A South African pancake is similar to a French crepe and is traditionally sprinkled with cinnamon sugar while it is still hot so that the sugar melts and forms a delicious syrup inside the rolled pancake. Read on for instructions on how to make pancakes yourself.
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What is a South African pancake?
South African pancakes are called 'pannekoek', (pronounced 'panna-cook') with panne meaning pan and koek meaning cake. They are traditionally eaten as cakes, having been sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, which melts into the pancake, forming a delicious syrup. South African pancakes are similar to a French crepe, rather than the smaller, thicker version that is made in America, which we know as flapjacks or crumpets in the UK.
They have a light, slightly chewy texture with goes perfectly with the sweet cinnamon-flavoured sugar.
I have to say, South Africans love their sweet desserts. You only have to take one bite of a koeksister, which is deep-fried,, braided dough, soaked in lemon-flavoured sugar syrup to see how true this is.
These pancakes are made and sold wherever people gather, and you'd be hard-pressed to attend a church bazaar or school fete without finding a pancake stall selling these delicious delicacies.
That said, however, these pancakes served without sugar, form the basis for many delicious savoury dishes too. I love to stuff them with different fillings and serve as a quick and easy supper, as in this savoury mince-stuffed pancake bake or these seafood-stuffed pancakes.
In the winter, when it was cold and raining (yes, it does get cold and rainy in South Africa occasionally) we called it 'soup and pancake weather', and we'd get a huge pot of beef vegetable soup on the go, and then make a batch of pancakes for dessert. Comfort food doesn't get much better than that!
You can get the exact measurements and full instructions for making these pancakes on the printable recipe card at the end of this post.
- Prep time - 5 minutes
- Standing time - 30 minutes
- Cooking time - 2 minutes per pancake (total time depends on how many pancakes you are making).
- Yield - makes about 18 pancakes. The actual number of pancakes will vary depending on the size of your frying pan. For this recipe, I used an 8" pan. If I use a 9" pan I normally get about 14 pancakes.
- Calories - 75 calories per pancake (without the cinnamon sugar)
- Main equipment - Frying pan or electric pancake maker. For many years I used a frying pan for making these pancakes. Then one day I found an electric pancake maker similar to this one which works really well. It has a slight rim to stop the pancake batter from overflowing, and what I really like about it is the fact that it has a long handle which makes it easy to hold onto as you flip the pancakes.
These are the ingredients you will need:
You only need a few simple ingredients - flour, baking powder, milk, eggs and salt.
Flour - I use plain flour (sometimes called all-purpose or cake flour) with a teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour, but if you prefer you can use self-raising flour and leave out the baking powder.
Milk - you will need 1 and a half cups of milk per cup of flour. I like to substitute ⅓ of the milk with water, which I think makes for a much lighter pancake. You could use all milk if you prefer. It doesn't matter whether you use full-fat or semi-skimmed milk.
Eggs - use medium-sized eggs if possible. Large or jumbo-sized eggs will make the batter too runny. If you only have large eggs then use a few tablespoons less milk.
Salt - this is optional but I like to add about half a teaspoonful.
Sunflower oil - you will also need a small amount of sunflower oil for frying the pancakes. You can substitute this with any neutral-flavoured vegetable oil. Don't use olive oil - it will give a funny taste to the pancakes. If you are using an electric pancake maker you should not need to use any oil.
Note - I don't add sugar to the pancake batter because I think the cinnamon sugar that gets sprinkled on adds more than enough sweetness.
How to make pancakes
Mix the batter
Measure all the ingredients (except for the oil) into a large mixing bowl. If you are using large or jumbo-sized eggs, leave out 2 or 3 tablespoons of milk You can always add it in once you see the consistency of the batter.
Whisk with a balloon whisk until all the ingredients are well incorporated and there are no lumps in the batter. The consistency should be that of double cream.
Set aside to stand for half an hour. If you are in a hurry you can skip this step, but the standing time does give the flour a chance to absorb the liquid and improves the texture of the pancakes.
Fry the pancakes
Whether you choose to use an electric pancake maker or a frying pan on the stovetop, the procedure is basically the same.
Stir the pancake batter that has been standing before using.
I like to pour the pancake batter into a jug with a lip as I find this is the easiest way to control the amount of batter that goes into the pan. You could also use a soup ladle to transfer the batter.
Electric pancake maker
If you are using an electric pancake maker, allow the appliance to come to temperature before using. You will probably find that you don't need to use any oil with an electric pancake maker.
Pour a small amount of batter onto the pancake maker (about 50ml should be enough) and then swirl it gently around until the whole base is coated. With practice, you will find the optimal amount of batter to add. The batter should just coat the pan, with no excess.
Fry the pancake for 1 to 1 and a half minutes until you see bubbles forming in the batter, then, using a silicone spatula, gently flip the pancake and leave for another half to 1 minute to allow the other side to brown.
Slide the pancake from the pancake maker onto a large plate and repeat until all the batter has been used.
