pancakes

A Tasting Of Maple

The first full moon of the year, and the decade, fell on a weekend in Melbourne that had surprisingly mild weather for summer. To celebrate, I treated myself to brunch at Stokers Fine Pancakes. I chose a maple syrup tasting platter offering pancakes and three different grades of maple syrup. I couldn’t wait for the tasting to begin!

Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. There are many species but the trees most commonly tapped for sap are sugar maple, red maple or black maple. To tap a maple tree, holes are drilled into the trunk and the sap is collected. The sap is then heated to remove most of the water leaving a concentrated syrup.

The Canadian Single Origin maple syrups on my tasting plate were from the Escuminac Estate. They are bottled on the estate, are unblended and sourced from a single forest. The styles were – Early Harvest, Great Harvest and Late Harvest. I tasted them in that order and was surprised at the differences between the three.

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The Early Harvest was the lightest in colour and the sweetest. It was also the most runny. It tasted lovely and was similar to the many maple syrups I have tried, only much better! The Great Harvest was darker and less sweet and also thicker. It was a step above the first and I really liked it. The star, however was the Late Harvest. It was the darkest, thickest and the least sweet of the three. It was so syrupy and had a dark caramel and toffee flavour. I loved it so much I bought a bottle to take home.

You can read about my first visit to Stokers Fine Pancakes, and its predecessor, in We’ll Always Have Stokers. 

You can also check out my recipes for pancakes to pour maple syrup over!
Pumpkin Pancakes
Stout Pancakes
Yeasted Pancakes

Bites & Pieces

I celebrated the Winter Solstice weekend by launching my first travelogue cookbook!

It’s called Bites and Pieces of America: Exploring food and friendship in Whidbey Island, Salem, Boothbay Harbour and Boston. It’s filled with pieces from my trip last year from Australia to the USA where I got to visit a dear friend on Whidbey Island, celebrate July the 4th in Salem the Witch City, visit puffins in Maine and meet a baby sloth in Boston. There are also many bites of recipes from the foods that inspired me along the way.

While I’m hoping you’ll rush out and buy the book 🙂 I will share parts of the journey here. I’ll also include recipes that nearly made it into the book but just missed out like my Stout Pancakes (below). These are perfect for Winter in Australia. If you’d like pancake recipes that are more in tune with Summer – like Blueberry Pancakes or Carrot Cake Pancakes – you can find them in my book!

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Bites and Pieces is currently available from Lulu. An ebook is on the way and it will be in other online stores soon 🙂

Stout Pancakes

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Ingredients
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons maple sugar*
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup stout**
butter for frying

Instructions
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and stout.
Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Heat a small amount of butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
Pour some batter into the pan. Remember that the bigger the pancakes, the harder they are to flip, so don’t make them too big.
Cook until bubbles start to form.
Flip and cook for a further 1 – 3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with your choice of toppings.
I like them with a good drizzle of pure maple syrup, golden syrup or honey.

*You can substitute brown sugar for the maple sugar.
**Try different flavoured stouts like chocolate or coffee ones. I used a maple flavoured stout.

Spring Equinox / Spring Pancakes

When I first tried a spring onion pancake at a Chinese New Year festival, I almost wept in happiness. The moment I bit into the crunchy, flaky pastry and tasted the warm spring onions I had a memory of a similar taste sensation from my childhood – leek zelnick. A zelnick is a Macedonian flaky pastry filled with all sorts of things from pork, pumpkin, cheese and my favourite – leek with ricotta and feta. I love zelnicks but they can be a bit time consuming to make. Could I make a fusion version of a spring onion pancake? There was only one way to find out – experiment!

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I followed the recipe for Shanghai Onion Cakes from Bamboo: A Journey with Chinese Food by Sally Hammond & Gordon Hammond and then added my own Macedonian twist. After adding the spring onions, I crumbled some feta cheese on a few of the pancakes. I then followed the recipe to completion. The traditional spring onion pancakes were as fabulous as the ones I tried at the festival. As for the feta ones, they ended up tasting like a delicious cheesy spring onion pancake zelnick 🙂 I’m already thinking up new variations.

These pancakes make me think of the Spring Equinox, and not just because of the key ingredient! The Spring Equinox in the southern hemisphere falls on Friday the 23rd of September this year. The northern hemisphere is heading for its Autumn Equinox at the same time. The Equinoxes are a time of balance, when day and night are relatively equal. After the Spring Equinox, the days will be longer than the nights, until we reach the Autumn Equinox and night once again overtakes day.

