Saturday, April 11, 2009

Masterclass - Pancakes/Crepe Suzettes

It may seem strange to suggest that pancakes need a Masterclass, but they are one of the few ‘easy’ dishes that need a few hints and tips to make them successfully. Perhaps because we remember them being traditionally and freshly made on Pancake Day, with a fair number to feed the first one is eaten before the next is ready – and like baby birds in a nest, all waiting to be fed but only one at a time - Mum can be feverishly making pancakes until every plate has eventually received three, Making them only once a year can seem once too often.

Ignoring the fact that it is traditional to toss pancakes over rather than flip them with a palette knife, because half the time they end up on the floor, the first pancake always seems to stick to the pan, sometimes even the second. Flip them if you wish, but that choice I leave to you.
It is easy enough to make the batter, and not too difficult to cook the thicker pancakes, but when it comes to the really thin ‘crepes’ as they are called, then what can be an extremely cheap ‘pud’ anyway can turn into a spectacular dinner party dessert.
Not only that, the pancakes – once made – keep for several days in the fridge, and freeze extremely well and can be used for both sweet and savoury dishes, either rolled or parcelled around fruit fillings to be heated through and served with a sweet sauce, cream or custard, and can even be wrapped parcel-fashion around firm cubes of ice-cream and quickly deep (or shallow) fried,
Pancakes can also be rolled or wrapped around savoury fillings, placed in a shallow casserole and covered with a tomato or béchamel sauce topped with cheese to be cooked in the same way as a similar pasta dish. Or they can be ‘stacked’ with assorted savoury fillings between them and a cheese sauce poured over before being heated through. Throughout this blog are many recipes using pancakes – all will eventually appear in the recenet ‘collection’ (March 2009),.
As a very economical ‘food’ which also has a good degree of nourishment (eggs, milk, flour), it is worth learning how to cook a decent pancake and move on from there.

The Perfect Pancake.
Although pancakes seem simple enough, they can sometimes be fiddly to make and there are many ‘tricks of the trade’ to perfect the cooking.
It is always work spending an hour making a large batch of pancakes, as – when interleaved with greaseproof paper and bagged up – they freeze very well and a few can be taken out and used as required for both sweet and savoury dishes. They also thaw out quite rapidly. If you have no freezer, a batch of pancakes (again interleaved) and bagged up will sit quite happily in the fridge for up to a week.

To make the pancake we start with the batter. This can be used immediately after making or it can be left to stand in the fridge. If left to stand the flour tends to thicken so a more milk may be needed to thin it down slightly.

Most pancake recipes use the same ingredients, although some differ slightly with the amounts. A good one to use is the following:
PANCAKE BATTER: makes 8- 12
4 oz (100g) plain flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 egg yolk
half pint (300ml) milk
1 tblsp butter
Sift the flour and the salt into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Beat together the whole egg and the egg yolk with a third of the milk and pour this into the well. Using a wooden spoon slowly mix in the flour, drawing it into the liquid from the sides until you have made a smooth paste. Gradually add the remaining milk until you have a batter the consistency of single cream.

With the batter now made, and when ready to cook the pancakes, first heat up a medium sized non-stick DRY frying pan over medium heat for at least 5 minutes – this really heats the pan through and this can often prevent the first pancake sticking to the pan (as so often happens) , the heavier the pan the longer it will take to heat.
If pancakes are intended to made several times a year, it is worth investing in a proper ‘pancake pan’. Put in the butter, swirl it round the pan until melted (but do not allow it to brown), then pour the melted butter into the pancake batter (stirring as you go so that it doesn’t ‘cook’ the batter as it touches), this also helps to prevent the pancake sticking to the pan. There need only be a film of butter left covering the base of the pan as the pancake is more cooked than fried.. If the pan is bare metal (not non-stick) it is useful to have a little more melted butter in a dish by the pan to dip kitchen paper into and wipe the pan between pancakes.

Pancakes do not always need to be the same thickness. Really thin pancakes are called ‘crepes’ and used mainly for dessert dishes, slightly thicker pancakes can be used for savoury dishes, so when cooking a batch to freeze, start by making the thicker pancakes as these are easier to handle while the pan settles itself (there is no other term for this – it always seems the more pancakes made the easier it gets to cook and turn them).
The recipe for the basic pancake batter is given below, and start by making a thickish pancake. Lift the pan slightly up at the handle end, then tip in 4 tblsp of batter (equivalent to one small ladleful) and swirl it down and around the pan, if this appears too much (depending upon size of pan used) tip the surplus back into the batter and use less for the next. To cook ‘crepes’ no more than 2 tblsp of batter should be used.
Obviously we cannot put the amount in spoon by spoon as the first lot will start cooking before the second hits the pan, so judge the amount (practice pouring the amount into a small jug/cup and decant into and pour from this. With practice it is easy to estimate the right amount, and make the batter in a large jug and pour from this.

