For a few years I went through a phase of always trying to serve something at least vaguely healthy and substantial before the annual Pancake Day feast.
It seemed only right that one should get a hearty dose of fresh vegetables and savoury flavours before tucking into the obligatory mounds of lemon-and-sugar pancakes.
Recently I realised that this was obvious lunacy, and that the joy of Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, lies in the fact that it is the one evening in the calendar year during which it is perfectly acceptable to dine on sugary pancakes alone. After all, this was traditionally a time of using up gluttonous foodstuffs and abundant luxuries before the abstemious period of Lent.
The only place for savoury food at this feast is if it is also tucked into the folds of a pancake, and once you’ve tried a crepe filled with melting gruyere cheese and garlicky spinach, or caramelised apples and tangy goat’s cheese, you may well agree. Here are some ideas, sweet and savoury, to take you beyond the usual lemon and sugar this Pancake Day, should you so desire.
Top pancake tips
- Invest in a proper pancake pan – these are flat and non-stick, and will make flipping the darn things so much easier
- Likewise, pick up a decent spatula, palette knife or fish slice to make that tense moment a little less stressful
- Flip with confidence – the pancakes are less likely to break up that way
- Get the pan really hot before you begin, then turn the heat down a little as you add the first spoonful of batter, so it doesn’t burn. A generous knob of butter in the pan helps crisp up the pancake, so you don’t end up with a flabby mess
- Keep the cooked pancakes warm in a low oven, separated with greaseproof paper, while you cook the rest
- Have your toppings ready in bowls to hand, or on the table, so hot pancakes can go from pan to mouth in minimal time
- Any leftover batter can be stored in the fridge for the next day, and cooked pancakes reheat well in a hot pan (though leftovers are unlikely)
All recipes serve 2 generously, unless otherwise stated.
Fluffy ricotta pancakes
Whisk together 250g ricotta cheese, 3 tbsp caster sugar, 3 egg yolks and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Sift in 50g plain flour and 2 tbsp melted butter and fold in gently. Whisk 3 egg whites in a separate bowl, using clean whisk attachments, until stiff. Fold these gently into the ricotta mixture, trying not to knock the air out. Heat a knob of butter over a medium heat in a non-stick frying pan. When sizzling, dollop spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture into the pan. Cook for a couple of minutes, until small bubbles start to appear in the surface, then flip carefully and cook for a couple of minutes more on the other side.
Variations: add 100g fresh berries to the mixture before cooking – blackberries, blueberries and raspberries all work well. You could also add orange or lemon zest to the ricotta mixture. Or serve them plain with a dollop of fruit compote – I particularly like them with roasted rhubarb. In the summer, they are excellent topped with halved fresh cherries and toasted almonds.
Pear, hazelnut and maple pancakes
Mix together 130g plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Make a well in the middle, crack in an egg and pour in 200ml runny yoghurt or buttermilk. Start whisking from the middle of the mixture, incorporating a little more flour each time, until you have a thick batter. Stir in 50g toasted chopped hazelnuts and 2 medium pears, cored and finely chopped into 1cm dice. Cook in a lightly buttered pan over a medium heat, flipping after a couple of minutes on each side. Serve with a generous amount of maple syrup.
Variations: add a handful of sultanas to the mix along with the hazelnuts and pears. Swap the hazelnuts for pecans or almonds. Replace the pears with 200g finely chopped strawberries, adding 1 tsp vanilla extract to the batter instead of the cinnamon.
Bali banana pancakes
One of the most popular recipes on my blog, and inspired by a memorable trip to Indonesia. Sift 150g plain flour into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack in the egg, then pour in 300ml milk. Gradually whisk the egg and milk into the flour until you have a smooth batter. Slice two large bananas diagonally into 5mm thick slices. Heat a medium non-stick frying pan and add a knob of butter to coat it. Arrange a quarter of the banana segments over the base of the pan, then sprinkle a little desiccated coconut over the bananas. Pour in a quarter of the pancake batter so it surrounds the bananas and slightly covers them. Cook for a minute or so, then flip over and cook on the other side. Repeat three times more with the remaining bananas and batter, to make 4 pancakes. Serve with maple syrup and extra desiccated coconut.
Variations: swap the banana for thin slices of fresh pineapple or slightly underripe mango. Add a little pandan essence to the batter for an authentic flavour and pale green colour.
Basic crepe recipe (serves 4)
Sift 200g flour – I like to use spelt flour for extra flavour - into a large bowl, then make a well in the centre. Add 2 eggs. Gradually add 600ml milk, whisking to incorporate the flour at the same time, until you have a thin batter. Add a pinch of salt and whisk again. Fry in a hot buttered pan for a minute or so on each side before flipping.
- Chunks of fresh pineapple, caramelised in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a hot pan.
- The classic lemon and sugar (of course).
- Spoonfuls of fresh ricotta, toasted flaked almonds and sliced oranges, or blood oranges if you can get them.
- Slices of apple, caramelised in butter, honey, cinnamon and ginger in a hot pan, with a handful of sultanas stirred in towards the end.
- Grated Gruyere cheese and fresh spinach, stir-fried in a hot pan with a little garlic.
- Flakes of hot smoked salmon with mascarpone, into which you’ve stirred lemon zest and a little dill.
- Crumbled goat’s cheese and slices of apple, sautéed in a buttery pan until golden.
- Crumbled feta and roasted vegetables.
- Chargrilled aubergine slices, crumbled feta, pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander.
- Crispy bacon strips, chunks of brie and a dollop of chutney.
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for travel and all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes or planning her next cultural odyssey, she is an English literature academic, specialising in children’s literature.