Like the Equinoxes, these pancakes symbolise balance and union. They are a balance between two cultures and a melding of a childhood staple food with a new culinary discovery. I loved the idea of playing with spring onions for Spring!  And for those of you celebrating the Autumn Equinox, don’t worry, pancakes are great for Autumn too 🙂

Spring Onion Pancakes

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Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup boiling water
sesame oil
sea salt
4 spring onions, green parts only, chopped
feta cheese (my fusion twist)
high smoke point vegetable oil for frying

Instructions
Sift the flour into a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the boiling water. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, quickly work into the flour until you have a smooth, soft dough. Invert the bowl onto a board and leave the dough to cool.
When cool enough to handle, knead the dough for 2 – 3 minutes or until smooth. Form into a smooth ball. Rub with sesame oil. Cover and leave to rest for 1 hour.
Lightly flour a board. Cut dough into 5 pieces. Roll out thinly. Brush with sesame oil, sprinkle with sea salt and cover evenly with spring onions.
It is here that I add my fusion twist. I crumble some feta cheese over the spring onions!
Roll up the dough then coil each roll into a round cake. Lightly dust with flour, then gently roll into a thin circle (about 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch thick).
Heat oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Fry the pancakes until golden brown, turning once or twice. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Check out my recipes for Pumpkin Pancakes and Yeasted Pancakes 🙂

Pancakes for Bram

Wednesday the 20th of April is the 104th Deathiversary of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

Every year I commemorate his birthday and death day.
Last year I went to the newly resurrected pancake restaurant appropriately named Stokers.
This year I decided to make my own pancakes in honour of Bram.

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Pancakes are filled with mythological and folkloric meanings. They are most commonly associated with Shrove Tuesday and Lent. Their circular shape associates them with the sun and they are often eaten at the end of winter to welcome the coming spring. They are symbols of the beginning and the end of life. I remember eating pancakes at funerals and I remember new mothers being given pancakes after childbirth. With their links to life, death and the sun, pancakes are the perfect food to honour an author whose greatest character was deeply connected to life, death and the sun.

The pancakes below are unusual as they are leavened with yeast. Yeasted pancakes are common in Eastern Europe, especially in Transylvania! They can be eaten with savoury or sweet fillings. I have chosen a classic combination of strawberry jam and cream, not only because I love the flavours, but because the colour combination has a vampiric feel for me – perfect for Mr Stoker.

Yeasted Pancakes

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Ingredients
2 cups flour
2 cups lukewarm milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried yeast
extra olive oil for frying

for serving
strawberry jam
cream

Instructions
Add the flour to a large bowl.
Slowly stir in the milk.
Add the egg, butter and oil and mix until they form a smooth pancake batter.
Add the salt and yeast and stir until combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place for 1-3 hours or until doubled in size.
Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
Pour in approximately 1/4 cup of batter.
Cook for 3-4 minutes or until it starts to form bubbles.
Flip and cook for a further 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with jam and cream.

We’ll Always Have Stokers

While I presume Stokers isn’t named after my beloved Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, I still can’t help enjoying this quaint little eatery. Dark wood trestle-like tables and bench seating are complemented by dim lighting and eerie old time music. An ancient piano adds to the scenery as does the open fire in the centre of the room. In winter, this lit open fire warms both body and soul as staff gently stoke the fire; hence the name Stokers?

The food is delicious. Soup, salad and ice cream sundaes are on offer but the stars are the crepes. Two rolled and filled crepes are presented on a piping hot plate. Savoury fillings include bolognese, camembert with cranberry sauce and chicken mornay. Sweet fillings include traditional lemon and sugar, passionfruit and chocolate peach. A bevy of hot and cold drinks, including steaming hot Bonox, completes the menu. 

In fact, you can pop in just for a drink. I know I have spent many a long summer night in Stokers, escaping from oppressive 40 degree temperatures by sipping on their refreshing and cooling pineapple crush. And as the night wears on I find I can’t resist a crepe or two.

I wrote this review in 2006 for a food writing course. Stokers had become one of my favourite places to eat since first walking in there in the late 1980s. The name reeled me in and the fact it only opened at night stoked my vampiric fires. The decor and atmosphere were more old world than gothic but the freaky clock on the wall blew me away. When you first looked at it you knew something was wrong and then it would click – it was running anti-clockwise. After a late night of studying, indulging in crepes and drinking, that clock could do strange things to your mind.

It wasn’t until I trained as a Wiccan – or as I like to say – went to “Witch School” – that I learned that clocks went clockwise because they were modelled on Northern Hemisphere sundials and therefore travelled sunwise. If clocks were modelled on Southern Hemisphere sundials they would turn anticlockwise which for us is sunwise 🙂

Sadly Stokers closed a few years ago and my partner and I were devastated. Stokers was one of the first places we went to as a couple. Every year we would try and celebrate Bram Stoker’s Birthday and Deathiversary and Northern and Southern Hemisphere Halloween there. But like a vampire in a horror film, Stokers has risen again!!

