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When is a Pancake not a Pancake?

All American children know that a pancake is thick, round and dry, and that you add a topping to it. British children will tell you it is thin, slightly oiled and tastes best rolled up with lemon juice and sugar in the middle. Egyptian children eat it as a snack, folded in half, stuff with nuts or cream, deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup. So who is right? When is it a pancake and when is it something else completely?

Actually they are all right. Even though they are all very different, depending where you come from they are pancakes. It isn't really clear who made the first pancakes. There are pancakes made with potato, and even a pancake made with cabbage and carrot from Indonesia. Since they aren't stuffed or topped with anything, and are always savory, we won't count these as pancakes for this article. It isn't really clear who made the first pancakes. The original pancakes were more like bread, using flour and water. Modern pancakes are more nutritious, usually containing eggs, milk instead of water, and sometimes a raising agent like baking powder. Let's take a look at some of the different pancakes.

The British Pancake

The British pancake is made much the same way as the American one, but doesn't contain baking powder or yeast. It is made from a plain batter of eggs, flour and milk. For a sweet pancake you add a pinch of sugar, for a savory one, salt. After the pancake is cooked, and while it is still hot, you add the stuffing and roll it. The most popular sweet stuffing in England is lemon juice and sugar. Savory pancakes usually contain a stuffing made from ground beef.

The American Pancake

The American pancake is much thicker. It contains baking powder to make it rise. Because it is thicker it is difficult to roll, so it is served flat, stacked up with a topping. The favorite topping is maple syrup and whipped butter.

The Egyptian Pancake

Like the American Pancake, the Egyptian Pancake contains a raising agent. It can be either baking powder or yeast. The pancake is fried on one side only, and then allowed to cool. After it has cooled a small amount of stuffing is placed in the middle. The pancake is folded over and the edges sealed with water. Then it is deep fried, and dipped in sugar syrup. It is extremely sweet and sticky and not very healthy!

Pancake Traditions

In England the Tuesday before Lent (Shrove Tuesday) is known as Pancake Day. On that day it is traditional to eat pancakes. The origin of this is that the Catholics, who observe Lent, wanted to use up all the rich foods in their pantry before Lent. In Lent eggs, sugar and butter were not allowed so they were used to make pancakes. Now everyone celebrates Pancake Day, regardless of religion, and there are pancake-tossing competitions. The competitions involve seeing who can toss the pancake highest and catch it again in the pan, or who can toss it the most times in a minute. There are also pancake races, involving running while tossing a pancake.

In America pancakes are a common breakfast food. They are served in most restaurants for breakfast with an amazing variety of toppings.

In Egypt pancakes are eaten all year round, but especially in Ramadan, the month of fasting. At sunset the fast is broken with a meal, and then sweets are served. One of the favorite sweets is the pancake.

The Recipes

You will need a mixing bowl and whisk, or a blender, a frying pan and some adult help.
The basic batter for all three is the same.

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the American and Egyptian versions you need to add 1-½ teaspoons of baking powder.
  • Place the flour and egg and half the milk into the mixing bowl and mix until smooth. Add the rest of the milk until the batter pours easily off a spoon but is not too watery. Use more milk if you need. Add the sugar, and if you are using it the baking powder, and mix again. Let the batter stand for about 20 minutes and give it a final mix.

    For the cooking you will need adult help.
    Heat a frying pan coated in oil on the stove until very hot. Drop in a spoon full of batter and rock the pan to make it spread out. Fry until the batter changes color and bubbles appear on the top. The bubbles should burst open and the pancake look white.

    For the Egyptian pancakes fry only the first side. For the other pancakes turn them over and fry the second side, too. Then add your favorite topping and eat them while they are still hot.

    For the Egyptian pancakes you need to prepare a stuffing and the syrup.
    The simplest stuffing consists of chopped nuts (any kind) a little sugar and a little cinnamon (optional).
    For the syrup, put two cups of sugar and one cup of water into a pan and bring to the boil. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Boil for exactly ten minutes and remove from the heat.

    Caution: Boiling syrup is very hot and can cause severe burns. An adult should do this. Never taste the syrup when it is hot, and if any of it gets on your skin hold the affected part under running cold water for at LEAST five minutes.

    After the pancakes have cooled, add a small amount of the stuffing to the center of the pancake (uncooked side).
    Fold the pancake in half and pinch the edges together, they stick better if you run a wet finger over them before folding.
    Strictly speaking the pancakes should then be deep fried until golden brown. For health reasons it is probably better to brush them lightly with oil or butter and bake them in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes.

    The last step is to soak them in the syrup. For the best results the pancakes should be hot and the syrup cold, or the pancakes cold and the syrup hot. If both are hot or cold, it doesn't work as well. Soak them for about a minute, remove them from the syrup and allow them to drip off the excess syrup before eating. They are best eaten cold.

    So, get busy trying all the different types of pancake, and decide which is your favorite. Try different nuts for the Egyptian one (my favorite is walnuts) and different toppings for the others. Try tossing the English ones. Don't toss too high or they stick to the ceiling! Most important have fun and be safe. Remember that kitchens can be dangerous and you should always have adult supervision.

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