09 June 2019
Old cookbooks are a passion of mine - not antique ones, but rather old ones. Something written in 1640 will have lots of silly ingredients that may be of some interest to historians, but if the stuff can't be purchased at Safeway and prepared easily in a modern kitchen, it's not worth my while to learn about it. Cookbooks from the late 1800s on, however, as well as some modern adaptations of early American cookery, are way more my speed. A Victorian cake recipe might be fun! Learning how Lord and Lady Blunderbuss sauced their puddings is how to make the next surprise dessert at the Church Potluck. And Mr & Mrs. Prariedog may know a few things about root veggies that will spice up Lent.
At the Monastery, my pancakes were always greeted with raves: they were light and so very fluffy! They were crispy on the outside and creamy inside. They were perfect. I was told this often enough that I'm reasonably sure it was true. It was gratifying as the recipe was my late maternal grandfather's and was not made from a mix, but they never came out that way anywhere else. It was certainly some effect of cooking at 7,500 feet above sea level: something to do with air pressure and the way water evaporates at lower temperatures that high up. Returning home, the same recipe produces normal pancakes, but it's still Grandpa's and it takes me back to my childhood.
My grandfather was a hobo during the depression, riding the rails around the country. I'm sure his recipe reflects no small number of campfire breakfasts. It's foolproof but it's not fluffy at sea level. It's 1:1:1. 1 egg, 1 cup (butter)milk, 1 cup self-rising flour. To make more or less, you can go as low as 1/3 a cup to 1 egg. As high as 1.5 cups. It gets a little eggy at 1/3, and above 1.5 you want to go ahead and move on to 2 eggs. But use 1:1:1 and make the pancakes with a 1/4 measure of batter and you'll get amazingly predictable results.
I tinkered a bit this morning, combining my cookbooks with Grandpa's recipe. None of the recipes I've found use chemical leavening. Maybe it was too expensive or else not always predictable? Most use sourdough and a few use yeast. This seems normal: the batter would be allowed to proof overnight, getting nice and bubbly. My late (paternal) grandfather would make buckwheat pancakes this way - with a sourdough batter that sat on the back porch all winter bubbling away. Several recipes use either sourdough or fresh yeast depending on which cookbook is read. In these cases, it should be assumed the normal form was sourdough, which was the norm for all yeast from the earliest times until rather recently.
Today we use "instant" batter that does away with any of these choices. Add water, fry. BORING.
Regardless of the leavening, all these early recipes have one thing going for them that no one does anymore. It was my tinkering this morning. All of these recipes take the batter - made with yokes only, in most cases - and gently fold them into a meringue made from the egg whites!
This morning, using 1:.5:.5 the egg was separated and, after combining the yoke with the other ingredients, I whisked the white of the one egg until it was very dry and very stiff. It was about 2/3 of a cup in volume. Then the rest of the batter was dumped into the center of the meringue and gently folded in. From there I returned to my grandfather's recipe: heating a thin layer of oil in the pan until it was at "sizzle" and then dropping in the batter by 1/4 of a cup. It was stiffer than normal, it was spread out using the ladle. It took no longer to fry though - it cooked up nicely. When I flipped it over, the pancake was crisper than I expected but ok. The end result was very crispy outside and creamy inside. There were very nice air pockets. The overall experience was of a pancake made like a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
Would recommend and will totally to again: also I can't wait to try with my winter buckwheats. These pancakes are not pictured as the shutter on my phone was not fast enough to catch them.