Calculating the perfect pancake on Pancake Day

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…

A stack of American style pancakes with bananas and strawberries, topped with a generous helping of ice-cream and drizzled with liquidised strawberries - so fresh and fruity, it almost feels healthy! (© All Rights Reserved)
A stack of American style pancakes with bananas and strawberries, topped with a generous helping of ice-cream and drizzled with liquidised strawberries – so fresh and fruity, it almost feels healthy!
(© All Rights Reserved)

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)

where
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? 😉

Celebrating the indulgence of pure peanut butter

So today is Peanut Butter Day. (National Peanut Butter Day again, in fact, but you know… there really seems to be so few International days in January…)

Anyway, let’s go with peanut butter, and peanuts, for that matter, for today. Certainly an interesting snack. For starters, it’s made from the peanut (Arachis hypogaea) which, despite being called a nut is in fact a member of the legume or bean family. So they’re called nuts (and you sometimes even get them when you buy mixed nuts), but they’re not nuts. That’s just nuts!

Pure peanut butter on a slice of freshly baked bread - comfort food delux.(© All Rights Reserved)
Pure peanut butter on a slice of freshly baked bread – comfort food delux.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Peanuts are used in many ways (eaten raw, roasted, made into peanut oil or flour, used in medicines), but none more rich and indulgent than good old peanut butter – a comfort food if ever there was one. Peanut butter is a rich source of protein, dietary fibre, vitamins B3 and E, magnesium, potassium and folic acid. It is also high in antioxidants and, though fatty, It has high levels of good, monounsaturated fat. The peanut oil in peanut butter has been reported to lower LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol without reducing HDL (‘good’) cholesterol.

And it contains high levels of niacin – a nutrient found to play an important role in the prevention of cognitive decline.

Not a bad mouthful, as such.

Aside from the obvious issue of peanut allergy, the downsides of peanut butter are not generic to peanuts, but rather concern the processing and additives involved in some brands. Some peanut butter brands, for example, contain added hydrogenated vegetable oils that are high in bad trans fatty acids, but this can be avoided by making sure you get freshly ground peanut butter made from peanuts, and peanuts only. Peanut butter is also said to have the potential to harbor Salmonella, but again I believe this is really only applicable to product that has not been properly handled during production, so it isn’t a generic problem either.

Thus, as long as you source responsibly produced, pure peanut butter, it seems you can pretty much snack worry-free (in moderation, of course).

Talking about worry-free snacking – people are always worried that peanut butter will make you fat. And sure enough, eating it by the tubfull certainly is likely to add up, but there are arguments that, eaten in moderation, it can actually help in weight management, as it’s rich taste and texture has been found to keep you fuller for longer than many other snacks.

Convinced? Then why not celebrate Peanut Butter Day with a chocolate-peanut butter-banana smoothie – if you can restrain yourself to a small serving (not easy!) it’s probably the simplest, most indulgent “good snack” you will taste in a while!

Getting hot under the collar on International Hot and Spicy Food Day

Today is International Hot and Spicy Food Day, so are you ready for a meal that gets the heart racing and the perspiration pumping?

This year, I am spending this special day enjoying our first home made Mexican salsa verde, authentically made with the decidedly strange tomatillo fruit (home grown, of course!). Somewhere between a tomato and a cape gooseberry, the tomatillo is essentially a tomato-like fruit wrapped in an inedible, papery husk. Eaten when fully grown but still green of colour and full of flavour, the tomatillo is the key ingredient in Mexican cuisine, including the hot and spicy salsa verde – a green sauce made from tomatillo with chili peppers, garlic, onion, coriander and a touch of lemon or lime juice. Hot, spicy, bursting with flavour, and great with some cheesy nachos!

The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica), also known as a husk tomato or Mexican tomato.(© All Rights Reserved)
The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica), also known as a husk tomato or Mexican tomato.
(© All Rights Reserved)
Hot and spicy Mexican salsa verde goes down a treat with corn chips and cheese.(© All Rights Reserved)
Hot and spicy Mexican salsa verde goes down a treat with corn chips and cheese.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Speaking of hot and spicy – we (my wife, actually) recently decided to plant some Bhut Jolokia chili peppers. They’re still babies, so it will be a while still before we have the ‘privilege’ of tasting one of the hottest chili peppers in the world, but I will be sure to report back on the experience (if I’m still able to think straight after the fact).

One of our Bhut Joloika babies.  Considering the punch of the adult fruit (with a Scoville rating of over 1 000 000 units), the baby plant looks deceivingly innocent.(© All Rights Reserved)
One of our Bhut Joloika babies. Considering the punch of the adult fruit (with a Scoville rating of over 1 000 000 units), the baby plant looks deceivingly innocent.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Of course chili peppers aren’t just a great slap across the taste buds; filled to the brim with vitamin C, most B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and iron, they are also really good for you. And it is said that when your body is hit by the sensation of a hot chili, it releases endorphins and serotonin – a great feel-good boost resulting in a natural high similar to the ‘runners high’ experienced after intense exercise. Chili peppers also increase your metabolism, reduce hypertension, fight inflammation and have been found to lower bad cholesterol.

The chili pepper - from the genus Capsicum, and members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. With a taste that stands out from the crowd, and packed with health benefits, the chili pepper is one of the true celebrities among the edible plants. (© All Rights Reserved)
The chili pepper – from the genus Capsicum, and member of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. With a taste that stands out from the crowd, and packed with health benefits, the chili pepper is one of the true celebrities among the edible plants.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Now if that’s not enough reason to try out some new chili-based recipes on International Hot and Spicy Food Day, I don’t know what is. Have fun, and if you find a good hot and spicy recipe, let me know!