Pancakes are a prehistoric food. Grains have been ground into flour for many years, so it is puzzling that Britons have mainly reserved their consumption of pancakes for Shrove Tuesday - the day for clearing the larder of eggs and milk before the Lent fast.
The low-cost combination of flour, milk and eggs (and, variably, a raising agent and butter) yields a classic batter that pan-fries in minutes and is easily tweaked to produce thin, flat English pancakes, French crÁªpes that can be rolled or folded, fluffy stacked American and Scotch pancakes, pizza-style Dutch pancakes, sweet Belgian waffles or Russian blinis.
But Britain is starting to catch up with countries such as America and France who serve pancakes as a treat suitable for any time of the day - a shift that food historian Annie Gray attributes to the proliferation of pancakes in food markets across the country.
"Pancakes are fast becoming one of the most popular out-of-home treatsâ¦ enjoyed by consumers for breakfast, brunch or as a decadent dessert," says Frances Booth, category marketing manager at Lotus Bakeries.
Vicki Paget, head of sales at Enjays Pancakes, points out: "Pancakes offer the dream combination of health, simplicity, variety, accurate portion control and a point of difference."
They can also cross over into a more luxurious dessert, says Harvey & Brockless marketing manager Kiran Dyer, who suggests replacing milk with its French Lescure PDO cream, which has 40% more fat than butter.
"Pancakes made from scratch are labour-intensive, but they do taste wonderful and larger batches can be made in advance and frozen," says Rob Owen, executive development chef at wholesaler Creed Foodservice.
"Defrosting and reheating takes no time at all, and if the pancakes have been separated with cling film or parchment paper before freezing, they can be taken out of the freezer individually as and when required."
But for many caterers - especially volume operators - the finished product or dry mixes that just require the addition of water offer a practical and consistent solution, says Paget.
Enjays - originally a Leeds crÁªperie - supplies ready-made traditional and butter crÁªpes, Scotch and American pancakes, Belgian Liege waffles and 'a halfway house' dry mix.
Winning batter recipes catapulted two other caterers into the supply side. When Mathieu Geronton opened his La CrÁªpe Boutique at Leeds' White Rose Shopping Centre in 2014, he created a group of fans who regularly travelled from as far as Manchester for one of his signature vanilla-scented crÁªpes. However, when he closed the kiosk two years later, he was flooded with enquiries from past customers and crÁªperies for his recipes. Gerenton set up MGFood Solutions to wholesale his crÁªpe and waffle mixes nationally, and he also develops bespoke mixes for high-volume customers.
Similarly, Pancake World founder Loic Moinon developed dry mixes based on traditional French recipes to save time, money and mess during his crÁªpe-catering days.
Pancake World now sells his buckwheat galette, luxury French crÁªpe and Belgian waffle mixes to crÁªperies, cafés, restaurants, dessert parlours and event traders worldwide. The business has become a one-stop pancake shop, hosting training courses and distributing Krampouz crÁªpe and waffle-making equipment and professional accessories.
Pancake World is launching a full range of gluten-free options and sugar- and dairy-free variants are in development. As Doves Farm co-founder Clare Marriage points out, pancakes are "One of the easiest and most successful
foods to adapt for the clean-eating special diet, allergy aware or free-from aficionados."
The company's gluten-free plain flour combines rice, potato, tapioca, maize and buckwheat, while pure buckwheat, gram, rice or quinoa flour can, adds Marriage, "provide an interesting new dimension".
For egg-free pancakes, David Colcombe, UK chef consultant for the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (FPAQ), advocates banana, apple or fruit purée with a little baking powder to add lift, while Owen would use coconut, soya or almond milk as dairy-free alternatives.
Pancakes' soft, easy-to-eat nature also make them ideal for healthcare caterers, says Paget - served with maple syrup, they provide 'a high-sugar, high-calorie hit to build strength'.
On the flip side, waffles can be a convenient school dessert and Enjays has developed a school-compliant range of reduced-sugar waffles (with 40% less sugar) that can be served with fruit and Enjays' reduced-sugar blueberry or chocolate sauces.
"When it comes to pancakes, it's all about the toppings," says Keri Cummings, category market manager at Macphie of Glenverbie.
