The Pancake Alternative

When I was pregnant with Ben, to my surprise and to the surprise of everyone who knows me well, I had only one craving. Pancakes. I always thought that I would crave the obvious - pickles, ice cream, potato chips? But, no. All I wanted breakfast, lunch, and dinner were fluffy, drenched in syrup, pancakes. I ate so many pancakes that I'm almost certain that when the time comes, Ben won't be able to stand the sight of them. Poor kid was force fed pancakes in the womb for weeks on end. 

Every Saturday of my third trimester, while Ian posted up to watch soccer, I made us pancakes. I experimented with many recipes - banana, blueberry, chocolate, revisited my trusty favorite Brown Butter Greek Yogurt Pancakes and even made a pancake "cake" one time which was... let's just say, not to be repeated. The craving went so far that one time I even marched myself to the grocery store at 7:30AM on a Sunday, at 38 weeks pregnant, because we were out of eggs. No eggs, no pancakes. Three cheers for my ever patient husband for never denying my request to make him pancakes and silently working his way through stacks and stacks of flapjacks. For the record, he's not a huge pancake fan. 

Slowly, the weekend pancakes have turned into a tradition of making weekend breakfast. To turn things up a bit we've branched out - biscuits with bacon and eggs, frittatas, bagels, all the variants of breakfasty things. Pancakes make an appearance in the rotation, but not nearly as often. Because, let's be honest, whether out of a box or made from scratch - a pancake is a pancake. You can add all the bells and whistles in the world but, its really not that special. (Of course, I say this now, with the rose colored glasses of pregnancy hormones no longer surging through my body.) This is all to say, the cravings have subsided. 

A few weekends ago, I decided to revisit a recipe from my childhood - syrniki. In Russian, they roughly translate to "cheese cakes". The traditional syrniki are made with a variant of cottage cheese called tvorog. It's a bit tangier and if anything, a form of quark. Unfortunately, tvorog isn't readily available in Clinton Hill and the only place to really get it is at an Eastern European speciality store or by traveling to Brighton Beach. The former isn't in my neighborhood and the latter is too far a trip. When you have a three month old flopping around on a play mat, taking a 45 min trip for a special kind of cheese just doesn't happen. 

So, as always, I improvised. Truth be told, I had a tub of cottage cheese which was about to expire so I used that in place of tvorog. What came out is as close to the traditional syrnik as I've had in ages and a great alternative to the pancake. The syrnik is lighter and smaller in size and it holds up as a leftover. (Have you had leftover pancakes? Unless you're hungover, they're disgusting.) Syrniki can be served with fruit preserves or even sour cream. I prefer mine drizzled with a little honey and spatter of powdered sugar, strong black coffee on the side.

IMG_4433.jpg
IMG_4436.jpg

Syrniki 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 cup flour, divided.
    • 1/2 cup for the dough, 1/2 cup for dredging.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sweet golden raisins (I didn't grab a photos of these but imagine a very dehydrated grape.) 
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. honey or agave syrup for sweetness
  • dash of vanilla
  • vegetable oil for cooking
  1. Mix all wet ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Fold in flour and raisins until well mixed. 
  3. Heat a non-stick or cast iron skillet on the stove and pour in a glug of veg oil.
  4. Use your hands to form small patties with the dough. It will be very sticky! 
  5. Dredge each patty in flour and place on the skillet. 
  6. Cook each syrnik for 1-2 min. until golden, then flip until the other side is golden. 
  7. Repeat the above step 1 or 2 more times until your cakes have an outer crust that's a darker golden brown. 
  8. Keep adding veg oil to the pan and cooking the syrniki until you've prepared all of the dough. 
  9. Serve hot for breakfast with a drizzle of honey and powdered sugar. Can also be eaten with fruit preserves and some fresh berries on the side! The leftovers can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days. 
IMG_4408.jpg
IMG_4414.jpg
IMG_4411.jpg
IMG_4432.jpg
IMG_4437.jpg

Brown Butter- Greek Yogurt Pancakes

I don't really love pancakes. When going out to eat I never order them because they feel boring, not an indulgence. I also barely make them at home because whenever I do, I regret it instantly. They're the kind of food that make me think all the effort isn't worth the result. Mostly I end up feeling heavy and the pancakes sit on the bottom of my stomach like a giant lump of processed flour. For lack of a better way of presenting it-  pancakes give my stomach a hangover. 

That being said, I do love a weekend ritual. Something that signifies that you're out of the weekly rush and into the relaxed, easy feeling of a Saturday or Sunday morning. Leisurely, with nothing to do but sip some coffee, eat breakfast, and lounge around with the pups. At first I tried waffles, unfrozen and popped into the oven (going on 15 months without a microwave). Although satisfying, something about frozen waffles feel amateur and reminiscent of  college food. I wanted something delicate but not requiring a ton of effort. Interesting but simple. Basically, it was a very specific craving and I did what I always do when I can't put my finger on exactly what I want: open the fridge and peruse the leftovers. 

On a Saturday morning a few months ago, I found a container of Greek Yogurt in the back of the fridge. One small scoop used as a topping for something or other but most of it intact and on the verge of it's expiration date. Right beside it was half a stick of butter, taking up space in my teeny fridge. On the ledge right below, some ripe bananas I had taken off the counter because they were attracting fruit flies. With these simple, left behind ingredients, the Brown Butter- Greek Yogurt pancake was born. 

Something between a pancake and a crepe, the result is nutty and not too sweet. It's the perfect balance of delicate and filling. Seriously, I'm addicted. Give this recipe a try this weekend! If you have guests in town for Labor Day I guarantee these will be a huge hit with everyone. 

Brown Butter- Greek Yogurt Pancakes

Ingredients

Mix everything together in a large bowl. add your cooled brown butter last. 

