Pancakes

July 29, 2011

Following the theme of the previous post I am now moving on to pancakes. Though pancakes today is considered a very simple dish that most people knows how to do, it would not be a common dsh until the metal pan is spread to a larger extent. The origin of pancakes can probably be traced back to ancient greece or even earlier of one were to include varieties of flat bread. However in a medieval/renaissance context the first appearance of pancakes seem to date back to about the early 15th century.

For this part of my experiments I have again chosen to use two recipes, a French recipe from “Le ménagier de Paris” (1390) and a newer dutch recipe. Though am a bit cautious about enhancing modern images and food traditions when doing renaissance dishes – as things may change in 500 years – the Dutch cookbooks, and some of the baroque painters seem to give a pancakes an important role already during the 16th century.

I started of with the French recipe;

Lé menagier de Paris (1390)

CREPES. Take flour and mix with eggs both yolks and whites, but throw out the germ, and moisten with water, and add salt and wine, and beat together for a long time: then put some oil on the fire in a small iron skillet, or half oil and half fresh butter, and make it sizzle; and then have a bowl pierced with a hole about the size of your little finger, and then put some of the batter in the bowl beginning in the middle, and let it run out all around the pan; then put on a plate, and sprinkle powdered sugar on it. And let the iron or brass skillet hold three chopines, and the sides be half a finger tall, and let it be as broad at the bottom as at the top, neither more nor less; and for a reason.

This recipe is more or less what we would recognise as a pancake today, though it is rather deepfried than fried. Again the lack of a proper wine frustrated me as it would influence the taste. My lack of bowls that could pierce made me try to drip out the bater in a spiral shape using the rim of the bowl and a spoon, with a mediocre result. The batter was made quite liquid through the addition of both eggs, wine and water. The batter fried alright though it spread a bit to wide to make a nice spiral shape. Though the addition of some sugar in the end, made it a quite nice snack I realised that I might have used a bit to much egg in the mixture.

In the second trial I instead used a dough based on a Dutch recipe from 1510

Om panckoecken te maken inde vastenen

Square deepfried pancakes, 16th century Netherlands

To make lenten pancakes

[13] Om panckoecken te maken inde vastenen Neemt [14] fijn bloeme die suldi beslaen met gheste Dan maeckt [15] daer af deech Dan salmen van dien seluen deeghe ne[16]men een cleyn clontken ende maken dat viercantych [17] seer dunne emmers soe dunne alst moghelyck es om [18] maken tot dat cleyn gaetkens worpt: Dan bacxse wel in [19] raeptsmout Sommyghe dye willen backen der inne [20] rosinen ende dye steken si hyer en daer eene ende oock [21] cleyn stucxkens van appelen.

[13] To make lenten pancakes. Take [14] fine flour which you shall beat up with yeast. Then make [15] dough from it. Then, from the same dough, one shall [16] take a small lump and make it square [17] [and] very thin, in any case as thin as it is possible to [18] make, until small holes appear. Then fry them well in [19] rape oil. Some, who wish to, fry raisins therein [20] and they stick them one here and there and also [21] small pieces of apple.

Although certainly called pancakes there are several parts in it that we would not recognise in a pancake today. The first problem in understanding the recipe came when reading that four should be whisked with yeast in order to make a dough. At this occasion I dissolved some of the yeast into water and whisked it up with the flour making a rather firm dough. Though the whisking may suggest that should have made a batter, it also states that I should form small square cakes, which requires a nice firm dough. The flour used in both this dish and the former was of course ordinary wheat flour. After I made the dough, describing the ingredients to ne of the visitors, I did get a small revelation about the content of the dough. At the time a liquid yeast, would most likely have been the remains of making beer. If I had added some beer to the yeast I woud probaby have had a dough with a bit of a taste in it self. This ought to be remembered for future use.

I shaped the dough into small square bits on which I planted pieces of raisins and apples. As the recipe suggest that I should fry the raisins and as I at first thought I needed to turn the cakes n order to get them evenly fried.

This was not necessary, and in fact completely wrong as it turned the raisins into hard burt inedible stones. Though I appreciated the risk of that happening it came about far quicker than I had anticipated. After the first cake made this way I soon abandoned that method and instead just let the fry on one side, whilst scooping up some hot fat with a spoon and poured over the cakes. That was however not really necessary either. In the recipe one are told to make the cakes so thin that holes appear, and through these holes the fat would pour up and deep fry the surface as well, without burning the raisins.

The cakes were fried in rapeseed oil as suggested by the recipe. It is quite interesting as it is one f the first recipes suggesting the use of this oil. Finds from a settlement in Sweden dating back to the Iron Age, suggests that the plant (brassica rapa) was cultivated already at this time, it is however unclear if it was turnips or the oilrich plant that was grown.

Though the cakes lacked what we would consider the classical medieval tastes of cinnamon, ginger etc. it had a ice taste and would serve well as a small snack. It is possible that in the Netherlands – being close to the wine growing areas of Germany, raisins would not have been a to expensive commodity.

4 Responses to “Pancakes”

  1. murmel.jones said

    Pancakes similar to french crêpes were made from at least the 12th century on, even before the spread of iron pans. They were baked on convex shaped ceramic plates (similar to modern iron “bilig”-forms) which are a common find in medieval digs of Northern/Western France. Some archaeologists propose a similar purpose for certain ceramic forms from the late neolithic (in german we call them “Michelsberger Backteller”).

    • eldrimner said

      What evidence do we have for the 12th century crêpes? The iron pans of Viking age Scandinavia, has more likely been used for making fried flat breads or discs in my opinion. An early date for crêpes would have been interesting for that interpretation.

      I need to check out the neolithic forms…quite interesting.

      • murmel.jones said

        The supposed “galettières” (crêpe-baking-plates) are made from talcum-tempered clay called “céramique onctueuse” which is dated from 12-14 th century. There are no written sources about their use from this time period, but later french sources mention similar forms for baking “galettes”. A “galette” is some kind of pancake that is in thickness between a french crêpe and a german Pfannkuchen, and much thinner than an american/british pancake. I could not find a picture of a galettière on the web.
        The neolithic ones are flat plates without a rim, and date from the neolithic Michelsberg culture (around 4000 BC) in Germany and France. They are supposed to be baking plates for some kind of flat bread or pancake. Pictures can be seen at the Karlsruhe Museum website:
        http://www.zum.de/Faecher/G/BW/Landeskunde/rhein/kultur/museen/blmka/ausst/2/michelsberger/keramik.htm

      • eldrimner said

        Ah, actually did an experiment last week with similar baking plates at a stone age museum. As they had some decoration the bread tended to stick to it but still I would say that flat discs of that kind would rather have been used for flat breads than for actual batterbased pancakes. That said, one of the pancakes dishes I tried in the above blogpost was not based on a batter either.

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