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Just in Time for Pancake Day, Scientists Develop Pancake Calculator

Olney Pancake Race
Competitors take part in the annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race on Feb. 9, 2016 in Olney, England. On Shrove Tuesday every year the ladies of Olney compete in a pancake race, a tradition which dates back to 1445. Carl Court/Getty Images

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The Tuesday before Lent is Shrove Tuesday, better-known in the United Kingdom as Pancake Day. According to tradition, Anglo-Saxon Christians would cook up big batches of pancakes to use up rich ingredients like eggs and butter before the 40-day Lenten fast. When the church rang the "Pancake Bell" on Shrove Tuesday (exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday), the faithful were called to confession where their sins were forgiven or "shriven."

Today, Pancake Day is still widely celebrated in the U.K. with time-honored traditions like aproned housewives racing through the streets holding frying pans, entire towns playing massive games of street soccer, and of course, eating loads of delicious pancakes.

In the spirit of making better pancakes, a team of physicists based in Poland have created the Perfect Pancake Calculator, which doles out scientifically proven proportions for cooking up 15 different types of international pancakes. British-style pancakes, for example, are light and crepe-like, while Canadian ploye are dense and bubbly and only cooked on one side. Select the type of pancake you want and the calculator will tell you what proportions of milk, flour, eggs and oil you need, as well as give specific cooking instructions.

Depending on how thin or thick you need your pancakes to be will affect how much flour and milk you add. "The higher the amount of dry ingredients, the thicker the mixture that can't spread on the surface of the pan uniformly and form a perfectly round pancake," the calculator website notes. "During the cooking, water from the batter vaporizeslifting a substance just a bit. If the batter is too thick, it will be moved upward unevenly, and therefore some parts will get fried more than others — that's how craters and islands are formed."

It might seem odd for a couple of Ph.D. students to spend so much time thinking about things like "pancake geometry" (a volume of batter multiplied by a pancake's diameter), but they are part of the crew at The Omni Calculator Project, a startup whose goal is to make life a little easier by helping humankind make smarter decisions.

"We have a ton of small or big decisions to make. Often, they involve a bit of math — we buy houses, start businesses, boil eggs for breakfast. And this is when we go the easy route and rely on a hunch, instead of hard data," writes Omni Calculator founder Mateusz Mucha in an email. "We're making these problems easy, quick and fun to solve so that next time you have a decision to make, you make it the right way."

Other handy food-related calculators you might want to check out are the Coffee to Water Ratio Calculator that spits out exact measurements of water to coffee grounds for different coffee strengths and brewing methods (drip, French press, cold brew) and the Pizza Party Calculator which tells you exactly how many pies to order based on the number of people and their hunger level (yes, "starving" is an option).

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