While lemon juice and sugar are the classic, pancakes provide a perfect base for chefs to get creative and bring some wow factor to the offer, agrees Natasha Quinn, foodservice channel operations manager at Ferrero. Chocolate, peanut butter and banana make a cost-effective filling that plumps up thin pancakes, suggests Owen, while baked eating apples and cinnamon or small frozen berries drizzled with melted white chocolate create delicious desserts.
ular brands such as Nutella can attract attention and command a premium price, says Quinn at Ferrero, whose online recipe ideas include rolled crÁªpe brochettes cut into sections and skewered with fruit chunks. The Lotus Biscoff Smooth Biscuit Spread can be used straight from the jar or heated with soya, oat or almond milk to make a syrup.
Alternately, caterers can quickly whip up their own indulgent sauces and creams using Valrhona fine chocolates and powders, says Dyer at Harvey & Brockless - or satisfy the health-conscious with the many Ponthier fruit purées, which have no added sugar.
For an unusual, intensely-flavoured fruit fix, its FreshAs freeze-dried fruits and powders - which include exotic options such as Japanese yuzu cross - can be sprinkled on top or mixed into sorbets or creams.
"However," says Moinon, "we firmly believe that the biggest potential comes from savoury crÁªpes - a trend that is yet to fully catch on. An example is the galette compléte, created by breaking an egg over the pancake during cooking, filling the pancake with ham and Swiss cheese, and then folding the edges of the pancake over to expose the yolk in a little parcel."
Veteran London pancake house My Old Dutch also offers an extensive choice of savoury toppings - from chilli con carne and Moroccan lamb stew to ratatouille and eggs Florentine - and Enjays is being asked to produce pancakes combining the full English breakfast flavours of bacon, mushroom, sausage and tomato.
Paget sees a flavour mash-up as the next big thing: "I think that we can all expect to hear the word 'swavoury' used a lot more. Swavoury is the growing trend for mixing sweet and savoury items in the same product." A famous example is the Canadian bacon with maple syrup and the FPAQ website offers more ideas, such as kale and quinoa crÁªpes served with shredded duck confit, maple syrup and barbecue sauce, and a sweet potato pancake (using a wholemeal/buckwheat flour mix and yeast) topped with smoked salmon, crème fraÁ®che and a soy and
"The best thing about crÁªpes is their versatility and wide-reaching popularity, all over the world," concludes Moinon. "There is significant demand from diners and, from a business perspective, they are very profitable to make and serve. At Pancake World, we definitely agree that a crÁªpe is for life, not just for Pancake Day!"
•"Always serve freshly-made hot crÁªpes." Loic Moinon
•"Ingredients should all be fresh; even your baking powder, which should be no more than six months old." David Colcombe
•"Be generous; that's what people want! Don't be afraid to serve big and fully-filled pancakes. A happy customer is the best advert you'll ever have." Mathieu Gerenton
•"Either have your pancakes varied and bite-sized, or supersize them for sharing with friends." Keri Cummings
Mix it up
Owen at Creed offers two simple pancake recipes -a classic, foolproof mix with an extra buttery flavour and a more unusual oat and banana batter.
Classic pancake mix with beurre noisette
•Sieve 110g of plain flour and a pinch of salt into a large bowl, make a well in the middle, pour in two beaten eggs and gradually combine with a whisk.
•Mix 200ml of full-fat milk and 75ml of water and add to the mixture, little by little, to create a smooth batter.
•Make the beurre noisette. Melt 30g unsalted butter over a low heat until it separates into butterfat and milk solids. Remove from the heat when the milk solids begin to brown and release a hazelnut aroma. Whisk the butter into the mix.
Banana and oat pancake (makes 15 pancakes)
•Blitz 90g Mornflake Superfast Porridge Oats in a blender until smooth.
•Add 250g of bananas, two medium eggs, Â½ tsp baking powder and blend until smooth.
•Serve with streaky bacon (40g) and maple agave syrup (5g).
Doves Farm Foodswww.dovesfarm.co.uk
Federation Of Quebec Maple Syrup Producerswww.welovemaple.co.uk
Harvey and Brocklesswww.harveyandbrockless.co.uk
Lotus Bakeries www.lotusbiscuitstrade.co.uk
Macphie of Glenberviewww.macphie.com