The Best Days
Lazy Saturday mornings are the best thing ever, and really don’t come around often enough. So when they do you have to take full advantage, and make a delicious breakfast while the men in your house build forts out of blankets in the living room, and make lovely music with their guitars.
I’m in the process of reading “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman and it’s a fantastic and eye-opening book. Bittman presents fact after fact as evidence that the way we eat impacts not only our bodies, and our bank accounts, but the environment as well. The energy that it takes to feed and breed livestock, process and refine foods, bottle water, ship foodstuffs around the world… is immense. Bittman doesn’t argue that we should stop eating meat entirely, or never touch a pastry ever again. Instead, he urges us to become more conscientious about what, and how, we cook. And the best part is that he doesn’t believe that this change has to be painful, or rule-based. In fact, he does a pretty fantastic job convincing the reader that it can actually be enjoyable and simple to do.
One of the recipes that he includes in his book is a recipe for whole grain pancakes. And he promised me, he swore, that they would be light and delicious; which really caught my attention. Because here’s the thing: I’ve tried to swap out all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour in my pancakes before. And they’ve turned out fine. But not great. They’re kinda heavy. Dense. The flavor’s reasonable, but the texture leaves a bit to be desired.
Bittman’s recipe doesn’t disappoint. Because there’s a secret technique. That’s obvious, once you read it. But it had not occurred to me before: beating egg whites until they’re light and airy. And strong enough to support all that whole wheat flour!
The recipe is quite straightforward, and the ingredient list is minimal: butter, whole wheat flour, milk, eggs (separated), baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
If you have a stand mixer, you can begin beating the egg whites while you whisk melted butter in a medium-sized bowl with the yolks and milk until the mixture is frothy.
Stir together your dry ingredients in a large bowl and pour in the milk mixture. Stir until just combined – batter will be rather lumpy – do not overmix. Then gently, patiently, fold your egg whites into the mixture. Don’t stir! Just fold. You want to keep as much of the air in those egg whites as possible, in order to keep the pancakes light, light, light! After the egg whites are folded in, the batter will be lighter-colored, and may have a few lumps – that is to be expected.
Now, it’s time to make a delicious topping for these pancakes: sautéed apples. Stash the batter in the fridge and grab a few apples. If your apples are ridiculously small, as mine were, you will need many! If your apples are medium to large, you will only need a few. Peel and core the apples, then quarter them and slice lengthwise. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.
Get out a skillet, preferable cast-iron, and place over medium heat. Melt a bit of butter, sprinkle the skillet with sugar, and add apples. Now please leave the apples alone. Do not stir them. Do not shake them. Just let them be, for at least 10 minutes. Maybe close to 15. They will soften and, and the sugar will caramelize a bit, and smell so very good. Keep your nose tuned to the apples. The second that your nose says to your brain “BURNING SUGAR!” remove them from the heat. Not a moment before. Not a moment after. Do it this way, and you will have tiny little edges of darkened sugar that wonderfully complements the tart and sweet apples.
While the apples are cooking, drop about 1/3 cup of batter for each pancake onto a heated skillet (I prefer electric, you can cook so many more pancakes at once!). Do not touch the pancakes, either! Leave them alone. Don’t poke, and lift, and try to flip when it’s too early. Wait until they are bubbly on top (not just one bubble! Lots of bubbles!), then quickly slip your spatula underneath, and give a deft flip.
Cook for another 2 minutes or so, and then serve, topped with the apples and maple syrup (the real kind of maple syrup, please! Not the colored corn syrup that is too thick and sweet and yuck!).
These pancakes are good. But I must warn you: they are not classic buttermilk pancakes. Even if they wanted to, they can’t be. So please do not make them and expect them to be anything other than what they are: light, nutty and not too sweet with a nuance of cinnamon. Topped with pure maple syrup and apples sautéed in a bit of butter, cinnamon and sugar, I hope you will be convinced (as I was) that although these take just a tiny bit longer (and a couple of additional bowls) to prepare than your typical pancakes, they are absolutely worth it.
Whole Grain Pancakes
Adapted from “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman
A few notes on pancakes:
This recipe makes enough for probably 6 people. I did not want to halve it, as the thought of beating just one egg white, well, I wasn’t sure that my mixer would do the job well. But leftovers store wonderfully, either in the fridge or the freezer (in a large ziploc, layered between sheets of parchment or wax paper). Reheat in the toaster oven, in a skillet, or even in the microwave (although they will be a bit soggy that way).
On that note, I absolutely cannot stand a soggy pancake. It drives me bananas. I cook them carefully, to ensure crispness! If pancakes are all piled on a plate while you wait for the other ones to cook, the steam will inevitably ruin all that crispiness. So, preheat your oven to 250 degrees, throw in a large baking sheet, and as the pancakes finish cooking, place them (in a single layer) on the baking sheet. Warm. Crispy. Good.
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 cups milk
Preheat skillet to 350 degrees.
Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl, and set aside.
Beat egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold stiff peaks (do not overbeat).
In medium sized bowl, whisk together egg yolks, milk, and melted butter until foamy (about 2 minutes). Pour milk mixture into flour mixture and whisk until just combined (do not overmix). Gently fold in egg whites. Continue to fold mixture until just combined (mixture will lighten in color, small bubbles will dot the surface, and a few lumps will still be present).
Pour about 1/3 cup batter per pancake onto skillet. Leave untouched until bubbles cover the surface – about 3 minutes. Quickly flip, and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
Serve topped with sautéed apples and pure maple syrup.
Recipe by Yours Truly
This recipe makes enough to top about half of the pancakes (Aimee why?! That makes no sense! The pancake recipe serves 6! Well, it’s because I have a family of 3, and although I’m sure the apples would store just fine in the fridge, I really didn’t want the leftovers. So there). Double it if you’d like enough topping to serve 6.
- 4-5 small apples, or 2-3 medium to large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced lengthwise about 1/4 inch thick (you’re looking for about a cup, maybe a scant cup and a half of sliced apples)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon butter
Spread apples out in an even layer on cutting board, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and the cinnamon.
Melt butter in a skillet (preferably cast iron, but it doesn’t have to be) over medium heat. Sprinkle pan with 1 teaspoon sugar. Add apples. Cook, undisturbed, for 10-15 minutes. Right when you start to smell a bit of burning sugar, remove pan from heat. If you insist on checking the apples while they are cooking, take a fork and just lift the corner of one slice. Apples should be dark brown (some will be lighter, others will look almost black) along edges.