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Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Pancake Day




Origins


Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is the traditional feast day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Lent - the 40 days leading up to Easter - was traditionally a time of fasting and on Shrove Tuesday Christians went to confession and were "shriven" (absolved from their sins). It was the last opportunity to use eggs and fats before embarking on the Lenten fast and pancakes are the perfect way of using up these ingredients.



Pancake tradition


A thin, flat cake, made of batter and baked on a griddle or fried in a pan, the pancake has a very long history and featured in cookbooks as far back as 1439. The tradition of tossing or flipping them is almost as old: "And every man and maide does take their turne, And tosse their Pancakes up for feare they burne." (Pasquil's Palin, 1619).



Tossing pancakes


Certainly these days part of the fun of cooking pancakes is in the tossing. To toss a pancake successfully takes a combination of the perfect pancake and good technique - it's so easy to get it wrong and end up with half the pancake still stuck to the pan while the other half is stuck to the ceiling or floor. All in all, it's probably best to practise a few times without an audience.




Pancake races

 

In the UK, pancake races also form an important part of the Shrove Tuesday celebrations - an opportunity for large numbers of people to race down the streets tossing pancakes.

 


 

The relative ease of baking on hot stoves or on griddles has resulted in a variety of pancakes around the world. Old English batter was mixed with ale. German and French pancakes, leavened by eggs and much beating, are baked very thin and served with sweet or savoury fillings. The French crêpe is thin and crispy - a crêpe suzette is folded or rolled and heated in a sauce of butter, sugar, citrus juice, and liqueur.

Russian blinis, usually prepared with buckwheat, are thin, crisp pancakes, and commonly served with caviar and sour cream or folded over and filled with cream cheese or jam. Mexico has its tortilla, which is often served folded over a bean or meat filling and topped by tomato sauce.


American pancakes are thicker. They are sometimes called battercakes, griddlecakes, or flapjacks and are usually leavened with baking powder or baking soda and served with syrup.



Mardi Gras


The French name (literally "fat Tuesday") for Shrove Tuesday has been given to a number of Mardi Gras carnivals around the world. Among the most famous are those of Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans.



Record breakers


Pancake tossing is also a very serious pastime for some people - Ralf Laue from Leipzig broke the world record by tossing a pancake 416 times in two minutes and Mike Cuzzacrea ran a marathon while continually tossing a pancake for three hours, two minutes and 27 seconds. The world's biggest pancake was cooked in Rochdale in 1994. It was an amazing 15 metres in diameter, weighed three tonnes and had an estimated two million calories.

 

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To celebrate Pancake Day in traditional style you'll have to break a few eggs - but it's worth it. Find out about the history of Pancake Day and try some of our pancake recipes.