Sunday, February 22, 2009

Apple Pancake Smackdown!




I just love Sunday brunch, don't you? Brunch is such a wonderful concept.... sleep until noon, then get up and eat a large and leisurely breakfast.

I treated us to some new table linens and a few new serving pieces and juice glasses, from my beloved Crate and Barrel. (Besides, I needed some new stuff to take pretty pictures for y'all, didn't I??? :D )

LOL, for the first time in a couple of years, I actually have a tablecloth that fits my table! I used to have a rectangular kitchen table and also an oblong dining room table, but when I was getting ready to move into my tiny apt. in Chicago (with no eat-in kitchen and a dining room I needed for office space), I got rid of both of them. I decided there was no reason I couldn't use my smaller round patio table as my "dining" table: Exhibit A:


However, I was unable to find any round table cloths, so I was using one of my old ones kind of folded over. Yesterday I hit it lucky at Bed Bath and Beyond: 2 round tablecloths for $9.99 each. It is surprising how much nicer the table looks with a cloth that actually fits!

One of DC's favorite feel-good breakfasts is Lemon Pancakes. It's basically a giant popover in pancake form, served piping hot with a liberal dusting of powdered sugar and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Hoping to build on this success, I wanted to find the perfect German Apple Pancake recipe. One of my all-time favorite breakfast restaurants, The Original Pancake House, makes a fabulous apple pancake that looks dee-licious. (I've never tried it.) Knowing DC's exceeding fondness for apples, I figured if I could replicate it at home, it would be a surefire hit.

Being the librarianly type, of course I did a little background research and decided to try 2 of the recipes I found. One was from one of my favorite celeb chefs, Paula Deen. Paula's pancake featured lemon zest, sour cream, and oh, joy of joys: canned apple pie filling! As is typical of Paula's recipes, I hoped it would be simple, quick and delicious. The other was from one of my not-so-favorite chefs, Emeril, (whose personality tends to grate) but whose food is reliably tasty. Emeril's pancake is made with fresh apples and pecans.

How would Paula's quick and easy pancake stack up (sorry, couldn't resist!) against Emeril's "gourmet" version?


It was time for an APPLE PANCAKE SMACKDOWN!

And it ended up being

PAULA
VS.

EMERIL
VS.

uh, ME (a very serious chef)

I planned last weekend for the Apple Pancake Smackdown, not realizing I would be one of the contestants. So we had to continue it this weekend. We started off the contest with Paula's pancake for Saturday breakfast, served with some good old Morningstar Farms soysage. (I love that stuff, all the great taste of sausage, none of the grease and heartburn!)


APPLE PANCAKE SMACKDOWN, PART 1
Paula Deen's Dutch Apple Pancakes
Expecting something with the approximate taste and texture of wallpaper paste, I was pleasantly surprised by both the flavor and texture of the apple pie filling. It went into a pan along with some butter and cinnamon.



After warming up the apples, it was time to mix up the pancake batter. Eggs, milk, flour, and lemon zest went into the batter along with some sour cream.




Then the batter is poured over the apples and the whole thing, including the skillet, goes into the oven.


And here it is, ready to eat!



Up close and personal, DC's plate

Paula Deen's Oven-Baked Dutch Apple Pancakes

See Paula Deen's Oven-Baked Dutch Apple Pancakes on Key Ingredient.



Ok, here's the scorecard on Paula's recipe:
  • Ease of preparation: Gold medal! This gets onto the table with a minimum of time and effort.
  • Taste: FILLING: 2 Stars: Pleasant, but nothing special. Although the absolute uniformity of size, texture and flavor of the apples was an interesting gustatory experience, the convenience of using prepared apples was sadly overshadowed by the complete mediocrity of the dish overall.
  • PANCAKE: 2 Stars: bland, but innocuous.
  • Texture: FILLING: No thumbs. It was just blah. Not unpleasant, but blah. A little weird in its uniformity, and kind of dry.
  • PANCAKE: 2 thumbs down. I fear I must echo the following sentiments of Danielle, reviewer on the FoodNetwork site: "I too was expecting more of a pancake on top of my apples, but it was like a rubber egg disk floating on top of the apples."
  • OVERALL SCORE: 2 STARS! Edible, not horrible, not great. Completely mediocre.
Perhaps it was unfair of me to have visions of the gorgeous, puffy, golden apple pancake from the OPH floating in my head, but Paula's pancake was definitely not what I was expecting. In its way, it was not UNpleasant, but I didn't think it was anything to write home about, sadly, not one of Paula's best.


