Monday, 7 March 2011

Pick Your Perfect Pancake!

Having pancakes for dinner was always an exciting treat when I was a kid, but c'mon - who wouldn't like pancakes for dinner?  I'll admit, having pancakes for dinner wasn't a once a year occurrence.  It probably happened 2 or 3 times a year, but one of those times was always on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Tuesday.  Growing up in Canada, it was also quite common to hear Shrove Tuesday referred to as Fat Tuesday by our Southern neighbours in New Orleans.



I was a bit surprised to see how popular Pancake Tuesday was in the UK when I first moved here 3 years ago.  In Canada lots of people celebrate Shrove Tuesday, but there's not really any heavy marketing or promotions around it at all - at least not on the West Coast where I'm from. But here in the UK, they're pancake crazy!  For the last few weeks grocery stores have had their special Pancake Day displays all set up.  They feature everything you'll need to make the perfect pancake - from syrup, flour and eggs (if you plan on making your own), to "just add water" pancake mixes.  And sometimes even the frying pan!  

I was really excited to see how popular pancake day is here.  It seems like a lot of people throw pancake parties and invite their friends and family over to share in the fun.  It wasn't until I was invited to my first pancake party 3 years ago that I discovered there is one major difference between North American and UK pancakes!  The pancakes I grew up with were the fluffy buttermilk variety.  The kind that you stack up high and put lots of butter and syrup on.  And the syrup had to be Aunt Jemima syrup - nothing else would do!  So imagine my surprise when I found out that the most popular topping for pancakes in the UK is lemon juice and sugar!  Ack! What happened to the syrup??? (and I'm not talking about Lyle's Golden Syrup!)  I just didn't understand how anyone could actually like their nice fluffy pancakes soaked in lemon juice with a bit of added sugar.  What I didn't realise was that the pancakes here in the UK are completely different than the pancakes I was used to back home.  You see, a UK pancake isn't really a pancake at all - well, not to me at least.  A UK pancakes is actually much closer to a crepe than it is to a North American pancake.  They're really thin, and not fluffy at all.  And you know what? They actually do taste pretty good with lemon juice and sugar!  Because a UK pancake isn't fluffy and spongy like a North American pancake, they don't soak up whatever topping you put on them.  So, when you add a squeeze of lemon juice and a few spoonful's of sugar on top of a UK pancake, you're actually left with a deliciously sweet and tangy version of a simple syrup.  The end result is almost like a freshly squeezed lemonade syrup (that's "cloudy lemonade" to the UK people reading this!). 


I've made the UK variety of pancakes several times now, and each time I like them more and more.  Because they're not as big and fluffy as the North American pancake, they're also not as filling, which I think is why a lot of people here that I've talked to have pancakes for dessert and not for dinner, but I do know people that have them for dinner as well. 

See how thin they are!

Because the UK pancake is similar to a crepe, it also lends itself to be stuffed, coated and topped with hundreds of delicious flavours - savoury or sweet.  Other popular pancake toppings include Nutella, ice cream & caramel sauce, caramel sauce & apple, whipped cream & fruit - the possibilities are endless.  I choose to stick with lemon juice and sugar, as I find it really nice and refreshing - especially after considering that I'd also made a batch of fluffy North American pancakes studded with a handful or two of chocolate chips.  I've been using both these recipes for quite a while now.  I can't even remember where I got them from originally, but over the years I've made several tweaks here and there, and am very happy with the way both of these turn out.  So, here are two fabulous pancake recipes.  I'll let you decide on which one you want to make, but just be sure to make them tomorrow - Tuesday March 8th, 2011 - Pancake Day!!!



Perfect UK Pancakes
Makes nine 8 inch Pancakes 

55g (just under 1/2 Cup) Flour
1 Egg
150ml (5oz) Whole Milk
1/2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
Pinch of Salt
Lemon wedges
Castor Sugar

1. Put the flour and salt in a bowl and make a small well in the center.  Add in the egg, oil and about 25ml of the milk.  Using a whisk, start mixing the ingredients together, working your way from the inside out until all the ingredients are incorporated into a smooth thick paste.  

2.  Add in 1/3 of the remaining milk and whisk again until incorporated. Now pour the remaining milk into the bowl while whisking, and continue to whisk until everything is incorporated.  The consistency should be very liquidy.

3. Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes.  In the meantime, pre-heat an 8 inch non-stick pan over medium heat.  Spray with non-stick cooking spray such as Pam, or pour in a teaspoon of oil into the pan and spread it around with a paper towel.  When you're ready to cook your pancakes pour 3 tablespoons of batter into the pan.  Quickly tilt the pan, and rotate it so the batter evenly coats the bottom of the pan. Cook for 30-40 seconds on each side.  Repeat until you've used up all of your batter.  

4. Serve your pancakes hot with a wedge or two of freshly squeezed lemon, and a tablespoon or two of castor sugar. 




Fluffy North American Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Makes eight 4 inch pancakes 


3/4 Cup (180ml) Whole Milk
2 Tbsp White Vinegar
1 Cup (125g) Flour
2 Tbsp (28g) Sugar
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Egg
2 Tbsp Melted Butter
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/3 Cup (approx 2 handfuls) Chocolate Chips

1. Combine the milk and vinegar in a measuring cup and set aside to sour for 5 minutes.  

2. Combine your dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.  After the milk has sat and soured for 5 minutes add in the egg, melted butter and vanilla extract and whisk until combined.  Pour the milk and egg mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until all the lumps are gone. Whisk in the chocolate chips, and let the batter sit for 5 minutes until the top gets frothy and bubbly. DO NOT STIR AGAIN! Leave the batter alone - you want it to be bubbly and frothy.

