Oh flip, it’s Shrove Tuesday soon. Time, according to the Christian tradition, to be shriven (forgiven) of our sins before Lent – and also to make pancakes, just as we Brits have for centuries.
Chez Clay, we’ll always have some hot from the pan, gobbled up with just a crunchy dusting of sugar and a tart squeeze of lemon juice.
But after that, I love to experiment with flavour and filling. Pretty much anything goes, within reason. My children have never forgiven me for the time I tried sneaking peas into fluffy American pancakes...
But there’s no reason to be precious, as while “pimping your pancake” might seem modern frippery, in fact it’s as traditional as cooking discs of batter itself. Hannah Glasse, the 18th-century cook whose The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy was a bestseller, has five recipes for pancakes.
Her variations include adding nutmeg, ginger, brandy, sherry and orange blossom water. But no peas. That's a pancake sin.
Basic pancake batter
about 360ml batter, enough for 10-12 small (18cm) or six large (25cm) pancakes
- 1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk (optional)
- 200ml milk (I use semi-skimmed)
- Pinch of salt
- 100g plain flour
- 2 tbsp butter, melted, plus a knob for cooking
Blend the egg, egg yolk if using, and milk with a pinch of salt. Add the flour, and blend again. Finally add the melted butter and give a last whizz.
Sift the flour into a large bowl, and make a well in the middle. Beat the egg, egg yolk if using, milk and a pinch of salt together and pour into the well. With a whisk, stir the liquid, gradually incorporating the flour to make a smooth batter. Finally whisk in the melted butter.
Resting the pancake batter
If you have time, resting the batter for an hour or so will make the pancakes lighter and more tender. You can even make the batter a day ahead and store it in the fridge – don’t worry about a slight grey colour, it’ll disappear on cooking.
Cooking the pancakes
- Arm yourself with a scoop or ladle for pouring batter – an espresso cup will do. I have an American 1/8th cup that holds 30ml (two tablespoons). It’s the right amount for my small frying pan, making a thin pancake 18cm across. For a larger pancake, 25cm across, you’ll need 60ml.
- Stir the batter. It should be the consistency of single cream. If it’s a bit thick, add two tablespoons of milk or water.
- Heat a pan, one that is nice and smooth inside, over a medium high heat. Add a small knob of butter, and tip until it thinly coats the pan: if you have a heatproof pastry brush, use it to make sure the butter is covering all the pan. Tip any excess away. You probably won’t have to do this after the first pancake.
- When it is shimmeringly hot, scatter a few drops of batter in the pan. They should sizzle, set and turn light golden underneath within 10 seconds. If not, heat the pan a bit longer.
- Pour in a scoop or ladleful of the pancake mixture, tipping the pan so it coats the base evenly.
- Once the pancake is set and patched with teak underneath, loosen the edges and turn it over with a fish slice. Or you can toss it. It’s a useful technique for delicate pancakes as you are less likely to tear them, but it isn’t compulsory. Cook for a minute on the other side. Lift on to a board lined with non-stick parchment and repeat with the rest of the mixture.
To make wholemeal pancakes, make the pancakes as above, substituting 100g wholemeal plain flour. You’ll find it doesn’t spread so well, so allow 40ml batter for each small pancake, 80ml for a large one.
You can buy squeezy sauce bottles from hardware shops that stock kitchenware or just buy a bottle of sauce from the supermarket and empty it out – ones with a narrow, pointed nozzle are best.
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 1 hour resting (optional) | Cooking time: 15 minutes
- 1 x 350g bag of frozen raspberries
- 6 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 large banana, sliced
- 300ml crème fraîche
- A few drops of vanilla extract or vanilla paste
- ½ batch of the basic pancake mixture above
- Butter, for frying
- Icing sugar and ground cinnamon, to serve
- Tip the raspberries into a small saucepan and add four tablespoons of sugar. Heat gently, until the raspberries melt and release their juice. Take off the heat and stir in the sliced banana.
- Mix the crème fraîche with the vanilla extract or paste and the remaining two tablespoons of sugar.
- Put the pancake mixture into a squeezy bottle. Heat a frying pan and add a small knob of butter. Tip to coat the pan. When really hot, “scribble” the mixture on to the pan, squeezing out the batter in different directions. Cook for a couple of minutes, until golden underneath, then carefully flip and cook on the other side. Keep warm while you cook the rest of the mixture.
- Lay a pancake scribble on a warm plate, dollop on some of the raspberry mixture and some vanilla crème fraîche. Dust with cinnamon and icing sugar, if you like, and eat immediately.
Dutch babies are an American tradition, apparently brought over by Dutch immigrants. They are somewhere between a pancake and a Yorkshire pudding – not the crisp, puffy Yorkshires, but the softer browned ones.
