In my opinion, early mornings are made for mellow. Not for whisking and whipping on high speed, pulsing until finely ground, kneading, heavy lifting, or doing anything that requires too much attention to the details. Perhaps that’s why I never really made it as an early-to-rise baker (even though I romanced the heck out of the notion). No, at my house, it’s a rare occasion when I pull out any type of kitchen gadgetry before breakfast. I mean, I even make our coffee in a no-tech French press.
My no-plug approach to sleepy-eyed eating can pose a problem if it’s fluffy pancakes that are on my mind, because most fluffy pancake recipes require whipping egg whites. Since I refuse to crack the whip so early in the a.m., I have dedicated many years to coming up with a perfect dump-and-stir pancake recipe and have eaten many thousands of pancakes in the pursuit of pancake fluffiness. Only recently did I finagle a recipe that hits it out of the park.
It took me running out of eggs to figure out the key ingredient: crème fraîche. I mised (as in mise en place—not being pretentious, just didn’t want you to think it was a typo) the dry ingredients and scanned the fridge for eggs only to realize I was out. I raked my brain for alternatives. Eggs equal tenderness, so I had to source an ingredient that could do the same. The contents of my pre-vacation fridge were slim pickings indeed. Pancake salvation presented itself in the form of a spare-tablespoon of crème frâiche in a near empty container. I whisked it into the buttermilk. The resulting pancakes were sky-high and down-pillow fluffy.
While we were on our annual end-of-summer Chicago oblication, we visited family, friends, and ate our way through much of the city (oh those duck hearts at Publican!). Since I have two young boys, we always rent an apartment for our visit—the apartment comes fully decked out with a complete kitchen, making meal-time that much easier. I bought pancake fixings and toyed around with the recipe. I made crème frâiche cakes with a whole egg, with a yolk, extra crème frâiche, oat bran. I came home to Brooklyn with a solid crème frâiche pancake recipe, one I can make pre-coffee, half asleep, and without turning anything on aside from the gas.
Crème Frâiche Pancakes
Makes about 1 dozen
A few notes:
- If you want to make these heartier, substitute 1 cup of whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose. Or tack on 1/4 cup oat bran to the 2 cups of all-purpose. In either scenario, have and extra 3 to 4 tablespoons of buttermilk at the ready to loosen the batter if necessary.
- I wrap leftover pancakes individually in plastic wrap and pop them into a freezer bag. They keep fresh in the freezer for many weeks. Unwrap and microwave in 30-second increments to rewarm. This is a great tactic for school mornings.
- All crème frâiche is not the same. A tub purchased from New York-based Ronnybrook is thick with the texture of cream cheese, while Vermont Butter & Cheese crème frâiche is more like sour cream. Either works beautifully with the latter producing thicker medium-thick cakes while the former makes sky-high ones.
- You can use dried buttermilk powder instead of fresh (this is a very convenient item to have in the fridge). Follow the package instructions regarding the ratio of how much buttermilk powder will give you 2 cups of buttermilk and whisk the powder in with the dry ingredients, adding the water into the crème frâiche mixture.
- Plain low-fat yogurt thinned to a buttermilk-like consistency with skim or 2% milk is also a decent buttermilk substitute.
- If making chocolate chip or blueberry pancakes, sprinkle the chips or berries over the raw side of the pancake before flipping.
For the pancakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons crème frâiche
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups buttermilk
Canola oil pan spray
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl.
Whisk the crème frâiche, egg yolk, and vanilla together in a medium bowl until smooth and thick. Incorporate 2 tablespoons of the melted butter and then whisk in the buttermilk.
Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and use a wooden spoon to gently stir together until the batter looks like thick muffin or cake batter. Only mix until no dry streaks remain—if you over mix, you’ll activate the gluten in the flour and your pancakes will have a tight-textured toughness rather than a fluffy airy interior.
Heat a nonstick griddle or a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 1 minute. Lightly coat the pan with nonstick pan spray and then spoon some batter onto the pan (I use about 1/3 cup per pancake). Cook until golden and flip. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of melted butter over the browned side of each pancake and continue to cook until the underside is golden and the edges of the pancakes are dry (reduce the heat under your griddle or pan to low if the pancakes are browning too quickly—these are thick pancakes and they need time to cook all the way through). Transfer to a plate and cook the remaining pancakes, spraying the pan with more pan spray between batches. Serve with maple syrup or a fresh fruit syrup.
Fresh Plum Syrup
Makes about 1 cup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 or 3 ripe plums (preferably the kind with fuchsia-colored flesh)
Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Peel off the skin of the plums and squeeze the naked fruit right over the simmering syrup. Shred the fruit using your fingers and letting it fall into the syrup. Simmer until it has reduced to your liking. If it reduces too much, add a little more water to thin it out.