A Pancake’s Pancake

I am not impressed with recipe titles that include words such as “ultimate” or “absolute best”, they never seem to live up to their names.  Having said that, these pancakes almost moved me to name them “The Ultimate Super Absolute Best Pancakes in the Entire Universe of All Time”.  They are that good.

I was first attracted to this recipe because it called for the egg whites to be whipped, which was novel and seemed like a promising way to ensure very fluffy pancakes.  I finally made these pancakes for my father last weekend, who declared them to be the best pancakes he’d ever had; when I tasted one, myself, I had to agree.  These are pancakes the way pancakes were meant to be.

PERFECT PANCAKES:

Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart’s “Neil’s Pancakes” recipe

Yields about 8 pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/8 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3/2 cup whole milk
  • 6 tbs unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or rum)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites (room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup lemon zest (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, sift your flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together your milk, melted butter, vanilla/rum, and yolks until well combined.
  3. Then, whisk your yolk mixture into your dry ingredients until just combined (it’ll be a little lumpy)
  4. In a small bowl, use a hand mixer to beat your egg whites into stiff peaks. Carefully fold your egg whites into the batter until fully incorporated (some small clumps of egg whites are fine)
  5. Butter your frying pan and heat it over a medium flame.  Use a ladle to drop batter onto it, and check it occasionally by using a spatula to carefully lift part of the pancake to check if the bottom is golden-brown.  Once done, flip the pancake and fry the other side to match.
  6. Top with fresh berries, syrup, bananas, sugar, or anything else.  These will go great with anything (they’re unbelievably good plain, too)

Review:

These pancakes are scrumptious, fluffy, heavenly, delicious, delectable, and absolutely perfect.  They’re gorgeous, puffy little golden cakes.  They’re amazingly airy and tender with a rich, full taste.  They come off the skillet looking like professional, magazine-cover pancakes and they taste even better.  So many recipes guarantee delicious, fluffy pancakes, but these are in a different league altogether.  If you like truly fluffy, full-flavored, classic pancakes, then these cannot, will not disappoint.  As my father said, “these are the pancakes other pancakes dream of becoming”.

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Mother’s Day Croissants (Julia Childs’ Recipe)

My mother loves croissants, so for every special occasion I get my mother croissants for breakfast.  I always pop them in the toaster oven to warm them, always wrap them in a white linen napkin, and always put them in the same straw-woven basket.  This year, for Mother’s Day, I wanted to do something a little more special, though.  So, I decided to make her croissants.

Making croissants is a difficult process, but it’s even harder when you’re making them as a surprise for someone living under the same roof.  For the three days it took to make them, I had to operate in complete secrecy.  Luckily, we have two refrigerators, so I managed to hide the dough in the garage fridge.  Unluckily, my mother is almost always in the kitchen, so I had to ask my trusty sidekick (my father) to get her out of the house.   I started the croissants on Friday and kept rolling and folding all the way till 5:00am on Sunday morning.  I highly recommend planning out any croissant-making well in advance, as it’s impossible to eat them the same day you start making them.  Especially if it’s your first time making croissants (as this was for me); you’ll want to watch videos.  A lot of videos.

JULIA CHILDS CROISSANTS:

Yields 4 large croissants, or 8 smaller (this recipe is halved from the original)

Recipe:

  • 1/2 lb and 1 oz unsalted butter (cold)
  • 1 5/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/6 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp water
Directions:
Day 1:
  1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (I use a Kitchen Aid), add your flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.  Then add your milk and mix on low speed using the hook attachment until ingredients are mixed (if the dough looks too dry, add a little more milk.  You’ll know when it’s enough when there’s no more dry flour at the bottom of the bowl.  But, you don’t want your dough becoming too sticky and wet, so make sure to give the mixer some time to do its magic before you start pouring in more milk)
  2. When your dough is mixed, take it out of the bowl and either hold it or place it on a clean bit of counter.  Turn your mixer back on and add your dough back into the bowl bit by bit.  Increase the mixer’s speed (medium-high) every time you add in a piece of dough, and reduce a bit before adding in the next piece.
  3. When the dough is all in the mixer again and unified, take it out and show it who’s boss.  Roll it into a ball and pound it a couple times on your counter (not too hard, you’re not trying to beat it to death), punch it, roll it with your hands, and knead it some.  Do this a couple times (it helps gluten form to give your croissants structure and airiness).
  4. Shape your dough into a nice ball and wrap it in plastic.  Put the wrapped dough into a large, sealed plastic bag.  Let it rest at room temperature for half an hour or so.
  5. While your dough is resting, change your mixer’s attachment to the paddle and take out your butter.
  6. Toss your butter in the bowl with add 2 tablespoons of flour and beat on a high speed.  Keep an eye on it, you don’t want to overwork your butter and turn it into oil. Beat it until just fluffy and malleable (it should still be chilled).
  7. Take the butter and squeeze it between your palms to push all the air out.  Pack and shape it into a ball (it’s better if it’s more bar-of-soap shaped than perfectly spherical), being careful not to handle it too long.  Wrap your butter in plastic and place it in the refrigerator until your dough is done resting.
  8. Then, put your butter and dough into the same large plastic bag and place them both in the refrigerator overnight.
Day 2:
  1. Flour your counter (or a marble slab) with flour for rolling (keep the flour nearby, you might need more as you get going)
  2. Take your dough out of the fridge (keep your butter in there though) and put it on your floured surface.  Roll your dough out evenly and patiently.  The key to rolling dough is never to force it, slow and steady keeps your dough from tearing and from rolling out crooked.  But make sure you’re firm, otherwise your dough is not going to move. Try to keep your dough in a roughly rectangular shape.  To make sure your dough is even, bend down to eye level with it and look across the surface to see if one side is higher or lower than another.
  3. When your dough has been rolled out, take your butter out of the fridge (if you have a very cold fridge, you may want to take the butter out a minute or two in advance so that it’s not rock solid).
  4. Unwrap your butter and place it in the middle of your dough.  Fold one side of your dough over the butter, making sure the sides of the dough line up (pinch them to make the dough stay, instead of shrinking back towards the butter).  Then, fold the other side over the butter to completely cover it (again, line up the sides and pinch to make the dough stay)
  5. With your rolling pin, beat the butter down, starting from the middle and working first to one side and then, when finished, the other. Continue beating firmly, but not aggressively, until your butter is evenly spread throughout the dough.  If your dough tears and the butter peeks through, just patch it up with any spare bits of dough (I just tore off little bits that didn’t get the butter beaten into them) or pat a little flour on it.
  6. Now, roll evenly, making sure you’re not forcing the dough.
  7. After it’s been rolled out to a rectangular shape, place your dough on a lightly-floured shallow baking pan (or a high-sided cookie sheet) and cover it with plastic wrap.   Stick the whole thing in the fridge for a couple hours (anywhere from 2-6 ought to do it)
  8. After it’s rested, take it out, and roll it out on a floured surface.  Sprinkle some flour over the top of your dough so that your rolling pin doesn’t stick (press an extra bit to any spots where butter peeks out).
  9. Roll your dough out again, evenly, patiently, and firmly.  Keep it in a rectangular shape.
  10. Fold into three (first bring one side to the middle, then the other, like folding a letter).  Before folding, brush the flour off each surface of the dough with a pastry brush (even a clean paintbrush will do).
  11. Then, put back onto your pan/cookie sheet, cover it all up with plastic wrap, and stick it back in the fridge for 1-4 hours.
  12. When you take it out this time, repeat the rolling, flouring, etc. you just did.  After you’ve folded it, roll it out a bit and fold it again, just the same way.  Roll it to make it even and place it back on the pan/cookie sheet.  Cover it and refrigerate for 1 hour (feel free to leave it in overnight, that’s what I did)
Day 3:
  1. Take your dough out of the refrigerator and cut it in half widthwise to give you 2 square pieces of dough.  Stick one back in the fridge and roll out the other on a floured surface (try not to let the dough warm too much while working with it).
  2. When your dough is about the length (and a little wider) than an average sheet of paper, cut diagonally across to make 2 triangles with approximately 4″ bases.
  3. Hold a triangle at the base and lengthen it by pulling (gently) on it (this step will help your croissant puff up as it bakes).
  4. Starting at the base, roll your triangle up by using your palms.  Pinch the two ends of the croissant together (they’ll come apart as it bakes, but it’ll help give your croissants a classic crescent shape).  Place your croissants on the pan/cookie sheet with the point side down (otherwise it likes to unstick).  Make sure to lay down a sheet of baking paper if your pans/cookie sheet aren’t non-stick.
  5. When you’ve finished rolling all your croissants and placing them on the pan/cookie sheet, make your egg wash (1 egg white + 1 tsp of water, whisk together until combines) and brush it over the croissants lightly.
  6.  *** Proofing: *** All the croissant recipes I’ve seen call for a proofing step (basically creating a humid environment between 75-80°F to help your pastry rise a final time before baking).  The recipe I followed says to turn the oven light on, stick a pot of boiling water in the oven and let your croissants sit in the oven (door closed) for 3 hours.  This method didn’t work out very well for me, so I suggest trying the method from Martha Stewart’s croissant recipe.
  7. When you have proofed your dough, take them out of the oven (if this is where you proofed them) and turn set it to 350°F.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until they turn a nice golden brown (keep a careful eye on them, they cook fast towards the end)
Tips:

Watch a video and look at step-by-step pictures to help visualize the rolling, folding, and cutting.  It’s simple once you see it done, but difficult to understand from just a written recipe

If your dough tears as you roll it out and butter comes through, pat a dab of flour on it or patch it with some butter-free dough (if you have any bits).  Don’t keep rolling over it without patching or flouring because it will stick to your rolling pin and make the tear worse.

Be careful when you take the pan out of the oven as there will probably be liquid butter in it (butter drains from the croissants as they cook).  Remove the croissants from the pan as quickly as possible or they will get greasy from sitting in the butter.

Review:

These croissants were amazing.  The fact that they turned out at all is incredible, after my “proofing” almost melted them (I think there was too much steam so they essentially got rained on).  I cannot put into words the heartbreak seeing my beautiful croissants, all my hard work from the past three days, mushy and flattened when they had gone in so perfect and proud.  I sat in front of the oven and tried not to cry.  I’m not sure what made me try to bake them anyways, but I’m glad that I did, because my wonderful little croissants recovered somehow.  The proofing step was my only complaint with the recipe, otherwise everything else turned out perfectly.  Each time that I took the dough out of the fridge, rolled it, and folded it, I was in awe that I had managed to make it thus far.  Croissants are supposed to be hard, but these weren’t.  Even after melting, they still puffed admirably, forming a perfect, professional-croissant crust and beautiful flaky layers inside.  The tops were crispy, and the golden inside was buttery and divine.  Somehow, magic happened, and I made croissants, real, French, honest-to-goodness croissants.  The best part?  My mother adored them.

Sweet Lemon Pancakes

I was home this past weekend and had a request for more pancakes, so I decided to try something new.  This recipe is adapted from King Arthur Flour’s recipe, but I added a little twist to it.  Instead of plain pancakes, I decided to go with lemon and I added in some cognac for a little extra something.

These pancakes are light and springlike, perfect for a summer breakfast outside on a sunny day.  They’re even better garnished with a little lemon zest and a light touch of maple syrup.

SWEET LEMON PANCAKES:

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter (or vegetable oil, but that makes for a drier pancake)
  • zest of one large lemon
  • 2 teaspoons of brandy
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flower
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Directions:  

  1. In a medium bowl, beat your eggs and milk until they become light and foamy (about 3 minutes at high speed of an electric mixer, though I did this step by hand with a whisk)
  2. Stir in the melted butter (or vegetable oil), then the brandy and lemon zest
  3. In a separate, small bowl, whisk the salt, baking powder, flour, and sugar together
  4. Mix your dry mixture into your wet batter, stirring until just incorporated (some small lumps are ok). Now let your batter stand and thicken for about 15 minutes (it’s ok to skip this step, I did and they turned out fine)
  5. Heat a skillet over medium heat and brush a light coating of vegetable oil or butter over it. You’ll know it’s hot enough when a drop of water sizzles and evaporates immediately.
  6. Using a small ladle (or measure 1/4 cupfuls of batter) drop batter into the center of your pan.  I usually spread mine out a bit so that they’re a little thinner.  Bubbles will form and break, but the best way to check is to simply lift the pancake a bit with a spatula and when the bottom is golden-brown, flip it.
  7. For an extra lemony taste, grate some more zest on top of each pancake.  Serve with your favorite topping (I recommend just a touch of maple syrup)
Tips:

Only flip the pancake once

Using a feather pastry brush or paper, brush your skillet with a light coat of vegetable oil/butter to ensure crispy (rather than soggy) pancakes

To keep your pancakes warm, preheat the oven to 200°F and place each pancake on a baking sheet inside when you take it off the skillet.  Open the oven door every now and then to keep the oven cooler and prevent your pancakes from drying out.