They can be sweet, with cream, fruit and syrup, or savoury like this – as a sort of Pancake Day toad-in-the-hole, although the middle is almost as soft as a quiche.
Prep time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 1 hour
- 500g wedge of butternut or other orange-fleshed squash
- 2 small red onions, peeled and cut into eighths
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 120g cooking chorizo, sliced into discs 1cm thick
- 60g plain flour
- 20g cornflour (2 level tbsp)
- 3 large eggs
- 160ml milk
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- Leaves from a few sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7.
- Peel the squash and cut into 2cm wedges, then into large chunks. Put into a round pan, 22-25cm across, that can go on the hob and in the oven. Add the onion and oil and toss everything together with plenty of salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until beginning to brown, then add the chorizo and bake for another 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, blend the flours, eggs, milk, cumin seeds, paprika and half a teaspoon of salt.
- Remove the pan from the oven and spoon the chorizo and veg into a bowl, leaving most of the oil in the pan. Put the pan on the hob over a medium heat, and when shimmering pour in the batter, tilting the pan so it coats the sides.
- Tip the chorizo and veg back in the pan, on top of the batter. Return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden and puffed. Scatter with thyme leaves, if you like, before serving.
Remember Findus Crispy Pancakes? This is my take. The packs of baby spinach leaves in the supermarket aren’t ideal; old-fashioned big leaves are the thing, and greengrocers are a good source. Or use frozen whole leaf spinach.
Prep time: 10 minutes | Cooking time: 35 minutes
two (two each)
- 150g smoked haddock, skinned
- 150ml milk
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- 250g fresh spinach or 125g frozen whole leaf spinach, defrosted
- 2 tbsp butter, plus 1 tbsp melted butter for finishing
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- Whole nutmeg, for grating
- 4 wholemeal pancakes, at least 18cm across (see basic pancake recipe above)
- 1 egg white, for brushing
- 4 tbsp dry breadcrumbs
- Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.
- Slice the smoked haddock into 3cm chunks and put in a small pan with the milk and a bay leaf if you have one. Heat gently until the milk comes to a boil, then draw off the heat, cover and leave to cool.
- Wash the fresh spinach, and chop roughly. Unless the stems are very coarse (thicker than a pencil) include them too. Heat one tablespoon of butter, add the spinach, cover and cook gently until the spinach wilts. Uncover and stir over heat until any liquid evaporates. (Using frozen spinach? Squeeze it dry, add to the pan with the butter and toss until well coated.)
- Heat the second tablespoonful of butter in a small pan and stir in the flour. Strain the milk from the haddock and stir the milk into the butter/flour mix little by little, to make a smooth sauce. Cook for a couple of minutes, taste and season with pepper and grated nutmeg; it may not need salt.
- Flake the haddock and mix into the sauce along with the spinach. Divide between the four pancakes, folding them over in half. Lay on a baking sheet lined with non stick parchment. Brush with egg white, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, then trickle with melted butter.
The Japanese are brilliant at taking a recipe – like thick fluffy pancakes – to the next level. These ultra-puffy pancakes are practically mini soufflés. Sometimes they are cooked in metal rings (like crumpet rings) but they are prone to stick – and anyway, I prefer them free-form like this.
Prep time: 25 minutes | Cooking time: 12 minutes
two to four with fruit and cream
- 50g plain chocolate
- 75ml double cream
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 egg yolk, plus 2 egg whites
- 1 tbsp milk
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- Few drops of vanilla extract (optional)
- Grated zest of 2-3 mandarins or satsumas
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- Butter, for frying
- Break the chocolate into bits and put in a small pan with the cream. Heat very, very gently stirring all the time. Chocolate melts at body temperature so the cream should feel barely warm. When the chocolate and cream have melted together, stir in the honey. Keep in a warm spot until you are ready to eat.
- Beat together the egg yolk, milk, flour and vanilla extract (if using) and mandarin zest with a pinch of salt until smooth.
- Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add half the sugar, and whisk until glossy and stiff again, then repeat with the rest of the sugar. Stir a spoonful into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the rest.
- Heat a deep frying pan or wide casserole – one with a lid. Melt the butter, spreading it evenly over the surface. Drop four tablespoonfuls of the mixture in the pan, spacing them well. Quickly drop a second tablespoonful on top of each one, piling it up. Cover with the lid and cook over a low heat for two minutes.
- Lift the lid and top each pancake with another spoonful of mixture, heaping it as high as you can. Cover and cook for two more minutes.
- Carefully flip each pancake (they will still be soft) and cook for two more minutes until browned on both sides. They should be a bit wobbly and soft in the middle. Eat straight away with a drizzle of the chocolate sauce.
If pancakes have a fault, it’s that they can be a bit soft, but a crisp sugar glaze gives just the right note of texture. TikTok and Reels are full of videos of tortillas being folded in quarters, over a variety of fillings.