APPLE PANCAKE SMACKDOWN, PART 2
Emeril's Giant Apple Pecan Pancake
On to Part 2 of the Apple Pancake Smackdown: Sunday brunch, Emeril's Giant Apple Pecan Pancake. We went into round 2 with high hopes. This recipe was similar in technique to Paula's but with some key differences. First, Emeril's recipe contained more flour, milk, and eggs than Paula's (4 eggs rather than 3, 1 c. of milk and flour vs. 1/2 c.). Emeril's recipe also contained leavening (baking powder), which I hoped would make it lighter and less rubbery than Paula's version.

Basically, we follow the same procedure as used by Paula, except of course the apples were fresh and had to be cooked, in butter with cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar, plus the pecans.




Next, the batter is prepared. Eggs, milk, flour, and baking powder are combined.


Finally, the batter is poured on top of the apples and pecans and again the whole skillet is baked in the oven. Another difference to note: Emeril instructs us to bake the pancake at 400 F, rather than 350 in Paula's version.


All done!


Up close and personal, here is DC's plate:


Emeril's Giant Apple Pecan Pancake

See Emeril's Giant Apple Pecan Pancake on Key Ingredient.



Here is the scorecard on Emeril's Apple Pancake:
  • Ease of preparation: Silver Medal! This is fairly easy to prepare, though of course the apples need to be peeled, cored and sliced, so it takes a bit more time and effort than Paula's version.
  • Taste: FILLING: 3 STARS: Quite pleasant. The apples were really delicious, and the pecans added a very nice touch. (Who doesn't love pecans, butter and brown sugar?) The taste and texture of the fresh apples was significantly better than the pie filling, so it was definitley worth the extra effort to prep the fresh fruit.
  • PANCAKE: 1.5 STARS. Again, a disappointment. Forgettable. Library paste.
  • Texture: FILLING: 3 STARS. The fresh apples were tender but still firm, and juicy.
  • PANCAKE: 2 thumbs and 1 toe down. Yet again, the pancake was rubbery, and despite the leavening and rubberiness, somewhat leaden and cement-like.
  • OVERALL SCORE: 2.5 STARS The pancake part was worse than Paulas, but the filling was much, much tastier. Again, yes, it's edible, but does it make us happy? No.
Well, the fabulous apple pancake experience I was hoping to bring to the table just didn't happen with either of these recipes, leaving me frustrated. (Though of course DC ate everything up and acted pleased, like the trouper he is.)

Clearly, it was time to try my hand at creating my OWN version, for Sunday brunch this weekend.

APPLE PANCAKE SMACKDOWN PART 3
Karen's Mile-High Apple Pancake

I used my successful lemon pancake recipe as a blueprint for the batter, but doubled the volume of ingredients overall. I decided to go for a different approach from Paula and Emeril by baking the pancake separately, to see if I could achieve the desired impressive puff. I suspect part of the problem is also inadequate oven temperature, because this batter is similar to popover batter, and popovers need a very hot oven to "pop" properly.

First of all, preheat the oven to 475 F (yes, we need some heat!). Then, place a large ovenproof skillet with high sides to heat in the oven for at least 10 minutes before adding the batter.

Let's get our apples started. They need to be washed, peeled, cored, and sliced, not too thin, somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 in.


We also need to toast our pecans. Put them on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 4 minutes. Watch 'em carefully, or at that oven temp, they will burn slap up.

I saw a hilarious trick on Sara's Secrets to help you remember that you have nuts roasting in the oven. A guest cook from Hawaii was there roasting macadamia nuts, and you know how expensive they are! Burning them would be a real tragedy. The Hawaiian guest took her big ol' peppermill and held it in place between her neck and her shoulder (you know how you used to do with the phone earpiece for hands-free talking before cell phones and bluetooth?) the entire time the nuts were in the oven. I promise, there's no way to forget, as uncomfortable as that is!

Take the pecans out of the oven set aside to cool.


In a 12-in skillet, preferably non-stick, heat 2 T. of unsalted butter over medium heat. Add the apples, brown sugar, lemon zest, freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon (Grace, just for you, I was gonna use 2 t. of cinnamon, but I have used so much cinnamon trying stuff from your Cinnamon Celebration that I ran out after 1 1/2 t.!) , and mace, and sautee until tender but not mushy, 6-8 minutes.




