Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The great pancake mystery.

Today, February 21st …

In 1950 first International Pancake Race was held in on this day in the town of Liberal, Kansas against the women of Olney in Buckinghamshire, England. It was of course, Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras - or Pancake Day if you prefer a culinary appellation. I know! I know! this year the moveable feast of Pancake Day is a week away. The Old Foodie is giving you time to sort out your pancake recipes and make some choices.

There is no mystery about the association of Pancakes with Shrove Tuesday. They were an easy way of using up the eggs, milk and fat before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, when all animal products were banned from the diet until after Good Friday. The basic batter of flour, milk, and eggs is infinitely variable, which is where your choices come in. You can use cream or even ale instead of milk, you can sugar them, jam them, stack them, sauce them, or fill them. You can make them pink with beetroot puree, or green with spinach puree.

You can even flambée them, as in the classic Crepes Suzette. The exact history of this dish is a mystery. It was invented towards the end of the nineteenth century, almost certainly by the famous chef Henri Charpentier (at least he claimed it), possibly by accident (the sauce caught fire), and undoubtedly in honour of a beautiful woman, who is the real mystery. The favoured myth is that she was the mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), although he vehemently denied knowing anyone by that name (surprise! surprise!).

The first published recipe is from the famous Escoffier, in 1903. His “ordinary pancake batter” contains 2 tablespoons of brandy and 1 tablespoon of orange flower water to the 3 egg amount, which is a good start for the dish.

Crepes Suzette.
The pancakes are cooked in the ordinary way and then finished at the table with the following sauce.
90gm butter, 90 gm castor sugar, 3 tablespoons Curaçao, juice 1 tangerine, sugar for sprinkling.
Cream the butter, add the sugar, and beat in well, add Curaçao and tangerine juice. Put the cooked pancakes in a pan over a spirit stove. Sprinkle with sugar, pour the sauce over, and serve very hot.

Strange! the original recipe makes no mention of setting it all ablaze! Will the mysteries never end?

Tomorrow: A commentary on domestic manners.


Anonymous said...

My copy of Escoffier says.."..tilt the pan to the flame so the sauce catches fire. Serve on heated plates while the sauce is still flaming.."

Mystery solved?

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Anonymous. My comments were from 'Ma Cuisine' - what version of his work have you got? I wonder what the absolute original said? Thanks for adding to the story.