Occasionally, after the end of my Thursday night show on WFHB Community Radio, I used to walk up to the Bloomington Diner for a late night repast. My meal of choice to end the day? Blueberry pancakes or stuffed French toast, sometimes with an egg over easy, and a side of sausage links — for me, the ultimate comfort food after a really long day.
In this week’s column I’m exploring a few of these breakfast favorites.
Let’s start with French toast. It’s not really French. Most experts believe the recipe dates back to ancient Rome, where Romans dipped slices of bread in milk (and sometimes eggs) and called it pan dulcis. In France they call it “pain perdu” (lost bread) because it’s made with bread that was a day or two old and past its prime but no one wanted to throw it out.
Wherever it originated, French toast is a stale slice, soaked in a custard of eggs, milk and a sweetener, and fried. Dusted with powdered sugar and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, topped with fruit or maple syrup, or any variety of preferred toppings, it becomes a delicious treat.
Day or two old bread makes the best French toast (if you don’t have stale bread you can toast it in the oven at 275 degrees for 10 minutes to dry it out slightly). Slice it thick (but not too thick), don’t over soak it (or it will fall apart) and let the custard drain before griddling over medium heat.
Challah or brioche are the best bread choices — dipped in custard and cooked on a griddle they brown and caramelize on the outside and become custard-like on the inside for the perfect bite.
Then we have pancakes, Thin, round, flat cakes made from a batter that combines a starchy base with eggs, milk and butter or oil. Sweet, savory, thick or thin, plain or stuffed, dollar sized or as big as your plate, pancakes have become one of the most popular breakfast items in the United States.
Pancakes are found in almost every culture and also date back to ancient times (some researchers suggest that traces of pancakes were found in the stomach of Otzi the Iceman). In some Christian countries pancakes have traditionally been eaten on Shrove Tuesday, emptying the pantry of sugar, fats and eggs, to reduce waste and avoid temptations during the Lenten season. Mental Floss reports that an all-female annual pancake race in Olney, England, dates back to 1445, and in modern times has become an international affair with Liberal, Kansas, leading Olney by a score of 37 to 29.
And then there is the Dutch Baby Pancake (also known as a German pancake, Bismarck, Dutch puff or Hootenanny). Legend says they were created in the kitchen of a historic cafe in Seattle called Manca’s and like French toast, Dutch babies aren’t Dutch. The name is a corruption of the word Deutsch (German).
Dutch babies are easy to make, with a few simple ingredients, and have the advantage that they don’t need to be flipped. If you tried out the recipe for Yorkshire pudding in my last column you will find the two are very similar … a thin batter, whirred up in a blender to add plenty of air, is poured into a very hot, preferably cast-iron skillet over melted butter. As with Yorkshire pudding, steam causes the batter to rise (so don’t open the oven while baking). The result is a puffed up, popover-like pancake with a crisp exterior and a slightly eggy, custard-like middle that you can serve with a variety of toppings such as powdered sugar, warm spices, butter and jam, fresh berries or whipped cream.
There really isn’t a bad time to eat breakfast … the word, after all, comes from break and fast. And whether that’s the first meal after not eating over a night of rest or comes after a long day of work seems irrelevant to me. We ate “breakfast for dinner” several times this week to try out some new recipes that you might like.
First up is a Crunchy Orange French Toast. Day old challah (or in our case brioche bread because I couldn’t find any challah when I needed it) is dipped in a custard flavored with orange juice and zest and dredged in a topping of crumbled bacon and crushed corn flakes (I also tried a dredge using a “healthier” corn and oat cereal that held up a bit better in the custard and provided a better crunch), then cooked until golden brown on the griddle. Sprinkled with a little cinnamon and topped with orange segments warmed in maple syrup, they were crunchy on the outside and custardy in the middle with a delicate orange flavor.
I’d been seeing lemon ricotta pancakes everywhere in the past few weeks so I decided to try a recipe for them for our second “breakfast.” This batter is thick, but airy, and doesn’t spread out like a more traditional batter. You get a 4- to 5-inch, thick cake on the griddle that is easy to flip once the pancake is set on the bottom. The resulting cakes are a bit more dense than traditional pancakes, moist from the ricotta and nicely lemony. I did find their blueberry “sauce” was a bit thicker than I liked and thinned it out with a bit more water; a dash of maple syrup and some cinnamon also made a nice addition. Throw on some additional fresh fruit for a complete breakfast.
