Perfect Whole Wheat Pancakes

I’ve stuck with my perfect pancake recipe for several years, but there’s always room for improvement. I’ve recently been experiment with using white whole wheat flour. It’s easier to adapt to white flour recipe than regular (“red”) whole wheat, but has the same general characteristics and potential health advantages.

When it comes to pancakes, I’m not willing to sacrifice the product for nebulous health benefits, but it turns out that whole wheat actually works extremely well in pancake batter. The ability of whole wheat to interfere with gluten development, a disadvantage in many breads, helps keep pancake tender and fluffy. A little more liquid is needed, and the batter ends up a bit thicker and harder to manage, but the results are great. I also find that using browned butter helps add another dimension to the flavor.

Ingredients

  • 140 g white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon (12.5 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 245 g buttermilk (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl an whisk together
  2. Mix buttermilk and egg together
  3. Melt butter in a small pan under medium-low heat until small brown flecks appear, then transfer to a bowl to cool slightly
  4. Add butter into buttermilk-egg mixture. If the butter is still warm, stir the mixture briskly while adding the butter slowly
  5. Add vanilla to the liquid
  6. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir or whisk until combined, taking care not to overmix. The batter will be thick.
  7. Allow the batter to rest for 5-10 minutes, then cook for about 2-3 minutes per side on a 300 °F griddle.

I’ve been preferring this to the white flour version. It feels a bit more substantial. Despite the whole wheat flour, these cook up light and fluffy.

Thai Grilled Chicken

I love to grill, and boneless, skinless chicken thighs are one of the most forgiving meats. They taste great with a range of seasonings, cook quickly yet hold up well to overcooking, and are an easy size to work with. I use them regularly for burritos, but I’ve also started adapting them to Asian flavors. There are various versions of Thai Grilled Chicken out there, but I’ve gravitated toward this easy recipe, which I modified slightly for this batch.

Ingredients:

  • 500 g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/3 cup Thai basil, chopped fine
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1.5 tablespoons brown sugar
  • one tablespoon (or a few squirts) of fresh lime juice

Directions:

  • Combine all ingredients except the chicken and lime juice in a bowl

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  • Trim the chicken of excess fat, then add to marinade

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  • Mix well to combine then marinate in the refrigerator 1 hour to overnight
  • Heat a grill at high heat until hot (~10 minutes), brushing grate with oil
  • Remove chicken from marinade, allowing excess to drip off, then start grilling, flipping occasionally until well charred and the internal temperature is at least 160 °F.
  • Squirt with fresh lime juice

A few observations from my latest attempt: I could have probably used about 2/3 or half the marinade for this amount of chicken. The chicken initially had a bit of bitterness, which I remedied by adding a bit more sugar. On future attempts, I may increase the brown sugar or use only the cilantro leaves instead of the leaves and the stems. You could also amp it up with some Thai chilis or garlic-chili sauce, but I avoided this because the kids were eating it.

Cake Enhancers in Bread

I usually try to avoid becoming reliant “dough enhancers” on principal, but I’m always up for trying something new. I periodically peruse the offerings from King Arthur and came across their Cake Enahncer, which the King and his followers say is also useful for breads. This mixture of rice starch, polyglycerol ester, and fatty acids are supposed to improve texture and prolong shelf life.

I decided to give them a try in my breakfast buns, since this recipe has become a platform for many of my baking experiments. As per the instructions on the package, I added two tablespoons for about two cups of flour. The buns looked fine when baked, but the bread tasted like a supermaket roll. The texture became soft and lost its gluten-driven chew. It was a Phineas Gage-like transformation: its personality was all wrong. Maybe it’s the name influencing me, but it did make the bread seem more cake-like.

This may be worth a try in a cake batter, but I’m steering clear of using this in bread dough from now on.

Kix Treats

Rice Krispies Treats are popular with pretty much everyone. Sweet and light, they are a classic childhood snack and a good way to use up extra Rice Krispies. But let’s be serious: how many people actually like Rice Krispies? They are not offensive, but they are bland and quickly become inedibly soggy. I can’t think of any time in the past decade that I’ve bought them for any reason other than making Rice Krispies Treats. So why not try applying the same treatment to another cereal?

My daughter eats Kix, but the boxes it comes in are huge. It usually goes stale before we make it all the way through. It’s crunchy and dry, so seemed like a good substitute for Rice Krispies. 

I melted 2 tablespoons of butter and half a bag (140 g) of marshmallows over medium low heat. Off heat, I stirred in 3 cups of Kix and transferred the sticky mess to an 8×8 inch pan. 

