flapjacks and pancakes

I cannot believe I've never written a post about the word flapjack. So here it is. 

In AmE, flapjack is a synonym for pancake, as is hotcake. Hey, it's a big country. We're allowed to have lots of words for things. 

Here in the south of England (at least), those things are often called American pancakes to differentiate them from the more crêpe-like English pancakes (often eaten with lemon juice and sugar). Then there are Scotch pancakes, also called drop scones, which are very much like American pancakes. I've seen one site that claims that Scotch pancakes have sugar in them but American pancakes have butter in them, and I can tell you that my American pancakes have a little sugar and no butter (but some cooking oil) in them, so I'm not believing that website. I'd say the main difference between Scotch pancakes and American ones is the size, with Scotch pancakes being closer to what are called silver dollar pancakes in AmE, which can have a similar circumference to a crumpet or (English) muffin—that is to say bigger than a silver dollar. (All links in this paragraph are to recipes.)

A few immigrant pancake notes:

  • I was really surprised (when I arrived 22 years ago) to find that in the UK one can buy cold Scotch pancakes in a UK supermarket. I'd never seen such a thing in the US. Maybe frozen ones for heating up, but not pancakes in the bread aisle of the supermarket. Even more surprised when I first saw someone eating them cold, straight out of the (more BrE) packet.


  • If you order "American pancakes" in England they (a) generally won't come with butter (what's the point?!) and (b) will be covered with so much sweet stuff that you will get a cavity before you've swallowed the last bite. At least around here, the pancakes themselves are pretty sweet, then they tend to put the maple syrup on before they serve it AND dust them with a ton of (AmE) confectioner's sugar /(BrE) icing sugar. I have mostly learned better than to order them, but my child hasn't. 
  • These days, with American pancakes being much more common in Brighton, the actual pancakes can be pretty good (though, as I say, often too much sugar in the batter). When I first moved here and only a handful of places served them, they were invariably undercooked in the middle. I assume this was because the cooks had been trained in English pancakes and couldn't believe a pancake could take so long to cook. The best ones in Brighton are now made by my English spouse, who's taken every food I've ever cooked for him and made it his mission to master it. 
Now, for BrE flapjacks. A completely different animal: a (BrE) tray bake made of oats, butter and usually golden syrup (click on the links for where I've covered those terms). I have seen recipes that call for honey instead of the syrup—you need something gloopy and sweet. If you want to get fancy, you can put other ingredients in, dried fruit being the most common addition. Here are some recipes

BBC Good Food Easy Honey Flapjacks



The closest things in the US are probably granola bar-type things, but they don't tend to be so solidly oaty. What the US does have, though, is oatmeal (raisin) cookies.

I've heard various American exchange students refer to flapjacks as one of the best things about England. The appeal eludes me. I'll eat one to be polite, but I'll gladly ignore them. I count that as a win. Any sweet thing that I can resist is a good kind of sweet thing. 


72 comments

  1. Replies
    1. As an Englishman, I wish to protest that your opening para provides links to recipes for every possible thing that anyone has ever arbitrarily decided to call a "pancake", except the things that really ARE pancakes! "Crêpe-like things" indeed! Pah!

      https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/easy-pancakes

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    2. You've linked to 'easy pancakes'. I'll link to 'classic pancakes'.

      https://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/classic-pancakes/77a89da1-fd56-494b-874a-55f9195c1413

      The best protest is to write about it on your own blog using your own words. ;)

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    3. Confectioner's sugar is the name on most packages for what we have always called "powdered sugar".
      We buy "complete" pancake mixes quite often but when I make a big batch for the grandkids I use eggs, milk, self-rising flour and cooking oil. I don't use a written recipe. But I do have a rule of thumb recipe. The proportions I start with are 1 egg, 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of flour (125 grams), ~1.5 Tbsp cooking oil. I prepare a ton at a time so I multiply those times 5. When the ingredients are all mixed, I often add additional flour to thicken as desired. I don't add sugar because we put syrup on them anyway. One or two of the kids like powdered sugar instead.

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  2. As an Australian/NZ, to me a pancake is large (McDonald's hotcakes are too small to be proper pancake). But there are also pikelets, which are about the diameter of a muffin. I'm guessing they are similar to drop silver dollar pancakes. You can buy those in a supermarket, search Golden Pikelets for an example. I usually see them in cafes etc served with jam, cream and a cup of tea - basically a lighter replacement for a scone.

