With Shrove Tuesday this week, it is only natural that my thoughts should turn to pancakes. I love pancake day. Indeed, I was born on Ash Wednesday and the story goes that my mum was deep breathing through her labour pains on that particular Shrove Tuesday whilst tossing pancakes for my dad and brother. We take pancakes very seriously in our family!
I don't think you can beat sugar and lemon on pancake day. But, having said that, my thoughts recently wandered off to Findus Crispy Pancakes. I remember that it was on a sleepover at my friend Fiona's house that I first came across them. I would have been about 10 years old at the time and we had the minced beef ones for our dinner. I thought they were amazing and I must have told my mum that too but oddly they never became part of what we ate at home. Later, when my girls were little, I would sometimes dish up the 3 cheese versions when staying in caravans on holiday.
Recently, and admittedly mainly as a consequence of reading "Swallow This", I have been avoiding processed food like this and have been trying to make home made versions of things we have previously enjoyed on occasions - chicken nuggets, chicken Kievs, beef burgers etc. So when thoughts of Findus Crispy Pancakes came into my head I wondered how easy it would be to make these. The answer, of course, is that is it impossible to make anything at home that is exactly like a factory made version. If you are a real die hard fan of a particular brand of processed food then whatever you do at home will fail to measure up. On the other hand, if you are a fan of the flavours of real food and prefer your food to only contain ingredients that you can spell, then homemade is the way to go. To my mind freshly made, home made "processed" food knocks the highly processed, slightly odd tasting factory versions into a cocked hat every time.
So, crispy pancakes were surprisingly straight forward. Once you have made some pancakes and some filling, it is just a matter of brushing with egg, folding the pancake and dusting with breadcrumbs. The secret to any homemade breaded food is panko breadcrumbs - extra crispy breadcrumbs that you can buy at the supermarket. And it is possible to put whatever things you like into the filling instead of being restricted to whatever the manufacturers have decided upon. On this occasion, I made cheese and gammon ones and I even froze them and cooked them from frozen in 20 minutes so they are a real convenience food come midweek. Having achieved success with that combo, I next tried a minced beef version and below I provide the recipe for both.
Crispy Pancakes (Cheese & Ham)
4 oz plain flour
Pinch of salt
10 fl oz milk
1 oz butter
1 oz plain flour
Grated mature Cheddar
Cubes of cooked gammon/ham
Put the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Beat together the milk and the egg. Make a well in the centre of the flour and gradually add the egg/milk mix, stirring in well before adding more. Leave to stand for half an hour. Heat some oil in a 15 cm frying pan and tip away into a heat proof bowl/cup. Add enough batter to coat the bottom of the frying pan and swirl around to make sure it is evenly coated, Fry for 2-3 minutes then flip over and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Set aside and repeat, reusing the discarded oil each time, until the batter is used up.
Next, gently melt the butter in a small saucepan then stir in the flour and continue to cook for a minute or so. Gradually add milk, stirring all the time, until a white sauce is created. Remove from the heat and add some grated cheese to taste. Cover the surface of the sauce with Clingfilm and set aside to cool completely. Once cool, stir in the chunks of gammon/ham
Take a pancake, dollop a heaped spoonful of filling to one side of the pancake. Brush around the edge of the pancake with beaten egg then fold over the pancake and push down firmly to seal. Brush more egg over the top of the pancake and scatter on breadcrumbs. Repeat until all the filling and/or pancakes are used. The pancakes can now be frozen on trays and then later packed into freezer bags or boxes. To heat, bake in the oven at 190°C for 20 minutes.
Crispy Pancakes (Minced Beef)
250g mince beef
Handful of flour plus salt and pepper
1 rasher of bacon, cut into small pieces.
1 small onion or a couple of shallots
200 ml beef stock (from one OXO cube)
1 tsp dark brown sugar
A splash of balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp tomato puree
Plus pancake ingredients and breadcrumbs as above
To make the beef filling, preheat the oven to 150°C. Put the seasoned flour onto a plate and then toss the mince in it, breaking up the mince with your fingers. Heat some oil in a large frying pan then add the mince and bacon to the pan and fry for a few minutes until beginning to brown. Transfer the mince into a suitable ovenproof dish with a lid. Next, fry the onions then add that to the mince. Add the sugar, vinegar, cocoa and tomato puree to the stock then pour that into the frying pan and heat through, scrapping the pan with a spatula to add those flavours to the stock too. Pour the liquid onto the mince, stir then put on the lid and place in the oven for an hour. Remove from the oven, stir and taste then add salt and pepper if necessary. Leave to cool completely before adding tablespoons of the filling to the pancakes and assembling as above.