Cook over medium heat for 1 minute or until the underside is golden, Using a palette knife or fish slice flip the pancake over, them cook for a further 20 seconds. Turn out onto a plate and serve immediately, whilst still hot – traditionally eaten with a sprinkling of sugar and a squeeze of lemon.
If intending to make a lot of pancakes, lay sheets of greaseproof or parchement paper on a counter top or table and slide each cooked pancake onto the paper, side by side, and when cold cut the paper between the pancakes and lay one (including its paper) on top of another, finishing with paper. Bag up and keep in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze.
When using, one side of the pancake will appear browner than the other. When folding/rolling pancakes, they look more attractive with the best side facing up. Not essential of course, but good presentation always helps..

For some reason the upmarket Crepe Suzettes are believed difficult to make, but they are just thin pancakes heated through in an orange sauce. Try and make the pancakes as thin as possible, and – when using less batter - if it seems too thick to cover the whole base of the pan before it begins to ‘set’cooks before beat in add a very little more milk to the batter to thin it down slightly. It has to be said trial and error is the only way to perfect this, but a good tip when cooking a goodly number of pancakes to freeze, is to make the thicker pancakes first and then very slightly thin down the batter in the bowl, carry on frying and see how the pancakes turn out. You could end up with several different degrees of thickness throughout the batch and all these can be used for various dishes.
Looking at it purely economically, thinning down the batter means we end up with more pancakes (sorry ‘crepes’ – and it is not often that something ‘better-class’ works out cheaper!). However, during the learning curve, thicker pancakes are easier to handle and control, and even if it doesn’t go quite right first time, serve them anyway and they taste just as good with sugar and lemon juice. Practice makes perfect.

To make Crepe Suzettes to feed four you need at least one pancake each (Beloved requests three) and an orange sauce. One advantage of this dish is that the pancakes do not need to be perfectly round, as even raggedy ones will look fine once folded.
Two recipes are given to make this dish, the first being made in the microwave.
Quick Suzettes: serves 4
4 ready-made pancakes
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
juice of 2 large oranges
zest of 1 orange
small knob of butter
crème fraiche (opt)
Put the sugar into a microwaveable bowl and stir in 3 tblsp of orange juice to dampen it down. Microwave on High for 3 – 4 minutes until it turns into a bubbling caramel. Remove from the microwave – taking care to hold the bowl with a cloth as it will be extremely hot) – then add the rest of the orange juice, the orange zest and the butter. Return to the microwave, cook on High again for 1 minutes, stir, then cook for a further minute until the caramel has dissolved into a syrup. Remove from oven and set aside.
Heat the pancakes in the microwave for one minute, or until heated through (if buying bought pancakes – heaven forbid – the heating instructions will be on the pack). Serve each folded into quarters with the sauce poured over. A dollop of crème fraiche on the side adds to the dish.

With most recipes the sauce is first made in the pan and then comes the variations. One will suggest laying a pancake in the sauce, allowing it to heat through, then folding in half and half again to make a triangle (they are all eventually folded this way), then pushing it to one side, and placing another flat pancake in the sauce and repeating until all are folded and heated. Another suggests folding the pancakes first and then placing all into the pan with the sauce, or even pouring the sauce over and reheating. It is really a matter of choice and whether you prefer to make as much as you can in advance, or make the sauce on the spot.

To avoid complicating matters, just use ordinary very thin pancakes for this dish, then make the sauce and follow directions (or watch the video), but once you have mastered the process, and wish to serve the dish again, add the zest of an orange to the batter before making the crepes and keep them for this dish.

Orange sauce for Crepes Suzettes:
5 fl oz (150ml) fresh orange juice
zest of 1 orange
1 tblsp caster sugar
2 tblsp Cointreau or Brandy
2 oz (50g) butter
Put the butter into a frying pan(large enough to hold four folded pancakes) and heat gently until melted, then add the rest of the ingredients. Cook until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce thickened slightly to a syrupy consistency
Heat the pancakes in this syrup (either starting them off flat or folded according to your choice), then moving the pan away from the heat pour in a small ladleful of the chosen spirit and either set fire to it with a taper, or tilt the pan over a gas flame so that the vapour ignites, but take care to keep your head away from the pan or your eyebrows/fringe may go up in smoke.
Serve immediately the flames have subsided.

Home-made Orange Liqueur:
1 large orange
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
half pint (300ml) brandy
Using a zester, remove a thin layer of peel from around the orange, or – if using a knife – make sure all the pith has been removed from the peel before using, then slice the peel into fine shreds. Place into a jar with the sugar, and all the juice from the orange. Pour over the brandy, Seal with a tight-fitting lid and give a good shake, then store in a dark cupboard. Every few days give the bottle another shake to help dissolve the sugar.
Leave for a couple of months before using to allow the favours to develop. The ‘liqueur’ can be strained and re-bottled if you wish. Or leave the shreds in the jar. Either way don’t discard the shreds (they could be frozen) as they give a luxury taste when used as a topping for ice-cream, added to a fruit salad, and even included in a beef casserole. They can also be sprinkled over the Crepe Suzettes in the pan before being served.

(Lemon 'Brandy' can be made in the same way - using lemons instead of oranges - and allegedly the secret ingredient used in the traditional recipe for Bakewell Pudding).