Milena’s Cooking Adventures
The lack of a real stack of fluffy pancakes in France is the lead cause of my dépaysement, my homesickness, my deep-seated unrootedness in this country. If only I could go out to almost any restaurant and receive the four-pancake-high tower of pure calories that I crave, slathered in butter and drowned in maple syrup, then– I could be truly happy.
What’s the phrase? You make your own home? Well, who knows if France will ever feel 100% like home, but god dammit if I can’t make the home, at least I can make the pancakes.
And make them RIGHT. That is, fluffy, in a stack, and doused in an inadvisable amount of something sweet.
The traditional American pancake would be buttermilk. But (my French friends inform me), buttermilk isn’t really a thing in France. There are workarounds, but it’s simpler for me to fall back on my old friends the Kefir grains. I asked them politely and my little guys provided me with something almost, but not quite entirely unlike buttermilk. A sour yoghurty milky concoction that is thick and flavourful enough to do under the circumstances (the circumstances being, France). In the end, both my twin and myself found these pancakes just as fluffy as, but in fact more flavourful, than buttermilk pancakes. So in the future I think I’ll stick with kefir.
I adapted a tried-and-true recipe from Cooks’ Illustrated, using a special cast-iron pan that my French love gave me. When she gave it to me, it was clean and shining, but with every pancake it gets more browned, more loved, and more perfect for cooking. She also specifically told me that one of the reasons she gave it to me is that she was hoping for more pancakes. See? Even the French agree that nothing can beat a good tall stack of fluffy American pancakes.
It makes very perfect-sized pancakes, too. Perfect for stacking 4 to a plate, I mean.
If in desperation to have pancakes I used kefir instead of buttermilk, I must admit I also made a concession on the maple syrup. Because I realised too late that I had no maple syrup in the fridge (a shocking state of affairs), I used homemade golden syrup I had made previously when I arrived at a similar point of no return in a recipe that needed (NEEDED) golden syrup. Heated to almost boiling, it functions well enough as a substitute for maple syrup for a homesick American.
Pancake batter is satisfying to watch. It glops into the pan and then goes floof-bubble. When you turn it over, the browning is a joy to behold. Slap some butter on it and soak it in the sweet stuff and you have yourself a breakfast fit for any homesick American.
Kefir Pancakes for a Homesick American
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen New Best Recipe Cookbook
- 2 cups kefir (can substitute 2 cups buttermilk — ATK also suggests putting 1 TBS lemon juice in 2 cups milk, letting stand for a few minutes to thicken, and using that; but I find that although it’s a good substitute, it lacks the depth of flavour and the thickness of buttermilk or kefir)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 TBS sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder (levure chimique)
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 3 TBS/60g unsalted butter (melted)
- Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to combine
- In a different bowl, whisk the egg, kefir, and melted butter together. Whisk quickly to make sure the temperature differences don’t mess up your butter and make it seize up.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in your wet ingredients. Whisk lightly until juuuuust combined. It will look very lumpy. This helps it go FLOOF. If you overwhisk your pancakes will be sad and flat and stodgy.
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat until it is completely warmed up, then coat bottom with canola oil (I often have to use butter cos we usually have that on hand rather than oil). Using a ladle, ladle enough batter to juuust cover the bottom of the pan.
- Cook the pancakes until bubbles form in the middle and the edges begin to look dry (1-2 minutes). Flip it over and cook other side.
- Serve with a pat of butter on top and be very liberal with the “maple” syrup. Eat and revel in having created your pancake home for yourself. Be transported back to your home country.