The Alibi celebrates Shrove Tuesday with our own mountain of carbohydrates
Break out the batter and lube up the pans: The fattest of fat holidays is upon us. Bon vivants around the world will indulge themselves on Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, this Feb. 28—but that's not where the real party lies. The fattest holiday is by far Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day; an entire holiday dedicated to those sugar-filled, lard-fried, syrup-drizzled little pieces of heaven. It just couldn't get any better than that.
Shrove Tuesday plays the same traditional role as Fat Tuesday to many Catholics. During Lent, foods such as milk, eggs and lard are not to be eaten. Rather than let all these ingredients go to waste during the 40-day holiday, observers spend Shrove Tuesday making stacks and stacks of pancakes. The observance has even branched beyond its religious roots and is celebrated at such pancake-happy locations as IHOP.
To truly appreciate this holiday of kings, you've got to flip your own cakes. In preparation for Pancake Day 2006, I hosted a pre-holiday soirée and pitted a variety of boxed and bagged pancake mixes against homemade buttermilk pancakes. Six batches of pancake mix were made, dozens of cakes were flipped and a blind taste test ensued. No one but the cook (me) knew which pancake was from which mix, and only three pancakes made it to the final tasting.
Homemade Buttermilk Pancakes
Made from scratch with real buttermilk and melted butter, this recipe has been sitting in my mom's cookbook nearly untouched for a decade. (Pancakes were always out of a box during my childhood.)
Cost: Pennies, but finding a good recipe is key. If you don't have one, ask a friend, check your favorite cookbook or look online. The only uncommon ingredient is buttermilk, which costs about $2.09 a quart.
All six contenders were prepared and then batches of each were flipped as near to perfection as possible, then served to a panel of four tasters. Each panelist ate one representative pancake from each mix, and chose their top three cakes of the bunch. Surprisingly, pancakes that did not make it into the final round were the homemade buttermilk, Hodgson Mill Whole-Wheat and Arrowhead Mills Blue Corn. Fresh pancakes were flipped from the final three and then sampled again.
Third place went to Pamela's Ultimate Baking & Pancake Mix—the unexpected finalist. As the only wheat-free, gluten-free contestant, it really proved that traditional ingredients aren't the only way to make great pancakes. (They even impressed one openly anti-health foodist among the testers.) This mix got the thumbs up because of its sweet flavor and hardy texture.
Second place went to the Queen of Soul Food herself, Sylvia and her Flapjack & Pancake Mix—on top of being super easy, this mix proved to be super tasty. The recipe needed no added flourish to make it taste pan-tastic, the pancakes came out light and fluffy, and, out of all the contenders, they paired best with real maple syrup. For some good home cookin' without the work, Sylvia gets the prize.
First place went to tried-and-true Bisquick—Betty Crocker knows her stuff—these pancakes were a little thicker and fluffier than the rest, and a whole lot more filling. The added vanilla and cinnamon made them even better. For another potentially great Bisquick-based recipe, add one tablespoon sugar, two tablespoons lemon juice and two tablespoons of baking powder for "melt-in-your-mouth" pancakes. Happy flippin'!
Arrowhead Mills Blue Corn Pancake and Waffle Mix
Blue corn pancakes are known for their unique texture and local flavor. It should be noted that there are no piñons in this mix, which would elevate it to a true New Mexican specialty. This mix is one of the more difficult to prepare, with ingredients including the usual milk and eggs in addition to canola oil and honey.
Cost: $3.69 for a two-pound bag.
Betty Crocker's Bisquick
This all-purpose baking mix is synonymous with pancakes in many households. For this taste test, the instructions were followed almost exactly, with the addition of 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and one teaspoon of vanilla extract for flavor.
Cost: $4.15 for a two-pound box.
Pamela's Products Ultimate Baking & Pancake Mix
Muscling its way into the competition, this wild card mix is all-natural, wheat-free and gluten-free. Tucked into the "possibly too healthy to taste good" category, this mix is easy to prepare and makes a good option for those watching their calories and fat.
Cost: $5.99 for a 24-ounce bag.
Hodgson Mill Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancake Mix
Another contestant in the "possibly too healthy to taste good" category, this mix gets bonus points for its affordability. Plus, the pancakes pictured on the box, topped with strawberries and blackberries, looks like something you'd get at an upscale brunch. Follow the serving suggestion with some pecans and blueberries for a complete whole-grain breakfast.
Cost: $1.99 for a two-pound box.
Sylvia's Restaurant Flapjack & Pancake Mix
Sylvia is the self-proclaimed "Queen of Soul Food," which is a good thing because pancakes are truly food for the soul. Just open the bag, pour it into a bowl with some water and an egg, butter up the griddle and get flippin'. The instructions also include super pancake secrets like how to tell when the griddle is hot enough and how long to cook your pancakes.
Cost: $1.29 for a 10-ounce bag.