All hail the day when it’s positively encouraged to whip up a bowl of pancake batter, flip those airy, golden discs and douse them with an almighty downpour of maple syrup.
But what is ‘‘Shrove Tuesday’’ and what has it got to do with pancakes? Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday) has its history in Christian tradition. It’s the last day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent – 40 days of penance and denial.
So what to do with the rich ingredients in your pantry as you’re about to enter a period of extreme ‘‘no thanks’’? Make the most of them and feast up before the famine.
Shrove Tuesday became the more cuddly ‘‘Pancake Day’’ because ingredients like eggs, milk and sugar needed to be used up before Lent and pancakes were the perfect answer.
Many cultures have a version of the little flat cake – from the spongy, sour injera of many African cuisines, to India’s savoury dosas and Sweden’s plattar served with lingonberries. If you fancy the flipside of the traditional pancake, here’s a handful for celebrating Shrove Tuesday.
If you don’t dig the sweet pancake but don’t want to bring the party down, go left field and have an okonomiyaki. It’s still technically a pancake, after all. This Japanese staple, traditionally made with flour, eggs and cabbage among other things, is a popular snack and Teppansan (179 Russell Street, city) does a nifty version, serving the pancake folded like an omelette and stuffed with beef and onions. Alternatively, if you want to stay with the cuisine but fancy something sweet, head to Harajuku Crepes (Shop 148 Knox Place, Melbourne Central) - they’re like the cosplay of the crepe world, dolled up with fruit, cream and custard and adorned with cut-out clovers of firm strawberry pudding.
The hardest thing about these fluffy, one-bite wonders is trying not to eat them in rapid-fire succession. They’re cooked quickly in a special poffertjes tray that’s dimpled like a massive golf ball. Half the pleasure of these pancakes is how hypnotic it is watching them being made. Batter is speedily dispensed into each divot with a squeeze bottle; they puff up and bake, are quickly flipped and then they are served on a plate with a shake of icing sugar, a dab of butter and a toothpick for cutlery. Poffertje stands tend to be pop-up operations, cropping up at craft markets and music festivals, but check out Gary’s Dutch Poffertjes and Poffertjes on the Run for a couple of good examples.
While French crepes are all sweet and whimsical, their savoury partner, the buckwheat galette, is much more of a straight shooter. Mostly associated with Brittany, the savoury galette is still cooked to a tissue-thinness but they have a duskier complexion than a crepe, and are filled with combinations like a classic ham, egg and cheese, smoked salmon, mushrooms with béchamel or hearty braised potato. Try pikelet-sized Roule Galette (24 Scott Alley, city) for an authentic taste - team it with a classic cup of Normandy dry cider for full effect.
East European Blintzes
A staple of the Jewish dinner table, blintzes are thin, slightly dense pancakes that are cooked then filled and folded. Fillings can include chicken or beef, potato and mushroom or the more popular sweet version stuffed with cottage cheese, sultanas and vanilla. Head to Balaclava and check out Balaclava Deli (267 Carlisle Street) for a range of blintzes, or call ahead to European Flavour (823 Glenhuntly Road, Caulfield South) if you want to get them hot and ready to go. Their smoked salmon and cream cheese blintzes are pre-order only but make the perfect brunch.
Luscious Italian ricotta hotcakes have become a bit of a staple on café menus around town – Bill Granger’s version served with honeycomb butter was a buzz dish for many a Melburnian heading to Sydney years ago – and they work especially well with fresh fruit. Because the ricotta mix is combined with whipped egg whites, it’s less of a winter warmer and more of a breezy, sunny pancake. Cafeteria (36 Bluff Road, Black Rock) serves theirs with a seasonal fruit compote, cinnamon honey yogurt and a beachside setting. American menus often feature a rich buttermilk pancake. For a local hero version, try Crabapple Kitchen's (659 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn) with Myrtleford buttermilk hot cakes with warm banana, salted peanut praline,whipped mascarpone and pure Canadian maple syrup.
What's your favourite type of pancake and where in Melbourne do you get it? Tell us in the comments below.