   
   
The verdict? I found it a bit too sweet and buttery, but the kids loved it. The texture is a bit different from RCTs, more reminiscent of sweetened popcorn than a bar. It’s a fine use of Kix, but not at the level of the original. I’ve seen variations where these are Kix are mixed or topped with chocolate,  and that might help. 

Bagels: Changing the poaching liquid

One of the defining characteristics of bagels is that differentiates them from other forms of bread is that they are boiled prior to making. This poaching liquid is usually alkaline. Historically, the strong base sodium hydroxide (lye) was used, though most home cooks rely on the milder sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) because it is more readily available. Both will help to develop the surface sugars that create a brown crust, but I’ve found that lye-poaching yields more flavor and a crust allows toppings to adhere better.

My current bagel recipe and cooking strategy is based off of that from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, except that I use a 0.5% (25g/5L) lye solution instead of baking soda. In Artisan Breads Every Day, Reinhart takes a different strategy to the preparation and cooking of the bagels, including use a more complex poaching solution that includes baking soda, malt, and salt.

For the last batch of bagels I made, I poached half in 5L of my usual lye solution, then added 3 tablespoons of barley malt syrup and 2 teaspoons of salt. The solution quickly turned dark brown and then a murky black. I was a bit apprehensive, but went ahead and prepared the second half of the bagels. On the left in the image below, you can see that the bagels poached in the malt-based poach came out considerably darker prior to baking.

IMG_0661I baked both trays at 500 °F for 5 minutes, swapped and rotated the trays, then reduced the temperature to 450 °F for 6 more minutes. I was expecting two sets of drastically different bagels, but aside from a slightly warmer hue for the malt-poached bagels, they looked almost indistinguishable.

IMG_0664The taste? Even knowing which bagels were which in advance, I found the malt added only a subtle sweetness to the crust which the traditional approach lacked. There was no obvious difference in texture. My sense going forward is that it’s not really worth it to add the malt and salt, and that the alkaline bath alone is all that’s needed.

 

Three steaks

Thursday was steak for dinner. I decided to do a little experiment. I bought one dry-aged rib eye and one tenderloin. I cut the rib eye in half and then applied a liberal drizzle of kosher salt and pepper to each about two hours before dinner. One half of the rib eye went back into the fridge while the other half got a quick sear in an oil-coated cast iron skillet along with the tenderloin. The seared meats were then vacuum sealed and tossed into a sous vide bath (I started the tougher rib eye earlier than the tenderloin, which I put back in the fridge after vacuum sealing and cooling in an ice bath. Cooking time at 56° C was about 1 hour and 45 minutes for the rib eye and 45 minutes for the tenderloin, each about 1-1.5 inches thick.

The other half of the rib eye got a traditional sear on a hot grill, then was placed in a 400° F oven until it reached an internal temperature of about 135 °F/57° C.

While the traditional rib eye was resting, I removed the sous vide steaks from the water bath and patted them dry. I heated up my cast iron skillet and added a tablespoon of butter after the oil started smoking, then quickly seared the sous vide steaks for about 2 minutes total.

The rib eyes were close. The grilled version had a bit more charred flavor, but was tougher and not as evenly cooked. The tenderloin was hugely improved from my prior attempts, largely due to the sear in butter at the end. The sous vide technique was far easier and less finicky overall, and yielded a largely superior result. I was nervous about overcooking the butter, but I think the steaks could handle an even hotter sear next time – the butter can be truly smoking without making the steaks taste burnt.

 

Buttermilk Banana Bread

Banana eating in our house is somewhat unpredictable, and it’s easy to end up with old bananas quickly exceeding their lifespan for eating plain.  Fortunately, these can always be turned into banana bread, which is best when bananas are past their typical prime (with heavy, dark splotches covering their peel).

One problem is that most banana bread recipes call for 3-4 bananas (1-1.5 cups) and you may have more or less than that amount. Fortunately you can just freeze the extra bananas and thaw them when you have the right amount. They will look terrible and develop a thick soupy texture when thawed, but cook up just fine.

Many banana breads are dense and dull, but buttermilk helps to lighten the texture and flavor. This is a recipe I modified from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 300 g sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)
  • 60 g buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 250 g AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Directions:

  1. Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray or (better) butter and dust with flour.
  2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, until incorporated
  4. Add banana, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix until smooth
  5. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and baking soda, then slowly mix mixture into batter (using the mixer at low speed or a spatula)
  6. Pour batter into pan and bake for 50-55 minutes for an internal temperature of about 190° F.