My favourite childhood food was (and still is) the pancake, so I’m pretty happy that from Imbolc (Feb. 1st) to Candlemas (Feb.2nd) to Shrove Tuesday (Feb 16th) to the Russian & Slavic holiday Maselenitsa (March 8th) there are going to be plenty of opportunities for ceremonial indulgence! I’ve started off celebrating the season of pancakes with this scrumptious Dutch Puff laden with Lemon Curd and Primrose Cream.
The Dutch Puff (or Dutch Baby) has been described as a cross between a pancake and sweet popover because it’s cooked not on the stove but baked in the oven. And while it rises fluffy and puffy, the center falls when it’s removed from the oven – making a concave space for toppings like butter, creams, curds, fruit etc. I spread a lemon curd and a dollop of primrose cream (combining fresh primroses petals, crème fraîche & mascarpone cheese) over mine. And as tradition dictates I added a generous helping of butter and a sprinkling of lemon juice and powdered sugar. And it was truly, truly, delicious.
Despite its name The Dutch Puff is not Dutch at all. It’s an American pancake (based on the German Pfannkuchen) introduced in a restaurant in the early 1900’s. An early guide for creating specifically Dutch pancakes does appear in the 1669 De Verstandige Kock (The Sensible Cook) cookery book and uses spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and mace.
But whatever the Dutch Puff’s origin there is no doubt that its family lineage is long. One of our oldest and most beloved ancestral foods, the pancake first makes it appearance in the prehistoric societies. These early pancakes were prepared with mix of ground wild grains, dried seeds, flowers, milk and eggs, then baked over hot stones. Interestingly, archaeological evidence suggests that these cakes were also ritual food offerings for early fertility, grain and agriculture goddesses.
Which could explain why they are considered a traditional food of Imbolc (the Celtic beginning of spring). This was when the ancient Celtic goddess Brigid took form as the sun bringing fertility to new crops and grains. On her feast day, pancakes round and golden like the sun were baked in her honour, ensuring her blessings of good harvest, abundance and prosperity for the coming year.
With Christianity, the pancake came to symbolize the “four pillars of the Christian faith—eggs for creation, flour as the mainstay of the human diet, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity.” but traces of its pagan origins remain in Candlemas folklore. In French Acadia, pancakes were ceremonially made from the remainder of the previous years grains and symbolized the completion of the cycle of the sun. In Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island wishes were made by flipping pancakes into the air and small tokens are frequently cooked in the pancakes as a way to divine one’s future prospects for the forthcoming year.
Shrove Tuesday (known today as Pancake day) began during the Middle Ages before the start of Lent in the run-up to Easter. The word shrove is a form of the English word shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by doing penance. Shrove Tuesday was the last day of “fat eating” or “gorging” before the 40 days fasting period of Lent – with pancakes!
Shrove Tuesday was once known as a “half-holiday” in Britain. It started at 11:00 am with the ringing of a church bell. On Pancake Day, “pancake races” are held in villages and towns across the United Kingdom. Participants with frying pans race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan while running.
In Russia and Eastern Slavic countries a spring equinox festival called Maslenitsa is held to celebrate the growing power of the sun and the death/rebirth of goddess of nature and fertility, Marzanna (Polish), Morė (Lithuania), Morena (Czech, Slovak, Russian). This was celebrated before Lent with a week of feasting on pancakes (especially Blinis) served with plenty of melted butter. Gorging on bliny, sometimes eating dozens in one sitting is an old form of food magic. A Russian saying advises ‘eat as many bliny as the number of times a dog wags its tail.” Besides melted butter, typical toppings included sour cream, smoked or pickled fish, caviar, mushrooms, fresh farmers cheese, hard-boiled eggs, chopped scallions as well as honey fruit and berry jams, preserves, and syrups. (Stay tuned for more info & recipes coming on Maslenitsa in the upcoming Spring Edition of the Gather Victoria E-Cookery Book on Gather Victoria Patreon).
Today pancake celebrations are observed in the British Isles, Russia, France, Poland Sweden, Canada and Australia. In Britain, an estimated 52 million eggs are used on Pancake Day, 22 million more than any other day. Every single cuisine is said to have its own version of the pancake, but whether it’s a delicate French crepe, a hearty German pfannkuchen, or this classic Dutch puff – all make a satisfying, sweet, easy, ceremonial treat on a mid-winter night!
Note: You’ll want to prepare your Lemon Curd & Primrose Cream first. This allows the curd to set and the primrose flavours to permeate your cream mixture. The primrose cream is entirely optional as the lemon curd is quite enough on its own, but I wanted to add this flower of February for a ritual touch. And of course, you can enjoy it the traditional way with just a dribble of lemon juice, butter and powdered sugar!
Dutch Puff Pancake With Lemon Curd & Primrose Cream
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole milk or half & half cream (room temperature)
- 2 large eggs (room temperature)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Preheat oven to 400F
- Whisk eggs until frothy.
- Add milk, cream and butter to eggs and whisk until smooth.
- Add flour, sugar, salt and blend then blend thoroughly (you can also use an electric beater!) Let sit for 10 minutes or so.
- Meanwhile, heat a medium-size cast-iron or ovenproof frying pan over medium-high heat. Add butter and swirl to coat.
- Pour batter into pan, transfer to the oven and bake until Dutch Puff is browned around the edges ( around 20 minutes).
- Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately with lemon curd & primrose cream.
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- ⅓ cup lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons butter, diced and softened
- Whisk eggs, sugar and juice in a bowl.
- Place mixture in a double boiler (or in pot over a saucepan of simmering water) on medium high heat. Whisk until light, fluffy and thick. It should be thick enough so that when you run a spoon through the mixture it leaves a path in the pan (4-5 minutes).
- Remove from heat, stand to cool for a few minutes, then whisk in butter. A creamy glorious curd will appear!
- Cover and refrigerate to chill and set (minimum 1 hour). Lemon curd can be made a few days ahead of time. Just keep covered and refrigerated.
Primroses and polyanthus are all primulas which is the botanical name of their species. Primroses are derived from the native primrose (Primula vulgaris) and have lots of flowers on individual stems growing from the centre of the plant. Polyanthus (meaning ‘many flowers’) have a thick stalk with a bunch of flowers on it – like a high-rise primrose.
One of the first spring flowers its name is derived from the Latin primus meaning first or first rose. Native to the Emerald Isle primroses are loved by the faeries. A large patch of primroses was a gateway or portal into the faerie realms, and placed on a doorstep primroses encourage the faeries to bless the house and all who lived there. And if you ate the blossoms of a primrose you would see a fairy!
These early harbingers of spring are edible but are not often used in baking because their delicate flavours are lost in cooking, but this “cream” made with crème fraîche, mascarpone and honey shows them off to their best advantage. I recommend letting this sit overnight which will allow the primrose flavour to infuse the cream.
If you don’t have crème fraîche or mascarpone on hand you can make a simpler version by slighting overbeating whipped cream, sweetening it, then adding the petals. Let this sit too!
- Two handfuls of primrose or polyanthus blossoms
- 1/4 cup of crème fraîche
- 1/2 cup of mascarpone
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- Mince your primrose blossoms.
- Mix crème fraîche and mascarpone together.
- Add honey, and using a wooden spoon, beat the ingredients together.
- You can also whip with an electric mixer to get it extra light and fluffy.