PANCAKE DAY!

In Great Britain, Tuesday is Pancake Day and time for the Great Pancake Race!  All across the country, villages and small towns will be celebrating their Shrove Tuesday by flipping pancakes!

Tuesday is known as Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday.  In French, this day translates to a name I’m sure everyone is more familiar with … “Mardi Gras“.  What day am I talking about?  Yes, the day before Lent.  The day when, as a Christian, you can celebrate and feast on absolutely anything you want, in any quantity you want, because, beginning Wednesday, you must fast.

Wednesday is the beginning of the solemn Lenten season, a time of penance and renewal before Easter.  Sunday starts the three-day celebration period before Lent, which is commonly known as Mardi Gras or Carnival.  In medieval times it was known as “Shrovetide“, with the final day called Shrove Tuesday.  (The name ‘shrove’ comes from ‘shrive’, which refers to the ritual of confessing sins.)

How do pancakes and races fit into all this?  Again, during this Lenten period, fasting was strictly adhered to.  Rich, fatty foods such as meat and fish, sugar, eggs and dairy were prohibited during this solemn time.  For the poor and middle class, food was precious and they did not want to waste a bit.  What dish could they make to use up all these ingredients?  Pancakes.  This humble dish which used all the household’s fat, eggs, milk and sugar ultimately became the symbol of Shrove Tuesday.

At one time, Shrove Tuesday was a very important religious day in Great Britain.  It was a national holiday, a mini Mardi Gras, a time for celebration.  During this time, many events would take place … from football games to cock fighting to skipping rope contests.  But precisely at 11:00am, the village church would ring a bell as a reminder to the housewives that it was time to prepare the pancake batter.  After which, the church would then ring a ‘Shriving Bell’ to call the people to church for the confession of their sins.

But pancake racing?  Apparently, in 1445, in the village of Olney, or so the legend goes, a woman heard the ‘Shriving Bell’ while she was in the middle of making her pancakes.  Not wanting to stop for fear she would burn her pancakes, and still in her kerchief and apron, she ran to the church clutching her frying pan and flipping her pancake.  From that day on, every year, all of Britain celebrates Shrove Tuesday by honoring this woman and her pancake-making prowess by conducing “pancake races”.  The Olney Pancake Race is now world famous.

Although it is no longer a holiday, the bell is still rung today in villages across England and Shrove Tuesday celebrations are everywhere.  If you’d like to enter the now famous Olney race, the rules are very strict.  The race starts promptly at 11:55 am.  Bring your skillet.  Competitors have to be local housewives and must wear an apron and a hat or scarf.  The pancake flippers start at the market place in Olney and race to the Church of St. Peter, flipping their pancakes along the way.

If you don’t live in Olney, don’t be concerned, pancake races are held in most villages across the country.  You’ll see not only housewives, but school children, clerks, clergy and even professionally-dressed businessmen in aprons.  The object of the race is to rundown the street, carrying a frying pan with a hot, cooked pancake in it and flip the pancake at least three times as you run.  The first one to cross the finish line, and serve the pancake to the bellringer is the winner.

Whether you participate in a pancake race or not, I hope on Tuesday you at least uphold this fun tradition and fill your belly with rich, sweet, delicous pancakes!

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References:  This is Church, Historic UK, Wikipedia, Olney Pancake Race, Project Britain
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Barm Brack

The first time I had Barm Brack was in Ireland about 35 years ago when it was served to me with breakfast … warm from the oven, rich and dark, speckled with dried fruits and slathered in sweet, creamy butter.  Barm Brack is not a bread you see for sale here in the U.S. unless you go to a bakery which specializes in Irish foods.  Determined to make my own, I started the search for the definitive recipe.  The problem is, there appears to be as many different recipes for this classic Irish loaf as their are dried fruits in the mix.  As with every country, many ‘homey’ recipes are passed down from generation to generation, most often never having been written down.  As a result, they vary significantly.

Many websites (including Wikipedia) refer to Barm Brack as a ‘quick bread’ (requiring no yeast at all).  The name Barm Brack actually comes from the English word, “beorma,” which means yeasty.  As a result, this is a “yeast” bread, not to be confused with the quick bread version, Tea Brack, which uses baking powder as its leavening agent.  The Gaelic word for speckled is “brac” so whether you use yeast or baking powder, what we have is a delicious bread with dried fruits.

 Although Barm Brack is enjoyed all year round, it is traditionally served at Halloween.  Small trinkets are concealed in the bread … much like the baby in the King Cake at Mardi Gras.  On Etsy you can actually buy Barm Brack kits to add the charms to your dough – a coin (for riches), a ring (for marriage), a pea (for no marriage – or maybe divorce), and a stick (for an unhappy marriage).

If you, like me, use a stand mixer with a dough hook to make bread, then this is not a difficult bread to make at all.  And on a cold, rainy day, what could be more perfect than the smell of bread baking in the oven?  Of the many versions of the classic recipe, this one’s my favorite.  If you make it, let me know how it comes out.  Enjoy!

BARM BRACK
Makes one super large round loaf or two 1 pound loaves.  When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°.

4-1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp. allspice
1-1/2 tsps. salt
1 pkg. active dry yeast
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1-1/4 milk – warmed
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 beaten egg
1-3/4 cup dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, currants, cherries, candied peel) soaked in …
2/3 cup water
vegetable oil
1 beaten egg white

A couple hours before you begin to make the bread, put the dried fruits into a bowl – bring the water to a boil and pour over the dried fruits.  Soak the fruits until softened – anywhere from an hour to overnight. 

When softened, drain the fruits and reserve the water – to add to the bread batter.

Into a large mixing bowl add flour, salt, allspice and blend together.  In a separate bowl mix together the sugar, yeast and warmed milk (not too hot).  Make a well in the center of the large bowl and pour in the yeast mixture.  Add the beaten egg, melted butter and most of the water from the fruits.

Using a dough hook (or wooden spoon if you are not using a stand mixer), blend all ingredients together until incorporated.  Mix well.  Add more water if needed to make a smooth dough.  I like to beat the dough briskly so that my kneading time is reduced.  Add the dried fruits at the last moment – incorporating thoroughly.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and let it rest for a few minute while you wash out the bowl and oil it.  Then knead the dough vigorously for at least 10 minutes to build up the gluten.  It should be smooth and not sticky.

Place the dough back into the bowl, oil the top of the dough so it doesn’t dry out and cover with plastic wrap.  PutOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the bowl in a warm spot, free from drafts, to let the dough rise until its about double in size (one to two hours).

When the dough has risen fully, it should retain an indentation when you press into it with your finger.   Punch the air out of the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured board once again.

Grease or oil your pan(s).  The classic shape is one large round loaf, but you can create any size or shape you’d like.  In the past I’ve chosen to make two one pound loaf pans, today its going to be one super large loaf.

When shaping the dough, making sure there are no air holes in it.  Place the dough into the pan(s).  Let it rise again until doubled in size (30 minutes or so).   Brush the tops with the beaten egg white.  You can cut slits into the top of the loaf if you’d like … or not.

Bake at 375° … 1-1/4 hours for one loaf … 60 minutes for two.  The loaf should sound hollow when rapped on the bottom with a spoon.  Turn the bread out onto a wire rack and let cool.


Look at the size of this thing!!  It could be a weapon, it’s so large.  But it is beautiful and will be delicious!!  So now its time to take the butter out of the frig to soften … put the kettle on and enjoy!

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References:  THE COMPLETE IRISH PUB COOKBOOK

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