Sunday, 29 January 2012

A Midnight Snack in Melbourne: A Post-Australian Open 2012 Sunday Brunch

Good evening, dear Reader! It's been an incredibly long day for me here in Granville, aided in large part by the fact I've been awake since just before 5am. I had intended on waking up earlier to catch the start of the Australian Open men's final, but was nevertheless quickly drawn in as Rafa secured the first set and already seemed to be ready to finish off the match; just as quickly it seems, the match turned in favour of Novak. And when it all seemed over, at 3-4 in the fourth set, 0-40, Rafa pulled out the come from behind win to level the match at 2 sets each. By set five, the match felt much more alive as the Western side of the world began to awake while the crickets could be heard in Melbourne. In the end, Novak won and though I was severely routing for Rafa--indeed for the entirety of the fortnight--playing for nearly six hours (as many have cited this "epic" match as the longest final in the open era) pulled out the best in both players and acted as a form of consolation regardless of the end result. Alongside all that was to be learned from this match, it was great to feel the rush of emotion and dedication to the sport; indeed, it felt more than two people "just playing tennis." Perhaps the irony of it all is that I can still remember catching glimpses of tennis on the television when I was younger and saw two players hitting a yellow ball over a net as people just playing tennis, being barely able to sit through an entire match (let alone an entire game). I also remember my transition to actually playing and liking the sport (also ironically, while getting drawn into the French Open), and the fandom surrounding support for the King of Clay against another player heralded as one of the greatest in Roger Federer. The 2008 Wimbledon match, which I still remember watching on my mini black and white tv during my summer research period at Albion, also revealed a passion for the sport and qualities of endurance, commitment and true brilliance when the game became personal. In retrospect, I know the "feeling" of tennis was never fully in me when I started playing in high school (why I even chose the sport is a story on its own); but I share this side of me with you because I now relate this drawn out history to my aptitude for all things food and food studies and, as far as cooking/food preparation goes, the "feeling" of "understanding the essence of the moment" (The Flavor Bible, pg 24).

At the end of the closing ceremony (during which Novak mentioned ~multiculturalism), I found myself faced with one of two choices: go back to sleep or eat. I had never actually kept in tune with the Australian Open before (in large part because of the 15 hour time difference), and so this time frame definitely through me off. During the summer, at least, "Breakfast at Wimbledon" helps to bridge that five-hour gap. Well, if you couldn't tell by the title of this post, I went for the latter and aimed for Sunday brunch. All told, I had been wanting to make pancakes for the past few days and this not only provided the chance to do just that but to also check on the berry butter I made yesterday. To start things off, get a fry pan heating on med-lo heat. You don't want charred pancakes, but you definitely want that perfect browning. Adapting my pancake recipe (which seems to improve just as much as my crêpe recipes), separate a whole egg [egg white in a small bowl] and with the yolk in a mixing bowl, use a coil rimmed whisk to beat and incorporate air into the yolk, 1 tbsp canola oil, about 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and about 3/4 c milk. You'll notice it'll get nice and airy with a little foaming action at the tail end of it all, especially if using the coil rimmed whisk; you really want to break up the yolk and make sure the oil is well distributed. Feel free to use a standard or balloon whisk if that's all you've got (even a fork will do).

Sift (at least twice) 3/4 c all-purpose flour, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp baking powder and a small pinch of salt, sifting the final time onto the foamy liquid mix (whisk just prior to this final sifting if it looks a bit deflated). Again, using the coil rimmed whisk, whisk this lot like mad, making sure to break up any clumps that may have formed between sifting and this point of the process. (In going with this order, as opposed to how I've set this up in previous recipe procedures, you run the risk of having fewer clumps.) You're not only incorporating air but you're working toward a very smooth (but thick) batter.

Give your whisk a quick rinse. In the small bowl with the egg white, use your whisk to break up the egg white and continue whisking to bring it to about four times its original volume and form soft peaks. Of the many times I've beaten egg whites, I can say using the coil wired whisk produced the intended result much quicker than any other whisk/fork I've used in the past. Carefully (so as not to break the work you just did) and quickly (so everything doesn't deflate), get the whites into your soon-to-be-completed batter and use a spatula to fold them into the mix. [Using your whisk at this point essentially would add counteractive air that would deflate all the air bubbles in the egg whites as you liquify the batter... which is not what you want to do]. Your resulting batter should look voluminous while still appearing relatively light. To this, should you so desire, add in your filling of choice; here, I've folded in about two handfuls of dark chocolate chips.

