Sunday, 1 May 2011

Pancakes fit for a king

...or just for a royal wedding. I promise I'll shut up about the royal wedding soon...but, then again, England shows no sign of shutting up about it, so I don't think I should have to either. Particularly when these sublime pancakes are involved. These are what I made and ate while watching William and Kate walk down the aisle. Indeed, we even had an iPad live streaming the wedding poised on the kitchen worktop so I could make the pancake batter while I watched the happy occasion - nothing, not even a regal marital union, can stand between me and my breakfast. 

I've written about these pear pancakes before, but I think on Friday I finally created the ultimate version, so I feel the need to share it. I've tried many variations on the chunks-of-fruit-embedded-in-thick-batter theme (including apples and apricots), but the pear variety is hard to beat. It's infinitely better than apple, though I'm not sure why; I think it's the yielding graininess of the cubes of pear, coupled with their fragrant, perfumed juice. You don't get those qualities from apples, which can be too crunchy and sharp, or from apricots, which can be too soft and also too sharp.

I also decided to put in some blueberries and toasted hazelnuts. I've tried almonds before, but hazelnuts are much better because of their soft crunch and also their flavour. Pecans work equally well, but I didn't have any. The blueberries went in because I had some to use up, and because I thought their tartness would work well with the pears, though blackberries or raspberries would be excellent too.

The batter is a simple mix of flour, baking powder, egg, and a liquid such as buttermilk or yoghurt. I use buttermilk when I can find it, but this time I only had a tub of very thick Greek yoghurt. I have to say that I think it makes a better batter, because it's firmer and also has a tanginess that stops the pancakes from being too cloying. It needed a little milk to loosen it, though, because yoghurt isn't as runny as buttermilk. Finally, I grated in a lot of nutmeg, because I love it (would you have guessed?)

After the batter is mixed - I use an electric beater to avoid lumps - I add the fruit and nuts. In this case, a handful of blueberries and two pears, finely chopped. I leave the skin on because it adds a nice texture. The pears don't have to be too ripe for this, which is good, because ripe pears are nigh impossible to find unless you have a good greengrocer. I've never tried it with rock hard supermarket specimens, but halfway-ripe pears are fine - they soften in the heat of the pan. I have a simple trick to tell when a pear is ripe or not - rather than squeezing it, which usually tells you nothing unless it's ripe to the point of collapse, I just try and dig my fingernail into the flesh where the pear tapers out into the thinner end. I shouldn't really, I know, but it's not so bad - if the pear isn't ripe, you'll really struggle to dig your nail in, and so won't make any mark on the pear that has to go back on the shelf - no damage done. If it is ripe, your fingernail will make an indentation in the pear, but you'll be buying it anyway, so this slight scarring won't matter.

I use conference pears for this, normally, because they hold their shape, though firm Comice or Williams pears would work too. Stir the chunks of fruit and nuts through the completed batter, and you have pancake perfection almost ready to be realised. You end up with a very thick, lumpy mixture, but that's fine - it will be transformed by a little frying pan action.

All that's left to do is heat a little butter in a frying pan until sizzling, then dollop the mixture into the pan. You need less than you think, as it will spread quite a lot in the pan. I normally make these in about three batches, and have the oven on low (120C) with a baking dish ready to put the finished pancakes into. That way, they stay warm until I've finished with all the mixture. You know the pancakes are ready for flipping when small bubbles start to appear on the raw side of the batter. The beauty of putting them in the oven is that the inside cooks through fully - because the mixture is so thick, it can be hard to cook them all the way through in the pan without the edges burning. The oven accomplishes this, setting the yoghurt, egg and flour to a gorgeous fluffy centre. The best bit of the whole process is when the berries in the batter burst in the heat of the pan, oozing their gorgeous sugary juice.

I like these with copious drizzles of maple syrup, though golden syrup is a fine (and cheaper) substitute. I sometimes dust over some cinnamon or icing sugar, and sprinkle with more chopped nuts. This time, however, I just took the bottle of syrup to the table. I wasn't going to risk missing Will and Kate's vows because I was messing around chopping hazelnuts.

Pear, hazelnut and blueberry pancakes (serves 2):

130g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
200ml thick Greek yoghurt
1 tsp ground cinnamon or grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
2 conference pears, cored and finely chopped (peel too, if you like)
A handful of blueberries or raspberries
A handful of toasted hazelnuts or pecans, finely chopped
Maple or golden syrup, to serve

Place the flour, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle, and crack in the egg. Use an electric whisk to mix the egg into some of the flour, then gradually add the yoghurt. You will end up with a stiff batter; add enough milk to loosen it slightly (about 4 tbsp should be enough). You still want it quite thick, rather like custard, not thin like a French crepe batter. Stir in the cinnamon or nutmeg.

Pre-heat the oven to 120C. Add the pears, berries and nuts to the batter, and stir in with a spoon until evenly mixed. Heat a large frying pan, and add a knob of butter. Heat until it's sizzling, spreading it around to coat the base of the pan. Dollop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the pan, leaving some space between each one. Cook for a couple of minutes, or until bubbles appear on the upper side, then flip over with a spatula and cook for another couple of minutes. Put in the oven to keep warm while you make the rest.

To serve, drizzle with syrup and scatter with some more chopped nuts, if you like. Best served for brunch with a huge cup of English breakfast tea, preferably while watching the royal wedding. God save the Queen (and pancakes).

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1 comment:

  1. I made these yesterday for my "breakfast for dinner" and luckily I halved the recipe because I think otherwise I would have eaten the whole lot! They are so good!

    However, I'd insist on choosing your pears carefully because mine wasn't ripe enough so it stayed hard even after being cooked with the pancakes. Will have to have them again with a riper one next time :)


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