For Living Within, November 2018
In this month of American Thanksgiving, it may not have escaped attention that the US is also in election mode, and this set of elections, more than most, is really about taking a side. A Virginia-based friend has just informed that she is busy ‘getting out the Vote’, her husband, a coffee roasting amateur, is brewing coffee for the troops under the tagline ‘The Revolution Will Be Caffeinated’. Here’s hoping!
I won’t wade any further into mainstream politics (strictly to be watched through closed fingers these days), but now that we have coffee on the table, I might paddle in the shallower waters of breakfast in America, and the oft-debated issue of waffle v pancake; not as contentious as the average ‘wedge issue’, admittedly, but I will caution that food is not short of hotly contested political debate in the States, particularly the Southern ones.
Full disclosure, I would easily have come down on the side of pancakes before last year – simply because waffles require special equipment that I did not own, and probably benefit from being ‘banked’ in childhood memories, and I have none at all of waffles. But then Nigella entered the arena, confessed to being a ‘bit of a weekend waffler’ in her aspirational lifestyle/cooking show, and seduced my family with the idea of waffles for breakfast (more achievable at least than a copper KitchenAid or a see-through toaster); I duly received a set of waffle irons as present shortly thereafter. I recommend a manual version (can be stored away easily when not in use) – season well before using if cast iron, (instructions abound on how to do so), or buy with a non-stick coating.
For recipe, I borrow proportions, if not exact method, from Nigella’s original (as published on the web) -- sometimes I pimp the ingredients, and always I prefer melted butter to oil.
In the opposing corner, sits a buttermilk pancake and a recipe adapted from an Alice Waters original – buttermilk lending a flavour of the South (you can substitute milk or a mix of milk and yoghurt) and sourness helping with the rise. I have rewritten Alice’s proportions in metric, US recipes suffering in general from a deal of imprecision and needing experience to interpret them in real time, owing to the US reliance on volume measures (cups, tablespoons, etc) rather than just weighing things to be sure of them.
Waffles: 125g melted butter, cooled (melt a generous quantity -- ie more than this – use any excess for greasing the waffle irons); 225g plain flour; 2 tsp baking powder; pinch salt; 3 large eggs; 3 tbsp caster sugar; 450ml milk; 1 tsp vanilla extract.
Pancakes: 80g melted butter, cooled (notes as above); 200g plain flour(or substitute/mix plain with something with a bit of ‘roughage’); 1 tsp baking powder; 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda; pinch salt; 2 large eggs; 2 tbsps caster sugar; 450g buttermilk (or a carton of buttermilk supplemented with milk)
Both pancakes and waffles need a batter; the methods for making these are broadly similar with only a couple of notable differences – waffles include more sugar, more fat and vanilla, and the batter will be more fluid than for a pancake.
Method for both as follows:
Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat (don’t stir, leave as many of the solids as possible in the bottom of the pan, you only really want the clarified top layer), leave to cool.
Measure out the flour and put into a large bowl, add the baking powder (also bicarbonate for pancakes) add salt and whisk together these dry ingredients.
Separate the eggs – put the whites into a clean, dry bowl that gives room to whisk them up several times their volume (set aside), and the yolks into a bowl or jug.
Add the sugar to the yolks and whisk (immediately) together until the yolks are pale. Gradually add in the milk or buttermilk; whisk until homogenous. Add in the vanilla extract (waffles only).
Make a well in the centre of the flour and start to add the wet ingredients to these dry ones; whisk them together gradually (from the centre outward) until just smooth. The mixture should be pourable (for waffles) or droppable (for pancakes).
Whisk in the (cooled) melted butter
Finally, whisk the egg whites (you can use an electric hand-held blender or a hand-held whisk and elbow grease) until they just hold peaks (whisk them too far and they go grainy – a slightly droopy peak that holds its own is enough for this recipe!). Gently fold these whites into the batter mix – I use a wire whisk, Nigella a sharp-edged spoon, Alice is unspecific.
Your batter is now ready to be waffled or pancaked.
For waffles, ladle an even layer onto a pre-heated iron that has been greased (both sides) and is at the point of ‘smoking’ (ie just before it starts to do so), and according to the instructions on your particular set of irons. Seal the batter inside, turn and cook until both sides are at golden brown perfection – cut, serve with blueberries and maple syrup (like Nigella eats hers).
For pancakes, heat a flat-bottomed griddle pan (or shallow edged sauté pan), grease and, when at ‘smoking’ point (as for waffles), spoon dollops of the pancake batter onto the hot surface and wait for bubbles to start to rise to the surface. Check that underneath is browning nicely (not burning) and flip and turn with confidence -- watch the pancake rise as the second side starts to cook (keep adjusting heat until the level reaches ‘optimum’ – a medium heat once the pan has come up to temperature works best). Serve immediately, or keep warm snuggled up in a clean tea-towel until you are ready to serve a stack of them together. Butter them, dust them with sugar, or drizzle with maple syrup, as you like them best.
So, pick a side! Closing arguments might include that the indentations on a waffle will hold your syrup and your blueberries in place but a pancake will absorb syrup better. The jury was out on which side wins a majority in my house at time of writing. Notes were given that ‘they are different’ but that ‘both taste good’. The pancakes are ‘more tender’, the waffles have ‘nice crisp edges’ – all were eaten!