Pancakes de Lisboa

Time saver: like eating soft fluffy delicious clouds.

I’ve posted a recipe for pancakes before, but since then I’ve learned a trick that bears repeating. For really soft fluffy pancakes you have to separate the eggs, beat the whites separately and then fold them into the mixture. The difference is worth the extra effort. The fact that I had to come to Portugal to learn how to make the ultimate American pancake is just one of those things.

Pancakes – serves 3-4 (makes around 9-10 pancakes)

  • 1½ cups white flour
  • 2 Tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3-4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter (around 30g)
  • butter for frying
  • maple syrup to serve
  1. Separate the eggs, putting the egg whites into a (stainless steel if you have it) bowl ready for beating.
  2. Using an electric beater, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks ((in Portuguese they say “claras em castelo” or “claras em neve”) and set aside.
  3. Sift the flour, salt and baking flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, and into this pour the egg yolks, milk and butter.
  4. Stir to combine with a fork. Start in the centre and work your way out to the sides, mixing thoroughly to combine and remove any lumps. Don’t overmix the batter. Alternatively you could use the electric beaters again – but only if you do it quickly to avoid overmixing (which results in tough rubbery pancakes).
  5. Using a large metal spoon, fold the egg whites into the batter to combine. You want it well combined but don’t mix it so much that you lose the air in the whites. It’s okay to have little pockets of egg white.
  6. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Melt a knob of butter in the frying pan and spread evenly over the frying pan’s surface.
  7. Pour a ladle-full of pancake mix (about ½ cup) into the centre of the frying pan (without tilting the pan). Cook on that side until bubbles begin to form on the surface, then flip and cook on the other side until browned (around 15-20 seconds).
  8. Serve with a generous dousing of maple syrup.
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Eggs Benedict

Time saver: poached eggs, smothered in hollandaise sauce, could this be love?

Eggs benedict with baconThis is kind of a cheeky post-one-get-one-free deal, but I couldn’t let my Hollandaise Sauce post go without talking about Eggs Benedict in a bit more detail. I used to think of these as a cafe breakfast, but with a little bit of effort you can match or better what you’ll get at most cafes.

You can mix it up a bit but the key components tend to be: some sort of lightly-toasted bread base, a layer of filling (generally either bacon, ham, smoked salmon, or spinach), a poached egg, and then a generous serving of hollandaise sauce. I think traditionally a split English muffin is used for the base, in the photo I’m using toasted artisan bread, and lots of cafes in Auckland seem to use toasted Turkish bread.

The trickiest part to eggs benedict is probably the timing. You want to serve everything hot, so that means you need everything ready to go at the moment of assembly – eggs perfectly poached, bread lightly toasted, hollandaise rich and creamy, and your filling ready to go (easy if it’s smoked salmon, a bit trickier if doing bacon or spinach). There’s not really a lot you can do expect practice to get a a feel for it. If you prepare the hollandaise sauce beforehand (or, shock horror, use one from a pouch/jar) you can set it aside ready to go. You could also pre-poach the eggs, then just heat them when you’re ready to go (though in some ways this is more work).

For this recipe I’m going to refer you to previous recipes and tie them all together.

Eggs Benedict – serves 2 (makes 4 portions)

  1. Prepare the hollandaise sauce according to the recipe and set aside.
  2. Get bread ready for toasting, but don’t toast it yet.
  3. If using spinach you want it wilted, so I’d recommend steaming it gently, you should set this up now (i.e. heat the water, don’t actually put the spinach in the steamer yet). If using bacon (or ham and you want it heated) you should heat the frying pan now.
  4. Start poaching the eggs.
  5. Put the toast on – you don’t want it too crispy or it’s too hard to cut (but it shouldn’t be bread either).
  6. If using smoked salmon, relax, otherwise, quickly fry bacon/ham (should only take a couple of minutes). If using spinach you want it just wilted – do this in the steamer now.
  7. Remove the eggs from the water, drain and trim away any ragged edges. By this point your toast should be ready and you’re good to go.
  8. Assemble with toasted bread first, then a layer of your filling, then a poached egg, then a good 1-2 Tbsp hollandaise sauce on top (it should make a sort of smooth dome on top of the egg). Crack a little black pepper over the top and enjoy.