And finally, I served up a Dutch Baby Pancake. It was a very quick and simple dinner option that came together in a few minutes. I let the batter rest and popped the cast-iron in the oven to heat while browning some sausage links. Fresh out of the oven, dusted with some powdered sugar and topped with lots of fresh fruit tossed with a little cinnamon sugar, it was a tasty meal. And, I confess, we tried a second round with ice cream for a quite satisfying dessert.
So I hope you’ll try out a few variations on a popular breakfast theme sometime soon. And perhaps on Mother’s Day this weekend, you’ll make mom some pancakes to break her fast … and serve them to her in bed with all the trimmings. Just try not to leave her all the dishes and clean up — like the maple syrup that got spilled on the floor, that’s pretty tacky.
Dutch Baby Pancakes
Source: Boxwood Avenue
½ cup whole milk
3 eggs, room temperature
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ tablespoon granulated sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature
1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees, place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to heat up in the oven.
2. Prepare the batter: Combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, sugar, salt and flour in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a blender/food-processor. Mix well using a blender, food processor or immersion blender. Alternatively, a hand whisk can be used (see notes below).
3. Allow the batter to rest while the oven comes to temperature, at least 10 minutes.
4. Remove the skillet from the oven, place the butter in the hot skillet and swirl in circles so that the melted butter coats the sides.
5. Give the batter one more whirl in the blender or food processor (or a couple of good whisks). Pour the batter into the hot skillet and place back in the oven. Cook for 15 minutes undisturbed.
6. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake until the pancake is puffed up and golden. 5-10 minutes.
7. Once cooked, remove from the oven and dust with powdered sugar, fresh fruit or other desired toppings. Enjoy while still hot and puffed up.
Notes: In order to “puff up,” the batter needs both air and heat. The air comes from a vigorous whisk of the batter, which is most easily done in a blender or food processor. I like to use my hand blender (immersion blender) — so much easier to clean! If you do not have (or want to use) a blender or food processor, you can use a whisk. Be sure to whisk vigorously to introduce as much air into the batter as possible. To make a savory pancake, skip the sugar and vanilla, top with meat, cheese and vegetables.
Crunchy Orange French Toast
Source: by Katie Lee Biegel, Food Network
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1½ cups milk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups cornflakes, crumbled
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 loaf challah, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup warm maple syrup
Ground cinnamon, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Fit a baking sheet with a wire rack. Heat a griddle pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat.
2. Zest the orange and set aside. Working over a medium bowl, segment the orange; squeeze the juice from the remaining orange membranes.
3. Whisk the eggs, orange zest, milk, cinnamon and orange juice in a baking dish or shallow bowl. Add the cornflakes and bacon to another baking dish and toss together. Dip the bread slices in the egg mixture and let them soak for 1 minute.
4. While the bread is soaking, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter on the griddle pan or skillet.
5. Working with one slice of bread at a time, let the excess egg mixture drip off and then dredge the bread in the cornflake mixture. Add the bread to the griddle, carefully placing as many slices of bread as can comfortably fit without touching too much (it’s OK if the edges need to touch a little). You can dredge the bread, transfer it to an unlined baking sheet and hold for 5 minutes while one batch is cooking.
6. Cook on one side, rotating occasionally, until the bottom is golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook the other side until it is equally browned, another 2 minutes. Transfer the slices to the prepared baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you complete the next batches. Repeat the cooking process, melting 2 tablespoons of butter for each batch.
7. When all of the French toast is cooked and you are ready to serve, gently stir together the maple syrup and orange segments, making sure not to break up the segments. Spoon the syrup over the French toast and sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve immediately.
Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce
Source: by Maria Lichty, Two Peas & Their Pod
To make the blueberry sauce:
1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
To make the pancakes:
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 large egg
2 large egg whites
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon canola oil
1. First, make the blueberry sauce. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and cornstarch; set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries, sugar and water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and stir in lemon juice and cornstarch mixture. Stir until the sauce thickens slightly. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together ricotta cheese, egg, egg whites, lemon juice, lemon zest and canola oil. Gently fold this mixture into the dry ingredients until flour disappears. Don’t over mix. The batter will be thick.
3. Heat a griddle or a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray. Drop about ⅓ cup of batter onto the hot griddle or skillet. Cook the pancakes until browned on the underside and beginning to set, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook the pancakes on the other side, about two minutes longer. Continue making pancakes until batter is gone. Serve warm with blueberry sauce.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Food Fare: Mother’s Day breakfasts the whole family will love