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    1. Aren't pikelets crumpets? I'm originally from Yorkshire, and those holey items were eaten grilled, hot with margarine (I didn't discover butter until I had independent income...), but never jam or cream. Such extravagance! :) I'd never seen or heard of an English muffin until I moved to Canada! I can attest to the joy of lemon curd on cold Yorkshire puddings though, since we're on the subject of questionable carbs...

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    2. Yes, the pikelets I've seen seem to be basically a different shape of crumpet—crumpets being like pancakes that haven't been turned over.

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    3. Just checked OED: BrE pikelet = a thin crumpet. AusE pikelet = a drop scone (i.e. a pancake).

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    4. My mother, from Co Durham, referred to crumpets as pikelets, but when bought in supermarkets now the latter seem to be the thinner version. They are brown and flat on the bottom, white and holey on the top. They are made with a yeast dough, but with added baking powder, hence the large holes! They are baked on a flat surface within metal rings a few inches in diameter.
      The English muffin, which I have only encountered in the USA, is made from a similar yeasted white dough but it is evidently turned during baking as it has two 'cooked' surfaces.

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    5. In the 1960s my Welsh Grandmother made Pikelets. They were apparently drop scones / silver dollar pancakes - a thick sweetish batter with currants in, cooked on one side only on a hot plate.

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    6. My family, 50s London, always used to refer to crumpets as "muffins" and it was an interesting surprise on my first visit to the US in 1980 to discover what the Americans call "English muffins". (Which you can get in most supermarkets in the UK.) There was an old song that begins "Have you seen the muffin man?" that we used to sing when we had crumpets for tea.

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    7. Biochemist, I am really surprised you haven't come across "English" muffins here in the UK, as almost every supermarket sells them in packets of 6, either white or wholemeal, also what are called "Oven bottom" muffins.... unless, of course, what the Americans call "English muffins" are quite different.

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    8. It's been a few years since I was last in the US but they seem much the same in my memory. (Bought some in Tesco in Guildford just a couple of weeks ago.)

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    9. I stand corrected! But I don't usually buy baked goods in supermarkets ... usually I go to a baker's shop where bread and freshly baked items are sold. So I have never clocked the varieties of crumpets etc.
      I am going to respond to Mrs Redboots about drop scones below

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    10. How lucky you are to have a baker's shop that you can afford - there is one near us, but it is eye-wateringly expensive when one can get a freshly-baked rye sourdough loaf from Lidl that is every bit as good, but 1/4 the price (ditto jam doughnuts). And they don't sell Chelsea buns, but almost nowhere does now! Alas.

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    11. Indeed, I do not know of a baker's in Guildford, and Google turned up only one, which I can't even remember seeing. Amusingly, Google's second entry on the list was a branch of Ted Baker, the men's clothing chain.

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    12. In my small town in Devon, we have three independent bread shops (my regular shop buys in its bread from a baker in a nearby town, the other two bake on the premises) plus four supermarkets. These are M&S, Tesco, Morrisons and Lidl, so I will survey the baked goods in all of them ...

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    13. M&S doesn't have on-site bakeries as far as I know; I think the others all will. I recommend Lidl's croissants, the best we have found outside of France!

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    14. The essential point about crumpets is that they are yeasted and therefore have large holes made by the bubbles. I too was brought up to call them pikelets (or, rather, pyclets, which seems to be a spelling peculiar to the Derby area). Nowadays the term seems to be used for the kind cooked without a ring, making a thinner and more shapeless result.

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  3. Do Americans celebrate Pancake Day? That was always a big deal in my childhood. Lemon juice and sugar only, obviously. I once ate eighteen of them. Only stopped because Mum ran out of ingredients.

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    1. Not even in Canada... and we even still have Queenie! There's Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday, but not really a big deal and not really associated with pancakes as far as I can tell. Which holidays/celebrations get transferred with populations and transplanted is weird. St Patrick's day is a big thing here in BC... but nobody's even heard of Saints George, Andrew or David. Chinese New Year is huge though. Alas - water chestnut cake doesn't have the same resonance for me...

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    2. Oops, I definitely should have mentioned Pancake Day in the post!

