Annabel Langbein: Batter up (+ recipes)
When I was at primary school there was no such thing as a school cafeteria and our mothers all made us sensible lunches - little plastic boxes containing sandwiches (which usually got binned), some fresh and dried fruit and a couple of pieces of home baking.
One girl's parents owned a bakery and each lunchtime, as we sat down to eat our dull lunchbox offerings, her mother would sail in the door, laden with cream buns and pies for her daughter's lunch. We were in awe, as much of the lunch as the mother - who, with her stilettos, super-short skirt, peroxide blond hair piled high atop her head, Bridget Bardot cat-eye eyeliner (and cleavage to match) did not look like a mother, or at least any of the mothers we knew.
We were never going to get our hands on any of that bakery food, so my friend Alice and I started to cook together each day after school. We enjoyed the sense of being in charge and making something we wanted to eat - and what we usually wanted to eat was pancakes.
They were the simplest thing to make - just flour, baking powder, eggs and milk whisked up together and cooked in big spoonfuls in a hot, buttery pan. The best part was the topping - a 50-50 mix of butter and golden syrup, beaten together with a wooden spoon to form a fluffy, dark golden cream.
We tried biscuits and cakes as well but it was the pancakes we kept coming back to - they were so quick and so easy. We worked out that if we left out the baking powder and added more milk we got super-thin crepes, but if we added too much milk the crepes would not hold together. Every day it was an experiment to see what we could change or how we could make them better. I don't even know if we had a recipe.
Later I learned that if I let the batter rest for 10-15 minutes before I cooked it, the pancakes would be more tender (the gluten relaxes) and that adding a little butter into the batter makes the mixture super-smooth (the fat molecules coat the flour and break up any lumps). But even without knowing this useful chemistry, Alice and I were in gustatory heaven.
This week I'm sharing three variations on a simple batter of flour, egg and milk: pancakes, pikelets and waffles. Pikelet batter is a little thicker than pancake batter, which means they rise more than pancakes and take a little longer to cook. Waffles also require a thick batter so it rises as it cooks.
The acidity of buttermilk is what makes batters (and cakes and muffins) so light and tender. When combined with a leavening agent, such as baking powder or baking soda, it releases carbon dioxide bubbles that lighten whatever you're making.
If you don't have buttermilk, stir 1Tbsp of lemon juice or white vinegar into a cup of milk and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes (it will curdle but that's fine). You can also use yoghurt or sour cream thinned with water, or even kefir. Get the recipe
Is there anything more delicious for a weekend brunch or supper than homemade waffles, fresh from the waffle iron, crispish on the outside and tender in the middle? My nan was the master of the waffle iron, and this recipe is hers.
Waffle batter is best made several hours ahead, or better still, the night before, with beaten egg whites added just before cooking. They'll be eaten faster than you can make them, so aim to have a few ready before everyone arrives at the table. If you don't have a waffle iron, cook spoonfuls of the mixture in a hot, buttered pan, as for pancakes. Get the recipe
For blueberry pikelets, fold 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries into the batter. For lemon pikelets, finely grate the rind of a lemon into the batter. Get the recipe
Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65) is a beautiful compendium of Annabel’s best-ever savoury recipes and cooking tips. On sale now at Paper Plus, Whitcoulls, The Warehouse and all good bookstores. Follow Annabel on Facebook or Instagram or visit annabel-langbein.com.