Today, 12 February 2013, is Shrove Tuesday, the day immediately preceding Lent – an observance in many Christian denominations, running for approximately 6 weeks from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday (or Easter Eve). Lent is a period of religious preparation for Easter weekend.
In many parts of the Commonwealth, including the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, Shrove Tuesday is commonly known as Pancake Day, based on the tradition of eating pancakes on the day.
Pancakes became associated with this day because it was traditionally considered a good way to consume a range of rich foods – eggs, milk, sugar, butter, fat, cream – before Lent’s period of self-denial. Of course, as with gift-giving during Christmas, the original religious association has moved somewhat into the background, with Pancake Day now being about pancakes and little more.
Sadly I am not doing much to reverse this tradition, as the rest of my post is pretty much only about pancakes…
Just a quick point of clarification – pancakes in Europe (thin, flat pancakes, usually rolled up and eaten with sweet or savoury filling – also called crêpes) aren’t exactly the same as pancakes in the US and Canada (smaller, thicker ‘cakes’ that are often stacked on top of each other, dusted with icing sugar and eaten with syrup – also known as Scotch pancakes, pikelets or flapjacks).
Now you may be curious about the link between pancakes and science. While I don’t know how much science there is in a pancake, I can report that it has apparently been the subject of some rather rigorous scientific scrutiny. A mathematics professor from Wolverhampton University, Dr Ruth Fairclough, has developed what has been reported as “a complicated formula for the perfect pancake”.
Dr Fairclough’s full pancake ‘recipe’ is:
100 – [10L – 7F + C(k – C) + T(m – T)]/(S – E)
L = number of lumps in the batter
F = flipping score
C = consistency of the batter
k = ideal consistency
T = pan temperature
m = ideal pan temperature
S = standing time of batter before cooking
E = time the pancake stands before eating
The closer a pancake gets to the perfect score of 100, the better.
I’ve played around with the formula, and while most of it makes sense, it doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny. My main concern relates to the 1/(S-E) factor – if the standing time of the batter before cooking is equal to the time the pancake stands before being eaten, you end up dividing by zero. But perhaps I misunderstand the way these variables should be measured…
The bottom line, however, is that Dr Fairclough’s formula agrees that batter with perfect consistency and no lumps, stood to rest for a while, and then cooked at the perfect temperature and eaten piping hot off the pan, should give you a pretty perfect pancake.
But then you don’t need a PhD in maths to know that, do you? 😉