I didn’t have the chance to visit 4000-year-old Otzi The Iceman, oldest mummy in Europe, at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, while I was in Italy. But I was amused to learn that the last meal he ate may have included a very rough version of pancakes, based on the highly-processed einkorn scientists found in his belly.
Pancakes, it seems, are one of the world’s longest-standing culinary creations. Stone Age pancakes may have been made of ground cattails, mixed with water and baked on hot rocks. The earliest known pancake in China, made of millet meal, dates back to the 4th century B.C. Ancient Greeks ate a version called kreion with honey. Native Americans made theirs of cornmeal. And from all of these far-flung origins there developed crepes, galettes and eventually, the pancakes we know today.
In my household, allegiances swing widely, from thin-battered crepes, to earthy buckwheat cakes, to fat and fluffy buttermilk pancakes. Sometimes a Saturday thing, they have the power to coax late-sleepers out of bed, and, nothing says “company brunch” more comfortingly. But as much as we like all of the above, our newest favorite is actually a gluten and sugar free pancake made of sweet rice flour called a crespelle. It’s a bit like a crepe, and includes milk and eggs in the batter, but no sugar. The texture reminds me of a blintz, with a satisfying bit of chew to it.
I learned of this lovely griddle-r while testing recipes and writing a cookbook for Chef John Coletta called “Risotto and Beyond” published by Rizzoli in March. There is an incredible diversity of Italian rice—200 kinds, to be exact, but few people know about it outside of Italy. In America, for example, we consume less than 1 percent of Italy’s rice exports each year. And most people have never ventured beyond risotto. In Italy, finely-milled white rice flour is commonly used as a thickener and stabilizer, and as a coating or batter for fried dishes. There, Arborio rice flour is available. While Arborio rice flour is not yet available here, Bob’s Red Mill or Koda Farms Mochiko sweet white rice flour are good alternatives, and work very well in this recipe.
I like to make a nice stack of crespelle and serve them buttered and sugared. But they are equally good with honey and almonds, dotted with fresh fruit, or spread with preserves or jam. You may also like to experiment with savory versions.
Sweet Rice-Flour Pancakes (Crespelle)
- 3 large eggs
- 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups sweet rice flour (Bob’s Red Mill or Koda Farms)
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs, 1/2 of the melted butter, milk, salt and vanilla. Whisk in the rice flour to make a smooth batter.
- Heat a nonstick skillet or crepe pan over medium heat. Drizzle a tiny bit of the remaining butter into the pan. Gently ladle just under 1/3 cup of the batter into the pan, tilting and turning to coat the pan with the batter. Cook the crespelle until bubbles form in the center and the pancake is well set. Flip to finish cooking. Repeat (adding drizzles of butter to the pan as needed) until all of the batter has been used.
- Serve with your choice of toppings: butter, sugar, syrup, fruit, fruit preserves, honey, nuts etc.
Monica Kass Rogers:
Monica is a food-business and lifestyles feature writer & photographer with a penchant for reviving vintage recipes. Building on the “Lost Recipes Found” column she originally launched for the Chicago Tribune, Monica now rediscovers vintage in her blog of the same name Lost Recipes Found and continues to write about and photograph contemporary food nationally for restaurants, hotels and magazines.