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    3. @Quieter Elephant, in SW Ontario at least Pancake Tuesday is still commonly referred to. I know quite a few people who will eat pancakes that day (although in my area paczkis are frequently consumed as well).

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    4. My mother is Pennsylvania Dutch (well, half-Scandinavian on her father's side), and she celebrates Shrove Tuesday as Fastnacht Day. This means that she will go-out and purchase a box of doughnuts, and this is basically the only day of the year when she will purchase such a treat.

      I'm not sure how widely this tradition is still practiced in the U.S., but there is a Wikipedia page on the topic.

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    5. We do have Pancake Day in Canada but you will probably only know about it if you are religious. Many churches have special pancake suppers on Shrove Tuesday. Pancake Day is also a thing in Newfoundland, where items are put in pancakes to predict your future.

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  4. On a related note, I've (Texan) never heard someone say confectioners sugar. I've seen the term written in recipes, or on the bag it comes in, but I've only ever heard powdered sugar.

    Also, I've never heard of adding powdered sugar and syrup. One or the other, but never both.

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    1. Fair point about 'powdered sugar'.

      And that's my point about the pancakes here being too sweet. The batter starts out too sweet then they (at least some places) add syrup and more sugar. I think it comes down partly to "If it's American, it must be super-sweet", and partly to 'everything looks prettier with powdered sugar on top'.

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    2. Here in the States, iced tea suffers from over-sugaring in the South - so-called "sweet tea." To paraphrase someone else's clever post here, you'll have cavities before you drink the last drop. In many places in the South, plain unsweetened iced tea isn't an option at all.

      And then we wonder why Type 2 diabetes is so rampant in this country (I have no idea how rampant it might be elsewhere). Every manufactured food includes sugar in one form or another (or many at the same time - anything that ends with "-ose" is a sugar). I was particularly dismayed to discover a few years ago that the kidney and other kinds of beans I bought by the can for making chili had included high-fructose corn syrup. Raisin Bran cereal: the raisins are encrusted with sugar - why do raisins need sugar? It goes on forever.

      But I digress ...

      My family is particularly fond of Scottish oat cakes, from a recipe that a dear friend of my father gave us. His name was Ferguson, and his mother had given him the recipe. (Who knows how old a recipe it is.) It's very simple - rolled oats, lots of butter, a hint of sugar, some flour, and enough water to make a stiff dough. These chewy, buttery delights are such a relief to the palate during the holidays, when every other treat offers nothing but more sugar.

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    3. Grr - Google has started eating my replies again! You can cook beans from scratch, rather than eat tinned - much nicer; soak for an hour in boiling water than cook in a pressure cooker for 12 minutes, or on the stovetop for about 45 minutes or longer, making sure the first 10 minutes are a rolling boil.

      Also, there are two kinds of oatcakes in the UK: Scottish oatcakes, which are widely available and used as what we call a cheese biscuit (a biscuit to eat cheese with, not cheese-flavoured, although the latter do exist), and the Staffordshire kind, which I've not had, but I think are more like an oatmeal pancake, served filled (to bring this full circle)!

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    4. There's another Australian/NZ difference - I sometimes hear powdered sugar, never confectioners sugar. To us it's icing sugar.

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    5. @Stephen, it's always "icing sugar" here in Blighty, too.

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    6. It's icing sugar in Canada too.

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  5. As a Quebecer, I hate that here restaurant menu refer to American pancakes as crêpes in French. I have never had a restaurant American pancake that wasn't so rubbery I struggled to cut through it with my knife, yet you never know whether you're going to get a pancake or an actual crêpe until the plate is in front of you!

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    1. Yes, rubbery pancakes are a result of beating. Overworking the batter develops the gluten strands and this is the result. Another rubbery result is when anything bread-like is heated in the microwave oven. A few seconds to warm it - a doughnut, maybe - is fine, but you're wise to eat it while it's warm. Otherwise, the result in not only rubbery but also soggy (a weird combination!)

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  6. I have to agree with Grhm - the default pancakes, for English people, are basically crepes, made on Shrove Tuesday (always; other times of year sometimes!) and eaten with lemon juice and sugar! My recipe for drop scones (which to me are a scone, not a pancake, but my Northern Irish husband disagrees) does not include any sugar, but is basically the same as a pancake recipe, only less milk.

