Beginning to bake #1: the pancake plan

As I explained in my previous post, the challenge I have set myself is to set out a series of steps to help someone to learn to bake. The idea is to build each step on a platform of existing knowledge.

Thinking through possible starting points, I’ve decided to assume only the skills needed to fry things. If you can make a basic stir fry, or cook up some bacon and eggs then you should be able to make pancakes.

Although cooked on top of the stove, and therefore not strictly baking, pancakes have many things in common with baked goods. They are made of flour, eggs and milk, and in the case of these puffy Scotch pancakes, leavened with baking powder.

Cooking them on a pan also allows you to easily tell when they are cooked, one of the harder things for novice bakers.

A word about equipment: I am going to try and keep equipment needs to a minimum, and to increase what is needed by only one or two pieces each time. However, there are a couple of things that I think are essential for baking of any sort. One is a set of digital scales – I really wouldn’t want to ever bake without them, although American cooks seem to have avoided them for decades. Because you can zero them out with a bowl on there, you can often measure everything into one bowl. You can also more or less get away without a measuring jug for liquids, because they can be weighed too (remember that 100ml of water weighs 100g, and that goes for milk too). So, get a good set of digital scales, with a flat top and a zero button – they should be about £20. You will also need measuring spoons – at least 1 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon and a half teaspoon. Don’t use cutlery – it’s very unlikely to give you the same measure.

Apart from those two baking essentials, for these pancakes, you will also need a frying pan, a bowl or large jug, a whisk and a large spoon or a ladle (to pour the batter into the pan).

Basic recipe:

  • 120 grams plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons (tsp) baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 150 millileters / grams milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

This is a fairly simple ingredients list, so you may find you have everything on hand anyway.

If your baking powder has been untouched for years, it’s probably worth getting a new pot. Baking powder is just a mixture of a powdered acid and a powdered alkali. When you add liquid, the two react, producing bubbles of carbon dioxide that make baked goods light and fluffy. Modern baking powders are often ‘double-acting’, releasing gas when the liquid is added, and then again when heat is applied in the oven.

If it’s old, it can lose it’s potency.

Method:

Measure the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.

Add the sugar. Use a whisk to combine them together, making sure the baking powder is evenly distributed in the flour. If you have a sieve, you can put that on top of the bowl before you zero the scales and sieve them all together, but the whisk does a pretty good job. Watch out for lumps in the baking powder – those are harder to remove with a whisk.

Add the milk and the egg to the centre of the bowl, and use the whisk to combine everything together.

You need to mix the liquid and flour completely, but you don’t need to beat it hard and remove all the lumps. Whenever you add water to flour, you will start to develop gluten, the stretchy protein thy gives bread it’s texture. If you beat this batter hard, you will develop the gluten more, and the pancakes may end up chewy.

Heat a frying pan over a medium heat.  Non-stick pans are very helpful, I used a cast iron pan, but use whatever you have. Add a little butter, allow it to melt, and then wipe the pan with a paper towel to coat the pan with fat, and remove the excess.

Use the spoon or ladle to add about a tablespoon of batter to the hot pan. Spread it a little to form a circle, then leave it to cook.

You’ll know it’s ready to turn over when you have little bubbles over the surface, and the top of the pancake has almost all set, with virtually no liquid left. Turn over with a spatula, and cook the other side for a few minutes. You’ll know you have the heat right if the pancake is a perfect shade of golden brown when the top is set. If it looks too pale or too dark, adjust the heat.

Continue cooking the pancake like this, on batches. Get as many as you can in the pan, without them flowing into each other. If they do touch, use the spatula once they are set to separate them, then continue.

Keep the cooked pancakes warm on a plate or baking tray in a low oven (about 120C), covered with a tea towel.

Serve hot with maple syrup and crispy bacon. Or make then for afternoon tea, and serve with jam.

You can also freeze the pancakes after they have cooled. Interleaved them with greaseproof paper or baking parchment if you want to remove them individually, and freeze in a sealed box or freezer bag. Reheat frozen pancakes a few at a time in the toaster, or wrap a larger stack in foil and warm in the oven.

Variations:

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louise-marston

I’m Louise, and I’m a compulsive baker, cookbook hoarder and a bit of a food geek. I learnt to cook at home, and later at Tante Marie’s cooking school in San Francisco. With a science degree and a background in IT analysis, I like to understand why a recipe works, not just how to do it. Why the rules are there and when they can be broken.

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