the U.S., Southerners eat the most pancakes, accounting for 32.5 percent of our pancake consumption.
- In the months after McDonald’s launched the McGriddle sandwich, which uses two small pancakes instead of a biscuit, the company’s profits increased by 11 percent.
Too Much Discussion
All of this talk about pancakes is making me hungry. Many of the recipes from Europe, Asia, and Africa are savory cakes, and if you click on the links for those (above) you will find an amazing wealth of tastes and textures.
I am focussing my attention on the pancakes that have been created in the United States. Let's dive into those recipes. I'm sure that there's something here for everyone.
Recipes in This Article
- Apple Cinnamon
- Banana Bread
- Birthday Cake (with Funfetti)
- Cinnamon Roll
- Hot Chocolate
- IHOP Copycat
- Lemon Poppyseed
- Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
- Pumpkin Pecan
- Carb Diva's (Almost) Famous Pancakes
These pancakes are light and fluffy with a hint of cinnamon in the batter. The apple topping is the magic.
Brown Sugar Banana Bread
I strongly dislike bananas (I prefer to not use the word hate), but I love the taste of banana bread (go figure). These banana bread pancakes give my potassium levels a little boost and are a healthy start to the day
Birthday Cake (Funfetti) Pancakes
These pancakes taste like birthday cake, and the sprinkles are fun. Make them for your birthday girl or boy. Make them for your sweetheart. Heck, make them for yourself. You're worth it.
My husband (aka Mr. Carb Diva) loves cinnamon rolls, and I enjoy baking them for him, but as you know fresh, hot cinnamon rolls are just not possible unless you arise 3 or 4 hours before your sweetie. These cinnamon roll pancakes taste like his fave, and I get to sleep in. We're both happy.
These gingerbread-flavored pancakes just scream holiday to me. We like them as a dessert with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
Rich and indulgent, these chocolate pancakes are a perfect treat for the chocoholic in your family. Chocolate batter AND fudge topping. Swoon-worthy.
IHOP (International House of Pancakes) is an American restaurant specializing in breakfast foods. It was founded in 1958 and has over 1,600 locations. I've heard rumors that these are a perfect copycat. I haven't eaten at an IHOP in years, so you'll have to let me know if the rumors are correct.
Lemon-poppyseed is one of my favorite muffin flavors. These taste just like the muffins without that annoying paper cupcake liner (smile!).
You're probably wondering how to stuff a pancake. Nagi figured it out and shares the secret with us on her blog. These Nutella-stuffed pancakes are wonderful. (By the way, did you know that there is a Nutella museum in Italy?)
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
My younger daughter LOVES the combination of peanut butter and chocolate. I've stopped asking what type of dessert she wants for her birthday because the reply is always the same--peanut butter and chocolate. I'm going to make a batch of these on her next birthday.
In the past, I have poked fun at the pumpkin-spice mania that descends upon us the day after Labor Day. Everything is pumpkin-spice (even the auto-lube place down the street advertises pumpkin-spice oil changes!).
However, I'm not going to make fun of these pumpkin pecan pancakes. They're moist and spicy, and sweet and...just wonderful.
And last, but not least...
Carb Diva's (Almost) Famous Pancakes
- 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 cup nonfat milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in mixing bowl.
- Separate the eggs; place the whites in a medium mixing bowl and the yolks in a large liquid measuring cup. Add the cooking oil, milk, and vanilla to the egg yolks and whisk to combine.
- Pour the milk/yolk mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.
- Beat the egg whites at high speed with electric mixer (or with a wire whisk if you want some exercise) until they form stiff peaks.
- Gently fold the whites into the pancake batter. It's OK if a few streaks of white remain.
- Cook on a lightly greased skillet.
© 2017 Linda Lum