    Also, you do not mention the wonderful French "galettes au sarrasin", a buckwheat pancake with a savoury filling (which also has the massive advantage of being gluten free!), often of eggs, ham and cheese, or (I remember one delicious one) goats' cheese, walnuts and lettuce!

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    1. And I meant to add that my mother's recipe for flapjacks contains no golden syrup (thankfully, I do so dislike it!), but is just oats, butter, brown sugar and a pinch of salt. You have to be a bit careful, as they are apt to burn, but when they don't burn, they are delicious.

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    2. Drop scones (Scotch pancakes, or Girdle/griddle pancakes) are so-called because the mixture forms a fairly stiff consistency that can be dropped on to the pan or griddle/girdle (held over the fire in olden days!) where it spreads out only a little. Thus their size depends on how big the spoon was.
      I was offered one in Northern Ireland last year - taken out of the frozen packet and toasted! Ah, the glory days are gone - hostesses used to pride themselves on baking a fresh batch of drop scones or 'real' scones almost as the guests arrived at the front door.

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  7. There's at least one US (regional/specialty) food that looks like it's akin to flapjacks based on the linked recipes -- Hudson Bay Bread, which is almost always maple-flavored (with imitation maple flavoring, blecch) and is specifically thought of as a backpacking type thing (i.e. a homemade granola bar, basically). The recipes look pretty similar, albeit with corn syrup vs golden syrup in most of them.

    My (US american) pancake recipe has no sugar in the batter, the better to pour sugar on top, or to occasionally eat them with savory toppings.

    The US has savory crepes (buckwheat or regular wheat), we just don't call them pancakes. They tend to be folded around the filling in a flattened cone as a walkable street food rather than the way they're served in Brittany, and are kind of stuffed-full rather than a thin amount of filling.

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  8. What a load of crêpe...

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  9. (I'm just here to make that pun, great article!)

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  10. I am amused to find in my same email today a post from another blog about waffles. It's amazing how often closely related things run in tandem in completely unrelated minds.

    Last week I received a blog post about how hope was instilled in rats forced to tread water (a 1957 experiment), while I read in a book published in 1939 about an experiment in which rats lost hope.

    My pancake recipe, from "The Women's Home Companion Cookbook" which first came out in the 1930s I think, calls for a little sugar and some oil, but isn't a sugary-tasting concoction. I've modified it successfully into a gluten-free recipe, using buckwheat flour and almond flour and an extra egg. (Buckwheat isn't a wheat at all; it is in the rhubarb family.)

    Pancake, flapjack, hot cake, waffle, whatever - in my neighborhood, they're all good!

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  11. My mother, who was not a good cook in general but a great baker, made very good flapjacks. They were moist and may have had raisins in addition to the oats and golden syrup. American oat and raisin cookies are probably their closest cousin. The ones pictured above look hard and dry, and I can understand Lynne's indifference.

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  12. "In AmE, flapjack is a synonym for pancake, as is hotcake."

    The moment I read this line I immediately thought of Mad magazine, which dominated my life as a young American teenager. One issue contained a cartoon showing a busy outdoor social scene featuring a snack bar, and posted on the front of the bar was a sign bragging "Our flapjacks sell like hotcakes."

    Which brings up something you failed to mention at all in your post, Lynne -- the cliché term that something popular "sells like hotcakes". Of course, it's probably hopeless to trace the origins of this expression ... but it would be interesting to know whether it's ever (or has ever been) used in the UK.

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    1. Rather than failing to mention it, I feel I just didn't mention it!

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    2. Yes, I (Brit) have used the phrase - although I imagine hot cakes (warm and fragrant from the oven) selling very fast. I did not know of the US version i.e. hotcakes, and I don't imagine most Brits do.

      We do also have hot potatoes, which of course are too hot to handle!

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    3. Expression well known to me (UK), but as two words. Like Biochemist, I had always envisaged some kind of freshly baked item, certainly not a pancake.

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    4. Also explains a line from the number The Thomas Jefferson March in Leonard Bernstein's ill-fated musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "I brought waffles from Belgium, and now they are selling like hotcakes."

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    5. As a well-seaoned Brit I'm very familiar with things selling like hot cakes (two words) and have always seen it in terms of a confectioner selling cakes fresh from the oven.

