Monday, July 26, 2010

Perfect pancakes...and peaches.

A couple of years ago, during my annual visit to Nick and Louisa, we ate the most delicious pancakes I have ever tasted. They come to us - unsurprisingly - courtesy of the amazing Ruth Reichl, who added her own personal pancake recipe to the Gourmet cookbook. Their marvelous texture and flavor come mainly from an exorbitant amount of butter in the batter and from being cooked as pancakes should be: gently, in just enough fat, over a moderate flame.

In fact, no matter the recipe, those are the basic principles to making a quality pancake. Too many of us let the skillet get too hot, or fail to wipe it down between batches. Doing so results, respectively, in burned outsides and raw insides, as well as a smoky, gritty mess of a pan. By following a few simple steps, we can all avoid the dreaded "first pancake" syndrome, and turn out perfect specimen after perfect specimen.

First of all: use enough oil, but not too much. If you are using a non-stick skillet, you want only the thinnest film of oil, about half a teaspoon per batch for a large (8 to 12 inch) skillet. For a standard skillet, use just a bit more; you should be able to swirl the oil around a bit - but just a bit.

Keep the heat moderate; when you drop your batter into the pan, it should hiss slightly and not stick, but it should brown slowly to a golden hue, not quickly to dark brown or black. Just keep an eye on it; if the edges of your pancakes bubble rapidly immediately, the pan is too hot. Don't be precious about adjusting the heat as you go; the pan will change in temperature as you add or remove pancakes to it. You must compensate by adjusting the flame.

Wipe out the pan between batches, and add fresh oil. If things have gotten really sticky and icky, use a bit of water to get the brown bits up from the bottom before wiping with a paper towel.

Finally, pay attention! Pancakes are not something you can walk away from. Watch how they bubble, how they firm up around the edges; they will not cook on a perfect schedule, so you must pay attention to them and flip them according to their own time.

Now that you know how to make pancakes in general, why not try these in particular? I've taken Ruth's superlative version and riffed on it a bit; the butter has been browned, and I've added chopped fresh peaches to the mix, in a nod to a) the season, and b) the fact that I didn't have any blueberries in the house this morning.

I hope you enjoy them!

Browned Butter Pancakes
Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook

1 cup buttermilk (plain old milk will work, too)
2 eggs
3 tbs. canola oil
8 tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup flour
4 tsp. granulated sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3-4 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Additional canola oil, for cooking

In a small skillet or saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue to cook just until the butter turns slightly brown and smells nutty. Set aside until cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs and oil, then whisk in the cooled, browned butter. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, backing powder and salt. Stir in the milk mixture until just combined.

Heat 1/2 teaspoon or so of oil in a large skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of two, pour 1/2-cup measures of batter into skillet. Drop five or six peach cubes into each pancake and cook until bubbles have formed on top and broken, about two minutes.

Flip pancakes with a spatula and cook until undersides are golden, about a minute or two longer. Remove from the pan to a warmed plate. Wipe out the skillet between batches, adding oil for the next batch to the clean skillet. Continue until all the batter has been turned into pancakes!

Makes about eight pancakes.

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