Ready steady pancakes….preparing for Shrove Tuesday

As Pancake day, aka Shrove Tuesday, comes round once again I have decided it is high time I find out a little more about the history of Shrove Tuesday and not just indulge in the eating of pancakes, although I’ll obviously be doing some of that too!

In modern times the wheels of marketing have turned Pancake Day into yet another advertising circus with “don’t forget your lemons” campaigns and promotional offers on ready to use Pancake mix so much like Easter I find it’s all about the chocolate and less about the tradition.

When recently asked why we celebrate Pancake Day I was pitifully poor at answering the question except to say that Shrove Tuesday falls before Ash Wednesday and marks the start of Lent. What I’ve subsequently discovered is that Shrove Tuesday is celebrated really only in English speaking countries and the date changes according to when Easter falls. This opens the debate on why Easter changes each year, the answer to which is “I don’t know”,  but we can address that another time.

Returning our attention to Pancake Day, it’s reason to be is traditionally linked to marking the period of fasting leading up to Easter, otherwise known as Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Observers of the Catholic and Christian religions traditionally gave up some form of luxury during this fasting period which culminated on the day of the resurrection of Christ, Easter Sunday. Before the fasting began however they celebrated with a day of feasting on Shrove Tuesday and the most common ingredients of the time, flour, water, eggs, fat, sugar were blended to create the humble pancake.

Today’s reincarnation of the pancake is somewhat less humble with Pancake Day leading the way for more and more exotic recipes ranging from the traditional lemon and sugar to banana and Nutella, maple syrup, whipped cream and forest fruits and so on. Many of us indulge in Pancake day with no intention of then fasting until Easter Sunday. My mother flies the flag for our family and has always been very disciplined in giving up chocolate for Lent but none of my siblings and I have ever followed suit.

Many friends in Italy ask me the difference between a pancake and crêpe and once again I have struggled to answer this coherently. My answers have ranged from saying that our British pancakes are more delicate, less thick then American pancakes and have a slightly different consistency, lighter and less rubbery. Crêpes  tend to be bigger and thinner and often made with a darker flour giving them a different appearance.

When I put this question to the world wide web I am greeted with many an official answer saying that the crêpe, origins in France, is considered a thin pancake made with wheat flour whilst a pancake is a “quick bread” whose batter can be prepared with or without yeast . It seems the pancake dates back to medieval times where it was eaten as one of the first forms of cereal food and that the additional of eggs into the recipe came about as eggs were frequently banned during Lent and so pancakes provided the perfect recipe to use them up before fasting begun.

Nowadays the shape and size of pancakes varies worldwide with Americans favouring a stack of smaller denser pancakes, Germans often opt for a potato based pancake, the French have their crêpes, in Alto Adige, Italy they favour the Kaiserschmarrn (an eggier version of the traditional pancake) whilst us Brits take great pleasure in cooking our pancakes to order and flipping them to brown both sides.

English pancakes have three key ingredients: plain flour, eggs, and milk whilst American pancakes usually contain a raising agent such as baking powder to give them extra height and are made from a thicker batter. The Scottish are famed for their “dropped scones” or Scotch pancakes which resemble the American pancake and have salt, bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar as additional ingredients.

However you make them or enjoy eating them one thing remains constant, pancakes are now enjoyed the world over and this Shrove Tuesday many millions of people will be tucking into a pancake supper with their families.

British pancakes  – ingredients for 16-24 pancakes

8oz / 225g plain flour

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

600ml / 1 pint milk

50g / 2oz unsalted melted butter

Oil or butter for frying


  1. Sift the flour and salt together into a bowl
  2. Add in the eggs, melted butter and milk and whisk until you have a smooth batter
  3. Preheat a small amount of oil or butter in a frying pan and ladle in a scoop of the batter
  4. Once golden, flip to cook the second side.
  5. Serve with lemon, sugar and a sprinkle of icing sugar for a traditional English pancake or with fruit (bananas, berries), chocolate spread, cream for a more luxurious taste.

If you are based in Milan and prefer your pancakes served then why not head to California bakery for a pancake brunch.

Happy Pancake Day!


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