Today was a very sad day in our house: The Death Of Christmas.
Yes, that dark day when all baubles, bunting and other festive things reluctantly must be put away and normal life must begin anew. I know, right? Biggest sad face EVER 😦
So my first Sunday brunch of 2014 (and, indeed, my very first brunch blog post) needed to be something suitably seasonal to help squeeze out the last remaining drops of Christmas cheer. And for me there was only one dish that could deliver the requisite hit of comfort and joy: these stomach-pleasing, soul-warming New England-style pancakes.
I first had these during our blissful fall honeymoon in Vermont in 2009, so they’re indelibly linked in my cerebellum to very happy times. They were among a smorgasbord of breakfast delights served up at the amazing Applebutter Inn in the village of Woodstock, where we spent probably the most memorable days of the whole trip (two words: balloon ride).
Conjure up a mental image of ‘New England charm’ and you’ll probably picture Woodstock: riotous fall foliage, historic covered bridges, farmers markets stocked with more varieties of heirloom apples than there are individual apples in your average British supermarket (at the risk of sounding like a total nutjob, I was actually moved to tears… By fruit.), and white clapperboard houses with Adirondack chairs on the porch, beckoning you take a load off with a Magic Hat No. 9 (Vermont’s best-known local craft beer). In short: my idea of heaven.
And in a rare display of reality living up to hype, the Applebutter Inn actually gave us the quintessential New England B&B experience promised by Lonely Planet, with some mind-blowingly awesome breakfasts to boot. Nevermind your British B&B fry-up with its gristly bacon, disappointing sausage and supermarket own-brand beans (come on people, we’ve all been there): I’m talking home-cured bacon (home-cured! As in IN THEIR OWN HOME!), pumpkin pie muffins, stuffed baked apples and – my favourite – these pancakes (#foodgasm). So I was beyond thrilled when the Applebutter Inn’s wonderful owners, Barbara and Michael, emailed me the recipe after we’d returned to a dismal, dreary and wedding-devoid UK. Their gingerbread pancakes have since become a ritual part of our annual Christmas Eve brunch, so if anything was going to mop up the bitter tears of the January blues (not to mention a truck-load of maple syrup) it was these babies. A great big bear hug in carbohydrate form.
I’ve done a little bit of tinkering with the recipe – mainly to anglicise some of the ingredients and measures – but they still taste like a piece of Vermont on a plate. Barbara and Michael served the pancakes with maple syrup (Vermont of course – none of that Canadian rubbish 😉 ) and whipped cream, but for me the only way to eat them is with a side order of bacon so crispy it practically disintegrates at the slightest touch of your knife. If you’re skeptical of the pancake-bacon-syrup combo, this is the recipe to convert you – just make sure you use good quality streaky bacon; back bacon + syrup = wrong.
Come on January! With brunchy deliciousness of this magnitude in my belly, I can take you!
Gingerbread pancakes (adapted from the Applebutter Inn’s recipe)
Serves 2 hungry people (makes 6 large pancakes) – the recipe is easily doubled to feed a crowd
150g plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
generous pinch of ground cloves
180ml whole milk
2 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
To serve: good quality streaky bacon (I prefer smoked, maple or molasses-cured bacon if you can get it – Sainsburys do good stuff), maple syrup
1. Sift all of the dry ingredients into a large-ish bowl and stir to combine. Mix all of the other ingredients in a large jug.
2. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the milky-treacley-eggy liquid (scrape out any treacle that sticks to the bottom of the jug). Combine using a rubber spatula until relatively smooth, leaving some lumps in the batter – take care not to overmix. That would be sad.
3. Grease a non-stick frying pan or skillet with a little vegetable oil and heat it over a medium-high heat. When hot drop a heaped tablespoon of batter into the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip over and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. To check the pancake is cooked, press the middle lightly with your thumb; if it feels firm, it’s done. If the outside of the pancake is browning too quickly, turn down the heat slightly. There’s a bit of a knack to pancake-frying, which basically gives you an excuse the make these as often as possible (practice makes perfect!).
4. Keep the pancakes warm while you cook the rest of the batter. When I have guests for brunch I usually place them in a warm oven, pre-heated to around 125C, with a piece of greaseproof paper between each pancake.
5. Serve the pancakes doused in maple syrup with crispy bacon on the side. Enjoy!
Brunch tip: for really crispy bacon, put streaky bacon rashers in a cold non-stick frying pan (no oil needed) and then bring to a fairly high heat. Cooking them this way allows the bacon fat to render, which makes them properly crisp up. I can’t stress enough how important the crispiness of the bacon is to the overall awesomeness of this brunch!