Mini Apricot Danishes

Time saver: mini apricot danishes, just like regular apricot danishes, only smaller.

mini apricot danishHere’s a treat you can put together pretty quickly. Tasty little parcels of pastry and apricot with a sweet glaze to finish it off. Good for a light breakfast/brunch, or just whenever you feel like it.

Mini Apricot Danishes – makes around 18

  • 400g tin apricot halves (drained, but reserve syrup, you should hopefully get around 18 halves)
  • 2 sheets flaky puff pastry
  • 8 Tbsp icing sugar
  • 2 Tbsp apricot syrup
  • (optional) 1 egg + 1 Tbsp water for egg wash
  1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C on fan-bake.
  2. Cut each pastry sheet into 9 even sized squares (i.e. 3 x 3 grid).
  3. Place an apricot half (cut-side down) into middle of each square.
  4. Fold up two of the corners of each square so they wrap around the apricot and overlap in the middle. Use a little apricot syrup to wet the pastry where it joins, then press down firmly.
  5. Place danishes on a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray.
  6. For a good finish to the pastry, prepare an egg wash by beating together an egg with a tablespoon of water and brushing lightly over the pastry on each danish.
  7. Bake danishes in oven for around 15 minutes, until pastry is golden brown, then remove from oven and transfer to cooling rack.
  8. In a small jug mix together the icing sugar with 2 Tbsp apricot syrup (or just plain water). Using a piping bag or teaspoon, drizzle glaze over danishes in a zig-zag pattern. (Note: if the danishes are warm the glaze will melt and run, if you’re serving immediately that won’t matter so much, but otherwise you should wait until they’re cool before glazing.)

mini apricot danishes

Poached Eggs

Time saver: Phil tries out the different methods of poaching eggs, and finds a clear winner.

Poached egg with broken yolkIt’s been a while between posts, but I’ve been busy trying things out. (Coming soon: calamari, beer battered-anything, braised beef casserole, and more.) Anyway, this is another recipe for my weekend brunch collection.

If you like a poached egg you already know the attraction. The hot buttered toast, the delicate poached egg with that rich flowing yolk, topped with a sprinkling of freshly cracked black pepper. Oh yes. And then there’s eggs benedict (my personal favourite), an english muffin, a layer of smoked salmon or bacon, the poached egg, covered in a smooth dome of creamy hollandaise sauce.

Poaching eggs is one of those things that sounds simple in principle, but doesn’t always work out that way in practice. An egg, a pot of water, how hard can it be? Well, if you’ve ever tried it and had an egg completely disintegrate on you, or turn into a disappointing whispy vapour, or been left with nothing but a hard little ball of yolk you already know. Sometimes it works just fine, but the eggs still come out looking not quite right.

That’s why cafes can get away with charging you $10 for a couple of bits of bread with a couple of eggs on them. Not that cafes always get it right. My wife and I recently went to a local cafe and ordered eggs benedict (I’m 50/50 as to whether I should name them, but the first time I went I really liked it, so they get one more chance). Instead of poached eggs we were given hard-boiled eggs – not exactly what we were expecting, and that was before my wife discovered the bits of egg shell they’d neglected to remove. The taste, the texture, the crunch of egg shell, all added up to disappointment. (Not to mention the bland and paltry serving of hollandaise.)

So what if there was a way to poach eggs yourself while getting a top result and saving yourself a fortune? That’s what I’ve been working on. There’s a lot of different advice on how to poach an egg correctly, here’s some of the methods I’ve heard/read about, and tested out (just about all of these techniques require you to use very fresh eggs – within 4 days of being laid):