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Trevor, one of my best friends, gave me a book of vouchers to use as he was going on holiday. Ironically, one of the places he will be visiting is Whitby – the place where Dracula  lands in England. I was supposed to be going on that trip for my 50th birthday but sadly that wasn’t to be. But all is not lost, not only has Trevor bought me a birthday present from Whitby, his book of vouchers has reunited me with a lost love. As I scanned the food vouchers there was one for Stokers Cafe! Stokers has relocated!! Was this Bram Stoker’s way of letting me know “his” cafe was resurrected? Was this a birthday present from Bram to me from beyond the grave? Probably not – but a vamp girl can dream 🙂

Have I gone to Stokers and used my voucher? Yes! It was with great excitement and happiness that Paul and I went out for dinner at the new Stokers. We weren’t sure what to expect but happily we weren’t disappointed. The new owners have kept some of the old world charm of the original Stokers but sadly the anticlockwise clock didn’t make it. There is a fireplace which will be warm and cosy in winter and the lighting is just dark enough to echo the original.

The menu changes were also intriguing. Some of the old favourites were there but the menu has been “revamped” to fit in with its new inner city location. They now have burgers and cold drip coffee. They also have Pancake Chips which are deep fried pieces of pancakes served with a dipping sauce. Naturally we had to try them. I couldn’t decide which sauce to choose. Wasabi Mayonnaise sounded great and so did the Black Pepper Mayonnaise and The Garlic Parsley Mayonnaise. In the end I couldn’t resist choosing the Vegemite Mayonnaise. I’m glad I did 🙂

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For dessert Paul chose the Pancake Suzette which was set alight on our table.

I chose the Hot Jam Donut Pancakes which lived up to their name. They even cut little holes in the pancakes to mimic donuts. Luckily they served the holes with the pancakes!

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By the end of the evening I was so happily full, I couldn’t fit in a coffee. Luckily they sell the cold drip coffee in little bottles that you can take home. I had mine the next day my favourite way – equal parts cold coffee and cold cream.

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I can’t wait to return to Stokers – maybe I’ll unwrap my present from Whitby over hot crepes and cold drip coffee. 🙂

Pass The Pumpkins Please

Our local coffee shop makes the best coffee. I mean it’s really, really good. The only problem is everyone wants one! And they don’t take reservations on the weekends. So if you don’t get there early enough you go on a waiting list, or you order one to go. The coffee is so good that it has inspired me to roll out of bed early on the weekends and get there just after it opens – 8.00am!! And while I’m there, I sometimes have breakfast as well. My favourite breakfast? – pancakes 🙂

The walnut pancakes with side orders of bacon and hash browns were my favourite. Sadly they’ve changed the menu for summer and the latest pancake offering is okay, but not fantastic. This made me think – why don’t I make my own pancakes when I get home? I’ve made buttermilk pancakes before, which were delicious, but I wanted something different. The first flavour that came to mind was pumpkin pancakes. The only problem was my partner Paul doesn’t particularly like pumpkin. I didn’t want to make a batch just for myself because I knew I would eat them all 🙂 How could I tempt him to try pumpkin pancakes? There was only one way – add them to my cookbook. As my main taste-tester he could hardly refuse!

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We wanted to make our own pumpkin puree so our preparations for Sunday pancakes began Saturday night. Here’s what we did:

Preheated our oven to 180C / 350F.
Removed pumpkin seeds from pumpkin and kept them aside to make pepitas.
Cut the pumpkin into pieces and placed in a baking tray. Sprinkled lightly with olive oil and baked until cooked. When cool enough to handle, we removed the skin from the pumpkin and discarded it. We mashed the pumpkin with a potato masher until smooth and refrigerated it for the next day.

To make pepitas, we separated the seeds from the remaining pulp surrounding them. Rather than discard this pulp, we thought we’d try baking it too.
We preheated the oven to 200C / 400F and lined two baking trays with baking paper.
We dried the seeds with paper towel, tossed them in olive oil and salt and then spread them out on one of the baking trays. We tossed the pulp in olive oil and salt and placed it on the remaining tray. We baked the seeds for about 10 minutes until they were crispy and the pulp for about 15 minutes until it was caramelised. The seeds and pulp were eaten straight away! They were so delicious I almost couldn’t wait for Sunday to make the pancakes – but I did 🙂 Here is the recipe:

Pumpkin Pancakes
Makes 4 fluffy pancakes.
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Ingredients
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 + 1/4 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
extra butter for frying

Instructions
Whisk together the buttermilk, pumpkin, egg and butter in a large bowl until combined.
In a separate bowl, add the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and mix until combined.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Heat some butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
Pour in 1/3 cup of batter.
Cook for 1-3 minutes or until it starts to form bubbles.
Flip and cook for a further 1-3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.

Well I’m happy to say that both Paul and I loved the pancakes! Paul had his with butter and maple syrup and I had mine with sour cream and crispy fried prosciutto. Naturally we tried each other’s to see which was best. I loved my savoury ones but I think Paul’s sweet ones were better.

We can’t wait to make them again. If you make them let me know which topping you prefer – sweet, savoury or both!!