Pancakes, French Toast, and Crepes

When I was a little girl, my dad was not much of a cook.  We all still tease him about the time he stayed home from church one Sunday and made lunch.  The mashed potatoes turned out a little thin, so he thickened them with flour.  I think I was the only one in the family who ate the gluey mess and claimed to like them.  (I’m pretty sure I really did like them.  Carbs, y’know.)

When we got our first blender, however, Dad flipped through the blender cookbook and found a recipe for crepes.  Before my parents were married, my dad was stationed in France for 2 years with the Army Corps of Engineers.  He had fond memories of crepes sold on the street, like hot dogs.  The recipe was pretty simple, and you merely had to blend it up, heat up a skillet, develop a little flick of the wrist action, et voilà!  France on your breakfast plate.

I don’t know how many Sunday mornings during my childhood that Dad made crepes, but it was a lot.  In honor of him and all the other dads our there making memories for their kids, I have developed a vegan crepe recipe that I truly can’t tell from the original.  I also offer up a wonderful standard pancake recipe and an amazing French Toast that is just like the stuff I had as a kid.  It has a very “eggy” consistency, and a wonderful flavor.
If you can make one of these breakfasts for your dad on Father’s Day, go for it.  Or if you’re a dad, start a new tradition with your own kids.

I’ll start with the pancakes.  These are wonderful.  The recipe is adapted from the “Pancakes” recipe in Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s fabulous Vegan with a Vengeance.  I love this cookbook and recommend it highly.  I have taken the liberty of changing Isa’s white-flour pancakes into whole wheat ones by using whole wheat pastry flour.  They are just as light as the originals, but with much more fiber and a better nutritional profile overall.  Do not make these with whole wheat bread flour, or they’ll be heavy as lead.  If you simply must have pancakes that look and taste just like the ones you grew up with, use unbleached all-purpose flour.

A lot of people have trouble making pancakes.  You just need the right equipment.  You can use a non-stick skillet, a stove-top griddle, or an electric skillet or griddle.  My favorite by far is the electric griddle.  It gives you the most surface area, so you can cook more pancakes at once, and it has more even heat than a stovetop griddle.  I tried one of those heavy, cast-iron griddles on my gas stove, and the hot spots were really wicked.  I kept burning pancakes, or having them get tough because the heat was too low.  If you don’t mind serving everyone else while you cook, use a non-stick skillet or two.  The cook simply eats last that way, or you can trade off cooking with someone else mid-way through.  You can try stacking the pancakes and keeping them warm in a 200 F pre-heated oven, but they’re far better fresh off the griddle.

Cook your pancakes on medium heat.  Oil your pan with pan spray, a bit of canola oil, or a little melted Earth Balance margarine.  Use a very light hand with the oil or margarine.  I tried all three methods, and the pancakes looked and tasted almost the same with all three.  Pancakes are ready to turn when they form bubbles all the way across their surface.  Don’t turn them sooner or they’ll drip all over the place or fall apart.  They should be golden brown and have a slightly speckled surface.  The second side will cook much quicker than the first.

French toast has always been a challenge for vegans.  I think Isa has perfected it with her recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance.  I have tried many, many French toast recipes through the years, including flax seed French toast, and banana French toast, and I have never had one that made me think “wow – now THIS is French toast” before.  Isa’s secret ingredients are soy creamer and chickpea flour.  Isa doesn’t specify Silk, but it works beautifully, and it’s the easiest soy creamer to find locally.  The chickpea flour is available at Sevananda in the baking aisle with other non-gluten flours (it might be called “garbanzo bean flour”).  It’s also available from most Indian grocers and is sometimes called “besan” or “channa”  or “gram” flour (not to be confused with graham, or whole wheat, flour).  Indians have used chickpea flour for ages to substitute for eggs in omelettes and other “eggy” dishes, as most Hindu vegetarians consider eggs “meat”.  For the French bread, you can use either a traditional white French baguette, a whole wheat baguette, or regular, sliced whole grain bread.  The non-French bread soaks up more of the liquid, so you might need to double the recipe if that’s your preference.  The French toast cooks well in a skillet or on a griddle.  It’s very easy – just cook it long enough on the first side so that it releases naturally from the pan and it won’t stick or tear.

