As if I need an assigned day of the year to give me an excuse to make pancakes. Those of you who are regular followers of my culinary endeavours will know that I rarely let a weekend pass without celebrating that period of the day between 11am and 1pm more commonly known as "brunch time". I'm a big fan of experimenting with the humble pancake in all its shapes and forms, but for pancake day you can't beat the traditional French crêpe. Wafer thin and delicate, its pale surface mottled with brown spots of heat from the pan, it demands to be filled with something delicious. The classic lemon and sugar combination is hard to beat, but I thought I'd add a twist to it with some home-made ice cream. I've been wanting to try out Earl Grey tea as an ice cream flavour before, and given the affinity between Earl Grey and lemon, it seemed only natural to pair it with these pancakes. My original idea was a lemon tart, but I love the contrast of something hot with cold ice cream, and pancakes are a happy medium - not so hot that the ice cream melts instantly (I hate melted ice cream), but warm enough to provide a pleasing difference in temperature.
I have to say, it is a revelation. Until you try it, you can't possibly imagine what Earl Grey ice cream will taste like. I have to admit that I actually hate Earl Grey tea. I can't stand the overwhelmingly perfumey fragrance of the bergamot, for some reason, which is odd given that I generally enjoy flowery notes in food. But when combined with cream, milk and sugar, the flavour becomes an absolute delight. It's like drinking a sugary cup of Earl Grey tea with a lot of milk, but cold and even sweeter. Even the colour of the ice cream is lovely, like a rich tea biscuit. I didn't use Fortnums tea because I am a snob (though I suppose I am), but because it was the only Earl Grey I had, as it came with a little hamper of tea I got given by my mum last year. I like to think the ice cream was extra special as a result.
The crêpes are just a standard pancake batter, filled with standard lemon juice and sugar...but with the addition of the ice cream, they become more like a proper dessert. The sweet lemon juice inside goes so well with the Earl Grey flavour; its strong bergamot notes stop it tasting overly sweet. I like to make my crêpes slightly thicker than a French person - I'm sure - would, and the soft warm batter with the crunchy sugar and soft ice cream is just divine. "Lush", as one of my dinner guests declared.
Also in the spirit of crêpes and ice cream, I filled a few of them with caramelised apples. Just sliced Cox apples browned in butter and demerara sugar, with a dollop of golden syrup and a sprinkling of cinnamon at the end to make them all sticky and delicious. Cox apples are good ones to use for this, because they have a sharpness and a firmness that stops them collapsing and means they stand up well to the doughy pancakes. I think apples and cardamom are a pairing of flavours I might have to pay more attention to in future; it works very well.
The great thing about pancakes is they're a very effortless dessert, but also very versatile. Fill them with whatever fruit you like, serve them with whatever ice cream you like, and people are bound to think you've gone to loads of trouble. The only thing I would suggest is to have the oven on a low temperature while you make all the pancakes; that way you can keep them all warm and plate up at the last minute, rather than serve everyone as they come out of the pan. Although that has a certain informality about it that is quite nice. Up to you.
Crêpes (makes about 12, in a 15-20cm frying pan):
- 120g plain flour
- 2 eggs
- 300ml milk (or 200ml milk and 100ml water)
- Pinch salt
- Knob of melted butter
- Sift the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs. Using an electric whisk, mix the eggs into a bit of the flour, then slowly add the milk, whisking all the time to avoid lumps. Add a pinch of salt and a little melted butter then whisk again. You can leave the mixture to stand for a while, even overnight, if you want to make it in advance.
To cook, heat a little butter in a frying pan - you want it quite hot before you start. Use kitchen roll to cover the base of the pan evenly with the butter. Dollop on the batter using a ladle - you want a very thin layer, just enough to coat the base of the pan. Cook for a minute or so, until the edges start to curl up, then use a palette knife or spatula to flip over, and cook the other side for a minute or so. You can keep the finished pancakes warm in the oven while you make the rest.
Earl Grey ice cream (makes about half a litre):
- 250ml whole milk
- 250ml whipping cream
- 3 tsp loose Earl Grey tea (or 4 teabags)
- 100g caster sugar
- 4 egg yolks
Place the milk and cream and tea in a saucepan. Heat gently until just below boiling point, then remove from the heat and leave for an hour or so to infuse (taste to see how strong the flavour is - if too weak, add more tea, heat up again, and leave again). When you're satisfied with it, sieve to remove the tea leaves, or remove the teabags.
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and creamy. Gradually incorporate the milk and cream mixture. Then place the whole lot in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens into a custard (this will take about 15 minutes - don't heat it too quickly or it will curdle).
Pour into a jug, leave to cool, then chill until cold. Then churn in an ice cream maker and place in the freezer to firm up (2-3 hours).