Thursday, March 25, 2010

Best Buttermilk Pancakes?

My favorite meal of the week may be Sunday brunch. It lets you sleep in a little and have a big full meal, and still have the rest of the day to sleep it off.

I was looking for a great brunch restaurant recently, when I saw reports that New York's Clinton Street Baking Company has reputedly the best pancakes in the city. Now, that's quite a claim. New York has a lot of restaurants, many with fine pancakes, I'm sure. What could possibly make these so good they win such a superlative?

Previously, the best pancakes I had ever made were from Martha Stewart, who claims she has the best buttermilk pancakes. They're tasty and fluffy, and Ms. Stewart introduced me to a technique of placing a slice of pear in the griddle before pouring the pancake batter over it, resulting in a visually enticing pancake with a pear embedded in one side.

Looking around the interwebs a bit more to find out about these Clinton Street Baking Company pancakes, I discovered that the secret to their extra fluffy, very delicious pancakes was in the technique: allegedly they beat the egg whites separately before folding them into the rest of the batter. Now, that's an intriguing idea.

So, I thought, why don't I combine Martha Stewart's amazing buttermilk pear pancakes with this new technique? Would I not then have created a pancake superior even the aforementioned?

I endeavored to find out, but ahh--hubris is life's strictest teacher.

I set to work, combining the dry ingredients separately form the wet, and beating the egg whites to stiff peaks before folding it all together.

I sliced the pears, tossed them with cinammon, a little sugar, and some maple syrup, and added them to the griddle, then poured the batter over them.

What I immediately noticed was that the batter was far less stiff than I had hoped. If the batter is too runny, it tends to spread out so much that it can't stick together and make a nice, thick pancake. In this recipe, the batter should still cover the pear, so that when the pancake is done, the pear is just on one side, firmly embedded in the pancake. But this time the batter didn't seem to grip the pear, but slid right off.

Well, what can you do at this point but proceed and live with the results? (Well, I could have trashed the batter and started over, but it was getting late in the morning, so I chose the former option.) I continued cooking the pancakes. They took longer than I would have expected as well. When the time came to flip them over, they didn't hold together well, and the pear all but fell out of the pancake.

All in all, a disappointing result.

So what happened? Here's what I think: I didn't have the right proportion of wet to dry ingredients. Too much wet, and this is exactly the result I'd expect with pancakes. They don't hold together, and become thin, uninspiring pancakes, not the thick, uncommonly fluffy pancakes the original recipe promised.

I suspect that my mistake was trying to use Martha Stewart's amazingly great recipe in combination with this new egg white beating technique. See, I found out about this technique on the food blog Let Her Bake Cake. Looking back at the recipe listed there, there's a higher ratio of flour to buttermilk, and I think this was the fatal flaw in my own foolhardy attempt.

Well, maybe that's hyperbolic. In spite of their thinness and almost total inability to hold to the pear, they were pretty delicious just the same. I served them with sausage links and eggs en cocotte, which is eggs baked in individual cups, with some chopped vegetables at the bottom and a little milk or cream floated on top. These eggs are something else I'm still perfecting--I just barely overcooked the yolks this time, as they should come out of the oven soft, but not necessarily runny. Still, they were great.

I made the blueberry compote as recommended on Let Her Bake Cake, and it was fantastic, even using the out-of-season frozen blueberries we had available. I only with I had made more! And likewise the maple-butter topping which sent the whole thing over-the-top.

Cooking is a process of learning, and I am still in my early stages. I make mistakes, but hopefully I recognize where I went wrong, and try again to improve. So I submit this small act of culinary contrition. After all, in spite of it, the brunch was a hit, and certainly not a lemon.

1 comment:

Shane Mulligan said...

These are probably some of the best pancakes I have eaten.