  • the simple, heat water in a pan, add some vinegar, crack the egg in and hope it stays together. It sometimes works – you need really fresh eggs and a good bit of luck. Even then the eggs spread quite a lot, but the result isn’t too bad.
  • the swirl the water in the pan, crack the egg into a dish, and slide it into the middle of the vortex. Supposedly the whirlpool effect catches the edges of the egg, wrapping it around itself and creating a good shape. (In my experience you get a lot of the egg getting blown out to the sides, you can only cook one at a time, and at 2-3 minutes per egg, it doesn’t exactly scale.)
  • the “use salt”/”vinegar tastes gross” approach. Don’t use salt, it weakens the egg white and far from helping will actually make it harder to get a good poached egg. Besides, I like the faint taste of vinegar on the egg (if you really don’t, you’re better off using nothing rather than salt – or maybe try lemon juice).
  • the deep pan/pot approach. This actually works quite well – you heat a lot of water up in a deep pot to the point just before it boils, add vinegar, then crack your egg into a dish and slide into the pot. Again you need fresh eggs, but following this approach I’d get about 3 out of every 4 eggs turning out fine.
  • the egg-poacher – I used to use our one a lot, since it took a lot of the stress out – essentially it’s a double boiler setup, each egg sits in its own little cup that’s suspended over a pan of boiling water. The drawbacks are probably in the taste/texture – it’s a bit more like a hard-boiled egg than a poached one.
  • the “Julia Child” approach. You heat the water in the pot/pan to almost boiling, then drop each of the eggs in for 10 seconds (still in their shells), remove them then crack into a dish and slide into the pot. Unlike the other techniques your eggs don’t have to be fresh (I’ve used 3 week old eggs and had great results) and you get a reliably good poached egg. We have a winner.

I haven’t actually seen Julia Child’s poached egg recipe – so it was all hearsay – but I tried out her technique, and I can heartily recommend it. If you’re having trouble getting the eggs to stick together, if you don’t have perfectly fresh eggs, or if you’ve never even tried poaching eggs before, this is the way to do it.

Poached eggs – serves 2

  • 4 free-range eggs (if you’ve ever walked through a battery-hen shed this one is obvious)
  • 1-2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • freshly cracked black pepper and salt, to taste
  • 4 pieces of bread (for toast)
  • butter (for toast)
  1. Heat plenty of water in a saucepan/stock pot/deep skillet – around 10cm (4″) deep – until it’s just about boiling (you can use water as little as 4cm deep, but I find I get better shaped eggs with deeper water). Reduce the heat so the water never actually boils (i.e. there should be little air bubbles on the bottom, but it shouldn’t actually simmer).
  2. Drop each of the eggs into the water for 10 seconds, then remove them. (Put your toast on at this point.)
  3. One by one, crack each egg into a small dish/saucer, then gently slide into the water. (You can crack them directly into the water, but the saucer gives you more control.)
  4. Cook the eggs in the water for around 2-3 minutes (2 for a nice runny yolk).
  5. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon/fish slice and place on a plate. Pat dry with paper towels, and trim any messy parts of the egg white. (Alternatively, you can prepare the eggs the night before – if doing that, cook for 2 minutes, then remove from the hot water and immediately plunge into icy cold water to stop the cooking process. Once cooled, transfer to a plate, pat dry and trim as per usual then cover and store in the fridge. The next day, reheat by putting back into a pan of hot water and heating for up to a minute.)
  6. Transfer each egg to a piece of hot buttered toast, then season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Poached eggs

Crêpes

Time saver: Phil whips up a tasty weekend brunch…

Rolled crepeCrêpes are a traditional thin French pancake. They’re very versatile, and can be filled with just about anything for a variety of different effects. You can make them ahead of time and stack them up, or serve them hot out of the pan (my preference).

When I was growing up we probably had crêpes for lunch about once every two weeks. Mum or Dad would whip up a batch of batter, then spend the next hour frying up delicious pancakes for the starving hordes (there are lots of kids in my family). We’d eat them with a sprinkling of sugar and a dash of lemon juice, or with maple syrup, rolled up and cut into segments. When we were younger Dad would help us put them together, but it always came at a cost, because then he’d yell “Tax!” and steal one of the crispy end pieces. (In some ways I guess that represented an important life lesson.)

For that reason, I’ve always been pretty familiar with crêpes, so I was a bit surprised to find that some people consider them tricky to make. The recipe itself is very straightforward and requires relatively few ingredients and not much skill to prepare. There’s a bit of a knack to getting the batter to spread while you’re cooking them, but once you get the hang of it and get used to the idea that the first crêpe is always going to be a disaster, they’re really pretty easy.

