Time: 30 minutes
I miss NYC the most during the holidays. Any holiday, really, but mostly on Jewish Xmas. If you’re not familiar with Jewish Xmas, it involves Chinese Food and a movie. I always celebrate with my mom, but your family member mileage may vary.
I’m not sure Jewish Xmas can really exist anywhere outside of NYC. While the rest of the country seems to shut down and sink into a comfy sleepiness, it’s a busy busy day in New York. Restaurants do some of their best business, the movie theaters are packed. You can’t truly experience it anywhere else, I guess it’s like American Mardis Gras in that way. Jewish Xmas without NYC is like Mardis Gras without Bourbon Street.
So what’s that got to do with pancakes?
Well, I started ruminating on the ghosts of Jewish Xmas past. In particular, I was trying to recall all the movies I’ve seen on December 25th throughout my entire life. My memory is painfully shabby, but I thought of one year where it was just my mom and me, and we saw Dan In Real Life starring Steve Carrel and Juliette Binoche. I don’t remember much about that movie except for one thing: the pivotal pancake scene.
Juliette Binoche was flipping these magnificent golden brown creatures on a griddle. I think she was pissed off about something, but all I could concentrate on were those puffy pillows of pancakes, perfectly golden brown, lined up like jewel cushions on display.
Ever since, I’ve been obsessing on a pancake like that. I’ve gotten the size and shape right, but often at the expense of the texture. Too doughy, or undercooked. I think my main failing was that I wanted to see air bubbles as the pancakes cooks, but when a pancake is that thick, it’s just not going to happen, and now I know that is okay.
Since there was no Chinese restaurant open, I set about finally getting these totally right: golden, almost crumpet-like in appearance, billowy and substantial but not inelegant. I used the recipe I’d been tweaking, but I got the brilliant and innovative idea to google “Thick Puffy Pancake” and realized I hadn’t been using enough baking powder. A little adjustment and voila — perfect puffs on pancakeness. The stuff of dreams! It was a true Jewish Xmas miracle.
They’re simple so don’t let these tips intimidate you. But I do want to share some lessons I’ve learned the hard way:
~ Don’t use an electric mixer for the batter. Overmixed pancakes tend to result in a dense pancake. I use a dinner fork to get everything mixed.
~ You have to let the batter rest for ten minutes or so. The vinegar and the baking powder need to react with each other and the gluten needs to settle in and rest.
~Don’t crowd the pan. Even in my big cast iron, I don’t make more than two pancakes at once.
~ Don’t use too much oil in the pan. It will result in a tough exterior. A very thin layer of oil is what you want and a spray can of organic canola oil works perfectly for this.
~ Preheat the pan for a good ten minutes. I use cast iron and put it on moderate low heat (right around 3 on my stovetop), but you will probably need to adjust a little to get the temp just right. Remember, the temp is not set in stone. Lower and raise in tiny increments as needed. Even turning the dial 1/4 inch can result in big changes.
~ Use a measuring cup (with a rounded bottom if possible) to scoop out the batter. And remember to always spray ithe cup between pancakes, to prevent sticking.
~ Once you drop the pancake in, refrain from futzing with the batter too much. But don’t be afraid to delicately nudge the batter a tiny bit with your fingers to get a more circular shape and more even cooking. But the batter should spread a tiny bit and puff up all on its own.
And now let the pancakes begin!
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup almond milk (or soy milk)
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center.
Measure the milk into a measuring cup. Add vinegar and ground flax seeds, and use a fork to vigorously mix the ingredients until foamy. This will take a minute or so.
Pour the milk mixture into the center of the dry ingredients. Add the water, canola oil and vanilla and use a fork to mix until a thick, lumpy batter forms. That should take about a minute. It doesn’t need to be smooth, just make sure you get all the ingredients incorporated.
Preheat the pan over medium-low heat and let the batter rest for 10 minutes.
Lightly coat the pan in oil. Add 1/3 cup of batter for each pancake, and cook for about 4 minutes, until puffy. Flip the pancakes, adding a new coat of oil to the pan, and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Pancake should be about an inch thick, and golden brown.
Rest pancakes on a cooling rack covered with tin foil until ready to serve. To reheat, place pancakes in on a baking sheet covered with tin foil in a 300 F degree oven for 5 minutes or so.