If the recipes of my life were bound into a book, surely the page for my dad’s ricotta pancakes would be the most well loved — splattered with old batter and lightly dusted in flour. It’s the recipe I reach for when I miss my childhood home or when I’m entertaining friends for brunch and when I can’t decide what to make — even if it’s dinner time.
The year I lived in Israel when I was 22 years old could easily be renamed “My Year in Pancakes.” Nearly ever Shabbat brought a different pancake recipe, many made in sparse kitchens without measuring cups or spoons. There were the lemon poppy seed pancakes that my roommate fell for, monkey cakes packed with chocolate, candied pecans and bananas devoured by my kibbutznik friends during gossip sessions the morning after a big party, and pear and strawberry pancakes made with supremely ripe fruit gathered right before the horn was sounded in Jerusalem’s market to announce the beginning of Shabbat. Since that year, I’ve flirted with pumpkin pancake recipes, chocolate chip and raspberry ones and countless others.
But I always return to my dad’s adaptation of the basic “Joy of Cooking” pancake recipe. The variations result in pillowy ricotta silver dollars, pierced with tart bubbling blueberries that I drizzle with maple syrup and eat while standing up in the kitchen, hot out of the pan with my fingers. It’s rare that they make it to the table. My dad, who taught me to cook, says he was inspired to create the recipe by the childhood memory of his grandmother Helen’s blintzes, which were stuffed with rich farmer’s cheese. Perhaps there’s some cosmic connection to Helen’s recipe — of all the family members, according to my dad, it is Helen’s mother Rebecca that I resemble the most.
Among the many times I find to eat these pancakes is the dinner right after Passover ends. They’re sweet, but not too much so for dinner. Light and fluffy, they are the perfect antidote the holiday of unleavened foods. But then again, I don’t really need an excuse to have them.
Walter’s Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes
Adapted from the “Joy of Cooking”
Cook’s note: If you buy ricotta packaged at a grocery store, reduced fat works well, fat free does not. But, whenever possible, make these with fresh, full fat ricotta from a cheese or specialty shop.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk, plus more for thinning
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
3 eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound ricotta
1 box rinsed and dried blueberries
1) Mix all of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) in a large bowl with a whisk. Set aside.
2) Combine milk, butter, egg yolks, vanilla and ricotta in another bowl and mix together with a whisk or fork, until the mixture has become a nice, thick and even liquid with no lumps.
3) Make a well in the dry ingredients bowl and pour in the wet ingredients, whisk together. If the mix looks too thick for your taste, add more milk gradually. (I usually add another quarter to half of a cup, as I like my pancakes fairly thin.)
4) Using a mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
5) Mix a small dollops of the egg whites into the batter. Once combined, begin folding in the remainder of the egg whites one scoop at a time, very gently, to keep the batter light. Repeat until all of the egg whites are folded in.
6) Heat a cast iron skillet with butter, once the pan is hot but not smoking, scoop in a quarter to a third of a cup of batter and turn the heat down to medium-high. Sprinkle blue berries on top of pancakes as they cook.
7) When medium sized bubbles form in the pancakes, flip them and cook for another minute or so.
8) When done, drizzle with maple syrup and eat standing up — or at the table, if you can wait that long.