3. Pre-heat a non-stick pan over medium heat.  Once the pan is ready pour 1/4 cup of batter into the pan.  Once bubbles start to appear, and then pop on the tops of your pancakes it's time to flip them. Cook until both sides are golden brown.
Serve with butter and syrup.  Whipped cream and berries is another one of my favourite toppings. Enjoy!



Yum!!!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes with Lavender Cream


So remember a few months ago when I tested Vanessa Kimbell's recipe for the Chocolate Whoopie Pies that will appear in her new cook book Prepped?  Well, last month she still had a few recipes left that needed testing, so I offered to test one of her cupcake recipes for her.  I was really looking forward to testing these cupcakes because they were something completely different to anything I've made before.  I'm pretty sure Vanessa has several cupcakes recipes in her new book Prepped, but the ones I volunteered to test were her Chocolate and Lavender Cream Cupcakes.  These weren't your typical cupcakes piled high with sugary icing, instead they were a more delicate chocolate cake that used lavender infused cream on top rather than buttercream.

   

 Vanessa's chocolate and lavender cream cupcake recipe also gave me the opportunity to try something else new - making my first "butterfly cake".  Before cupcakes made their way to the UK (in the last 10 years), butterfly cakes and fairy cakes were the most common mini cakes for children.  The butterfly cake or fairy cake gets it's name from the way it looks when it's finished.  The cupcake has a cone shaped hole cut out from the top, and is filled with cream or icing.  The part of the cake that had been cut out for the icing or cream to sit in is cut in half to form 2 semi circles, which are then placed on top of the icing or cream to look like butterfly wings. 


These cupcakes are probably more of a spring or summer cupcakes since they call for fresh lavender, but because I likely wouldn't be able to find any fresh lavender Vanessa said dried lavender would also work, but I'd just have to use a smaller amount since dried lavender is stronger than fresh.  To be honest, I had a tough time finding dried lavender in February  - except for the stuff in scented drawer sachets but I was a little worried about any possible chemicals and added perfumes in them, so Vanessa was kind enough to contact one of her friends from Pennie Lavender Farm and had some culinary lavender sent to me the next day.  The lavender smelled amazing, and I've still got a ton of it sitting in a zip lock bag that I take out and sniff every once in a while!   


These cupcakes were definitely different than anything else I'd ever had before.  I wasn't too sure I'd like the lavender cream because I'm not a huge fan of floral flavoured foods, but I was pleasantly surprised. As I mentioned before when I first tested Vanessa's Whoopie Pies, I like sweet things.  I mean I really like sweet things. The lavender cream in this recipe doesn't call for any added sugar, so you'll get the full lavender flavour shining through.  As a recipe tester I had to follow the instructions exactly in order to make sure the recipe works as printed when it appears in the book.  After filling a few of my cupcakes with the unsweetened cream, I decided to add a couple tablespoons of icing sugar into the cream to sweeten it to suit my own taste.  I also thought these cupcakes would look really pretty with a light lavender coloured whipped cream rather than plain white, so suggested that in my feedback to Vanessa. The light lavender coloured cream is a little washed out in these pictures, but it really did look very pretty in person! 


Because of their floraly flavour and delicate cream filling, I'd say these cupcakes are more suited to grown up tastes.  They'd be perfect with a cup of afternoon tea and a table full of friends.  The recipe for these chocolate and lavender cupcakes will appear in Vanessa Kimbell's new recipe book Prepped, and is available for pre-order on Amazon here, and will be available for purchase in stores in late May or early June.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Lavender Cream 

A soft, moist, rich chocolate sponge with a sweet, fresh lavender cream inside, this cupcake is lifted by the lavender’s minty tones. Serve it drizzled with milk chocolate and a scattering of lavender petals. Do make sure you use lavender with a closed bud to infuse your cream, because open petals have lost most of the essential oils that are responsible for the flavour. For the prettiest colour, use old-fashioned cottage garden lavender such as Hidcote. 

Makes 18 
Prep time 1 day to infuse the lavender into the cream and 20 minutes to prep 
Cooking time 20 minutes
Suitable for freezing? Yes, at step 6

Ingredients 
 
250g butter
250g Lavender sugar (Vanessa said it was ok to use plain white sugar, so I did)
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
50g cocoa powder 

For the filling 

12 heads of fresh lavender (I used approx 6 teaspoons of dried lavender)
 600ml double cream
60g milk chocolate, for drizzling 

1. Put the lavender for the filling into the cream and leave to infuse for 24 hours or longer for a stronger flavour. If you’re in hurry, then double the lavender, gently bruise the flowers between your fingers and leave out of the fridge for 2–3 hours. 

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. 

3. Beat together the butter and sugar well until white and fluffy. Beat the eggs and add gradually to the creamed mixture A few tablespoons of the flour (use this from the allocated 200g) added in before you add the eggs will prevent the batter from curdling. (It’s not the end of the world if it does curdle; just keep going – the flour will bring it all together again when it’s added.) 

4. Sift in the flour and baking powder and cocoa powder into the creamed mixture. Mix well. 

5. Spoon the mixture into 24 large cupcake cases. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. They must be absolutely cool before you add the cream.

6. Strain the cream and whip to a firm consistency. Cut out a chunk from the top of each cupcake to make a hollow. 

7. Dollop a tablespoon of cream into each indentation. Cut the remaining piece of cake in half and place on top of the cream to give you an old-fashioned butterfly-cake effect. 

8. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of hot water, then drizzle  over the cakes. Scatter with open lavender flowers just before serving. 

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