Crepe in the panI think the Edmonds Cook Book has had the basic recipe nailed for the past 100 years. They use a little less milk than my parents did – adding more helps you spread the batter and get a nice thin pancake. I’ve modified my parents’ basic recipe to scale it better for cooking for two hungry adults. The recipe can very easily be doubled or tripled etc depending on how many pancakes you’re wanting to make. I use a standard 9″ diameter frying pan to cook these in, you don’t need a special crêpe pan, and it doesn’t need to be non-stick. (Feel free to use a different pan size, just adjust the amount of batter you pour in to match.)

Crêpes – makes around 8 pancakes of 9″ diameter

  • 1½ c plain flour
  • 1½ c milk
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 30 g melted butter (optional)
  • 8 small cubes of butter for frying
  1. Sift flour and salt into a large bowl.
  2. Add the eggs and milk, then beat with an electric beater till smooth. If you don’t have an electric beater, you can use a whisk or wooden spoon and a bit of arm power. In that case, you’ll want to add the milk gradually as you mix to help you avoid lumps (with the electric beater these really aren’t much of a problem).
  3. Add the melted butter and mix to combine. This is optional, particularly if you use a bit of butter to fry the pancakes in, and my parents never added it. I’m a fan of butter, and it improves the taste a bit.
  4. Put the bowl of batter in the fridge to chill for an hour (or more). This stops the crêpes from shrinking when you cook them. You can prepare the batter up to a day before you actually want to use it. If you’re in a big hurry (e.g. my parents cooking Sunday lunch) you can skip this step and cook the batter immediately, but the pancakes will contract as they cook and be slightly thicker than they otherwise would be.
  5. Take the batter out of the fridge and give it a stir. If it’s too thick add another splash of milk and stir it through.
  6. Heat a 9″ frying pan on a high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-high, and leave to settle for a couple of minutes. (My elements go from 1-6, I normally have it set to 4 when cooking these.)
  7. Put one of the small butter cubes into the pan, then lift the pan and swirl it around to spread the butter evenly over the base. (The butter will hiss and rapidly melt, this sound evokes a lot of delicious memories for me.)
  8. Pour some of the batter into the pan. I use a ladle that holds 1/3 of a cup, you could also use a 1/3 cup measure, or just pour it out of the bowl (you get a feel for how much you need). Don’t pour it directly into the middle – pour to one of the sides as it makes it much easier to spread.
  9. After adding the batter to the pan quickly lift it and tilt the pan around to spread the batter evenly. If the pan is too cold, the batter will slip and be hard to spread. If the pan is too hot the batter will cook too quickly, before you’re able to spread it. If the batter is too thick it will also be hard to spread (in that case add a bit more milk to the bowl of batter and stir it through). If you’ve used too much butter to grease the pan it will run up the sides and onto the top of the pancake – although that’s not really a problem because it just makes the edges a delicious crispy golden brown. Don’t worry if the first one turns out wrong or doesn’t spread evenly. This is your chance to thin the batter, adjust how much butter you’re using to grease the pan, or adjust the heat of the element.
  10. Cook on that side for around 1-2 minutes until the top is no longer wet. If you lift the pan and shake it slightly, the pancake should slide around. At that point, flip the pancake using a fish slice (wide spatula). If your pan has curved sides you can flip the pancake just by rapidly lifting the pan and moving it forward, up and then back towards you. It takes a bit of practice but is achievable.
  11. Cook on the remaining side for another 30-60 seconds.
  12. At this point you can serve immediately, or stack on a plate in a warm oven (90°C/200°F) to serve in one go.
  13. Return the pan to the heat for around 10-15 seconds, then add another cube of butter and repeat…

I’d then eat the crêpes, sprinkling some sugar (2-3 tsp) and a dash of lemon juice (1-2 tsp), then rolling them up tightly. Alternatively, use maple or vanilla syrup, a fresh fruit compote, vanilla ice cream etc. You can also fill them with savoury fillings, or roll them up and bake them like enchiladas.

(This morning we had them with chopped bananas and a hot vanilla-caramel sauce.)