Now, on to the crepes.  I thought, after loving Isa’s French toast recipe, that chickpea flour was going to be the key to making thin, “eggy” crepes.  (Crepes, for the uninitiated, are traditionally made with lots of eggs and just enough flour and milk to hold them together.)  Isa had a crepe recipe in her book and I tried it with high hopes, but I have to say….it was awful.  There was no allowance made in the recipe for the leavening action that the eggs give to crepes.  I tried the recipe in Garden of Vegan (by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer) and it was much, much better.  It uses Ener-G egg replacer powder.  I then tried hybridizing the two recipes, but it turns out that the Garden of Vegan recipe, sans chickpea flour, was the hands-down winner.  Next, I made a batch with all whole-wheat pastry flour, and it was just as good.  The only other change I made was to add a bit more water to the recipe, as the batter was a little thick.  Don’t add too much liquid, though, or your crepes will stick and make a gooey mess.  You can choose to make this with whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached flour, but the whole wheat ones are once again very light and less nutritionally bankrupt.

The best way to cook your crepes is to have two small, non-stick crepe or omelette pans.  (I used one of each, since that’s what I had handy.)  You can use just one pan, but cooking will obviously take twice as long.  More than two is just too much to handle for the average cook.  Get your pans hot, and lightly oil them.  (See the note in the crepes recipe about using a cut potato to do this.  It works better than anything else I’ve tried.)  Pour about a quarter-cup of batter into your pan and quickly pick up and swirl the pan around very quickly to coat the bottom of the pan with batter.  Do the same with the second pan while the first one cooks on medium heat.  The crepes are ready to turn when they look almost dry on top and the edges begin to brown.  Using a very thin, flexible spatula, “romance” the edge of the crepe away from the pan, and slip the spatula under it.  I have read recipes that suggest grabbing the edge of the crepe with your fingers, but I cook all the time and have pretty tough fingers, and that still sounds like crazy talk to me.  Use your spatula to turn the crepe over in the pan.  You don’t need more oil for the second side.  Cook it briefly (about as long as it takes to flip crepe number two) and flip it out onto a plate and serve.

If you can, cook your crepes and serve them right away, without stacking.  They are best when the edges are a little crisp.  (If you have leftovers, reheat individual crepes in a toaster oven to revive their crispy edges.)

To serve them, you can either fold them into quarters, sprinkling them with a bit of powdered sugar as a snack, or you can roll them up around a filling of lightly sweetened fresh fruit (my favorite is strawberries), and then sprinkle them with powdered sugar or pour on a bit of maple syrup (which isn’t traditional, but tastes great).  Another option is to fill your crepes with a bit of melted jam, and then sprinkle them with powdered sugar.
Sevananda carries a couple of wonderful brands of unbleached, organic powdered sugar.  The stuff in the bags on the baking aisle is fluffy but expensive.  The sugar in the bulk bins is much cheaper, but needs to be sifted (it’s lumpy).  Don’t buy more of the bulk sugar than you can use quickly.  No matter how you store it, it tends to go rock hard in our humid climate within just a couple of months.

Whatever you’re serving for breakfast, Bon Appétit!

Pancakes

Recipe adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Serves 4

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached all-purpose)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup water
1 cup rice or soy milk (or more)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons maple syrup
oil or pan spray

1.  Oil a large frying pan or electric skillet and pre-heat (see notes).

2.  Sift together dry ingredients in a large bowl.

3.  Stir together wet ingredients into a smaller bowl.

4.  Whisk wet into dry, but don’t overmix or your pancakes will be tough.  A few lumps are OK.  Add a little more soy milk or water if the batter looks too thick.

