Monday, June 27, 2016

Flannel Cakes

Flannel Cakes

This recipes is from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this):

Flannel Cakes by Mrs. Morris
2 lbs. of flour, 6 eggs well-beaten, one wine-glass of yeast, a little salt, wet it with milk into a thick batter & set it to rise, bake them on a griddle.

A Bit About Flannel Cakes:
The history of Flannel Cakes is a bit confusing because they have evolved over time. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, flannel cakes are thin griddle cakes first found in the historical record in 1792 by Munchhausen's Trav. xxix. 131: "Ten thousand thousand Naples biscuits, crackers, buns, and *flannel-cakes." 

Here are some additional literary references to Flannel Cakes:
  • 1847: From ‘H. FRANCO’ Trippings Tom Pepper I. 112: "A very delicate species of food, which I tasted then for the first time, called flannel cakes."
  • 1909: From: O. HENRY’s Options: "We..then parted, after Château Margaux, Irish stew, flannel-cakes, [etc.]."

While these references affirm the existence of Flannel Cakes, they offer no description of what they were. Eliza Leslie’s 1828 cookery book, Seventy-Five Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, appears to help define them because she equates them to crumpets:

While this recipe is helpful in defining Flannel Cakes, it is by no means the last word on the recipe, not even for Eliza Leslie, herself. In her 1840 cookery book, Directions for Cookery In All Its Variations, Leslie offers this recipe for Flannel Cakes, which is more like buckwheat cakes than crumpets:

Similarly, many other recipes for Flannel Cakes over the course of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries render them as pancakes, oatcakes, buckwheat cakes, and bannocks. It seems the early ones, such as the one below, use yeast instead of chemical leavening agents such baking powder or soda. It was written at a time when those things were not commonplace which explains the reliance upon yeast. However, modern recipes usually use chemical leavenings instead of yeast. Also, Morris's historic recipe is very particular that the batter be thick, which is also different from many other types of flannel cakes. The only thing that seems to always be a factor in all of these recipes is that they are cooked on the stovetop on a griddle or other type of flat-bottomed pan. Here is my interpretation of Morris's recipe:

Flannel Cakes: Modern Recipe Adaptation

  • 1/2 Cup Warm Water
  • 1 Packet Active Dry Yeast
  • 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3 Eggs, Beaten
  • 1 Cup Milk (or more, see below)

1.  Add the yeast to the water and whisk together. Let this sit for about five minutes, until the mixture starts to bubble.
2. Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk together.
3.  Make a well in the center of the flour and pour the yeast mixture into it. Add the eggs and the milk. Stir until everything is well-blended, being careful not to stir too much. 
4. Cover and set in a warm place to rise, at least one hour, but the longer the better to allow for flavor development. 

Cook Like Crumpets:
  • Heat a griddle or an electric skillet to 325º F. Grease the skillet with oil or spray oil. Grease crumpet rings, as well, and then arrange them on the surface of the skillet.
  • Spoon 1/4 cup of the batter into each ring or directly into the skillet/griddle. Allow the cakes to cook for about 7 minutes, until they begin to develop holes on their surfaces and firm up. 
  • After the cakes are sufficiently cooked (see picture below), remove the rings and flip. Cook for just 1 minute on the other side to make sure the batter on the tops is cooked thoroughly. 
  • When ready to eat a Flannel Cake made in this way, you can re-heat by toasting.
  • Note: These Flannel Cakes will be denser, more cake-like than a true crumpet. 
Cook Like Pancakes:
  • Use a bit more milk in the batter to thin it out a bit (1/4 - 1/2 cup of milk).
  • Drop about 1/4 cup of batter onto a greased griddle. Allow to cook for just a few minutes, until bubbles just start to form on top. Turn and cook just about 30-45 seconds on second side.
Tastes Great Served With  . . .
  • Butter and nothing else.
  • Butter and Jam
  • Just Jam
  • Butter and Cinnamon-Sugar
  • Butter and Maple Syrup
  • Chocolate Sauce
  • Fruit Sauce
  • Caramel
  • You can also top with Ice Cream and/or Whipped Cream!

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