Smile Politely

The Flip Side of Fat Tuesday

Banana, blueberry, ricotta, buckwheat, buttermilk, bao, bing (Chinese flatbread), German, potato, Schmarren, latkes, crepes, Johnnycakes, dosa — the list goes on and on. These, of course, are plays on the incredibly versatile pancake.

Pancakes can turn up in the form of appetizers, breakfast dishes, lunch courses, supper treats and desserts. They lend themselves to a variety of preparations and are often stuffed or served with fruits, jams, sausages, and even leftover meats or fish. It’ no wonder that around the globe pancakes find center stage for a wide variety of religious holidays and national dishes.

On Tuesday, the nation joined New Orleans in celebrating Mardi Gras. For many of us, Fat Tuesday is merely an excuse to overindulge in all forms of the decidedly decadent. But for others, Mardi Gras’s Fat Tuesday marks the end of Carnivale and the beginning of the Easter season. Good Christians everywhere are busy eating (and drinking) themselves full in preparation for Lent and the long fast ahead.

For the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland and Australia, Fat Tuesday is actually known as Pancake Day. Eggs, butter and milk were once forbidden by the church during lent and were therefore traditionally used up the day before Ash Wednesday and made into pancakes.

In England, the annual pancake races take place on Pancake Day — a rite that’s been going on for over 500 years. By tradition, only women are allowed to enter, and they’re required to run the race flipping a pancake along the way. Many other countries, such as Sweden, Poland and Lithuania, have their own pre-Lenten traditions and festivities, similarly involving pancakes, pastries and other sweet treats containing plenty of milk, eggs and butter.

For we Americans, pancakes are ubiquitously known by children and adults as one of the sweetest delights. Covered in warm maple syrup, they tend to occupy our earliest memories and remind us of home. I find it disappointing we do not have our own pancake holiday. Perhaps, eventually, we’ll come up with something. Until then, we still have weekend mornings, when we can take a few extra minutes to give our pancakes banana-slice eyes and bacon smiles.

Fat Tuesday Pancakes

• 4 large eggs
• 1 cup milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat)
• 1 tablespoon butter, melted
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla, extract
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup all purpose flour
• Additional melted butter
• Powdered sugar
• Fresh lemon juice

This recipe is for English Pancake Day-style pancakes. They are much thinner than the pancakes we are accustomed to, more similar to crepes. The English eat their pancakes with sugar and lemon instead of maple syrup, but you can use syrup or jam if you want to.

Preheat oven to 350¡F. Blend first six ingredients by blender or by hand. Gradually add flour; blend until smooth. Let stand 15 minutes.

Heat medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with butter. Add 2 generous tablespoons batter, tilting pan to coat bottom. Cook until golden on bottom, about 45 seconds. Turn pancake over. Cook other side until bottom is speckled with brown, about 30 seconds. Remove from pan. Keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet with butter as needed.

Butter oven-proof dish. Sift powdered sugar over each pancake, then sprinkle lightly with lemon juice; fold pancakes into quarters. Overlap pancakes in prepared dish. Cover; bake until heated through, about 10 minutes. Serve with more powdered sugar and lemon juice.

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