I’m beginning to think there is a selective filter that is applied to certain childhood memories, that partially distorts the truth of the event.
Take for example the photo of my fifth birthday cake. It is a grainy image taken with a camera of dinosaur-era technology. Even as we speak some teenage whippersnappers are probably laughing at it in a museum. They’ve been dragged there as part of their ‘Historical Community and Technology Relations’ triple star – GCSTFEVQ. A qualification which will prepare them for a career in….something, and was certainly not dreamed up to help massage government education statistics and cut teenage pregnancy. Anyway, they are laughing at my parents’ camera, taking photos of it with their mobiles and conversing in a teenage patois all their own. To them, it is a relatively uninteresting diversion, yet that camera took the photo of my fifth birthday cake.
The photo in question shows a hedgehog cake. Whereas the clarity of the image isn’t really up to much, to me it is razor sharp and can stand proudly alongside any photo-shopped, airbrushed beauty of the modern era. Look at the chocolate butter icing. It’s not margarine you know, it’s artery-clogging butter. Lovingly smeared on, then pierced at strategic intervals with almond spines. Look at how my Mum has shaped the face and the nose, how did she do that? It was a culinary masterpiece. And that’s what I retain about the cake. A lovely-to-look-at picture that goes with my vague memories of a mad party in the garden. David Lobb came to that party. I wonder where David Lobb is now?
What the photo doesn’t show is the hours of preparation that went into that cake. Did she run out of icing sugar at a crucial moment? Did the first attempt fail completely and she was forced to start over at 2 in the morning? You see, the photo just doesn’t give any inkling of that; it shows another childhood birthday success story.
I completely fell for those childhood photos that show Christmas dinners, New Year buffets and birthday teas. Effortless rituals easily performed. So it was a bit of a shock when I started to try and recreate those childhood successes for my own children. Birthdays, Christmas, Feasts and Festivals, I determined that all of them had to have the perfect food of my childhood. So Pancake Day was always going to be done with panache and style; it was going to become a delightful memory for my little ones.
Why, does no-one tell you how hard it is to make pancakes single-handedly with 3 small children crying for their tea? Why make Pancake Day a Tuesday, when which modern-day husband is going to be home to help? It should definitely be switched to a Saturday. Look, if Easter can float around willy-nilly, landing anywhere between March the 1st and April the 30th, then Mardi Gras can most certainly become Crêpe Samedi.
My first Pancake Day bonanza was a flop. It metaphorically curled up in the pan, then convulsed and landed on the floor. The big build up from me was a mistake;
‘It’s Pancake Day! Yes, P-A-N-C-A-K-E DAY! (bear in mind my eldest was 3, middlest was nearly 2, and the youngest 5 months) Mummy make Pancakes!’
I clapped my hands, smiled crazily and whipped them up into an excited frenzy. Teatime couldn’t come fast enough for them. My second mistake? I attempted to make a wholesome tea – which with 3 little children is a day’s work anyway – and then serve pancakes. I seem to recall that I had not made the batter in advance, so had to string out the excited, raised–eyebrowed, cheek-aching grin as I cracked eggs and weighed out flour. Full nappy be damned, I can’t change it now, I’m making super pancakes!
Finally it was all ready, and with a flourish I began. It was here that I realised; I couldn’t make pancakes. It was not something I had ever made with any degree of success. I had completely forgotten that the first ones fail as you get the temperature of the pan right. I had forgotten that when you try and toss them – the only vaguely interesting bit for children – they don’t fly thrillingly up to the ceiling spinning like Torvill and Dean in their heyday; they jerk spasmodically in the pan before flying a few inches north then falling back as a stodgy plop in the pan.
I wish someone had told me that you don’t have to make every festival and ritual a resounding success. That if your Pancake Day bombs, it doesn’t mean you have failed as a Mother, and ruined their childhood. I wish I’d realised that children’s happy childhood memories come gradually. That they are formed - pixel on pixel - over the years, until perhaps one day they can look back at the photos of their past and feel happy and contented.
I also wish someone had told me that by the time my eldest was 8 I’d be a dab hand at Pancakes, and that I’d rustle up this egg free, dairy free, gluten free batch without breaking a sweat. I do hope you enjoy them on the forthcoming Mardi Gras!
