Recipe Corner : PANCAKES – Sweet & Savory

Whole wheat pancakes topped with fresh fruits (banana, papaya, kiwi, blackberries), soured cream and honey. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Whole wheat pancakes topped with fresh fruits (banana, papaya, kiwi, blackberries), soured cream and honey. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Every continent has their version of pancakes or some sort of flat bread made on a griddle. Russia has blini and blintzes. They may be called injera in the Horn of Africa or cheela in India; okonomiyaki in Japan or bánh xèo in Vietnam. Guaranda (Ecuador) serves up tortillas and Venezuela cachapas. And of course, France has its crêpes and the U.S. its pancakes.

 

The Great Battle : Pancakes v. Crêpes

A great debate arises on either side of the Atlantic. Europeans – especially the French and English – prefer their pan-cakes thin. In Britain’s rebellious former American colonies, a thicker version is preferred. And a great gulf exists between crêpes (the thinner version) and pancakes (the thicker).

Crêpes are paper-thin, soft breads that usually are rolled around fillings. They can be used for sweet dishes – such as Crêpes Suzette – or savory dishes – filled with the likes of sautéed spinach and mushrooms. The recipe is very basic: flour, milk, eggs, butter, and perhaps a touch of sugar for sweet presentations.

North Americans – especially United Statiens – are quite staunch on what a pancake is. After all, they are precisely what the name implies: cakes made in a pan (a skillet or griddle). They are thicker, fluffy and have a cake-like consistency. The essential ingredient is a leavening, baking powder. Regional names are hotcakes, griddlecakes flapjacks and johnnycakes. Traditionally, they are served at breakfast, slathered with butter and topped with maple syrup, powdered sugar, jam or chocolate syrup.

Fluffy, North American pancakes are a popular treat in many countries around the world – even in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Many Sundays in a Quito hostel, I would whip up a triple batch to share. Other guests would donate fruits for the topping. Recently arrived Japanese guests waited on the sidelines with the hopes of being invited to this treat. The more the merrier!

In an alojamiento in La Paz (Bolivia) one day, several of us from several continents were reminiscing about pancakes. I pulled out my pocket recipe for hotcakes, each of us bought ingredients and I set down to preparing a seven-time batch. Gosh, after the last flapjack hit the plate, many still wanted more. After a run to a neighborhood tienda for more royal, I whipped up another double batch. But by then, everyone was full. We began selling them to other guests to help pay for the gas we had used. (An Argentine said he had no money, but he could trade two glasses of red wine for one. Sure!)

Recently, though, I have been wondering how the traditional North American recipe could be adapted to a savory type of pancake. I pared down my pocket recipe to the essentials (see Basic Savory Pancake Mix below) and began researching variations on the theme. None of them, though, seemed to follow a base recipe.

Thinking of my basic recipe, I let my imagine run wild. What ingredients did I have on hand? What if … and what if … combining my years of knowledge of the sweet version of pancakes. The result is Savory Cornmeal Cakes (see below), which I exclusively present to you today. (I am definitely looking forward to more kitchen experiments!)

 

It’s Pancake Day!

In many places in the U.S., churches and community groups have a pancake day as a fundraiser. Traditional Pancake Day in some Northern European cultures, however, is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. This Tuesday (called Mardi Gras in French – or Fat Tuesday) is the last day to chow down on delights like flapjacks before the 40 days of Lenten fast begins.

How did pancakes come to be associated with Shrove Tuesday? Like many Christian traditions, it has its origin in indigenous customs. Some food historians believe Pancake Day is based in the Slav festival Maslenitsa of the coming spring, during which a fight between Jarilo (the god of Spring) and evil spirits of Winter’s dark and cold ensued. The most important food was the round, golden, hot pancakes, symbolizing the sun. The first pancake was set out for ancestral spirits. At the end of the week-long festivity, pancakes were tossed on a bonfire as an offering to the gods.

 

Tips

No matter if you are whipping up a batch of pancakes in the kitchen or (as the westward pioneers did) over a campfire, you’ll find the recipe for traditional North American pancakes is very versatile. Any type of flour may be used: wheat, oats, steel-cut oats, cornmeal, buckwheat, rye. Fruits like blueberries or thinly sliced bananas may be tossed into the batter. Spices may also be added.

