Monday, November 22, 2010

Pancakes in the Time of Pumpkins

Guest post by Theresa Rice
Theresa's Blog

We are living in the time of pumpkins. Great boxes are filled with them at the local farm market--gone now to jack o' lanterns, many of them and unceremoniously tossed out after their night of drama.

Some go on to be cooked and used now or saved for special holiday recipes. Many will go into pies, the iconic Thanksgiving dessert. Some will go to lovely warming soups or pumpkin bread or muffins. A few will go inmore exotic culinary directions. And don't get me started on the squashes--so many varieties, from mirlitons to sweet dumplings, butternuts to buttercups.

I'm tempted and bewildered by my imagination as my table, loaded down with all manner of squash and pumpkin can testify. What to make and write about? Pumpkin ravioli--buttery, tender and delicious? Or a butternut soup, fragrant with saffron and rich with cream and ghee? I ponder long over a delicate pumpkin roulade, filled with sweetened mascapone. Then I think about swiss chard wrapped around sausage, pumpkin and barley mixture, or mirlitons filled with highly seasoned shrimp stuffing.

These, along with pies and cakes, muffins and breads, will be welcomed in my home as we travel the calendar into the holidays, to the winter solstice and on to a new year. But one special dish--an ultimate comfort food--comes first.


Saturday mornings were hotcake eating time at our house, also at my grandma's. Mamma would get out her round twelve-inch griddle and she'd let me skitter water drops across the surface to test the heat. Then she'd ladle out five or six little hotcakes at a time. When bubbles formed and just began to pop the spatula would swoop down and flip them, splat splat splat. I'd watch their cooked tops rise up when the raw side hit the hot griddle. They'd hesitate, then sigh and lower themselves to the pan to finish cooking.

We'd gather around the table like baby birds, waiting our turns. Hot stacks piled onto our plates as they got done, never one by one, so you'd have enough to pile together with butter pats. We buttered them up and ate them down with Steen's Cane Syrup--thick, dark and smoky flavored--or a lighter syrup my mother made with maple extract added to simple syrup.

The ettiquete was to use your knife to cut the stack into eight triangular wedges and load as much as you could get onto your fork. The fork became a mop and the hotcakes became hot, tender butter-and-syrup delivery devices. Wow.

Mamma's hotcakes were always pristine and plain. No blueberries or pecans, no bananas or walnuts. But I remember my grandma making us pink and blue and green hotcakes at Eastertime. They didn't taste any different, but they were crazy fun.

The pumpkin was not a familiar part of our lives and certainly didn't find its way onto our table for hotcake mornings. The Louisiana yam filled its place in pies and cakes and anywhere else a pumpkin might be. They must have been somewhat available, though. On the road between Baton Rouge and Hammond a little sign indicated the turn off to Pumpkin Center, Louisiana--pronounced "punkin." The sign actually gave the turn for Baptist, Louisiana and then Pumpkin Center so it looked like all the Baptist pumpkins must gather at the Baptist Pumpkin Center to do who knew what. This was a hilarious joke at the time and still makes me smile.


I would have found these incredibly exotic in my childhood, even as I do today. They are the deep old gold of spectacular winter sunsets. Spice aromas capture you the minute you begin to mix the batter and the hot griddle instantly careens the smell throughout the house. No one will sleep through breakfast when you make these. I find I close my eyes and breathe these long before I get to taste them. Once I finally get a butter-drenched pumpkin-butter-slathered bite, my tastebuds rise up to meet the flavors on a cloud of weightlessness.

Many recipes for pumpkin pancakes are dense and heavy from the added pulp. Leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda are too wan to carry pumpkin up to the lightness a pancake deserves. The secret is to beat the egg whites and delicately fold them in to assist with the rise. This batter, as a matter of fact, is very similar to an airy roulade recipe, frothy and tender. The pancakes must be baked quickly or the egg white advantage deflates. The optional sprinkle of pumpkin seeds gives a satisfying counterpoint. If you're not fond of pumpkin seeds, try my favorite chopped and toasted pecans, which is not to say that they aren't perfect without nuts of any kind.

The pumpkin butter--oh lordy, what can I say? A touch of rum for breakfast? Let the good times roll, dawlin'. I prefer a thick spread, particularly for my pancakes, but adjust the liquid to suit yourself once the cooking is done.

Pumpkin Pancakes

•1 cup buttermilk

•1/2 cup fresh cooked pumpkin or canned pure pumpkin (not pie filling)

•3 large eggs, separated, room temperature

•1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

•2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

•1 cup flour

•1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg

•1/2 teaspoon baking soda

•1 teaspoon baking powder

•1/4 teaspoon salt

•Vegetable oil, butter or non-stick spray for the griddle

•1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, optional

Whisk buttermilk, pumpkin, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl to blend; whisk in melted butter. Sift flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into large bowl. Add dry ingredients to buttermilk mixture and whisk to combine. Beat egg whites in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Fold whites into batter.

Lightly oil or butter heavy large skillet set over medium heat. Working in batches, pour batter by 1/3 cupfuls onto skillet. Sprinkle a few pumpkin seeds on each pancake and cook until bubbles form on top, about one-and-a half minutes.  Turn pancakes over and cook until second sides brown, about 1 minute. Transfer to plates. Sprinkle with nuts. Serve with Rum Pumpkin Butter and maple syrup.

Rum Pumpkin Butter

•1 cup fresh cooked pumpkin or canned pure pumpkin (not pie filling)

•1/2 cup orange juice or apple cider

•1/2 cup brown sugar

•1/4 cup butter

•1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg

•1/4 teaspoon salt

•1 tablespoon dark rum, optional

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over low heat for 5 - 20 minutes or until blended, stirring frequently. Add more orange juice or cider if mixture is too thick.

All text and images copyright 2010 Theresa Rice

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