While the apples are cooking, prepare the batter. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat 4 eggs with a pinch of salt on medium speed until they are nice and frothy. Then add a cup of whole milk. Beat in a cup of flour, mixing just until blended, but not lumpy. Set the batter aside for a moment.


VERY CAREFULLY, using oven mitts or a potholder, remove the hot skillet from the oven. Spray it with non-stick spray. REMEMBER, THE HANDLE IS HOT! Then add the rest of your stick of butter (6 T) and swirl the pan to melt it, so it doesn't burn.

Now quickly add the batter to the hot skillet (THE HANDLE IS STILL HOT! Use your potholder!)


Put the skillet in the oven and bake the pancake for 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the pecans to the cooked apples, stir to combine, remove the apples from the heat and keep them warm.

After 12 minutes: Check the pancake: it should be puffy and golden brown. If the center isn't starting to brown yet, give it 1-2 more minutes. It should look like THIS:

Now THAT is what I'm talking 'bout: a big ol' puffy German pancake, perfect for filling with all kinds of delectable goodies. It will deflate some as it cools. (Rats!)

When the pancake is done, take it out of the oven. (AGAIN, HOT HANDLE, people! This advice comes to you from someone who is lucky not to have the impression of a skillet handle burned permanently into the palm of her hand, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style) Pour the juice of a fresh lemon into the center of the pancake and tilt gently so it can spread all over the bottom.

Now, you can either fill the pancake with apples, dust with powdered sugar and take the skillet to the table to serve,
OR,
you can cut the pancake into individual portions with a sharp, serrated knife and put the apples on each individual portion, dusting each with powdered sugar. Since my table is kinda small, that's what I did.

OOOOOOH! PRETTY!! DC's plate

Here is the scorecard on KAREN'S MILE HIGH APPLE PANCAKE
  • Ease of preparation: Bronze Medal. Still easy enough for a beginning cook to prepare, but you do have to fuss with the apples and cook the pancake separately. In my unbiased ;) opinion, the results are worth the extra trouble.
  • Taste: FILLING: 5 Stars! FANTASTIC! We loved the zippiness of the extra cinnamon, the lemon zest, the nutmeg and the mace in the apple filling, as well as the luxurious taste of the pecans.
  • PANCAKE: 5 STARS! Exactly what I was hoping for: light yet buttery-rich. The extra butter really adds a whole new dimension to the flavor. Unfortunately, I don't think it's possible to achieve this great taste without a generous amount of butter. (But thank goodness, this is brunch food, not something we eat everyday.)
  • Texture: FILLING: 2 thumbs up. I was thrilled, again, exactly what I was hoping for: tender but firm, juicy apples, crunchy pecans, in a silky, buttery sauce.
  • PANCAKE: 2 thumbs up: PERFECT! light, puffy, crispy around the edges and a little custardy in the middle.
  • OVERALL SCORE: 5 STARS! We loved it!

I AM THE APPLE PANCAKE QUEEN!!

Karen's Mile-High Apple Pancake

Puffy Dutch/German sytle pancake filled with sauteed apples, brown ...

See Karen's Mile-High Apple Pancake on Key Ingredient.



And here's DS, enjoying some soysage along with his Mile-High Pancake


6 comments:

  1. What a super-fantastic post. GREAT job!! How fun are you! They all looks really tasty. Your recommendation for someone who never made them would be??

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hee, hee, mine, of course, (she said modestly)!
    Thanks, Donna! :) Your encouragment and kindness mean the world to me!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Alanna

    http://www.craigslisthelper.info

    ReplyDelete
  4. I could *swear* i left a comment here! How weird is that? Anyway, I would have loved to be there to test every single one of these. They all look amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've tried your wonderful pancake twice now. Really have enjoyed it, but needed to cut down on the sugar and butter - not much of a sweet tooth here. My question is about the lemon juice. I liked the taste of the fresh lemon juice, but have not been able to get an even spread of the lemon taste throughout the pancake. I'm using a 10 in cast iron pan which works great; pouring the lemon juice in the center of the baked pancake, then tilting the pan to all sides. I can hear it sizzle as it reaches the bottom of the pan. Still uneven flavor. Suggestions?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Susan, I tried to email you but didn't have your "real" address. If swirling the lemon juice around in the pan doesn't work, I'd suggest adding a squeeze to each individual serving. That should even things out! I don't know why the swirling works for me but not you. Hope this helps! And thanks for reading!

    ReplyDelete

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