For savory pancakes, you may add grated or crumbled cheese to the batter. Carnivores might prefer bacon crisps, thin slices of ham or cooked and shredded meats. Thinly sliced or grated vegetables, as well as garlic, chili and herbs can be tossed in.

To help you in your culinary experiments, here are a few tips:

  • If you would like to make cornmeal (polenta), oat or other non-wheat pancake, use ½ cup of wheat flour and half of the other flour. Non-wheat flours are low in gluten, which is necessary in binding the ingredients and resulting in fluffy pancakes.
  • If using dried milk, add 3 – 4 tablespoons in with the dry ingredients. Add water in place of milk.
    • If you are going camping, pack the dry ingredients in an air-tight baggie or container. At your site, just add the egg, oil and water. Voilà! You have fresh pancakes to enjoy in the wilderness!
  • Do not throw out sour milk! You can use it (or even yoghurt) in place of regular milk. Decrease the baking powder to 2 teaspoons and add one teaspoon of baking soda. This helps to set off the acidity of the aged dairy product.
  • If adding banana to the batter, decrease the baking powder to 2 teaspoons and add one teaspoon of baking soda.
  • In many parts of Latin America, baking powder (polvo para hornear) is called Royal.
  • If preparing at high altitude (1,067+ meters / 3,500+ feet a.s.l.), you may need to decrease the amount of baking powder.
  • Add the liquid according to how you want your pancakes: a thicker batter will make thicker ones, and a thinner batter will make thinner, crêpe-like cakes.
  • To check to see if the skillet is hot, sprinkle a drop into it. If it skittles across, you are ready to go! But be sure to turn the fire down, else you’ll end up with burnt cakes.
  • If you would like sour cream atop, but cannot find nata or plain yoghurt, then you can make your own. Add a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice to cream and let stand for 1 hour.

¡Buen provecho!

 

SWEET PANCAKES

1 cup flour (white, whole wheat)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2 tablespoons oil

½ – ¾ cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, salt) together. Make a well (depression in the center. Add the egg and beat a little. Add oil and milk and mix all ingredients together.

Heat a skillet until hot. Add a teaspoon or two of oil.

When the oil is hot, spoon the batter into the hot skillet to the size you want the pancake to be. When bubbles begin to form around the outer edge, turn the pancake over and cook on the other side until golden brown.

Serve with butter and honey. Fresh fruits atop is another delicious (and healthy!) way to enjoy them.

Savory cornmeal cakes with ricotta cheese crumbles. Served with a papaya-avocado-sweet red pepper salad (dressed simply with limón juice). photo © Lorraine Caputo

Savory cornmeal cakes with ricotta cheese crumbles. Served with a papaya-avocado-sweet red pepper salad (dressed simply with limón juice). photo © Lorraine Caputo

BASIC SAVORY PANCAKE MIX

1 cup flour (white, whole wheat)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2 tablespoons oil

½ – ¾ cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, salt) together. Make a well (depression in the center. Add the egg and beat a little. Add oil and milk and mix all ingredients together.

Heat a skillet until hot. Add a teaspoon or two of oil.

When the oil is hot, spoon the batter into the hot skillet to the size you want the pancake to be. When bubbles begin to form around the outer edge, turn the pancake over and cook on the other side until golden brown.

 

SAVORY CORNMEAL CAKES

½ cup wheat flour (white or whole wheat)

½ cup corn meal or polenta

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2 tablespoons oil

½ – ¾ cup milk

1 chili pepper, finely minced

1 large clove of garlic, finely minced

1 small onion, cut in half and finely sliced

½ cup shredded zucchini

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, corn meal / polenta, baking powder, sugar, salt) together. Make a well (depression in the center). Add the egg and beat a little. Add oil and milk and mix all ingredients together. Stir in the chili, garlic and vegetables.

Heat a skillet until hot. Add a teaspoon or two of oil.

When the oil is hot, spoon the batter into the hot skillet to the size you want the pancake to be. When bubbles begin to form around the outer edge, turn the pancake over and cook on the other side until golden brown.

Serve with grated or crumpled cheese sprinkled over top, if you desire, and a salad.

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