Childhood Buckwheat Pancakes (Makes approximately 10, perhaps a few more)
May my eldest daughter’s life be long, happy and healthy. We had an early pancake day last Sunday, so that I could trial this recipe. When the pancake fest was in full swing she came twirling into the kitchen; curls bouncing, blue eyes shining, pretty mouth smiling;
‘Mum! You make such delicious pancakes! Your blog cooking will go down in history with my children…and with my children’s children!’ Ahhhh....
It's best to make the batter about 20 mins before you need it, but if all the wheels are falling off your teatime bus, then make it and cook it; if they're hungry they'll eat!
100g rice flour (I used brown rice flour)
90g buckwheat flour
0.5tsp Xanthan Gum
2 heaped tsp of ‘no egg’ egg replacer mixed with 4 tbsp rice milk
2 tbsp oil
800-850ml rice milk
More oil to fry
- Mix up the 'no egg' with the rice milk and whisk until all the lumps are gone. Add the 2 tbsp of oil
- Put the flours and xanthan gum into a large mixing bowl, stir until thoroughly mixed together
- Make a bit of a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the 'no egg' and oil. Pour in 800ml of rice milk (add the extra 50ml later if you think the mix is too thick; you may not need it) and mix vigorously until everything is combined. Whisk it now until there are no lumps and it's bubbly on the surface (about 2 mins should do it)
- Leave for about 20 mins if possible, the mixture will thicken a little. The kind of consistency you are aiming for is something approaching double cream...or double cream merging into single cream. You know what? I don't think the consistency is a deal breaker...if it's too thick you'll have lovely stodgy pancakes, if it's too thin...you'll have thin pancakes, and you could always seive in a tbsp extra of rice flour. Let's make Mardi Gras about relaxing, not stressing about our pancakes, what do you think?
- Where was I? Oh yes, when your pancake batter is ready, take a pancake pan (and yes, they really are better than regular frying pans...just nip out and buy one, slot it under 'household expenditure' in your budget, and you don't need to feel the least bit guilty) and put it on the hob on a low-medium heat
- Pour about 4 tbsp of oil into a small bowl and place the small bowl onto a plate. Take some kitchen towel, scrunch it up and dip it into the oil, now smear it around your pancake pan, thus leaving an oily film over the surface of the pan. Put the kitchen towel back onto the plate, you'll need to repeat the pan-oiling manoeuvre for the next pancake
- Here comes the bit I find tricky; the temperature of the pan. You don't want the oil to be smoking, but it must be quite hot. It generally takes me a few pancakes before the pan and I are working in perfect harmony
- When you think the pan is hot enough, take a ladle of pancake batter. Lift the pan off the heat and start to pour in the batter. As soon as the batter hits the pan, gently incline the pan and rotate it at the same time so that the batter starts to spread and run into a perfect circle shape. If it looks more like a starfish, it really doesn't matter
- Once the batter has stopped running and is beginning to set, place the pan back on the heat and watch it like a hawk for about 30 seconds. The edges should go crispy and the middle will start to thicken and develop bubbles on the surface
- As the edges crisp, take a blunt knife and very gently loosen them so that they don't stick to the pan. Once the edges are free, try to slide your knife / silicone spatula / whatever under the pancake to loosen it. Give the pan a shake or two, and hopefully soon, the pancake will be released and will slide around the pan when you shake it. When it's ready, it should be lightly browned on the underside
- Now, remove the pan from the heat, remove all children to a safe distance and launch that cake to the sky. I accept no responsibility for the consequences of your action. Alternatively, use a spatula to gently flip the pancake, but that really is the cautious option isn't it? Is that how you want to live your life?
- Allow the pancake to brown on the other side, then slide it calmly onto a plate. You are perfect, well done
- Serve with a topping of your choice
- Repeat all of the above until pancake mix has gone
- Enjoy your Mardi Gras. Why is it those words conjure up images of smiling Brazilian women in spangly thongs wearing feather headdresses, rather than rolled up pancakes? Bizarre...
© Pig in the Kitchen Jan 2008