I’ve done the same thing with pancakes here, which gives a layered pastry effect, but if it’s too much faff just pile all the filling in together.
Prep time: 20 minutes, plus 1 hour resting (optional) | Cooking time: 40 minutes
- 400g rhubarb
- 150g caster sugar
- Pared strip of lemon zest
- 500ml ready-made custard
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 4 large (20-22cm) pancakes (see basic pancake recipe above)
- Preheat the oven to 150C/130C fan/Gas 2.
- Slice the rhubarb into 3cm lengths and lay in an ovenproof dish in a fairly tight single layer. Scatter over half the sugar and tuck in the lemon zest. Cover tightly with foil. Bake the rhubarb for 15-20 minutes, until it is almost (but not quite) cooked through. Take the dish out of the oven, remove the cover and leave to cool. The rhubarb will finish cooking as it cools.
- Tip the custard into a pan and heat gently. Mix the cornflour with two tablespoons of cold water. Stir half into the custard and cook until it thickens. Scrape into a bowl and leave to cool, stirring often to stop a skin forming.
- Lay a pancake flat. Make a cut from the centre to the edge at six o’clock. Spread custard over a quarter of the circle (between six o’clock and nine o’clock), then fold this quarter over. Spoon rhubarb from 12 o’clock to three o’clock, and fold the custard-filled quarter over this. Spoon custard on top and fold the last quarter over it. Repeat with the rest of the pancakes and ingredients.
- Transfer the pancakes to an ovenproof dish and dredge with the rest of the caster sugar. Preheat the grill to very hot. Grill until the sugar is golden and bubbling. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
Pancakes aren’t the lightest of foods, so pairing them with plenty of simply cooked vegetables for lunch or dinner makes sense. Broccoli in anchovy butter is a fine thing, and not at all fishy – just intensely flavoured.
I’ve used purple sprouting broccoli as it’s in season, but you could use imported Tenderstem or Bellaverde broccoli, in which case you won’t need to peel it.
Prep time: 25 minutes, plus 1 hour resting (optional) | Cooking time: 35 minutes
two to three
- 6 fat stems of purple sprouting broccoli
- 30g butter, plus extra for greasing
- 3 tinned anchovies
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 200g grilled red peppers in oil (drained weight)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Shake of chilli sauce
- 6 pancakes (see basic pancake recipe, above), size of your choice
- 150g Boursin-style herby cream cheese
- 30g parmesan, grated
- Peel the broccoli stems with a vegetable peeler if needed, then steam them until just tender. Cool under the tap, then wrap tightly in a tea towel to dry.
- Melt the butter in a pan and add the anchovies and half the garlic, stirring until the anchovy collapses. Cool slightly, then turn the broccoli in the butter.
- Using a hand blender, purée the peppers, olive oil, the rest of the garlic and a shake of chilli sauce.
- Spread half of each pancake thickly with herby cream cheese, leaving a 2cm border. Put a stem of broccoli on the cheesy side of a pancake and roll it up. Repeat with the rest of the pancakes.
- Lay them in a buttered heatproof dish, spoon over the pepper sauce and sprinkle with parmesan. At this point you can cover them and keep in a cool place for up to six hours.
- When ready to eat, preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.
- Bake the pancakes for about 20-25 minutes until golden and hot through.
Fragrant pancakes, perfect with cream or ice cream. This makes about 250ml of batter, which in turn will make enough little pancakes – about 8cm across – to stack up three or four per person with the apple purée, perfect as a pudding. If you are making this for a filling breakfast, double the quantity of batter and the size of each pancake.
Prep time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 25 minutes
- 2 cooking apples (about 500g)
- 25g demerara sugar
- 3cm pared strip of lemon zest
- Seeds from 5 cardamom pods
- 100ml milk
- 1 large egg
- 100g self-raising flour
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tbsp melted butter, plus extra for frying
- Whipped cream, crème fraîche or ice cream and demerara sugar, to serve
- Peel, core and roughly chop the apples. Put them in a small pan with the demerara sugar with the scrap of lemon zest, plus two tablespoons of water. Cover and cook gently on the hob until the apple is tender – depending what kind of cooking apple you have, it will have collapsed to a fluff or a sort of lumpy purée. Either is good.
- Crush the cardamom seeds in a pestle and mortar or the back of a spoon. With a hand blender, mix the cardamom, milk and egg, then add the flour and caster sugar and blend again. Add the butter and give a final whizz.
- Melt a knob of butter in a large frying pan. Drop tablespoonfuls of mixture into the pan, spacing them well. Cook until bubbles show on the surface, then turn and cook on the other side. Keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest of the mixture.
- Stack up the pancakes (three per person) with the apple purée in between each, sprinkling each layer with demerara sugar. Serve with whipped cream or crème fraîche, or a scoop of ice cream.