I read somewhere that when you are in the kitchen you are never alone. You carry with you the memory of people. Your friends, family, colleagues, strangers you only met once somewhere far away, they all stand by you and you vividly recall their story.
For instance, I am now in the kitchen with my children not as they are today- young adults- but as small excitable school kids. On Carnival, parents would often send a stack of pancakes to share in class. I would start flipping and tossing early in the morning to be ready for 8 am. As I always made enough batter to feed an army, friends, young and old, would congregate in the warm kitchen to toss more pancakes in the evening. Animated, the kids could choose their favourite topping and, joy of joys, they would be allowed to flip their own pancake. Many would land on the kitchen floor to the great happiness of Owlie the cat, who would not eat them but would sniff them intently and deliberately as if to say: ‘what about me?’
It is with this memory in mind that I am making our ‘grown up’ pancakes today.
I have always assumed that pancakes were part of the Christian calendar. Shrove Tuesday comes from old English – shrive or confess. It appears however that a thin type of bread made flour, milk and egg was part of Northern and Celtic pagan tradition when it symbolised the return of sun. I guess it must have been ‘wishful thinking’!
Not everyone celebrates carnival and marks lent the same way!
In Rio de Janeiro people samba and in New Orleans they throw their most lavish street party.
In the small village of Olney in England, the townswomen hold a race every year on Shrove Tuesday. This event, which goes back 500 years, re-enacts the story of a village woman who was late for the mid-day confession service. As the church bells chimes, she runs from her kitchen to the parish church, wearing an apron and still grappling with a pancake in a pan.
In Italy, they fry pieces of dough, dust them with sugar and call them chiacchiere, cenci, stracci, struffoli, crostoli, frappole or nastrini... depending on the region and the recipe. The latter differs slightly; in the North chiacchiere is made with butter and grappa, while in the South it is olive oil and sambuca. I have been assured that Carnevale is not Carnevale without chiacchiere!
For a large plate of chiacchiere
250g plain white flour
50g icing sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
30 g butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 pinch of salt
20 ml dry white wine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Oil for frying
Icing sugar for dusting
In a bow, mix flour, sugar and baking powder.
- Add butter and mix together.
- Incorporate egg and yolk and mix.
- Add salt, wine and vanilla and combine the ingredients together to form a ball. The dough must be soft but not sticky.
- Knead the mixture for a good five minutes until dough is compact and elastic. (If using a Kitchen Aid mixer, use the paddle attachment first, then switch to the hook attachment to knead the dough.)
- Wrap in cling film and let it rest for an hour in the fridge.
- Divide the dough into four parts and roll it out as if you were making fresh egg pasta. If using a pasta machine, roll it to the thinnest thickness.
- Cut the dough out into the shape you like with a pastry wheel.
- Deep-fry the shapes in moderate hot oil. Not too hot: remember dough fries very quickly and if your oil is too hot, it may darken too much.
- Turn with a slotted spoon and fry until they are just golden brown.
- Place the fried chiacchiere on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil and allow them to cool down.
- Dust with icing sugar.
- Eat immediately chiacchiere don’t keep.
250 g plain flour, sifted
pinch of salt
500 ml milk mixed
pinch of salt
500 ml milk mixed
1 tablespoon caster sugar
- Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.
- Now make a well in the centre of the flour and pour half the milk.
- With a balloon whisk blend the flour and milk- incorporating any bits of flour from around the edge of the bowl.
- Next gradually add I egg at a time, still stirring with the whisk.
- Add the rest of the milk and keep stirring until you get a smooth batter.
- Add vanilla extract and sugar.
- Now melt the butter in a pan and spoon it into the batter.
- Leave it to rest for an hour in the fridge.
- Melt a little bit more butter and use a bit of kitchen paper to grease the hot pan, before placing ladleful of batter on medium heat.
- As soon as the batter hits the hot pan, tip it around from side to side to get the base evenly coated.
- Cooking should take about 1 minute or less.
- Before attempting to flip your pancake, lift the edge with a palette knife to see if it's a nice golden colour.
- Flip the pancake over either by tossing it in the air or with a palette knife - the other side will need less time.
- Slide the cooked pancake out of the pan
To serve, sprinkle each pancake with freshly squeezed lemon juice and caster sugar or with chocolate sauce, with honey and nuts, with berries and maple syrup, with chestnut cream and chocolate….