Inspired by the early morning's display of tennis sportsmanship, I aimed to make perfectly shaped pancakes without cutting them into shapes after the fact; I also wanted to give the pancakes some height to reflect the airiness of the pancake batter. And so, I turned to one of my favourite kitchen gizmos: my moulding ring. Feel free to also use a heat resistant/metal cookie cutter, an egg ring, etc., or just free-form it. In any case, I set my moulding ring onto my already preheated pan to warm the ring itself; this will help the pancake's edges to start cooking. Pour in about 1/6 c-1/4 c of the batter into the mould. After a few minutes, you should be looking for the perimeter of the pancake to start revealing air bubbles. Because the pancakes will be thicker than most, you again want to make sure your pan isn't too hot or else the bottom will cook way before you're ready to de-mould and flip the pancake.

When you see the air bubbles, take a thin cake tester, pointed icing spatula, chopstick, etc., and carefully run it between the moulding ring and the perimeter of the pancake. Try and do this as level as possible as the top-most part of the pancake will not be cooked by this point. If everything goes well, the edges will have cooked, creating a small lip to keep in any uncooked batter. Do be mindful the ring will be hot, so use a strong pair of tongs that can grip onto the warm metal. The above photo is of my first attempt. Notice how the underside has crisped along the perimeter and the middle section has more or less cooked. Until you figure out a technique that works for you, some of the batter will spill out. Because of the height difference, the rest of the pancake will be relatively bigger in comparison to anything that spills over (left); it'll be rather easy to simply take off those bits and still keep the round shape (right).

Another removal method you could try is to slowly start moving your cake tester, etc., along the perimeter while the pancake is still in the pan. As you do this, any overflowing uncooked batter will hit the warm metal. When the surface batter stops moving about, you should be safe to do a final run-through to release it from the mould. Either way, the pancake will drop cooked-side down onto the pan.

After you get your pancake out of the mould, use a small spatula to pick up the pancake (don't worry, it will hold its form) and flip it over to the uncooked side. If your freezer is nearby, I would also suggest putting the moulding ring in there for a few seconds just before you flip the pancake. After you're done flipping the pancake and you're ready to move onto the next one, the moulding ring will be cool enough to handle.

Scrape any remaining pancake and/or batter from the interior of the moulding ring before proceeding onto the next one.

This batter (for the most part a half-batch of my previous pancake recipe) is good for ten (depending on thickness) 2" diameter pancakes (fun fact: a tennis ball is 2.5" in diameter). But seriously... check out the height on these!

And seriously, what's brunch (let alone breakfast... or life, really) without bacon? I'd like to note here that since I only used two slices of a fresh pack, I folded over the cut end of the package with tin foil and took out as much air as possible from a sealed plastic baggy. Hopefully this'll store well in this form until the next bacon needs to join a food party.

As already mentioned, I wanted to make pancakes so that I had a practical reason outside of curiosity to check on my berry butter. Perhaps it didn't spoil all too quickly because the majority of it was made with already processed (versus homemade) butter, but I think it turned out very well and kept its shape. I also don't eat butter in its raw form all that often (even with bread), but it certainly tasted particularly creamy having been softened prior to adding the berries. [As a side note: I rewrapped my unused berry butter in fresh plastic wrap and tin foil.]

After arranging my plate, I added slices of the berry butter to my pancakes. By this point the pancakes were on the cooler side and thus weren't warm enough to melt the butter and reveal the "berried" (ha..ha) treasure.

The response of course, as Ree Drummond demonstrates on The Pioneer Woman, is to pour some warmed maple syrup over the butter. (PS/ There are little black specks left over from the bacon... clearly I didn't wipe the pan well enough.)

I don't know if I need to type it, but I'll do so anyway. Brunch--and especially this one--is delicious. And the dark chocolate chip pancakes are a good enough midnight snack on their own. Believe me, I just had some of the leftovers. For the rest of these drool-worthy photos, click here.

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