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  13. I've learnt at least one new thing here today: I'd hitherto never heard of a "drop scone".

    The mere mention of scones raises the old and hoary (in England, anyway) question of whether "scone" should be pronounced to rhyme with cone or con. (For me, it's definitely the former.)

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    1. And for me, definitely the latter. And don't forget the Stone of Scone, where it is pronounced "Scoon"!

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    2. Didn't Terry Pratchett have a scone of stone - a dwarf artefact?

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    3. I have family near Perth so am very familiar with Scone ("Scoon") Palace :)

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  14. Scotch pancakes are meant to be cold! They are eaten cold. They have nothing to do with supermarket packets of cold pancakes meant to be warmed up.

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  15. I grew up in the Intermountain West, and we distinguished flapjacks as the sort of pancake which would cover the entire bottom of a large cast-iron skillet as it was cooking. Flipped partway through; served with butter and maple syrup. Just an interesting note.

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  16. The television series "The Prisoner" (1967, starring Patrick McGoohan) includes an episode ("The Schizoid Man") prominently featuring (for complicated, plot-related reasons) English-style pancakes. They appear several times in the story, they do look like crepes, and they are served with lemon slices. (This always perplexed me* -- pancakes with lemon? -- but the comments here all confirm this is U.K. standard practice. Maybe I should try it?)

    Curiously, though, these food-items are solely (and repeatedly) referred-to as "flapjacks" in the story. (Again, quite prominently in the context of the plot.) Though the show is British, it was produced with an eye toward appeal in the U.S. market, so perhaps the term was used for that reason? Or maybe it was more-commonly applied to pancakes fifty years ago?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpEIGwsIBfk

    Longtime reader, first-time commenter. Thanks for the great blog!

    *U.S. West-Coast American.

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    1. Not available in the UK for copyright reasons.

      Don't remember the episode. When The Prisoner was first shown, I would have been about 15. We never watched it in our house and it was only years later I heard about it. When Channel 4 started in 1983, they did repeat it, but that was in the days I didn't have a VCR so I didn't see every episode. It was repeated more recently.

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    2. I think the video is not exactly copyright-compliant in the U.S. either...

      If I was more technically-competent, I would screenshot images of the flapjacks/pancakes/whatever and share them here. They do look delicious!

      Notable quotes:

      "Do you think I'd forgotten that we used to call you Flapjack Charlie?"

      (Guy being brainwashed, "Manchurian Candidate"-style) "Flapjacks are my favorite dish ... flapjacks are my favorite dish."

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    3. Lemon juice and caster sugar, works a treat, more a dressing than a filling (but you can also add other fillings to the equation, like stewed/pureed apple).

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    4. I think I understand how this works now -- since U.K. pancakes are thin, dense, and crepe-like, and so would have relatively glossy and impermeable surfaces, lemon juice plus sugar would make a nice dressing or glazing of sorts. U.S. pancakes tend to soak-up whatever is poured on them, and a pancake saturated with lemon juice would not be appealing.

      Certainly pancakes of the U.K. sort exist in the U.S., they could be sweet or savory ... they're just called crepes.

      By the way, at least to my mind relative to my regional dialect of U.S. English (California), the word "flapjack" seems a bit quaint, like old-timey cowboy talk, or something they might sing about in the musical "Oklahoma!". I'm not sure whether I've ever heard it in speech outside of ironic jocular usage.

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    5. Some further investigation of this crucial matter:

      The delicious flapjacks, pictured:

      https://david-stimpson.blogspot.com/2011/04/flapjack-charlie.html

      More discussion of this mystery:

      https://david-stimpson.blogspot.com/2012/03/thought-for-day_10.html

      A little more discussion, along with an image of our hero enjoying his flapjack feast:

      https://twitter.com/unmutualwebsite/status/1232234272695738369

      Many confused U.K. folks wondering why characters are calling pancakes "flapjacks".

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  17. They are not called flapjacks, but I think you must be right about the US market. Lemon slices is very stylish. We used lemon juice and sugar. This probably explains why it's so easy (still?) to buy a small plastic lemon-shaped lemon juice container so you could squirt it on your pancakes.

