Elsie's getting top billing in this recipe for Pancakes Barbara but there are a few other grand dames and fine fellows in the back story of this wonderful dessert.

The first time I heard of Pancakes Barbara was at the Miss Gay Sobriety Pageant in Greenwich Village a few years ago. A talented recovering substance abuser performing as Pancakes Barbara brought the house down with an exquisitely detailed replication of Doris Day's "Shaking the Blues Away." Every detail – a dazzling smile, his fine figure shimmying in a lurid aqua dress backed by a coterie of dancers in black tie performing every step and gesture exactly as in the film Love Me or Leave Me — click here to see the clip.   Pancakes Barbara took home the crown that evening.

I thought Pancakes Barbara was just a kooky drag name. I attended the show with my old pal Ray Martin, who was the first to clue me into the real identity of Pancakes Barbara. Because he's the kind of guy who knows about these kind of things.

Time passes. Spectacularly Delicious launches with an early post about Aebleskivers.  Another friend, Stephen Drucker, an early supporter of the blog and also someone who knows about these kind of things and a whole lot more (creator of the New York Times' Styles section, editor of Town & CountryHouse Beautiful… the same Stephen you've seen time and again on the Barefoot Contessa) suggested Pancakes Barbara as a possible future topic. 

Another editor pal at House Beautiful, Bill Irvine (a knower of things too) and I got to talking about legendary decorator Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl). Which reminded me that Elsie's Recipes for Successful Dining (1934) was in my cookbook collection. Leafing through, there it was: Elsie's rendition of Pancakes Barbara. 

But wait — there's more. Doing some holiday shopping at Bridgehampton's chicest boutique, Maison 21, owner Louis (check out his blog and see just how much he knows) pointed out that Pancakes Barbara appeared in the classic film The Women, starring Joan Crawford (wicked home wrecker), Norma Shearer (a good woman wronged) and Rosalind Russell (worldly, wise-cracking side kick). Louis linked me to IMBD's info on P.B. "Almost as theatrical and certainly as decadent as flaming crêpes Suzette, pancakes Barbara are pancakes smothered with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, blanched walnuts, and hot chocolate sauce. Just hearing about them can put on five pounds."

Elsie's successful dining can be credited to such sage advice as this: "When one is serving this dish it is absolutely necessary to keep a réchaud, or dish-warmer, in the dining rooom so that the pancakes and sauce may be kept hot."  So I guess I'll be adding that to my kitchen must-haves itemized on The Kitchen Designer.

If there's anything more to be said about Pancakes Barbara, I'd love to hear it. In the meantime, click here for the recipe for Pancakes Barbara and try them yourself.


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Written by on December 23, 2010 under Dessert, Famous Chefs.

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  • Charles G Thompson

    Now that is some kind of pedigree for a lowly pancake dish — guess it’s no so lowly after all?! Doris Day, Elsie de Wolfe, ‘The Women,’ and my favorite the drag queen, ‘Pancakes Barbara; performing in the ‘Miss Gay Sobriety Pageant’ (sadly I don’t recall that event when I lived in the Village!) This sounds like something one would eat on New Years Eve, so celebratory. Thanks for the giggles.

    • Sean

      It is remarkable that P.B. don’t have a bigger reputation. If only IHOP had
      put them on the menu, they’d be famous today. They are quitessential IHOP
      fare — pancakes, whipped cream, ice cream, chocolate sauce, nuts…
      Conspiracy theory anyone?

  • Anna Johnston

    Fabulous! Oh yes indeedy Sean, one must have a réchaud for these little babies. Love them. Have a wonderful Christmas, eat lots, stay safe, laugh even more & enjoy!
    Cheers Anna

  • Karen@Mignardise

    Miss Gay Sobriety Pageant? Why don’t we have one here in Maine? All we get is stuff like the Wife-Carrying Contest or Cast Iron Skillet Tossing.
    I love the stories that go with your recipes Sean!

    • Sean

      All those boys have so much time on their hands b/c they’re no longer
      spending their days and nights drunk and high — so they have endless hours
      for creativity. It’s quite a show!

  • Kadols

    I’ve watched “The Women” so many times, I can (and do) recite the dialogue during the movie. I have always wondered what Pancakes Barbara was. Figured it was high in calories, thus endangering Stephen’s “Adonis figure.” My favorite quote from the movie: “Bring me a bromide….and put some gin in it.”

    • Sean

      That’s funny. Obvs I need to see it again, it’s been some time since I saw
      it. Mostly remember all the talk of Jungle Redemption

      • Sean

        I meant Jungle Red — but some Jungle Redemption would have added an interesting twist to the plot…

  • dvlarires

    I have to have this once before I die. If it’s a dish the devoted Mary Haines (Shearer) would serve her adored (but unseen) husband Stephen, it must be wonderful.

    • Sean

      Go ahead, it’s as easy getting into Crystal’s knickers. Crepes, whipped
      cream, ice cream, chocolate sauce and blanched walnuts — their whiteness
      underscoring the purity and virtue of Mrs. Stephen Haines.

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  • Gentelc

    I MUST try Pancakes Barbara.  I first heard of this decadent treat in the 1939 The Women.  The lovely Norma Shearer requested them for breakfast.  IHOP should make them!

    • Sean

      I remember that IHOP had chocolate chip pancakes which are a step in the right direction. I was always partial to their sliver dollar pancakes because you could try all the syrups. Bosenberry!

    • banshee

      She requested them for her husband’s dessert in the film. I didn’t know there really was such a thing! They sound wonderful!

  • Marian Kaderbek

    The fabulous Ginger Del Marco orders her assistant Eve to make her a snack…pancakes Barbara, in Act II of RUTHLESS THE MUSICAL! Since Ginger’s biological mother is usually played in drag, that makes the line all that much funnier!

    • Sean

      Now this is information I am glad to have! Thanks

  • JJ truth

    Just heard about it in the film “The Women” wanted to know exactly what is was—fattening is all I can say. Just goes to show how much cultural impact a film has despite being a very old one.

    • Sean

      I think it also shows how a good name, however absurd, can ensure longevity. Think of Grasshopper Pie and Crepes Suzette — people like saying the names

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