Pancakes are delicious wolfed down at the stove, but they are even better stuffed and eaten as a meal.
The point of Pancake Day was to use up any leftovers in the house before the Lenten fast. Eggs, butter and flour, but also anything else that would go in or on it. For this reason alone, I suspect that pancakes were always meant to be stuffed to the gills.
I love a little pancake, its freckled surface glistening with lemon juice and sugar, and have worked hard on getting a recipe that works every time. Tradition has it that the first one out of the pan is always less than perfect and the tattered disc becomes the cook's perk, rolled and wolfed at the stove while the second and third are in progress. In practice, that first pancake seasons the pan, leaving a light film of butter on which those that follow will slide.
There are two ways to cook the perfect pancake, either in a shallow nonstick frying pan or a well-used steel crêpe pan. Note the "well used". The surface of a new pan needs seasoning if the batter is not to stick, and preferably by years of use. But there's a short cut. Heating a steel pan over a hot flame, adding a knob of butter and letting it sizzle, wiping it out with kitchen paper and repeating several times should help a new pan to develop a nonstick film. The trick is never to wash it. I don't think I have washed mine in 20 years.
A 20cm nonstick frying pan will work well enough. Even better if it has rounded edges. That way you can slide your work out effortlessly.
I have a pan of warm butter, just short of liquid, on the side of the hob. I wipe the pan with a piece of kitchen roll or a brush soaked in the butter and put it briefly over a moderate heat. I pour a small ladleful of batter into the centre of the hot pan, lift the pan, tilting it from side to side, so a thin layer of batter covers the entire surface of the pan, then tip any extra batter back into the bowl to be used in the next pancake.
Back on the heat, the first side will always look better than the second. When you are finished, that first, pale golden side should be the one that goes on the top, or on the outside if you are stuffing it. As indeed we probably should.
The basic pancake
plain flour 100g
caster sugar 1 level tbsp
egg 1 large
egg yolk 1
Melt the butter in a small pan, remove from the heat and leave to cool. Sift the flour together with a pinch of salt into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar. Make a well in the centre then pour in the egg and egg yolk, lightly beaten, and the milk. Bring the flour slowly into the middle, beating lightly to get a smooth batter. Set aside for half an hour.
Brush a 20-22cm nonstick frying pan or crêpe pan with melted butter. When the butter starts to sizzle, give the batter a quick stir, then pour in enough to give a wafer-thin layer. Tip the pan round so the batter covers the bottom of the pan. Let it cook for a minute, then run a palette knife around the edge to loosen it. Slide the knife underneath, then flip the pancake over quickly and smoothly. Leave to cook for a minute or two then slide out on to a plate.
Continue with the rest of the mixture. You should make about 6-8 pancakes.
Caramelised onion and cheese pancakes
onions 1 kg
oil 3 tbsp
double cream 250ml
spinach leaves 200g
Emmental or similar cheese 180g
Dijon mustard 1 tbsp
pancakes 4 (see above)
Peel the onions then slice into thick segments. Melt the butter in a deep frying pan, add the oil and then the sliced onions, and let them cook for 20 minutes over a moderate heat, stirring regularly. They shouldn't brown but should soften and turn a pale amber in colour.
While the onions are cooking, wash the spinach, discarding any tough stems. Let the spinach leaves wilt for a minute or two, with only the water that sticks to their leaves after washing, in a covered pan over a moderate heat. Tip the spinach into a colander, run cold water from the tap over it to cool it, then thoroughly squeeze out water with your hands and add the spinach to the onions. Stir in the cream, the mustard and a grinding of black pepper. Grate the cheese and stir it in, then check the seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or mustard as you wish. Divide the mixture between four of the pancakes, spreading it almost to the edge, then fold each into four, transfer to a dish, trickle over a little more cream if you wish, add a knob of butter to each and scatter with grated Parmesan. Bake for about 30 minutes at 180C/gas mark 4.
Apple pancakes and cardamom butterscotch sauce
apples 750g, Bramleys or similar
apricots a handful, soft and dried
golden sultanas a handful
pancakes 2 large (see above)
cardamom pods 6
light muscovado sugar 75g
double cream 250g
Peel and chop the apples then cook over a moderate heat with a tablespoon or two of water until soft and fluffy. Chop the apricots and fold them into the apple with the sultanas. Place a pancake flat on the worksurface, smooth over a generous amount of the mixture, then roll it up. Repeat with the second pancake, slice each in two and serve with any remaining filling and the hot butterscotch sauce.
To make the sauce, crush the cardamom pods with a pestle or a heavy weight and tease out the black seeds, then crush to a fine powder. Add them to the cream and bring to the boil in a small pan. Remove from the heat and set aside for 10-15 minutes to allow the spice and cream to infuse. Pour the cream through a small sieve then put back into the saucepan, add the sugar and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, so the mixture continues at a steady simmer for two minutes.
Email Nigel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Picture: Pile them high: caramelised onion and cheese pancakes. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer