Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Inspired by my brunch experience at Isola, I was excited to make my own ricotta pancakes. I was so determined to make these super extra crazy delicious that I even made my own lemon ricotta to mix into the batter. I spent the better part of a Saturday morning researching several different ricotta pancake recipes in preparation. No one said food blogging was all fun and games, though honestly, doing research for recipes is fun to me (ahem, nerd alert). Some recipes used cake flour, some used all purpose flour. A few recipes used buttermilk. One recipe I found insisted on superfine sugar. But the step that seemed to pop up in almost every recipe was to incorporate whipped egg whites. Those whipped egg whites is what gives these pancakes a killer fluffy texture.

So, I did a wee bit o' experimenting and the following recipe is the fruit of my labor. It uses relatively non-fussy ingredients (except for maybe the homemade lemon ricotta) and it's a pretty simple recipe to follow. Though these pancakes are not necessarily ideal for one of those super lazy weekend mornings, they're not terribly hard to whip up. I mean, look at that photo right there; even if you're feeling kind of bum-ish, I think the idea of these entering your hungry tummy would provide enough motivation to break out a mixing bowl or two, right?
Ingredients [serves 2 extra hungry people or 4 normal humans]:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar (packed)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk (I like whole milk for this recipe but 2%, 1%, skim, almond, any of these would work)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons melted butter (cooled)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
butter for cooking
+ maple syrup
+ powdered sugar
+ fruit

*You can certainly use regular store bought ricotta. I would mix in about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into the ricotta and then let it drain. You could skip the lemon juice bit, but I find that store bought ricotta tends to be quite wet so I would still drain it for a few minutes to get rid of the excess moisture. Use a wet paper towel draped over a sieve set over a bowl and dump in the ricotta. Leave it alone for 20 minutes until a good amount of liquid has dripped into the catch bowl. Another alternative is to buy fresh ricotta from the store; I know my Whole Foods sells fresh ricotta.

A little note about the photo below: with the sun coming up earlier and earlier, my usual food photography spot (the kitchen island) gets flooded with bright light and dark shadows from the windows and trees outside during my usual blogging hours. I couldn't wait to eat breakfast so I just crowded all of the ingredients to the edge farthest away from the window to take the ingredient photo. I struggled with the lighting for about 10 minutes until the sun got high enough to stop the weird lighting issue. I threw away many of the photos I took because they looked so crappy. Part of the problem could be that we don't have any curtains on the windows. Note to self: get curtains.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt. Most of the recipes I discovered during my research called for regular white caster sugar. However, I went for the brown as I thought it would add a subtle layer of that caramelly, molassesy rich flavor to complement the maple syrup that most people want to drown their pancakes in.

It's always a little weird to sift brown sugar because it's slightly sticky. But, since brown sugar also tends to clump, it's a good idea to push it through a sieve.
In a separate bowl, combine the milk, egg yolks, ricotta, lemon zest, vanilla extract, and melted butter. The melted butter should be cooled, by the way. Whisk just long enough to get the ingredients mixed together. If there are some clumps of ricotta, that's okay, just leave them be. A few ricotta clumps never hurt anyone.
Dump the dry ingredients into the milky, cheesy, buttery, lemony mixture and whisk just until combined. Lumps are okay! You don't want to overwork the dough, as it will result in a tough pancake. The batter should be slightly thick and goopy.
Set the half-made batter aside and whip the egg whites in a clean and dry bowl to stiff peaks. The clean and dry bowl is essential to this step. Any hint of oil or grease in your bowl and your egg whites will not whip up. Once the whites are fluffy and stiff, you should be able to hold the bowl upside down without the egg whites falling out.

Also, be careful not to over whip the whites. Over beaten egg whites look chunky, almost curdled, and will plop out of the bottom of the bowl if you flip it upside down. To avoid this disaster, periodically check the egg whites - try tilting the bowl - and as soon as you reach the stage where you can flip the bowl without the whites plopping out, stop beating. If you somehow end up over beating the egg whites, you can save them. Crack open and separate another egg. Add the new, unbeaten egg white to your bowl of ruined egg whites and whip the egg whites again. It'll almost be like a restart button. Similarly, if you ever over beat your whipped cream, you can save it by adding a little more heavy cream.
Carefully fold the egg whites into the batter using a rubber spatula. To make the process a little easier you can dump in just a half cup of the egg whites and mix a little haphazardly to lighten the batter just a bit and then fold in the remaining whites carefully. The egg whites will add a ton of air to the batter and make the pancakes extremely light and fluffy. You'll notice that the goopy, dense batter becomes lovely and almost foamy after the egg whites are mixed in.
Heat up a griddle pan or your favorite nonstick skillet and swirl a little butter around.
Use a 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup measure to scoop up the pancake batter and pour it onto the griddle. Using a measuring cup will allow you to make all of the pancakes the same size.
Let the pancakes cook for about 3 to 4 minutes until they start to bubble in the center and then give them a flip and cook them for another 3 to 4 minutes. My pancakes look slightly "ombre" because the griddle doesn't always heat up v. evenly but they still look delicious, right?
Plate up your pancakes - I think a stack of 2 is a nice portion size for most - and serve immediately. If you're making these for a brunch with guests, you might want to play fry cook and hand them out as they're made because although these are still quite yummy once they've cooled, they're at their best when they're fresh off the griddle. Set out some toppings so everyone can serve his or herself as he or she pleases.

I dusted mine with a little powdered sugar, topped with a dab of butter, sprinkled on a few raspberries and blueberries, and drizzled on a little maple syrup.
Doesn't this look delicious? Don't you just want to crawl into your computer monitor so you can eat these for real? Well, you can't. But what you can do is go and make these yourself.

These pancakes have an amazing texture, which I owe to the egg whites and the ricotta cheese because they're somehow dense and fluffy and chewy all at the same time. There's so much lemon flavor from the zest and the ricotta which reminds me of summer time. These are so delicious that it's almost like eating dessert for breakfast but there's a decent amount of protein in each serving from the ricotta so I don't feel too guilty. I mean, how could you say no to a plate of these? I know that my willpower isn't that strong. So go on, make a stack, pour yourself a cuppa, and tuck in.

And although Isola serves up a pretty mean pancake, I think mine are better.
Here's the recipe page:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lemon Ricotta

I really wanted to try and make the lemon ricotta pancakes I had at Isola at home because they were delicious and when I eat yummy things at restaurants, I always want to try my hand at recreating the recipe. I loved how incredibly lemony the pancakes were and I thought that making a lemon ricotta would be the first step to infusing extra lemon flavor into the recipe. So, I'm sharing the lemon ricotta today and the lemon ricotta pancakes tomorrow, which is kind of how it happened in real life. I made the lemon ricotta on a Saturday afternoon and then I whipped up the pancakes on Sunday morning.

Sometimes, store bought ricotta has extra unnecessary ingredients mixed in, like thickening agents and preservatives, so I didn't think just adding a squeeze of lemon to the store bought stuff would cut it, especially for the uh-mazing pancakes I was planning on whipping up. Besides, ricotta is so easy to make and it only requires a few ingredients so there really is no excuse, right? Plus, when ricotta is infused with lemon, it is awesomely delicious. Once you've scrolled down, you'll see how I just spread it right onto some bread with honey. It's been added to my (long) list of favorite breakfasts.
Ingredients [yields approximately 1 cup]:
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 lemon - zest and juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

*To make plain ricotta, leave out the lemon and use 1-1/2 tablespoons of white vinegar to curdle the cheese. But honestly, the lemon ricotta is so good, I don't ever want to look at the plain stuff again.
First things first: pour the milk, heavy cream, and salt into a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Slice large strips of the peel right off of the lemon - about 4 to 5 strips - and put them into the saucepan as well. Lemon peel contains the essential oils with tons of lemon flavor so this step is crucial to imparting most of that fragrant lemon flavor to the cheese.

Bring the milk mixture up to a boil. Once it's boiling, it's time to pick out the pieces of lemon peel and discard, as they've done their job. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
Squeeze the juice from the lemon. You'll need about 4 tablespoons, which is about the amount of juice you'll be able to coax out of one lemon. A good tip is to maximize the amount of juice is to give the lemons a squeeze and/or a roll on a flat surface just to give the pulp a little workout before you slice it open. This will help make it a bit easier to juice the lemons.
Add the lemon juice right into the hot milk mixture. Let the mixture sit for 2 minutes; during this time, the acid of the lemon juice will curdle the milk.
Set up a strainer with a wet cheesecloth or a wet paper towel draped over and set it over a bowl. Why a wet cloth? Because water is, for lack of a better work, "sticky." So, if you wet the cloth, it will attract the moisture from the milk mixture and at the same time, leave a barrier so that the cheese doesn't attach itself to the cloth. It's all v. scientific.
Once the milk has curdled, pour it into your cloth/towel-lined strainer.
Use a spoon just to give the mixture a stir - literally one stir - to release any air bubbles in the bottom that might be hindering the whey from draining and to make sure that gravity's able to do it's 'thang.' Leave the cheese to drain 20 to 30 minutes. I love thick ricotta so I let it sit for the full 30 minutes until no more liquid was dripping.
Here's what it looked like after about 15 minutes.
And here's what it looked like after the full 30 minutes.
Scoop the cheese right into an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to a week. The ricotta will seem slightly soft when you're spooning it into the jar but after it's chilled, it'll be lovely and thick and spreadable.
Like I mentioned above, I'll be sharing the pancake recipe tomorrow but today, I'll show you a delicious snack that can be whipped together with the ricotta. It's just a slice of french bread with a smear of the ricotta and a drizzle of honey. The ricotta is so lovely and lemony and fresh and creamy. It's delicious when it's spread onto a piece of really good bread. I also imagine this lemon ricotta would also be delicious squirted inside of some cannoli shells (after it's mixed up with a bit of sugar, of course) and it would probably be awesome in a savory dish like a lemon chicken stuffed shell. Ugh, I'm already keen on whipping up a double batch; that's how good I think this stuff is.
Here's the recipe page:
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