"Another pancake recipe?!" I hear you cry. But I'm not going to apologise, because these are delicious and because a tiny bit of me takes great delight in making you wish you'd had these for today's brunch, instead of some hideous greasy fry-up, or a boring piece of toast. After the success of cheesecake pancakes, I bring you bakewell pancakes. As the name suggests, they are basically bakewell tart but in pancake form: almondy, rippled with sweet cherries, and perfectly acceptable to eat for breakfast. I imagine soon we'll be seeing apple pie pancakes, fondant fancy pancakes, lemon meringue pie pancakes, and possibly banoffee pie pancakes. I just can't resist taking the flavours from classic desserts and recreating them in pancake form. Largely because it means I get to eat dessert very soon after getting out of bed. Not a bad life, really.
I spied cherries on sale in the market last week; gorgeous, glistening crates of them. Happily, the hot summer weather has not yet arrived and so the cherries were wasp-free; come July they'll be smothered in the hideous crawling insects. I'm not sure what it is about them that attracts wasps, but I've seen market stalls, in an attempt to defeat them, put open cans of Coke on their cherry displays. It's a clever tactic, though it does mean that while the cherries stay uncrawled, you end up with a disgusting swarm of wasps clustered around the can. At least you can pick your own fruits without risking a hand full of stings, but to be honest I'm more likely to make a beeline (no pun intended) for the other fruits on offer, knowing that they haven't been trampled all over by six-legged monsters.
Cherries are definitely one of the most beautiful fruits to look at, when piled high (and unadorned by wasps); they're reminiscent of rubies, with their smooth skins and scarlet hue. They also have a delightful feel to them, when ripe; soft but still with that matt tautness to their skin, full of the promise of blood-red juice bursting in your mouth as you pierce that glossy scarlet membrane with your front teeth. That said, I always find them slightly disappointing. They're a fruit that always looks better than it tastes, often rather blandly sweet instead of delivering that sharp punch of flavour that, say, a raspberry gives in abundance. Plus those stones are just irritating.
However, I'm about to purchase a cherry pitter, so won't be able to grumble about the stones anymore. Actually, I quite like the haphazard process of de-stoning cherries using just a knife and your hands; you end up with fingers covered in scarlet juice and a pile of rather irregular, mangled cherries. I think this adds to their rustic appeal; they look beautiful scattered over a board splattered with their juice. The ones I bought last week were impressive; much tastier than I normally imagine cherries to be. I think this is because they hadn't been in the fridge, and were very ripe, something you rarely find in a supermarket cherry. It's a good sign when a cherry oozes juice everywhere whilst you're attempting to remove the stone. I am suspicious of all stone fruits that refuse to yield their tough core, because it usually signals underripeness. Some of the ones I bought were an incredible dark red, almost black. These I saved for myself.
I have a few cherry recipes I'm keen to try, including a cherry lamb kebab that I discovered in Aleppo (and a repeat of this cherry and goat's cheese stuffed chicken), but I was worried these would go off before I had a chance, so pancakes seemed the obvious solution. The bakewell tart idea just popped into my head, because I remembered seeing almond essence in the baking section at Tesco. As I've mentioned regarding coconut, it's actually quite hard to get almond flavour - the kind you get from Mr Kipling bakewell tarts, or from marzipan - out of almonds. Whole almonds do not taste like that at all. I could have put ground almonds in the pancake mixture, but I wanted a proper hit of artificial almond flavour, the kind you get from one of those factory-produced, identical bakewell tarts. You know the ones I mean: a little pastry case filled with cherry jam and topped with a perfect, pristine circle of white icing and a plump glace cherry.
Now, that's not to say I don't appreciate a good, proper, homemade bakewell tart. I had one at a restaurant in Oxford a few months ago and it was incredible. Absolutely incredible. It was more like a cake, made with ground almonds and possibly soaked in some sort of syrup, layered over cherry jam and pastry. There was no tacky white icing or glace cherry on top. The combination of tangy cherry jam and gooey, moist, grainy almond cake was to die for. I wish I'd asked for the recipe. However, subtlety wasn't going to cut it with these pancakes; I wanted them to taste like most people imagine bakewell tarts to taste; i.e. like the commercial variety. Almond flavouring is the key. I'm normally averse to synthetic products and additives (I'm one of those people who won't use vanilla essence; it has to be the proper extract - and if you don't know the difference, you're clearly not gastronomically snobbish enough to be reading this blog - which you should probably be proud of) but in this case it was perfect. This last month has been rather a voyage of discovery with essences, and the little bottles of almond and coconut flavourings that I have acquired now have a proud place in my box of baking goodies (alongside proper Madagascan vanilla pods and real almonds, just to make me feel a little less guilty about using additives).
The concept behind these pancakes is the same as the cheesecake pancakes, but this time I used Quark instead of ricotta. This is a kind of cream cheese that's very low in fat, but has the same texture and mild flavour as ricotta. It doesn't taste of cheese at all, but has a lovely crumbly creaminess to it. It's slightly more dense than ricotta, meaning the pancakes held their shape better. I'm a bit of a convert to this cheese. Especially as it means I can eat more pancakes for the same number of calories. Excellent. The cheese was mixed with flour, sugar and egg yolks before I added some chopped cherries and the almond essence. I whisked the egg whites and folded them into the mixture, and finally added some toasted flaked almonds both for texture and for that bakewell dimension.
I love the lightness of this pancake mixture; it's like stirring a cherry-speckled cloud. The cherries trickle pink juice into the mixture giving it a beautiful pastel pink ripple effect. It then gets dolloped on a hot frying pan greased with a little butter. I put these pancakes in the oven for a few minutes on a low temperature after the initial pan treatment, just so the insides aren't still liquid. They remain lighter and fluffier than a traditional pancake though, hence the comparison to cheesecake.
I served these with more cherries, in the form of a compote: just halved cherries mixed with sugar and water and boiled for a few minutes until juicy. It was perfect over the creamy, fluffy, almondy pancakes, providing moisture as well as a sharp burst of flavour to counteract all that marzipan-sweetness. My notions of cherries as bland and tough have disappeared; these were beautiful. Bring on summer.
Actually, don't. I like my cherries wasp-free.
Bakewell pancakes (serves 2):
- 250g Quark or ricotta
- 3 eggs, separated
- 50g plain flour
- 5 tbsp caster sugar
- 1/2-1 tsp almond essence
- 5 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted
- 300g cherries, pitted and halved
- A little butter, for greasing
Place two thirds of the cherries in a small pan. Add about 100-200ml water, 2 tbsp sugar, and simmer over a low heat until syrupy and half the water has evaporated.
Mix the cheese, egg yolks, almond essence and sugar in a large bowl. Sift in the flour and fold in. Add the rest of the cherries and most of the flaked almonds - save some for sprinkling over at the end.
Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then carefully fold into the cheese mixture, being careful not to knock out all the air. The mixture should be light and fluffy.
Pre-heat the oven to 120C.
Heat a large, non-stick frying pan. Add a knob of butter and spread around the pan (I sometimes use kitchen towel for this). Dollop the mixture on in spoonfuls, and cook for a couple of minutes before flipping over and cooking for another couple of minutes. Place in the oven to keep warm while you make the rest.
To serve, scatter over the rest of the almonds, dust with icing sugar and spoon over the cherry compote. Mr Kipling, eat your heart out.