20 February 2007
The Address of a Pancake
It's funny how cravings work, the sudden inexplicable desire for a certain food. That 3 a.m. pickle, or an afternoon nibble of chocolate. When living in the Middle East, the food is so good, I rarely miss anything from home. However, when I was living in Beirut several years ago, my roomates heard about a place that served waffles at weekend brunch. Immediately, we knew we had to go. When it comes to brunch, I am a waffles girl, their crunchy extreior and light interior, the perfect craddles for syrup. In contrast, pancakes are often monotone, heavy, and disappointing. The following weekend, after a long Beirut night, we set out in search of the waffle place.
Like most cities in the region, Beirut doesn't really have addresses in a functional sense. Basically, many streets have multiple names (an official name and a local nickname), and the numbers tend to run in no particular order. Add to this the tiny narrow streets, the constant changing of political leadership (who want to rename the streets in their honor), and local residents tendency to hang any number that strikes their fancy on the outside of their building, and you get the idea. If you need directions, use landmarks, if you want mail, get a P.O. box. That morning we wandered the lanes off Sharia Hamra, past 12, 34, 5, 36, in search of waffles.
When we asked local residents about a place that served waffles, they looked at us strangely, it's a Western breakfast food, we explained. Here, we encountered another problem, that is people's tendency to tell you they know where something is, even if they don't. "Ah yes, it's just down the road," or, "it's back there on the left." We trudged from one restaurant to another, inquiring. "Yes, wonderful breakfast food here," said one, "yes, crepes, pancakes," said another, but further questioning revealed no waffles. It was past noon and we were dripping sweat in the summer sun and irritable with hunger.
In the end we never found the waffle place, and I spent the following months with a lingering desire for waffles, no doubt fostered by my inability to attain them. When I was getting ready to move to Damascus, I seriously considered packing a waffle iron, but it seemed a little excessive, not to mention heavy, in my limited suitcase space. Instead, I managed to come across a pancake recipe that satisfies a weekend morning indulgence, nutty and warm with gingerbread spices. Blueberry gingerbread pancakes are just the right warming thing for a cold rainy morning. Waffles were always fare for Sunday mornings, but Sunday in Damascus is a workday, so now we have these Saturday morning pancakes instead.
It's traditional to eat pancakes today, Fat Tuesday, as a way to use up eggs/butter/milk before Lent, but I've included my classic waffle recipe below if you prefer.
Blueberry Gingerbread Pancakes
I keep oat bran (the hot cereal kind, not unprocessed bran flakes) in my pantry, and I like the texture it adds to the pancakes, I imagine ground oats or whole wheat flour would have a similar effect.
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp each ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup molasses
2 tbl melted butter or vegetable oil
1 cup blueberries
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, beat together the liquid ingredients. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a few swift strokes, fold in the blueberries. Heat a griddle or skillet with a little bit of oil or butter. Drop batter by ladle-fulls onto the griddle, when bubbles form on the surface of the pancake, flip the pancake and cook until nicely browned on the 2nd side. Continue with the remaining batter, keeping the pancakes warm in a low oven, if desired. Serve with butter and maple syrup.
Sunday Morning Waffles
This great recipe stands up to all sorts of alterations and substitutions and can be doubled or even tripled, and it still produces light crispy waffles. If you have leftover waffles, as I always do, wrap them up and freeze them, then pop them out and reheat in the oven or toaster.
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbl cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
3 tbl vegetable oil or melted butter
1 large egg, separated
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
maple syrup, for serving
1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a glass measuring cup, blend the buttermilk and vegetable oil. Beat in the egg yolk.
2. In a medium bowl, beat the egg white to soft peaks. Add the sugar and beat until firm and glossy. Beat in the vanilla.
Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until just blended. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the beaten egg white until just incorporated.
3. Preheat a waffle iron and oil it lightly. Pour a ladle-full of the waffle batter into the preheated waffle iron and gently smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for 4 minutes, or until the steam stops coming out of the iron and the waffle is browned and crisp. If necessary, keep waffles warm in a 200 degree oven. Serve with maple syrup.