To make the pancakes in a frying pan you may find that you need to use sunflower oil. Pour a small amount of oil into a cup and use a teaspoon to add a few drops of oil to the pan. You could also use a silicone brush to coat the pan lightly with oil, but be careful not to add too much. You only need a very small amount of oil.
Years ago, we had a saying that the first pancake made in a frying pan would always stick and have to be thrown away. This was probably due to the quality of the older (supposedly non-stick) frying pans! Another reason could be the pan wasn't hot enough. If this happens to you, don't worry - just throw the pancake away and start again.
Heat the pan, and then pour in a small amount of the pancake batter (for an 8" frying pan I use about 50 ml). The pan will be hot enough when the batter sizzles as it hits the hot pan. Working quickly, swirl the batter around until it covers the base of the pan.
Fry the pancake for 1 to 1 and a half minutes until you see bubbles forming in the batter. You will also see the edges of the pancake start to lift away when it is ready to be flipped. Using a silicone spatula, gently flip the pancake and leave for another half to 1 minute to allow the other side to brown.
If you are feeling very brave you could also toss the pancake in the traditional way, but I always end up with pancakes all over the kitchen floor if I try this.
Slide the pancake from the pan onto a large plate and repeat until all the batter has been used.
Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar
To make cinnamon sugar, measure one cup of granulated sugar into a large glass jar with a lid and add 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Replace the lid on the jar and shake until the cinnamon is well distributed through the sugar.
This cinnamon sugar will keep indefinitely stored in a closed jar in your pantry.
As each pancake is removed from the pan, sprinkle it lightly with about half a teaspoon of cinnamon sugar.
Stack the next pancake on top and repeat with another sprinkling of sugar.
As the stack of hot pancakes builds, the sugar will melt between the pancakes.
Once you have finished making the pancakes, roll them into cylinders and serve.
Of course, you don't HAVE to use cinnamon sugar (although this is highly recommended 🙂 ).
Just make the pancakes and stack them without sprinkling with cinnamon topping. Then you can try some of these alternatives:
- Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice
- Spread them with Nutella
- Drizzle on some maple syrup or golden syrup
- Spread with strawberry (or other fruity) jam
- Fill them with custard. Try my recipe for creme patissiere - it's delicious.
- You could even let the pancakes cool and spread with ice cream before rolling.
And of course, you can use them in a savoury dish too.
What do you like to put on your pancakes? Let me know in the comments below.
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Yes, you can freeze them - just layer baking parchment between the pancakes and place the whole stack in a large Ziploc bag. You can freeze them for up to 6 months.
To use - defrost and then peel them apart and add your favourite toppings.
You can heat the pancakes either as a stack or individually in the microwave. Place them on a plate, cover them with clingfilm and reheat them in 10-second blasts until hot enough.
You can also reheat the defrosted pancakes individually in a hot frying pan on the stove for a few seconds.
Yes, you can make the pancakes ahead of time Cover them with cling film or tinfoil and store them in the refrigerator until ready to eat. Reheat in the microwave, or individually in a frying pan
If your batter should turn out too thick, just whisk extra milk, a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
If your batter is too thin, whisk in a little extra flour, a teaspoonful at a time, until the batter thickens sufficiently.
There could be a few reasons for this:
- the batter is too thin. Thicken the batter with a little extra flour (see above).
- the pan isn't hot enough. Turn up the heat and try again.
- you didn't add oil to the frying pan. Add a few drops of sunflower oil and try again.
A properly cooked pancake should hang down if you place it on your hand. If it keeps its shape and doesn't 'droop' then the batter is too thick and you should thin it out with a little extra milk (see above).
Save for later
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How to make pancakes (South African style)
(Click the stars to rate this recipe)
- 2 cups (280g) plain flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1½ cups (360 ml) milk
- 1½ cups (360 ml) water
- 2 large eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt optional
- 2 to 3 tablespoons sunflower oil for frying
- 1 cup (200g) white sugar
- 1 to 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon depending on how strong you like the cinnamon flavour
- Sift the flour into a bowl and add all the remaining pancake ingredients (except the sunflower oil).2 cups (280g) plain flour, 1½ cups (360 ml) milk, 1½ cups (360 ml) water, 2 large eggs, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking powder
- Whisk with a balloon whisk until all the ingredients are well incorporated and there are no lumps in the batter. The consistency should be that of double cream.
- Allow to stand for about 30 minutes. If you are rushed for time you can omit this step, but it does improve the texture of the pancakes.
- Pour about 50ml pancake batter onto a preheated pancake maker. If you are using a frying pan, heat the pan, add a little oil to prevent sticking and add about 50ml batter.
- Working quickly, swirl the batter around to coat the pancake maker / frying pan
- Allow to cook until bubbles form on the surface and the edges of the pancake start to curl.
- Flip the pancake and cook on the other side until brown and speckled.
- Stack the cooked pancakes on a plate, sprinkling each one with about ½ teaspoon cinnamon sugar, or leave plain if you are going to be making savoury pancakes.
- Place the sugar and ground cinnamon in a clean screw top jar and shake until thoroughly combined.1 cup (200g) white sugar, 1 to 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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