Have you ever thought that making pancakes may contribute to science? Is this a joke? Well, it turns out that it's all about physics, and what's even more important, it has a real influence on medical development, especially in glaucoma treatment. A little while ago, scientists from University College London and the Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital have established interinstitutional cooperation to... make some pancakes. They provided mathematical theory, proofed by real kitchen experiments, that allows us to control the consistency of the batter.
We used this algorithm to test 15 unique recipes of pancakes from all over the world, with a different size, thickness, and pattern. Explore different types of pancakes with this calculator and find your perfect one!
Pancakes around the world
It's hard to believe, but there are dozens of pancake recipes that differ in ingredients, size, and texture. Here, we have selected 15 types of pancakes from all around the world. How is it possible that the mixture of similar ingredients can result in so many distinct products? The answer lies behind the proportions and the way of preparing the batter and cooking method. Depending on whether you prefer a small and thick or big and flat pancake, you can choose from the whole world below, and decide which one will steal your heart today! We recommend trying each of them so that you can find out which is your favorite - our calculator will guide you with a step-by-step recipe.
The list of components consists of a few items which are mostly flour, milk or water, and eggs. The amount of flour is given in grams, but we are also used to convert it into commonly used cups. A similar situation is with, e.g. oil, baking powder or sugar. Remember that our perfect pancake calculator allows you to choose any unit you're more familiar with.
The history of pancakes - Shrove Tuesday
Pancakes - flat cakes prepared from a starch-based batter and cooked on a hot surface. Who doesn't recognize them? Pancakes have been among the most popular basic meals since the Stone Age - 30,000 years ago. Their popularity comes from the simplicity of production - they are made of ingredients which are readily available in various regions. In ancient times they were made of wheat flour, curdled milk, honey, and olive oil and were probably cooked on rocks covered with grease. The well-preserved frozen mummy found in 1991 in the Italian Alps, Ötzi the Iceman, probably ate pancakes as his last meal 5,300 years ago.
Skara Brae - Stone Age settlement (by Wknight94 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, wikimedia.org)
The first crêpe-like pancake recipe was written in a 14th century medieval guidebook by a French aristocrat, but the modern name pancake has its origin in 15th century America, becoming commonly used since then. More recent pancake recipes can be found in 16th century French and English cooking books, mostly made of flour, drawn butter, eggs, and white wine. Nowadays we exchange our recipes, derived from different cultures, to be able to create the perfect pancake. Surprisingly, there are many ways to do so! How many of them have you already tried? Which suits you best?
Some countries celebrate a day before Easter by eating pancakes. In Iceland, people have Sprengidagur (Bursting Day), in Spain El Carnaval (Carnival), in Poland Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday), and in the United Kingdom and the USA, Pancake day or Shrove Tuesday. All of them precede the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent in the Christian tradition that starts with Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday falls precisely 47 days before Easter Sunday, and historically, it was the last opportunity to eat richer, fatty foods such as eggs and milk. On this day, Christians went to Church to confess and get absolved of their sins. In other words, to be shriven.
Pieter Aertsen - The Pancake Bakery (in 1560)
How to make the perfect pancake?
That was a question that Prof. Ian Eames from the University College London Insitute of Opthalmology tried to answer together with Prof. Peng Khaw and Dr Yann Bouremel from the National Institute for Health Research, Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital. In their paper from 2016, they used a combination of kitchen experiments and mathematical theory to categorise pancakes based on patterns they take after cooking: islands, rings, craters, smooth or smooth with dark spots.
Scientists decided to prepare pancake batters using different ratios of ingredients and characterize pancakes properties in terms of two quantities:
Geometry aspect ratio:
I₁ = D³/Vis a function of the diameter D of a pancake (obtained by pouring batter in the centre of a hot pan) to the volume V of used batter. We get a higher value of
I₁for thin or large pancakes and less for a thick or small one.
I₂ = liquid_mass / flour_mass * 100is the ratio of the mass of liquid (either milk or water) to the mass of flour, multiplied by 100. Interpretation of this metric is simple - the greater
I₂, the thicker is batter, so it's harder to spread on the pan.
After the exciting and undoubtedly delicious experiment, they managed to create the diagram as shown in the below figure. You can see there 5 distinct areas that correspond to the specific pattern that will appear on your pancake during cooking. As you probably already realised, our pancake calculator not only handles 15 pancakes recipes but also shows to which group they were assigned by the authors of the article: How to Make the Perfect Pancake?
Why do pancakes have different consistency and patterns?
Everything starts from the batter and the proportion between flour and milk. The higher the amount of dry ingredients, the thicker the mixture, meaning it can't spread on the surface of the pan uniformly and form a perfectly round pancake. During the cooking, water from the batter evaporates lifting a substance just a bit. If the batter is too thick, it will be moved upward unevenly, and therefore some parts will get fried more than others - that's how craters and islands are formed (typical characteristic for Malaysian Lempeng Kelapa or American Griddle Cake).
Adding more milk to the mixture helps to obtain thinner batter which easily spreads on the pan. This time the consistency of batter helps vapor to lift it evenly, you can get a smooth texture of a pancake with a "ring" at the edge. If the mixture is thin enough, the vapor actually goes through the substance, and although the surface of a pancake is smooth, it also consists of numerous dark spots. Further addition of milk dilute the batter even more, and the final result resembles French Crêpes. To prepare any pancake, you need additional ingredients (or processes) to appropriately bind flour and milk into a batter, like proteins from eggs.
There are also a few types of pancakes which are made of water instead of milk, and sometimes there are no eggs included in the recipe. The most unusual one is Ethiopian Injera - the batter has to stand some time to ferment. It's more like a kind of bread, but since it can be poured on the pan, it's formally classified as a pancake.
Pancakes save sight - glaucoma treatment
Surprisingly, the analysis of making perfect pancakes has a significant impact on the development of specific medical aspects. And that was the real side of the above experiment! Ophthalmologists use the fact that some of the pancakes can be investigated as a model of thin elastic sheets. They can be helpful to understand the physics related to corneal transplants, retinal detachments or in glaucoma treatment. For the last one, the idea is to create a partially permeable membrane which helps to remove the excess water from the eye safely. That surplus of fluid causes the increase of the pressure in the eye, making eyesight worse and worse.
Research which take into account the relation between the vapor permeability through the batter of different consistencies helps scientists to design appropriate materials for future membranes in eye diseases treatment. Now, when you are making the perfect pancakes, imagine you are participating in the big experiment to help people overcome their illness! Delicious and beneficial for humanity - that's how making pancakes works.