A Mindful Holiday: Shrove Tuesday

Read on for why pancakes are so mindful, tips on getting the perfect stack, and a recipe for the fluffiest Canadian pancakes.

Whether you observe the day due to its religious significance (feasting before the period of Lent), or just because you happen to really, really like pancakes (me), Pancake Day is one of the better quasi-holidays.

As a Canadian, I’ll take any excuse to eat pancakes and maple syrup, but I will just as happily mark the occasion with those thin English pancakes with lemon and sugar. And then there are savoury crepes: ham and gruyere, smoked salmon and cream cheese, or my Dad’s signature Pancake Day show-off meal, a seafood crepe – packed full of seafood and cream – heaven. It really is just as well this day only comes once a year.

Regardless of your pancake predilections, pancakes all have one thing in common: the ritual of pancake making. Measuring, whisking, waiting, pouring, flipping, and then repeating the process over, and over, and over – it’s a slow, methodical, time-honoured practice that requires your absolute patience and dedication, while not actually requiring any skill or hard work. In short, pancakes are stuff of low stress, mindful cooking.

But they take time. Making pancakes in a rush is never going to get you anywhere. That’s what I love about them. Pancakes force you to slow down, watch for the signals, bide your time. Flip too early at your peril.

Kids love it too. I, myself have wonderful childhood memories of making pancakes with my Dad at weekends. Indeed, it was one of the first things I learned how to cook. Don’t we all need a reminder now and again to slow down and enjoy some precious family time? Pancake Day is a perfect annual reminder.

Tips on Creating the Perfect Pancake

  • Don’t whisk the batter too much. Just get rid of the big lumps and then ditch the whisk.
  • Pancake batter needs to rest to work. Give it 10 minutes at room temperature for best results.
  • It is said the first pancake never works out. That’s not true – the pan just isn’t hot enough. Preheat the pan properly and you won’t have to suffer the enduring embarrassment of the sacrificial pancake.
  • Cast iron makes the best pancakes. Cast iron gives you lovely even heat and ensures your pancakes are crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle. Requires quite a bit of butter, though. Non-stick pans are the only alternative, allowing you to get away with a lot less fat.
  • Look for the signs before flipping: the outside edge has curled under, bubbles have formed (and popped) in the centre, and the top starts to look a little less shiny.
  • For thick fluffy pancakes, don’t even think about pressing down the pancake after you’ve flipped it. It’s flat – it will have good contact with the pan. You’re trying to create a fluffy, airy pancake, so why would you squish it?
  • Maple syrup really should be the real thing.

Basic Buttermilk Pancakes

Truthfully, Canadians (even the food-obsessed ones) make pancakes from a mix that comes in a box. Absent a stash of the pre-prepared flour mix, this recipe is exactly what you need. Fluffy pancakes, every time.

Feeds 4 adults, or 2 adults and up to 4 children

Ingredients

1 ½ cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 ¾ cups buttermilk (see Tip below)
1 large egg
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
Butter, for cooking the pancakes

Tip: For a buttermilk substitute, add 2 tbsp white wine vinegar to a jug, then top up to 500ml with milk. Let stand for a few minutes, then measure and use as directed.

Method:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl or jug, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, oil and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients into the dry, whisking until combined but still lumpy. Let rest for 10 minutes before proceeding.

Preheat a cast iron (or non-stick) frying pan over medium-low heat. Melt a little butter on the cooking surface, then cook the pancakes, one at a time. The size is really up to you. Lots of little ones are fun, but annoying to cook. Too large and you run the risk of it not cooking fully in the middle. Check out my tips above for how to cook the perfect pancake.

Keep the cooked pancakes warm in a low oven while you get on with the rest. Serve with real maple syrup.

Tip: The only variation I am happy with is the addition of blueberries. Reminds me of camping in Canada. Give the chocolate chips a miss, please.

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