Pancake Day - also known as Shrove Tuesday - is thought to have come about as a way to use up rich ingredients such as eggs, butter and sugar before the fasting days of Lent began. Religious reasons aside, now seems a good time to start feasting and it's the perfect time of year for a heartwarming breakfast or brunch. And there are few better breakfasts than a pile of warm, fluffy pancakes. No penance required.
Pancake recipes abound and seem to be split into two categories - those that are aerated by beaten eggwhite and those that aren't. If you like your pancakes on the thinner side of the spectrum, go for a recipe that doesn't call for beaten eggwhite. If you like a thicker, pillowy pancake - all the better to soak up the requisite lashings of maple syrup - the recipe we are working to here is the method for you. And although it involves an extra step in the preparation process, it's possible to make the base batter, cover it and refrigerate it overnight. You benefit doubly by doing it this way - not only are you prepared well in advance, the batter also has ample resting time, ensuring delicate pancakes. Resting the batter lets the gluten in the flour relax, which results in a more tender crumb. If you don't rest the batter, the pancakes will be tough and rubbery. Once this is done, whisk the eggwhites and fold them through the batter just before cooking and you're good to go.
The key to successful pancakes is a heavy-based frying pan, preferably cast iron. Anything too flimsy and you'll find the outside of your pancakes will cook but you'll have a semi-raw interior. A heavy base also helps prevent the butter burning. Make sure you wipe out your pan with absorbent paper between batches for the best results.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about making pancakes is that you can only cook two or three at a time. But don't be tempted to rush things by overcrowding the pan - you need to give the pancake batter room to spread a little. Equally, a higher cooking temperature won't make the process faster - again, you'll end up with a raw interior. Slow and steady wins this particular race. Pancakes are for leisurely breakfasts, after all. Have your oven on low heat to keep pancakes warm while you wait for their companions to cook and then serve without delay.
Pancakes are the perfect vehicle for all manner of accompaniments. It could be as simple as a drizzle of honey and some sliced banana, or a dollop of yoghurt, a handful of berries and a glug of maple syrup - the real deal please, this is no time for substitutes. Or you could use the maple syrup as a poaching medium for wedges of perfectly firm, ripe pear (click here for the recipe). As the pears cook, they become fragrantly, lusciously glazed. You can do the pears ahead of time if you like and gently warm them in a pan just before serving. A simple spiced ricotta offsets the sticky sweetness.