This morning brought the monthly Pancake Tweetup, and Rick made pancake puffs, which elicited a lot of drooling from my friends on Twitter. So I asked him to explain what they were and how to make them.
First, thanks to Georgy for letting me guest post. Always fun to talk about food online.
First, a bit of background, for those who aren’t totally in the know. Georgy and several of her friends from higher education on Twitter have a regular virtual get-together called Pancake Tweet-Up. The idea is that everyone takes pictures of their breakfast and shares them over Twitter, like everyone is sharing breakfast together despite the disparate locations. I’m all for this, as I love breakfast, the idea of Internet communities doing things to come closer together, and it involves me cooking. The first couple that she participated in involved us going to one of our favorite breakfast places, Ball Square Café, but then I started cooking for them. As it happens, the most recent was earlier today, and our specific breakfast for today was pancake puffs with a wild Maine blueberry compote, oven-baked bacon, and French press coffee. As usual, she posted pics of this when it was ready, we ate it up, and then I went about my day.
So I’m working on a project I have about to be announced (sorry, not food-related), when Georgy calls me from her office. “Twitter is going nuts about the pancake puffs.” I was a bit surprised – in large part because this was the second time I had made pancakepuffs for Pancake Tweet-Up, and they didn’t get nearly as wild a response the first time. She even called me in to see the responses, which blew me away a bit. That said, I also was a bit proud; what cook doesn’t like see people raving in amazement about their food? Anyhow, Georgy asked me to write a bit about them, and what makes them so awesome.
The Puffy Particulars
First off, for those who may be wondering their connection to aebleskivers or poffertjes, yes, they are pretty much the same thing. Now, the Danish and the Dutch will certainly come up with minor recipe variations that assert as to why their dish is completely different (one distinction you’ll frequently see besides exact shape is that poffertjes are frequently sweeter before any topping is added), but it’s hair-splitting, truth be told.
As for those new to pancake puffs, they are basically a spherical pancake, which requires a specialty pan to produce. Pretty much any pancake batter recipe (or anything similar to pancake batter, really) can be used to make them; I like a sweeter batter that has a hint of vanilla extract in it. The secret to them is actually in the pan itself.
In order to make the puffs, you need a specialty pan for them. Now, you can get pans specifically for aebelskivers from many retailers – Williams-Sonoma has a pan for them, although you can get cheaper results from Amazon. That said, I actually go a slightly different route: I use a takoyaki pan (available from many Japanese markets andAmazon). Takoyaki is a savory Japanese dumpling made from a batter very similar to pancake batter, and the pan results in a much rounder appearance in the puffs, as opposed to the more oblong puffs that aebelskiver and poffertjes pans produce. That said, due to the smaller wells, there is always a catch in using a takoyaki plate – the puffs cook much faster, so you have to both be more careful about the heat you cook on (I use a low-medium to medium heat for them) as well as be quicker with the cooking time (though who doesn’t want to be quicker in the kitchen?).
One thing you’ll also need is something to roll/flip your puffs with. Now, you’ll see some (ahem, Williams-Sonoma) who will charge through the nose for specialty flippers to use in the process. Personally, I think it’s a rip-off. Honestly, I actually use a toothpick to first run down the sides of each well to loosen the puff, then quickly but gently roll the puff over to finish the cooking. A fork also works well, and those who use an aebelskiver pan may want to go traditional and use a knitting needle (wood obviously). Those going for the takoyaki plate method do not want to use the latter; the wells are too small to fit it in without making a mess or ruining the puff – or, more likely, both at the same time.
Now, for the technique I use. First, I lightly grease each well of my takoyaki plate (fourteen in mine) with butter. Then I set it on the stove’s range and put it at a medium heat. Once I start hearing a little bit of crackle from the butter, I know it’s warm enoughto get started.
Here’s the big trick to make sure things come out beautiful – only fill the wells about halfway, maybe a hair more. They do puff up quite well. Now, you can recover from overfilling; I’ll go into that below. That said, the less you spend on recovery, the quicker you get them done. Fill all of the wells halfway, then set the batter to the side. Do note the order you fill in your wells mentally – you’ll be flipping them in the same order.
The lovely part of using a takoyaki plate is that, due to the size, you can immediately get to flipping them. Using my trusty toothpick, I run along the side of the first well,until the puff comes loose. Gently roll it 180 degrees, so that the beautiful golden-brown bottom becomes the top and everything has a chance to run back into the well. Proceed with each well in order. If you have one that puffed up a bit too much (including the dreaded spilling onto the main part of the plate), don’t worry – use the toothpick to break off the excess, throw that into the well, then roll the puff back into place as before.You’ll have a slightly ragged edge, but it’ll still come out pretty much a nice sphere as the other ones, and it’ll taste just as good.
Just as before, due to how quickly they cook, once you’ve finished rolling the last one, they’re ready to come out. Once again, in the order they were put in and rolled, you can just pluck them out – I usually just lightly stab with my trusty toothpick and slide them onto a ready plate. In my takoyaki plate, the entire process probably takes less than two minutes, as I become an assembly line of pour, roll, plate. The process is remarkably smooth – just enough time to cook without burning, so I never have to watch the clock or figure out what else to do.
Now, you may be wondering about what this does to pancake batter that makes it different from a regular pancake. Basically, it makes it absurdly fluffy. All pancakes work by puffing a little on the baked side, then having the air pockets increase in size when flipped and the batter that isn’t already cooked running away from the parts thathave. Since the batter in the puffs has further to go in the wells of the pan, it produces larger air pockets for extra fluffiness. Oh, but that’s not all – because there are larger pockets of air between the cooked pancake batter, it can absorb more liquid – if you love pancakes that have soaked up syrup or fruit juice, you really can’t beat a pancake puff for its absorbing properties (this is evident in the Dutch name for them – aebelskiver actually means “apple slices;” they were meant to soak up preserved apples and their juices).
One other fun part about pancake puffs is they’re much more ready to be a finger food than regular pancakes. The outside tends to be a bit more solid than regular pancakes; it’s perfectly fine to just hold one in the hand and use it to mop up syrup, powdered sugar, fruit compote, or whatever else you want to serve with them. I haven’t actually tried serving it to a child yet, but I can imagine that those mature enough to not use them in food fights would enjoy eating them like this.
So when you get down to it, they really are just pancakes you know and love cooked in a different fashion. That said, all you need is a slight variation in cooking to produce something that tastes very similar but comes out much differently.