5. Pour a small amount of batter onto the griddle or pan.  Smooth it out with your spoon or ladle (don’t leave it as you pour it or your pancakes will be too thick in the middle and won’t cook properly).

6. Cook pancakes until lightly browned on bottom and bubbles form all the way across the top (about 4 minutes).

7.  Turn the pancakes over and cook briefly until the pancakes are brown and barely firm to the touch.

8.  Transfer to individual plates, and continue cooking until all batter is used.  Oil pan in between pancakes as needed.

8.  Serve with Earth Balance and real maple syrup, or jam of your choice.

—————
Notes: Pancakes cook most evenly on an electric griddle, set to medium heat.  If you don’t have an electric griddle, cook them on a stovetop griddle or a large non-stick frying pan or skillet.  Be careful not to get the pan too hot (burnt pancakes) or too cool (tough pancakes).

Blueberry Pancakes – fold in one cup of fresh or frozen blueberries.  If using frozen berries, keep them frozen until mixing them in, or they will turn the batter bluish-grey.

Add 1 – 2 teaspoons lemon zest if desired for Lemon-Blueberry Pancakes.

“Fronch” Toast

Recipe adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Serves 4
1  loaf French bread, preferably a bit stale
1/2 cup soy creamer (or rice milk)
1/2 cup rice milk or soy milk
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 cup chickpea flour (also called garbanzo, besan, or channa flour)
canola oil, Earth Balance, or pan spray

1. Slice the bread into 1-inch thick rounds.  The bread should be a bit stale, or you can leave the slices out overnight, but if you’re in a hurry, skip this step.  It will still taste great.

2.   Pour the soy creamer and rice or soy milk into a wide shallow bowl.  Whisk in the corn starch and stir until dissolved.  Add the chickpea flour and stir until it is mostly dissolved, but some lumps are OK.

3.  Heat a non-stick skillet over a medium high heat.  Spray with nonstick spray, add vegetable oil, or melt a bit of margarine into the bottom of the skillet.

4.  Soak the bread slices (as many as will fit comfortably into your pan) and transfer to the skillet.

5.  Cook each side for about 2 minutes.  If they are not brown enough when you flip them, heat for 1 or 2 minutes more on each side.  They should be golden brown with flecks of dark brown.

6.  Serve immediately with margarine, maple syrup, powdered sugar, melted jam, and/or berries of your choice.

Breakfast or Dessert Crepes

Recipe By Lisa T. Bennett (adapted from Garden of Vegan, Barnard & Kramer)
Serves 4

1 cup soy milk
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon Ener-G egg replacer powder
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons Canola oil or melted Earth Balance

1.  In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients in order and blend for 20 seconds.  Be careful not to blend too long, as the crepes will end up tough and chewy.  Scrape down any dry ingredients that fly up onto the walls of the blender jar and blend briefly.  (If you don’t have a blender, whisk everything together thoroughly.)

2.  Pre-heat a non-stick omelette or crepe pan over medium heat.  Add a bit of oil using the cut potato technique in the notes section.

3.  Pour 2-3 tablespoons of the batter into the  pre-heated non-stick pan over medium high heat.  Tilt and swirl the pan so that the batter evenly coats the bottom of the pan evenly.

4.  Cook until the crepe is almost dry on top, and lightly browned around the edges.

5.  Loosen the edge of the crepe carefully with a thin, flexible spatula.  Work it carefully under the crepe, and flip the crepe over to cook the second side briefly (15-30 seconds).

6.  Serve the crepes immediately if possible or stack on a warm plate, with paper towels  between until you have finished cooking the whole batch.

7.  If you must cook the crepes in advance, let each crepe cool on a rack first, then stack them with waxed paper or parchment paper between, and plastic wrap over the entire stack.
—————
Notes: The best way to oil a crepe pan is to cut a small potato in half, and spear it with a small fork, cut side down.  Rest the cut side of the potato into a small bowl of canola oil.  Before cooking each crepe, wipe the oiled surface of the potato over the pan, leaving behind a thin layer of oil.