Your ultimate guide to alternative flour so you can substitute flours and shake up flavours without pancakes going awry.
From spelt to buckwheat, rice to coconut, alternative flour is on the rise and with it a whole spectrum of new flavours to play with. Pancake Day is as good excuse as any to experiment, particularly as you can swap flours in and out without the whole recipe going awry – not so easy when it comes to baking! Here’s a tried and tested guide to what works and what doesn’t with the most popular flours on the market.
If you like porridge, you’ll probably like oat pancakes. And with that in mind, it makes sense to top them as you would your porridge – brown sugar, maple syrup or honey, fresh berries, figs or banana, a dollop of jam or nut butter are a good start. You could even add a bit of cinnamon to the mix, or some raisins or chopped dates. You can make oat an alternative flour easily enough at home just by blitzing oats in a blender until fine, then follow the recipe below.
American-style fluffy alternative flour pancake recipe:
1. Combine 130g of oat flour* with 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons of baking powder and a good pinch of salt.
2. Whisk in 2 beaten eggs, 60g of melted butter and 250ml of milk until smooth.
3. Melt another knob of butter in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, then add dollops of the pancake batter (about half a ladleful).
4. Cook for a few minutes until golden underneath, then flip and continue until cooked through. Repeat until you’ve used up all your batter. Serve as suggested.
* This recipe also goes well with buckwheat, nut, chestnut or spelt flours. Use the following flour measurements to get them just right: 180g buckwheat; 140g chestnut; 180g spelt; 150g almond or coconut flour mixed with 120g plain wheat or rice flour (you may need to add more milk until you get a loose batter consistency with these).
French galettes are probably the reason we’re familiar with buckwheat. This pseudo-cereal (not a grain, but a member of the rhubarb family!) has a nutty, assertive flavour that lends itself well to pancakes that are filled or topped with strong, savoury ingredients. Think Russian-style blinis with smoked salmon and crème fraîche (check out our recipe) or caramelised onions and goat’s cheese. Buckwheat flour makes quite a dense American-style pancake but it’s still delicious and very filling when topped with garlicky spinach, pancetta and a fried egg. More often than not savoury toppings work best with buckwheat, but a good serving of caramelised apples is well worth a go.
Known in Italy as farina dolce for its sweet, rich flavour, chestnut flour is probably the trickiest one to get hold of. If you can find it though, chestnut pancakes are great. Keep with the autumnal vibe and go with toppings like stewed apples or poached pears with yoghurt and honey, or goat’s cheese, grated apple and honey-glazed walnuts. Use the recipe above for fluffy pancakes, but they’re great as crêpes too, especially when filled with soft ricotta and honey.
Of all the flours, spelt comes out on top. An ancient relative of modern wheat, it makes a deliciously fluffy, light pancake with a mild, nutty flavour – not as dense as buckwheat, and tastier than nut or rice as an alternative flour. Spelt crepe-style pancakes need little dressing up; honey and banana or a bit of lemon and sugar will do. Spelt also works brilliantly if you’ve got some leftover cooked squash kicking about – mixed into an American-style pancake with a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg, and served with honey. Perfection!
Nut flours need to be balanced out with another flour to work. Plain wheat or rice flour will do, but perhaps best to avoid strong flavours like buckwheat that will overpower their more delicate nuttiness. Experiments with almond flour (also sold as ground almonds) as well as coconut flour make for lighter, fluffier pancakes than the denser oat or buckwheat versions, although admittedly a little eggy in flavour. If you don’t mind that, nut pancakes go great with tropical toppings; think, a dollop of thick yoghurt with pomegranate seeds, desiccated coconut, lime zest, toasted flaked almonds, or perhaps caramelised bananas or a fresh tropical salad of mango and pineapple.
Cracking crêpes with rice flour
Rice flour is far better suited to crêpes than fluffy pancakes as an alternative flour. The former makes thin, crisp rounds that go perfectly with the classic combination of lemon and sugar, while thick American-style versions tend to be dense and dry. For something savoury, try filling them with smashed avocado and chilli. Just make sure you pour only a thin coating of batter into the pan – too thick and they’ll be stodgy and likely to crack when wrapped. White rice flour, rather than brown, also tends to work best here.
Rice flour crêpes recipe:
1. Combine 140g of white rice flour and a good pinch of salt.
2. Whisk in 2 beaten eggs, 20g of melted butter and 250ml of milk until smooth. Add more milk or water to loosen the batter if necessary, you want it to be runny enough so it can thinly coats the base of the pan.
3. Melt a knob of butter in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, then add just enough batter to thinly coat the base of the pan.
4. Cook for a few minutes until golden underneath, then flip and continue until crisp. Serve as you like.
Gram flour is made from ground chickpeas. It’s fairly easy to get hold of and makes a thin, crisp pancake that lends itself well to this next savoury Pancake Day choice – Indian potato dosas. Do as Jamie Oliver suggests and add mustard seeds to the batter for extra flavour, or if you don’t have them to hand try toasted cumin seeds instead. He uses a combination of gram and plain wheat flour and it works super well. Just make sure to spread the batter fairly thinly around the pan to avoid a stodgy result. Filling-wise, dosas are a good excuse to use up leftover root veg (especially when refried and dressed up with extra spice and fresh herbs), or try dhal, blanched spinach and mango chutney, or saag paneer. Pioneers of British-grown pulses, Hodmedod’s have a range of pulse flours that are worth giving a go too. Their pea and fava bean flours make for tasty dosas. Combine with plain wheat flour for a lighter texture.
Indian dosa recipe:
1. Combine 1 cup of gram flour with 1 cup of plain flour, ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 2½ teaspoons mustard seeds and a good pinch of salt.
2. Pour in enough water for a loose, pourable batter.
3. Heat a splash of oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, then add just enough batter to thinly coat the base of the pan.
4. Cook for a few minutes until bubbles start to appear, then add your filling of choice and spread around the base of the dosa.
5. Once crisp, roll it up in the pan and it’s ready.