No longer reserved for Shrove Tuesday, pancakes make a versatile menu option for breakfast or dinner, any time of the year. Anne Bruce reports on the latest toppings.
That confusion aside, what everyone can agree on is that the versatility of pancakes, of whatever sort, makes them a winning option on the menu - and that is an understatement around Pancake Day.
American-style pancakes are driving buoyant demand for brunch, breakfast and dessert options, while artisan crÁªpes or galette-style offerings are carving out a growing niche as a standalone meal option all year round.
"The beauty of pancakes is their versatility. Not only do they appeal to adults and children alike, they can also be used for meal and snack occasions throughout the day and as either sweet or savoury menu items," says Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods.
American pancakes have become incredibly popular in the UK, he says. Over the past five years, sales of the American pancakes supplied by Central Foods have leapt by almost 75%.
To take advantage of the boom in demand, operators should offer a mix of sweet and savoury pancakes and ensure that there's a good selection of vegetarian options to cater for the increasing number of people opting for meat-free items, he recommends.
"A recent trend has been for sweet versions of savoury products and savoury versions of sweet products, which is something imaginative operators can easily try with pancakes as a base. Bacon and maple syrup as a topping works well, for example."
Although pancakes are relatively quick and easy to make from scratch, when having to make them for breakfast or when outside catering at an event, it can be much easier to defrost ready-made pancakes, he advises.
And although pancakes may typify the spirit of indulgence - the Mardi Gras, the final feast before the fast of Lent - they do not have to clash with the trend for healthy eating, says David Colcombe, UK chef ambassador for the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.
"For a healthy topping, try red berries and a slick of 100% pure maple syrup. Low-fat natural yogurt works as a great alternative to cream to counterpoint the sweetness of the fruit and the maple," he says.
He suggests that wholemeal pancakes can be used in healthy-eating creations, with lemon zest or ground ginger in the batter mix.
Pimp your pancake
Anna Sentance, gourmet marketing manager, Callebaut UK and Ireland, also notes that an important factor when it comes to pancakes is toppings, and the assortment of different options that can be added to create the perfect dish, whether sweet or savoury.
Chocolate sauce is always a popular choice, and including Callebaut real chocolate sauce on menus to accompany pancakes can really add value to your offering, she suggests.
At the fine-dining end of the market, Stuart Agnew, category and marketing director for Noble Foods and spokesman for its Heritage Breeds egg brand, has some further recommendations on how to pimp up a pancake.
"We've seen crÁªpe soufflé pancakes become more popular - an example being the crÁªpe soufflé Arnold Bennet, with smoked haddock and cheese - as it's a way of using pancakes to reinterpret the classics."
In the increasingly competitive restaurant market, provenance and the use of good-quality ingredients are effective ways to stand out from the crowd, he says, and using Heritage Breeds eggs can create a better quality pancake. For example, the rich yolk of Copper Marans eggs will help enhance the aesthetic appeal of a pancake by creating a deep, rich colour; and Gladys May's duck eggs have thick whites which hold more air, making them perfect for a light, soufflé pancake batter. The Royal Legbar has a large and rich yolk, which can enhance a pancake's depth of flavour.
Another essential is having the best commercial equipment, such as Nisbets' Buffalo Electric CrÁªpe Maker, to ensure operators can keep up with demand during busy periods, says Martin Brown, Vogue brand manager at Nisbets. So whether you opt for traditional pancakes simply served with lemon and sugar, savoury wholewheat French-style galettes, soufflé pancakes or a luxurious stack of American-style fluffy pancakes topped with cream and fruit, the pancake is a solid choice for menus in 2018 - just be sure to specify which type you are serving.
For Pancake Day 2017, YouGov surveyed more than 5,000 people on what toppings they like to have on their pancakes. Only 15% said they either don't like or don't eat pancakes. Respondents could choose as many toppings as they liked.
- Lemon - 56%
- Sugar - 54%
- Chocolate spread - 17%
- Maple syrup - 22%
- Golden syrup - 16%
- Ice-cream - 13%
- Fruit - 12%
- Honey - 10%
- Yogurt - 3%
Source: YouGov. In the survey, 5,359 UK adults were questioned on 27 February 2017
Case studies: pancakes three ways
Modern Breton crÁªperie and bar L'Ami Malo, founded by Emilien Lesourd and Vincent Couvreur, will open on 31 January on Spitalfields' Artillery Passage, near Liverpool Street in London.
All crÁªpes and galettes will be made fresh to order every day. Savoury options include a smoked ham galette served with duck egg, maple-cured bacon and Comté cheese, or confit duck leg galette served with braised red cabbage and red wine jus.
Prices range up to £15 and all L'Ami Malo's pancakes are made with buckwheat flour and are therefore gluten-free.
For sweet crÁªpes, toppings include caramelised sugar and butter, served with tangerine zest and Cointreau (£4.50), and soufflé lemon and blueberries (£9). All the sweet crÁªpes cost up to £10. Plain butter and sugar is £4.
While the founders expect huge sales on Pancake Day, they believe that in general there's a gap in the market, especially for savoury pancakes.
The new 54-cover 1,140 sq ft restaurant has an open-plan kitchen allowing diners to watch the chefs in action. There's also a French speakeasy-style bar - Le Moulin - selling French wine, craft ciders and cocktails.
Where The Pancakes Are
Based in Borough, London, Where The Pancakes Are describes itself as "a not so traditional pancake house", and features a menu of savoury and sweet American-style buttermilk pancakes, priced from £6 to £13.
The two-year-old company also serves baked pancakes, known as Dutch Babies, which are oven-baked in a skillet like a giant Yorkshire pudding.
The batter is made fresh on-site from an organic flour blend, and a vegan, dairy-free and wheat-free batter is available.
Founder Patricia Trijbits says most customers choose savoury pancakes, such as the Australian, with roast corn, grilled tomatoes, crème fraÁ®che, preserved lemon, avocado and spinach.
Among the sweet offerings the Hummingbird is the most popular - made with cinnamon-poached pineapple, cream, lime syrup and zest with pomegranate seeds and toasted coconut.
Pancakes are riding the wave of the brunch culture, she says. There are huge queues for weekend brunch and they now take reservations for larger groups only. Sales rocket in February around Shrove Tuesday.
Polo Bar, just outside Liverpool Street station in London, has been a café since 1953 and a 24-hour establishment since 2000. Philip Inzani took the site over from his aunt Bruna in 2012 and relaunched it with a refurbishment.
The company serves American pancakes all year, all day and all night, and they are one of the most popular items on the menu. There are queues around the block on Shrove Tuesday.
Pancakes are available for delivery, but people generally eat in as the pancakes are very "Instagrammable", says Inzani. Guests can also pre-order to eat in.
Prices range from £6 to £10 for a generous portion. The best-seller is the Royale pancake stack - fruit coulis, mixed fresh forest berries, and vanilla cream. Although Polo Bar's focus is mainly on its sweet pancake offerings, space has been made on the menu for a growing favourite: streaky bacon with Canadian maple syrup.
The company has just launched its first ever vegan range and is looking at vegan pancake options.
Polo Bar is also known for its pancake eating challenges around Pancake Day.
Suppliers - Callebaut UK and Ireland www.fortheloveofchoc.com - Central Foods www.centralfoods.co.uk - Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers www.welovemaple.co.uk - Heritage Breeds (Noble Foods) www.heritagebreeds.co.uk - Nisbets www.nisbets.co.uk