Review:

These pancakes were to die for.  The recipe yields light, sweet, summery pancakes.  The lemon zest gives them a fresh and irresistible taste, while the brandy plays in rich undertones.  The batter is simple, non-fussy, and delicious all by itself.  The pancakes fry up a nice gentle crisp on the edges, with a sweet, fluffy, and tender middle.  They’re fantastic with a little maple syrup, but absolutely divine just by themselves as well.  These pancakes are the perfect spring breakfast, served outside on a weathered wood table with white linen napkins, all lit up by morning sunshine.  I know what I’ll be eating all summer long.

Buttermilk Pancakes vs. Martha Stewart

Making a 6am morning well worth it

I had never made pancakes before and, while breakfast foods aren’t usually at the top of my recipe box, I figured if they have “cake” in the name, I might as well have a go at it.  I settled on one old-fashioned buttermilk recipe and one for classic pancakes (courtesy of Ms. Stewart).  Making the two different batches at the same time was a little challenging, especially at 6am (not my finest hour), but they both turned out wonderfully and my family thoroughly enjoyed their stint as my guinea pigs.

First, the buttermilk:

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 dab of butter for the pan

Directions:

  1. “Sour” the milk with the vinegar in a medium cooking bowl (big enough for all the ingredients)
  2. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar in a separate bowl
  3. Whisk egg and oil into the “soured” milk
  4. Pour in the mixed dry ingredients and whisk the batter until the lumps are gone (some small ones may remain, but the batter should be pretty smooth)
  5. Heat your favorite skillet over a medium flame and spread your dab of butter around in there (obviously you don’t want your pancake swimming in butter, but it’s ok if you use a couple extra dabs, especially in between pancakes to make sure the skillet keeps well greased)
  6. Scoop about 1/3 cup (or more/less depending on how big you want your pancakes) of batter and pour it into the center of the skillet (I used a ladle and eye-balled).  After the first one, I used the back of my ladle to gently pat down and spread the dough a little because the pancakes fluff and thicken as they cook, and they were making me nervous with how thick they got
  7. Once the bottom is a medium-golden brown, flip the pancake and cook the other side.  If one side is not quite done, go ahead and flip it back (pancakes, unlike hamburger patties, are no worse for wear after a couple extra flips, though I would try to reduce extra handling anyways)
Review:

These really had a fantastic taste to them, very deeply layered and rich.  They were a little denser, though still fluffy, and almost imperceptibly drier (which in no way detracted from their soft, golden, goodness).  The batter was easy and kind, pleasantly thick (and rather tasty).  While my family preferred Ms. Stewart’s pancakes to these, it’s still a great recipe for buttermilk pancakes.

Second (though, actually, simultaneously), the Martha Stewart pancakes:
Review:

This is THE classic pancake; the recipe really undersells with the title “Basic Pancakes”.  These pancakes were lightly flavored and incredibly fluffy with just a hint of sweetness.  The batter was a little thinner than the buttermilk, but cooked up just fine with no problems.  The pancakes had a wonderful little crisp to the outside and a gentle airiness inside. I used oil instead of butter, and maybe next time I’ll try them out with butter, just for fun.  There will definitely be a next time for these pancakes. I didn’t do the oven-warming, but since it takes a while to get all the pancakes done, I’ll definitely use that little trick next time.

Tips:
To make pancakes fluffier, sift your flour, whip your eggs, and you can even substitute in seltzer water (though I was more than happy with the fluffiness of these recipes).

The secret to perfectly cooked pancakes is patience.  It’s better to cook them a little slower and more evenly, than try to rush them (they’ll end up burnt outside and undercooked inside)

As far as toppings, etc.  I made a few plain from each batch as well as almond, pecan brown sugar, chocolate chip (I used semi-sweet and white chocolate), and one with chopped crystallized ginger (which was very yummy and exotic).  Basically anything I could grab out of the front of my pantry. For all of those, I simply pressed the nuts, chocolate, etc. into the uncooked top of the pancake after I scooped the batter into the skillet.

They were absolutely delicious, especially with some salted butter and fresh berries.  Made 6am worth it.