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    1. In 1923 my grandfather sailed from England to Canada with the idea of finding work and bringing my grandmother and mother to join him. I think he was working on an isolated project. It was cold and conditions were harsh but they were told that at the end of the week there would be a treat, flapjacks and molasses. Huge disappointment when they were served pancakes and treacle. And a speedy return home. So, in those days in Canada, it seems, flapjacks were the same as English pancakes.
      I love pancakes and eat them about twice a month. Lime juice and sugar. Lime marmalade. Melted dark chocolate. Tomato cheese and mushroom.

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  18. To complicate things further, have you ever had Scottish crumpets? They're like a cross between pancakes and what everyone else in the UK might call a crumpet https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/easy-pancakes (scroll to second recipe)

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  19. Somehow managed to post the wrong link! Should have been https://foodanddrink.scotsman.com/food/traditional-scottish-recipes-pancake-tuesday/ (second recipe)

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  20. Scrolling doesn't work for me, but I see you've corrected the link. Never had them. They look good. A lot of baking powder!

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  21. Mrs Redboots, on your reference to Staffordshire oatcakes, they are delicious. They go very well as a replacement for toast or fried bread in a fry-up. You can get them sometimes these days in packets in Sainsbury's but they're a bit desiccated, not of the same quality as the fresh ones in North Staffordshire and West Derbyshire. I'm pretty sure they are basically a pancake made with oatmeal and with yeast in them.

    I'd not heard of American Pancakes before this thread. I'm even wondering if they are a Brighton peculiarity that has somehow taken off there, or perhaps I'm just out of date. For non-Brits, we eat what we call pancakes and which are similar to what others may call crêpes on Shrove Tuesday which is the day before Ash Wednesday which marks the start of Lent. In times when people were stricter about these things, it was to use up surplus eggs. I'm as good as certain that the Canadian reference to Pancake Tuesday is referring to the same day, as does Mardi Gras.

    Pancakes are best made one after another in a smallish frying pan. Clever people can toss them (turn them over) without breaking them.

    For some reason, I'm having problems posting this. I think some others have made similar comments. I hope it appears, and also doesn't appear twice.

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    1. American pancakes are quite nice, if a bit stodgy. Usually served with butter and maple syrup, the latter usually brought to your table in a little jug if you are having them in a restaurant.

      My problem with them is the serving is usually too big and it's a struggle to finish. When I'm in the US and order pancakes for breakfast, I feel like I don't need to eat for the rest of the week.

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  22. I see that you're already overwhelmed with responses, but I can't stop myself from pitching in. From what I've seen in recipes for "American" pancakes, the British versions rely on beating the eggs or the batter. The American pancakes I learned to make in America rely on baking powder to make them rise and it's important to mix them as little as possible--it makes them tough.

    As for flapjacks, at least the ones in Cornwall differ from granola bars in oozing oil onto whatever you wrap them in. Granola bars are considerably better behaved.

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  23. The first time I ever encountered flapjacks was at a Golden Egg restaurant in London in 1965. The Golden Egg was a 1960s sit-down fast-food chain rather like the Wimpy Bar. I was 11 and had just moved down from the Wirral, where we knew not of such things. The flapjacks were very definitely pancakes as I now know them, served with butter and maple [-flavoured, probably] syrup, although a pancake to me then was, as you say, a thin flat thing served once a year with sugar and lemon juice It was only several years later that I ever encountered a flapjack as an oaty sweet cake although that is what I understand by the word now.

    I really got to grips with American-style breakfast pancakes at Sunday brunches at the diner (one of the finest of American institutions imho) and now make American-style pancakes for myself from time to time as a treat. I work loosely to Felicity Cloake's ideal recipe from the Guardian 10 years ago https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/jun/28/how-to-cook-perfect-american-pancakes and as she suggests I use half plain flour and half cornmeal/polenta. I've never met a real-life American yet who recognises the idea of cornmeal in breakfast pancakes but I do think it adds a certain something to the dish.

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  24. I've never eaten them, but Google suggests that "cornbread/cornmeal pancakes" are common in the U.S. Southeast, and "Johnnycakes" in the Northeast.

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  25. Cartoon about pancakes in today's Guardian (with pancake day this week).

    https://tinyurl.com/56dtbm2w

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  26. Happy Pancake Day, everyone.

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Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)