January 30, 2011

Ampersands & Pancakes

"They ate the buckwheat cakes with butter and Log Cabin syrup out of a tin Log Cabin can. The top of the chimney unscrewed and the syrup poured from the chimney. They were both very hungry and the cakes were delicious with the butter melting on them and running down into the cut places with the syrup."
--"The Last Good Country," Ernest Hemingway
It's a shame that this story was left unfinished. But it also left me craving something besides an ending: pancakes. And so, it seemed, there was only one reasonable thing to do: get to making some, stat.

Considering that (1) the tastiness level of Hemingway's plain buckwheat pancakes appeared to be highly correlated with the amount of Log Cabin syrup poured on top, but (2) I had no such Log Cabin syrup on hand, I decided to recreate an old favorite that would be delicious on its own, no syrup required: M&M pancakes.

I'm mystified as to why M&M pancakes haven't swept the nation yet. Alarmingly, a search for M&M pancakes on allrecipes yields 0 results. Unacceptable! Even worse, when I ask people if they like M&M pancakes, I'm invariably surprised that they're surprised that such a thing exists. Why this simple and delicious concept hasn't caught on with more pancake lovers everywhere is beyond me. On the fun and taste scales, they're leaps and bounds beyond chocolate chip pancakes.

I was lucky enough to encounter my first M&M pancake as an undergraduate at UCLA. You could only find them at one of the four dining halls on Tuesday mornings before 11 a.m. The thing was, you might show up at the right time, and they wouldn't appear — but most weeks they would. Those pancakes, and my equally enthusiastic morning dining companion, made Tuesday breakfasts the highlight of many a week.

Since UCLA colors are blue and gold, all it took was a bit of sorting to create school-spirited pancakes. I'd like to dedicate tonight's pancakes (which I had for dinner, on a Sunday...) to the culinary genius at Rieber dining hall who first introduced me to their greatness.

Ampersand Pancakes (M&M or Cinnamon&Oat)
Dry Ingredients
-1 cup flour
-2 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients
-1 cup vanilla soy milk (or cow's milk)
-2 tbsp melted unsalted butter
-1 egg

And lastly, either:
-Dark Chocolate or regular M&Ms (amount dependent upon intensity of chocolate craving)
or, for the Cinnamon & Oat variation:
-1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
-dash of ground cinnamon
-brown sugar, to taste

Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk the wet ingredients in a large bowl until combined, then whisk in the dry ingredients until most of the lumps are gone.

Lightly grease a nonstick skillet and set to medium-high heat. Test the heat by sprinkling a drop of water in the pan; if it sizzles right away, it's ready. Spoon the batter into the pan and then gently spread the batter in a circular motion with the back of a large spoon. Sprinkle M&Ms (as many or as few as you like) on the surface of the pancake. When bubbles rise to the surface of the pancake and begin popping, it's ready to flip. Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes on the other side until both sides are golden brown and the inside no longer seems doughy. Continue making more pancakes in the same fashion. This recipe yields about 6-7 large pancakes.

Cinnamon & Oat variation:
-Prepare the batter the same way as the M&M pancakes, but as the last step, add in 1/2 cup of quick-cook oats and a dash of cinnamon before spooning out the batter into the pan. Crumble some brown sugar on one side of the pancake as it cooks in the pan before flipping over.

January 20, 2011

Oat(e)s rule(s)

She was panting. The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside but that wasn't good enough, wasn't going to help her. The kitchen window had never had a curtain, after three years, and there were dishes in the sink for her to do—probably—and if you ran your hand across the table you'd probably feel something sticky there.

I've long had a case of last-name envy when it came to J.C. Oates, but this was the first story of hers I ever read. Not only was it fantastically suspenseful, but it also reminded me (in a good way) of Flannery O'Connor. Not an easy feat! I'll definitely be checking out more of the Oates.

But moving on to the other (and for the time being, more beloved) kind of oats, I recently finished Stefan Merrill Block's The Story of Forgetting, and I think what propelled me to keep reading (at least at first) was the fact that he mentioned oatmeal a couple times in the first few chapters. Maybe I'm the only freak who notices these things, but still...it's funny how certain types of food can repeatedly slip into one's writing. Unless oatmeal is some sort of literary device/symbol? Nah...that can't be it.

January 9, 2011

Californian Yogurt Cake

I was ten years old now, up into the double numbers, where I would likely remain till I died. I am awake now forever, I thought suddenly; I have converged with myself in the present. My hands were icy from holding Kidnapped up; I always read lying down. I felt time in full stream, and I felt consciousness in full stream joining it, like the rivers.
--An American Childhood, Annie Dillard
It was around the time I was approaching double digits that I found out we were moving to California — a frightening prospect, especially after my friends informed me that Californians only ate nonfat yogurt. Of course, this was a horrible distortion of the truth, but my impressionable young mind didn't know any better...and to this day, plain yogurt still makes me think of the stereotypical Californian health freak.

Maybe that's why I've never considered yogurt cake a true dessert — and it does tend to lie on the innocent end of the spectrum, as far as cakes go. To further play with this idea, I decided to make a "Californian" version of Dorie Greenspan's French Yogurt Cake by implementing a few healthy tweaks (less oil, more yogurt, and raisins, which are essentially grapes, which are incredibly antioxidant-rich, no?). In the end, I think this cake turned out to be the best yogurt cake I've ever made (and certainly superior to Ina Garten's lemon yogurt cake — a respectable pastry, but a tad too dense, dry, and citrusy for this Californian's taste buds).

"Californian" Yogurt Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's French Yogurt Cake recipe
1 cup flour
1/2 cup almond flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup golden raisins

Grease a loaf pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 °F.

Whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, yogurt, eggs, and extracts. Combine until very smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix; fold in the oil and raisins last and mix until thick and glossy.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes.