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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mary's Whole Wheat Pancakes and How I Learned to Love Maple Syrup

Pancakes would have to be on my list of favorite foods.  It's right up there with chocolate and ice cream.  Ever since I was a kid, I've loved pancakes.  I remember watching Saturday morning cartoons in my PJs while my dad made batch of pancakes on the griddle.  It was heaven.  Now I make my own pancakes (still in my PJs) and it's still heaven.  Especially since I've developed my own rockin' recipe for whole wheat pancakes!

When I was a kid, I would drown my pancakes in syrup.  Not that weird-tasting maple stuff that comes from a tree!  Yuck!  No way!  The REAL stuff!  Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth, or Hungry Jack.  Now and again, my mom would try to give me one of the cheaper store brands, but I couldn't be swayed from my favorites.  Sure, there's all sorts of preservatives; sure, it contains the dreaded high fructose corn syrup; sure, it's made in a food processing plant; but I didn't care.  I liked it.  I swore I would never eat and certainly never like that maple stuff. 

But then I grew up and, living out in the world on my own, I moved into a house with six other girls in West Philadelphia.  We tried to keep things pretty organized over at 332 (our address, and also the slang term we used for the house). Money towards bills and groceries were due on the first of the month in little envelopes pinned to bulletin board in the kitchen.  We each had a weekly chore, and to keep things sane, we didn't rotate chores all the time.  Your chore was your chore. Every week.  My chore was vacuuming.  I was okay with that.  I would rather vacuum than do the grocery shopping every week.  I didn't envy the grocery shopping chore (or the wash-the-kitchen floor chore!).  The girl saddled with grocery shopping had to make a trip to the supermarket every week in a vain attempt to please six other girls' appetites and manage to feed them all on a tight budget.  (She also had to give up her parking spot in a crowded West Philly neighborhood--and I can tell you, parking spots are urban gold.)  She bought store brands whenever possible.  She used coupons and shopped the sales.  You could request something you really wanted, and if it was within the budget, she'd try to get it.  Otherwise, you eat what she bought, and that was the end of it.  She was rather health-conscious and always bought loads of fruits and veggies each week.  And because we were all girls, there was ALWAYS a few tubs of Edys Ice Cream in the fridge, and a giant bag of chocolate chips in the pantry.  

Because I no longer did my own grocery shopping, I started eating healthier.  I began with baby steps.  I would cook up a little broccoli, chop it up and toss it in my bowl of (store brand) mac and cheese.  I tried oatmeal for the first time.  One of my housemates even tried to teach me how to make a veggie omlet.  (I still can't fold an omlet.)  And for those times when all I wanted for dinner was ice cream, the freezer was always well-stocked.  The one thing I thought I'd never get used to was the syrup she bought.  Instead of my favorite chemical/preservative laden syrup, she bought the giant container of all-natural maple syrup.   

At first, I ate it begrudgingly.  That maple taste was over-powering.  I didn't like it.  After a while, I got used to it.  I didn't think it was the cat's pajamas or anything, but I ate it.  Pancakes remained one of my favorite foods, and the maple syrup didn't really get in the way of my enjoyment of them.

After one year, I had become a convert.  By that time, I had moved to a studio apartment and was able to buy syrup of my own choosing.  But I had gotten so used to real maple syrup that my old favorites, Aunt Jemina, Mrs. B., and Hungry Jack, were (to my extreme surprise) tasteless!   That flavored corn syrup I used to love had become an overly-processed chemical goo that didn't even taste like food!  I needed my maple syrup to enjoy my pancakes!  I craved that sweet natural flavor!  No processing.  No chemicals.  Just nature's own sweet sap from the beloved sugar maple!

Today, I am still an ardent maple syrup lover! I love it's natural goodness!  I love that unique North American flavor it imparts to my pancakes, and I won't eat any other syrup.    

A few years ago, I decided I need a healthier pancake and after trying some pancake mixes from the health food store, I decided the best way to go was to develop my own recipe.  After looking online at bunches of recipes, I noticed they all have sugar in them.  Since maple syrup is all the sugar I need on my pancakes, I took bits and pieces from the recipes I found and made my own.  I discovered that whole wheat flour, sprouted what flour, buttermilk, and vanilla can combine to make delicious pancake heaven!

In a perfect world, we all have sprouted wheat flour and buttermilk on hand, but since those items are not necessarily in every kitchen, the good news is the recipe tastes good no matter what substitutions you use.  But I would have to say that the buttermilk imparts a magical goodness to the pancakes that I want everyone to experience.  Also, the vanilla is so important that whenever my dad makes this recipe, he doubles the vanilla!  And the sprouted wheat flour gives the pancakes a lovely texture and a deeper flavor.  Try this recipe as written and you won't go back to your "just add water" preservative patties you used to eat.  

Also, try going with real maple syrup.  It may take a while to love it, but believe me you will thank me a year from now!!!

Mary's Whole Wheat Pancakes

Dry ingredients: 
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup sprouted wheat flour (Any other kind of whole wheat flour can be substituted—I’ve used spelt flour, whole wheat pastry flour, and another half cup of whole wheat flour.  It all tastes good!) 
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:
1 egg
½ cup milk*
½ cup buttermilk*
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat griddle to 400˚F.

Whisk together dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Grease or butter hot griddle. Scoop using a 3 tablespoon cookie scoop or ¼ measuring cup onto hot griddle, cooking a few minutes on each side.

*If you don’t have buttermilk, instead of 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of buttermilk, you can do one of the following: 1.) Use 1 cup of milk.  2.) Use one cup of a buttermilk substitute: Add 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk and let sit for 5 minutes, then use as needed.  I do this when I don't have buttermilk and the pancakes are fantastic!

Optional add-ins: Add a cup of blueberries, chopped strawberries, chopped apple or anything else you can think of to add some flavor.  When adding fruit, cook for a minute longer to make sure fruit gets fully cooked and the pancake won't be too soggy.

For Waffles: Use 2 tablespoons of oil instead of one.

Blueberry pancakes

Strawberry pancakes

Monday, March 4, 2013

Midnight Sin Chocolate Cake and Too Many Recipes

I love collecting recipes.  I have a shelf full of cookbooks, many of which I've never tried a single recipe from, and stacks of magazines with Post-Its sticking out of most of the pages.  But mainly, my recipe collection takes the form loose leaf pages printed out from the internet that pile up on my desk, get crammed into my recipe binder, or find their way to random parts of the house.  Despite this seemingly overwhelming number of good recipes waiting to be tried, I always seem to be at a loss when an occasion arises for which I need a killer dessert.  I saw this cake recipe months ago, and finally gave it a whirl for a friend's birthday.

I love seeing a heavenly recipe and deciding that my future holds it's yummy goodness.  It's like having your cake and eating too.  I can hold in my mind the promise of something homemade and delicious without the calories.  Of course, once my mind gets too full of amazing cookies (Martha, I'm making these someday, soon, I promise!) brownies (I'm going to need a couple days to work off the calories when I make these babies), or cakes (*sigh* This one is going to be vanilla heaven!) then I need to bake!  Recipes like this Midnight Sin Chocolate Cake usually pile up because I either have no time to make it or no occasion.  Cakes are especially difficult to find an occasion for, since I find that cookies and other portable goodies are better for parties.  But when I was invited to Girls Night In/Birthday Party, I jumped at the chance to make this wonderful cake from the blog, Not So Humble Pie.

This cake is for the true chocoholic.  Chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache all in one.  If you're not a true chocolate lover, don't even attempt it.  You're not worthy.  Of course, I altered the recipe a bit.  I used my own chocolate cake recipe.  I'm sure Shirley Corriher's chocolate cake from her book Bakewise is fantastic, and I will try it someday, but I felt safer with my own.   I did make the ganache that Not So Humble Pie used, but if I make this again I will use a slightly softer ganache and have made the change below.

So, here it is, folks!

Midnight Sin Chocolate Cake
Inspired by Not So Humble Pie

(Mary's note: I made the mousse a day ahead of time, and I used water instead of the liqueur.)
Chocolate Mousse: 
Not so Humble Frangelico Dark Chocolate Mousse
Posted in Not So Humble Pie who adapted it from Pure Chocolate

5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup Frangelico hazelnut liqueur (or substitute 1/3 cup water)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 66% cacao), finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream, chilled

In a heat safe bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until the mixture is uniform and light in color. Place over a double boiler and whisk until slightly thickened. A ribbon of the egg sugar mixture should flow back into the bowl when the whisk is lifted and the sugar should just be beginning to dissolve. Add the Frangelico (or water) and then continue to whisk over the simmering water until the mixture hits roughly 160°F and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and add the finely chopped chocolate. Stir until your arm cramps or the mixture becomes cool to the touch, whichever comes first (roughly 10 minutes).

Set the chocolate aside and beat the heavy cream to soft peaks. Fold the cream into the chocolate, then cover and chill for at least 4 hours.

Chocolate Cake:

2 cups sugar

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's Special Dark cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour two 9-inch baking pans.

Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.   Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.  Beat with a mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Stir in boiling water.  (Batter will be thin.)  Divide batter into prepared pans.   

Bake 30 minutes or until tops spring back at touch.  Cool 5 minutes in pans and then remove to wire racks to cool completely. 

Adapted from Not So Humble Pie

1 cup bitter-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream (40%+ milk fat is ideal)
1 tablespoon butter (salted or unsalted is fine)

Measure out the chocolate into a bowl. Bring the butter and heavy cream to a low boil over medium-high heat and pour over the chocolate. Give the chocolate a shake to submerge and allow to stand for 5 minutes, then stir until smooth.

To Construct Cake:

Assemble your cake by placing one round onto your serving platter. Reserving 3/4 cup for garnish (keep chilled), spread the mousse to form an even layer on top of the cake. Top with the second cake round, touching up the sides with an offset spatula if necessary.

Pour the ganache onto the cake, smoothing over the top with an offset spatula. Return the cake to the fridge and allow the ganache to cool.

When cool, you can put the finishing touches on the cake. Take the reserved chocolate mouse and fill a piping bag, fitted with a large star tip. Drop small dollops of mousse around the perimeter of the cake.

Keep the cake chilled until ready to serve. Then allow to stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Store the cake in the refrigerator, covered to keep it from absorbing odors, for up to 5 days.