Mix everything together in a large bowl. add your cooled brown butter last. 

  • 1 container Greek Yogurt, I used 7 oz. of Fage
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ripe (or normal) bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • chocolate chips, raisins, powdered sugar... any pancake filling/topping you like!

For Brown Butter: 

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 stick for cooking the pancakes

Prep: 

  1. Prepare your brown butter. Many a great chef has put together much more comprehensive directions for this than I can provide. I've linked a tutorial here but basically: melt your butter on medium heat and then whisk that goodness until it's nutty and brown bits form on the bottom. 
  2. Set aside. You want your butter to cool before you pour it into the pancake mix. Otherwise, you'll cook your eggs and your pancakes will taste like a crepey-omelette which... no. Don't do that. 
  3. Mash bananas with a fork. Some serious culinary technique is required here. I've added a visual because this move is so stunningly complex. (Clearly this cutting board has seen many a mashed banana.)
mashed banana. an exercise in technique. 

mashed banana. an exercise in technique. 

Do the thing: 

  1. Combine all dry ingredients in a big bowl. 
  2. Add wet ingredients including most of the brown butter. Reserve some for drizzling. 
  3. Stir everything together until combined and smooth. 
  4. Heat up a non stick skillet with a dollop of butter and place heaping spoonfuls of batter on the sizzling surface.
  5. This next part is the hardest piece of the entire recipe. You have to wait for the edges of the pancakes to brown and develop a crust before flipping. Because the batter is not super thick, your pancakes will risk falling apart. Wait for the crust, then flip. Don't worry if the bottom is not your normal pancake color- these aren't normal pancakes!
  6. Stack on a plate and drizzle with the reserved brown butter. Now add maple syrup, agave, honey, chocolate sauce... anything you want! Enjoy!

A Cake for Cooks: Yogurt + Olive Oil Blood Orange Cake

While many of you are snuggled up while the snow falls, the orchards of Florida and California are abuzz with the winter citrus harvest. When I lived in DC, I thought of citrus as my reward for suffering through winter and this was my justification for bi- weekly splurges on jewel-like citrus treats flown in from the lands of sunshine.

I began my hunt for Meyer lemons, blood and cara cara oranges, clementines, white grapefruit, and pomelos starting around the second week of December and would even venture out to the far reaches of Silver Spring to visit my favorite Korean supermarket in search of satsumas.

I yelped and turned around looking for someone to high five when I found blood oranges being sold by the bag in the Columbia Heights Giant three or four years ago. Although many of us use citrus year round without a second thought as to its season or availability, winter is peak citrus season and the best time to find ‘specialty’ citrus. 

Blood oranges are my personal favorite. They can look like regular oranges–hiding deep red, purple, or pink fruit beneath skin that only sometimes gives away its contents with blush spots. They brighten salads, mix beautifully with gin, and transform simple batters into elegant cakes.

Now that I live in San Diego, I am faced with an onslaught of citrus every time I go to the grocery store or farmer’s market. What more—it’s generally affordable! My beloved Mexican grocery store had blood oranges at 98 cents for two pounds last week!! No longer do I delicately hold each fruit in my hand feeling its weight to pick only a few dense, juicy fruit.  Now I buy 5 and 10 pound bags. I am a woman who has lost almost all self-control. I bring bowls of oranges and tangerines into work each week and beg my colleagues to help me eat them – they indulge me then bring me the pomelos and sweet limes they grow in their backyards! It’s a dream come true, but this bounty is due to expire any week now as the weather heats up and we say goodbye to cool, foggy mornings. Even in this citrus paradise, good things do not last forever.

I’ve made a blood orange cake for my birthday for the past six years and made a dozen more for dinner parties and brunches in that time. I’ve used Melissa Clark’s loaf cake recipe, riffed on Smitten Kitchen’s adapted formula, and branched out to try Saveur’s take with butter. In all of this experimentation, I found that my favorite cakes have more oranges, twice the recommended amount of vanilla extract, olive oil in place of butter, and Greek yogurt, so that’s what you’ll find in this recipe.

This is an unfussy cake. I think of it as a cake for cooks – it is elegant in its simplicity and you can riff on it and adapt it to the ingredients you have on hand. 

I make my husband a multi-tier birthday cake filled with butter every January and this uses up my will to bake fancy things. I make this cake for my birthday in February because it requires very little planning, creates few dirty dishes, and leaves me with little to no dessert-induced guilt. It also tastes great and pairs well with coffee at breakfast or tea in the afternoon. It’s better the second day and it peaks on day three. 

This is an unfussy cake. I think of it as a cake for cooks – it is elegant in its simplicity and you can riff on it and adapt it to the ingredients you have on hand. Enjoy!

Yogurt + Olive Oil Blood Orange Cake

Ingredients

  • 4 blood oranges
  • 1 1/2 cups full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan lightly with baking spray, butter, or oil. Some recipes suggest that you line the pan with parchment, but I don’t bother.

  2. To supreme your oranges, cut off the bottoms and tops of the fruit so that it so that they can stand upright on a cutting board. Cut away their peels and piths by cutting along the curve of fruit. Cut the orange segments out of their membranes. Repeat with two of your other oranges. Break up the orange segments with your fingers as you cut them up and let them fall into a separate bowl. Don’t stress too much about cutting away all of the membrane that holds the segments together—just get what you can.

  3. Halve your remaining orange and squeeze juice from one half into a measuring cup. You will have about 1/8 cup or so of juice.

  4. Whisk together the juice, yogurt, olive oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

  5. Add dry ingredients and whisk until there are no lumps.

  6. Fold in orange segments but do not over mix.

  7. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool for at least 10 minutes before removing it from the pan.