Pancakes and French toast / Sweet brunchin'

Chai-spiced crêpes with milk jam and chai tea

You know what I said last week about being destined to live in Wakefield? Yeah, forget that. I was temporarily blinded by a rhubarb-tinted haze.

Really, I’m far too poncey to live somewhere as gritty and no-nonsense as Yorkshire. As much as I’d like to convince myself I still possess the low maintenance, salt-of-the-earth vibe of someone born and bred in the North, in truth I’m suited to living somewhere way more pretentious.

Case in point: my coffee order. In a place where the mug of builder’s reigns supreme I, frankly, feel like a bit of a knob when it comes to the purchasing of hot beverages. I’m the scourge of the barista; the kind of person who walks into a greasy spoon and asks if they “do decaf”. As an unashamed food snob, I know I should cultivate a taste for a refined cup of Joe – a double espresso or, at worst, a flat white. But no, my preferences are far more… convoluted. The maxim, “I like my coffee like I like my men” just doesn’t work for me – unless my husband is comfortable being described as milky, frothy and overly sweet (he isn’t).

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My perfect Starbucks fix is a tall, decaf, dry pumpkin spice latte, no whip (I know, ridiculous). But for the nine months of the year when it isn’t autumn, I go with my back-up option of a chai latte… And await the sighs and judgmental eye-rolls of my tea-supping compatriots.

In honour of Pancake Day this year, I decided to spruce up the bog-standard batter of flour, eggs and milk by re-creating my (second) favourite drink order in pancake form. And so these fabulous chai-spiced crêpes were born. Accompanying the crêpes – and bringing the latte to the part-ay – is milk jam; otherwise known as confiture de lait, dulce de leche or nirvana in a jar (nir-jar-na?).

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Ponced-up pancakes

Jam is another foodstuff where my tastes lean towards the unconventional. Most people when they go to France stock up on wine and cheese. I do too (it would be very rude not to), but I also come home with a shed-load of weird jam. None of your boring strawberry, apricot or raspberry conserves; no sir. I’m-a get me some chestnut jam, cinnamon-fig jam, and lots and lots of lovely milk jam. Mmmillllk jaaammmm….

If I’d known how easy milk jam was to make at home, I’d have saved that baggage allowance for another few bottles of Côtes du Rhône. There’s no faffing about boiling tins of condensed milk for hours on end. Nope, all it involves is simmering whole milk with sugar and a vanilla pod for two hours until you’re left with a rich, golden, vanilla-studded caramel. It does require some attention – I wouldn’t recommend leaving it bubbling away while you pop to Tesco, for instance – but no more than the occasional, cursory stir; all in all no more than about 20 minutes’ actual work. As well as complementing these crêpes sublimely, it’s amazing with warm croissants or brioche, served warm with vanilla ice cream, substituted for caramel in myriad other desserts – or licked straight off the stick blender (unplugged first, please).

To wash down this truly scrumptious confection, I went for proper, scratch-made chai tea. Of course, there are plenty of powdered chai mixes available in the supermarket now, but this brunch needs something to cut through the sweetness of the milk jam, not add to it. Plus, I’ve always felt that the making of tea has the stuff of ritual about it, so there’s something almost primordially satisfying about boiling up tea leaves, fresh ginger and spices, rather than simply pouring hot water onto flavoured powdered milk. Lest we forget, the whole point of brunch is that it’s a break from the quotidian; stuff that requires a bit of preparation to fully luxuriate in the pleasure of actually having time, but not really that much effort.

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Bringing a little bit of ponce-factor to Wakefield… I hope you love this brunch as much as I did!

Chai-spiced crêpes with milk jam and chai tea

Serves 2 (with plenty of milk jam left over)

Ingredients

For the crêpes:

110g plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground cardamom
2 large eggs
200ml whole milk, mixed with 75ml water
dash of chilled, sparkling mineral water (optional)
50g butter

For the milk jam (adapted from this recipe):

1.9 litres whole milk
450g caster sugar
1 fat vanilla pod

For the chai tea (adapted, barely, from this recipe):

3 cardamom pods, lightly cracked open with the back of a spoon
6 whole cloves
½ cinnamon stick
½ cm slice of fresh ginger
5 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon loose Darjeeling tea leaves
830ml water
125ml whole milk
1-2 tbsp light brown sugar to taste

1. Make the milk jam the day before: Pour the milk into a large, heavy-based saucepan. Using a sharp paring knife, split the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk. Add the whole pod to the milk as well, along with the sugar. Simmer over a moderate heat for between 1 hour 40 minutes and 2 hours (mine took a good two hours), stirring frequently until the milk jam is thick, golden and caramel-like. Don’t be afraid to get a bit of heat to the milk jam (just not too much!), and don’t be too concerned if it splits. Discard the vanilla pod, then transfer the milk jam to a blender or food processor (I used a stick blender). Blend for around a minute until the jam is smooth and creamy. Spoon the milk jam into two sterilised jam jars, seal then refrigerate once cool. The jam should keep for around a month in the fridge.

2. For the tea: Place all of the spices and the water in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to the boil, then continue to boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat then leave to steep for 10 minutes. Next, add the tea leaves and return the mixture to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the milk and sugar, then stir over a low heat until just starting to steam. Pour through a fine sieve or tea strainer into mugs or a teapot.

3. For the crêpes: While the tea is steeping, sift all of the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, then crack the eggs into it. Whisk the eggs using a balloon whisk, incorporating all of the flour from around the sides of the bowl as you do. While still whisking, gradually add the milk and water – any lumps should disappear as you continue to whisk. When all of the milk has been added, add the dash of sparkling water if using (this helps to lighten the batter) then use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure any bits of flour still clinging to the edges are incorporated. Whisk the batter one last time until it is smooth and has the consistency of thin cream.

4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add 2 tbsp of it to the crêpe batter, and pour the rest into a small bowl for greasing your frying pan; use a crumpled up piece of kitchen roll to smear the melted butter around the pan before cooking each pancake.

5. Heat a non-stick frying pan on a high heat until really hot. Turn the heat down to medium, then cook a test crêpe to see how much batter you need – I have a ladle that is just the right size for the job, but good old Delia suggests a couple of tablespoons should do it. As soon as the batter hits the pan, swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan thinly and evenly – for proper, French-style crêpes, try to spread the batter as thinly as possible. After about 30 seconds, gently lift a corner of the crêpe using a palette knife or rubber spatula and, if the underside is tinged nicely golden, flip or toss it. Cook the other side for a few more seconds then, when done, slide it out of the pan and onto a plate. To keep the crêpes warm while you make the rest, stack with a piece of baking parchment between each one and place in an oven pre-heated to around 125C.

6. Serve each crêpe with a generous dollop of milk jam, and the tea on the side. Eat, drink and be very, very merry indeed!

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