In my Northeastern life, pancakes are for frigid winter mornings, the snow stacking on pine trees outside, my windows fogging from coffee steam. Hot off the griddle, they’re warming against the chill. During the same season in Los Angeles, my hometown, the skies are atypically clear so the sun feels close and soft. Eating a pile of pancakes outside under that glow is as magical as the scent of orange blossoms in the air.
No matter the setting, pancakes taste like comfort — especially if they’re made well. There are many different styles of breakfast pancake, but the one thing they should always be is tender. The simplest way to ensure that? Ricotta.
Even though the addition of ricotta to pancake batter isn’t a new concept — by now, it’s a beloved one — it’s often accompanied by folding in egg whites that have been beaten to stiff peaks. You can skip that fussiness and, instead, simply beat whole eggs and use baking powder in the batter. With that combination, you won’t get cloudlike souffléd pancakes that come from whipped egg whites, but you do end up with a fluffiness that also manages to feel creamy. And keeping the proportion of flour low and stirring it in gently until it’s just incorporated prevent a tough, rubbery texture.
To achieve airiness while developing a golden-brown crust, it’s important to start with a griddle or pan that’s the right temperature. Too cool and the batter will flatten before it rises. Too hot and the outsides will burn before the insides cook through. They’ll sink off the heat and be inedible because of the raw centers.
Start heating a griddle or pan over medium-low when you begin mixing the batter and it’ll be evenly hot at the correct temperature when you’re ready to cook. To see if the surface is ready, scatter a little water over it: The droplets should steadily hop. Once they evaporate, run a thick pat of butter all over the flat top and spoon circles of batter in its foamy wake.
Once the rounds turn golden brown on their bottoms and their tops bubble, it’s important to flip them as gently as possible to avoid popping those air bubbles. Slide a spatula under a pancake and lift it just high enough to set an opposite edge down, then ease the rest of the pancake off the spatula.
Texture is crucial to good pancakes, but taste matters, too. Lemon pairs well with ricotta, so to highlight the fruit’s floral flavor, its zest is gently rubbed into sugar, then whisked with fragrant vanilla. Butter highlights the milkiness of ricotta, and buttermilk introduces a faint tanginess.
All together, the ingredients griddle into a breakfast with enough creamy sweetness to eat on its own. A gloss of blueberry syrup is welcome, but these delicate pancakes may be at their most comforting when eaten hot, by hand, standing next to the stove, anywhere in the world.
Recipe: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
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