Can someone explain to me what happened with the Anglican Communion? In 1534, Henry the Eighth split the Church of England from the Catholic Church so he could divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. And from then on, Anglicans have basically been lax Catholics. Our priests can marry, we don’t have one-on-one confessions, we have female priests and we can divorce and remarry to our hearts’ content. So in those days before lent, when Catholic countries are filled with people wearing beads, tossing doubloons, donning festive masks, dancing in the streets and eating king cake, why do those radical and rebellious Anglicans mark the night before Lent by staidly eating a pile of pancakes?
OK, I admit, I do know that there is a historical (if not liturgical) reason why pancakes are consumed on this day. Many centuries ago, fatty foods including dairy were forbidden during the 40 days of Lent. So in order to use up their supply of these ingredients, the Anglicans added flour and voila—a feast of pancakes on the day before Ash Wednesday. And don’t get me wrong. I love pancakes. Next to pizza and burgers, I’d say it’s one of those foods that’s never bad, there are just varying degrees of quality. But growing up in an Episcopalian family, and watching all my Catholic friends head with their families to Galveston or New Orleans to revel in those last few days before Lent, I always felt a little sheepish walking into my church’s annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. No beads, no floats, no dancing, just stack upon stack of pancakes. And yes, it was a bit gluttonous, but compared to Mardi Gras, it was bit tame, too.
Perhaps it was dull because the only style of pancake served at my church’s supper was your standard buttermilk with maple syrup. Delicious yes, but they can get a bit boring. I mean c’mon, a pancake is like a blank template screaming for culinary creativity. Take my grandpa’s, for instance. Every Saturday when I was growing up, he’d make fluffy pancakes dotted with fresh blueberries and pecans from the family farm. And then there were my uncle’s: his so-called Mexican pancakes were chunky with fresh coconut, a variety of nuts and chocolate chips. And he poured so much batter on the griddle they’d turn out as big as your head.
After my family’s, I’d have to say the tatiest pancakes I’ve ever eaten were in Austin, TX. There are two cafés, Kerbey Lane and Magnolia, that are open 24 hours, and while they make all sorts of dishes both places excel at breakfast. There’s been a long-standing debate about which restaurant is superior. And to be honest, it’s been so long since I’ve eaten at either one I have no opinion. But if you want pancakes in that town, everyone knows some of the best are found at either restaurant—they both make excellent variations on this classic dish. Theirs are large, fluffy and stuffed with all sorts of delights such as bananas, nuts, berries and chocolate chips. But I’d have to say my favorite style the two both serve is the gingerbread pancake.
I’d never had gingerbread pancakes until I moved to Austin and after one bite, I no longer had a desire for any other flavor. Take all the spicy goodness of a gingerbread cookie and make it rich, cake-like and fluffy, and there you have the joy that is a gingerbread pancake. They’re versatile as well, going equally well with nuts and honey, maple syrup, applesauce, whipped cream, or my favorite topping, vanilla yogurt.
After I moved to New York, I’d go to diners around town, asking if they served gingerbread pancakes but nobody did. Fortunately, a few years ago Magnolia gave its recipe to Texas Monthly. I made it, and instantly I was back in Austin on a warm spring morning, where the bluebonnets were in bloom, the sun was shining and everyone was relaxed sipping their steaming coffee and stuffing their face with gingerbread pancakes. So even if you prefer Kerbey Lane over Magnolia, I believe you’ll find this recipe a good substitute for either café’s offerings. And if you’ve never eaten gingerbread pancakes, what are you waiting for? Fire up the griddle and get cooking! And yes, perhaps if my childhood church had served these instead of plain old buttermilk, I would have found Shrove Tuesday a little less tame.
Happy Pancake Day!
3 large eggs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brewed coffee
21/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ginger
1 tablespoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Cream eggs and sugar together. Stir in buttermilk, water, and coffee and set aside. In a separate bowl sift together remaining dry ingredients.
Stir egg mixture into dry ingredients, then mix in melted butter.Add more water or buttermilk if necessary, but batter should be thick.
Cook until done on a lightly greased hot griddle or in a heavy skillet (turn once when bubbles appear on upper side and start to break). Pancakes will be thick and cake-like in texture.
Yield: 8 to 10 pancakes.
Adapted by Lisa Fain from the Magnolia Cafe