Pancake Day 2015: how to make the perfect pancakes

Feb 17, 2015

Never mind its origins in self-denial - here's how to make the perfect Pancake Day feast

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For such a simple dish, pancakes have inspired a bewildering array of variation when it comes to recipes, methods and fillings. From paper-thin French crepes eaten sweet or savoury to Indian dosas, stout Scotch pancakes spread with butter and jam and the fluffy buttermilk variety that Americans enjoy with bacon, maple syrup and whipped cream – there's a pancake for any time of the day.

Delia's pancake recipe

For perfect pancakes, Delia Smith recommends keeping it simple with this recipe for Scotch pancakes

110g plan flour
A pinch of salt
2 eggs
200ml semi-skimmed milk mixed with 75ml water
50g butter for the pan

Whisk up the flour, eggs and salt, and then add the liquid gradually, whisking until you have a smooth batter. Lightly butter a heavy pan and then cook the pancakes until they are golden brown, turning once.

Jamie Oliver's crepe recipe

Jamie's Normany-style pancakes are not for the faint-hearted, adding a great deal more butter – and a slosh of cider.

3 free-range eggs
100g butter, melted, plus a knob to grease the crêpe pan
275ml cider
250ml water
250g buckwheat flour

Beat the eggs and then add the butter, cider, water and a pinch of salt. Sift in the flour while beating, and then allow the batter to rest for 30 minutes. Heat a large pan and add a ladleful of batter, tilting the pan to spread the mixture, and cook until it starts to bubble. Then loosen the edges and turn or flip the pancake. Serve with sweet or savoury fillings.

Gordon Ramsay's buttermilk pancakes

Gordon's buttermilk pancakes are thick, light and fluffy, and relatively healthy – unless you follow his advice and eat them with white chocolate, double cream and Baileys.

100g plain flour 
1 tsp baking powder 
Pinch of salt 
150ml buttermilk 
50ml water
2 large eggs, beaten 
2 large egg whites 
1 tsp vanilla extract 
Groundnut oil, for frying 

Whisk the eqq whites to medium-stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, whisk all the other ingredients together until smooth, and then fold in the stiff egg whites. Ladle the mixture into a pan and cook until golden brown underneath, then flip and cook the other side. 

Perfect pancake tips

The Guardian suggests its readers look around the world for more adventurous pancake toppings: "luscious dulce de leche in Argentina, butter and sugar on a German schmarren, bacon and melted gouda on Dutch pannenkoeken".

But it also acknowledges the appeal of a more traditional approach. "If your batter ingredients are good enough," it suggests, "you may wish to enhance, rather than disguise, the taste of your pancakes – which is where the British love of lemon and sugar comes in."

Meanwhile, The Independent pitches its advice at a more basic level. "Try to get any guests or family members to be elsewhere" when you start flipping pancakes, it suggests, "and clean the floor thoroughly beforehand".

Pancake Day history: a feast based on customs of self-denial 

Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is a Christian celebration that falls on the eve of Lent, a 40-day period of penance through fasting.

Although the tradition of fasting has fallen out of fashion among many secular Brits, the custom of feasting on pancakes, often with sweet fillings, remains alive and well.

Outside the UK Shrove Tuesday is celebrated as Mardi Gras or Carnival, which attracts millions of party-goers onto the streets of Europe and the Americas every year.

History of Pancake Day

Shrove Tuesday’s name comes from the old middle-English verb "to shrive", which means to confess one's sins. During the Middle Ages Christians would go to church before midday on Shrove Tuesday and ask God for absolution before the start of Lent.

Shrove Tuesday also gave Christians the opportunity to feast on all the indulgent foods that were prohibited during Lent. Pancakes were made to use up butter and eggs, considered luxuries at the time.

How is the date determined?

Pancake Day comes 40 days before Easter Sunday, which means it can fall on any date between 3 February and 9 March. With Easter Sunday this year falling on 5 April, Pancake Day 2015 falls in the middle of the date range.

Here are the dates for the next five years:

2015 — 17 February
2016 — 9 February
2017 — 28 February
2018 — 13 February
2019 — 5 March


British Pancake Day traditions

The pancake race: While most people are content to eat pancakes, some also use them for sport. Pancake races, in which participants race down streets flipping a pancake in a frying pan, are held in towns and villages throughout the UK.

The tradition is said to have originated in Olney, Berkshire, where the earliest recorded race was in 1445. The story goes that a housewife was so busy making pancakes that when the church bells rang for the Shrove Tuesday service that she ran out of the house, frying pan and half-cooked pancake still in hand.

Shrovetide football: Shrovetide, or mob football, is not for the faint-hearted. It is thought to have emerged in Europe in the Middle Ages and is still played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

It involves an unlimited number of players on each team trying to move a large ball towards the goal by any means possible. The Ashbourne game is played over two days, starting each day at 2pm and finishing at 10pm.

The rules give a taste of the combative spirit in which the game is played:

  •  Murder and manslaughter are prohibited, while unnecessary violence is frowned upon.
  •  The ball may not be carried in a motorised vehicle.
  •  The ball may not be hidden in a bag, coat or rucksack, etc.
  •  Cemeteries, churchyards and the town memorial gardens are strictly out of bounds.

Nor is mob football the only violent practice associated with Shrove Tuesday: until the 18th century, cock fights were also held to celebrate Pancake Day, according to the Daily Express.


Pancake Day around the world

Mardi Gras

From Italy to Brazil, Mardi Gras and Carnival have become synonymous with masks, costumes, dancing and huge parades. The French name Mardi Gras translates into English as Fat Tuesday, which once again refers to the consumption of fatty foods before the start of Lent.

Mardi Gras is celebrated in several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and Sweden, but the biggest celebrations now take place in the Americas.


Mardi Gras celebrations are believed to have begun in the US in 1699 after two French explorers landed in what is now known as Louisiana. The explorers held a small celebration and dubbed the landing spot Point du Mardi Gras.

New Orleans now plays host to the largest celebrations, attracting millions of people every year. A number of other cities in the US, especially those with French or Spanish heritage, also celebrate the holiday.


The Brazilian Carnival, by far the biggest holiday in the country, runs for five days in the run-up to Shrove Tuesday. Rio de Janeiro’s event attracts almost five million people and, as a whole, Carnival attracts 70 per cent of the country’s annual visitors.

Nevertheless, this festival also derives from a tradition of abstention: the word carnival comes from the old Italian carnelevare, which means ‘to remove meat’.

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