By Sarah Khanna
There’s a calming medicament in our home for the common cold; it paints in tinges of pink the cheeks of the runny-nosed, enlivens the spirits of the feverishly faint, and layers the room with the luxurious scent of true vanilla: pancakes.
Taking short minutes to measure and mix, the batter comes together with ease, making it undemanding of me— the temporarily ill as well. In between the dappled sunlight and fierce winds of this Cairene winter, pancakes keep me warm.
There are as many kinds of pancakes out there as there are people who make them, but in essence the term “pancake” stems from an age-old world history of quick bread, cooked on a heated pan, eaten at any time seen fit and with a rich array of spreads, toppings and fillings. Tagenias, the earliest form of pancakes recorded in 5th century BC texts, were mentioned by comic poets, Cratinus and Magnes. Made from wheat flour, honey, olive oil and curdled milk, these pancakes were prepared on frying pans and served hot for breakfast. Today, tagenias, or pancakes, have been adapted by cultures worldwide to suit the unique taste buds of their region.
Visiting Paris as a child did not strike the chord in me that seemed to reverberate with emotion in many adults. I only cared to visit small sidewalk cafés in hopes that I would skim the foam away from my mother’s frothy café au lait and onto my dessert spoon making it mine; I only cared to watch slender ladies and gangly men evenly spreading out their secret batter to cover even the utmost edges of their griddle, making crêpes as thin as the finest and most translucent of chiffon.
As I grew older, my love for quick hotcakes, thick and thin, grew and extended to my affection for waffles, equally tempting with deep holding pots for warm syrup; but special is a pancake that retains its original pancake flavor, unmoved by the slosh of syrup, the heavy hand of clingy jam.
Saddened by the countless soggy pancakes I’ve had in my life that insist on behaving in sponge-like fashion, soaking up the wetness to make way for moisture, it was evident that there was need for better measurements and higher expectations; a way to prove that pancakes were indeed capable of imparting both sweet and savory notes.
These fluffy rounds of simplicity that I’m sharing with you, made up of butter, flour, eggs and milk, develop a thin crust, a shield if you may, from the tragedy that is spongy pancakes. Lightly resting atop the salt-edged pancake, your topping keeps its personality and substance, merging only in your mouth. Watching with excitement as my batter’s bubbles rise and pop, luxuriating in the satisfying smell of black vanilla woven through, there is no better remedy for the self-pity that comes when being sick.
Fluffy Vanilla Bean Pancakes
3 cups and 2 tablespoons of cake flour
½ heaped teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons of sugar
2½ cups of low-fat milk
3 medium eggs
Paste of 1 whole vanilla bean
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
60 grams of butter
Additional butter for your topping
The toppings of your choice
In a large bowl, mix all your dry ingredients together. No need to sift. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, eggs and vanilla and whisk lightly to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring gently until combined. The batter will look and feel lumpy; this is the way it should be. Melt your 60 grams of butter and add it to the batter, gently mixing just until it comes together. Turn your heat on to medium and grease your large pan with butter or oil spray. Place on the heat and pour the batter in ¼ cup amounts. Cook on one side until set and colored. The batter will bubble on top; the bubbles will then begin to pop. Flip over carefully and cook for a minute before removing and stacking them, one on top of the other. When serving, add a bit of butter on your pancake stack then liberally add your chosen liquid topping before eating.
Note: You can choose to eliminate the vanilla bean and replace it with one additional teaspoon of vanilla extract.