Cornmeal is a Southern staple that makes an awesome addition to a traditional recipe for pancake batter, and for made-from-scratch, homemade pancakes, it's a great thing to include. Following the basic procedure for making pancakes but including cornmeal in the recipe is exceptionally common in Mexican cooking, as a matter of fact, and in the U.S., the end-product of that kind of recipe is referred to as a Jonnycake, a corn pancake, or sometimes a Mexican hotcake, depending on the cooking method and quantity of cornmeal and other ingredients in the batter. The flavor and texture get something distinctly cornbread to them, which Knoxvillians will love, and as a result, there's a real resonance with this recipe and down-home Southern foodies. The recipe below best fits the description of "corn pancakes" since it is made from a batter based upon a great pancake batter recipe.
There are some key tips to making good pancakes that cannot be ignored, and those apply to all pancakes, corn or otherwise. Pancakes are a quickbread of a sort that are meant to be light and fluffy, not dense and chewy. For that reason, the following tips must be observed for a really good result:
- Tip 1: Don't over-stir the batter. With every pull of a whisk or spoon through a mixture of wheat flour and water, gluten develops. Gluten is fine for yeast breads and pizza crusts, but it's really bad for pancakes. Only mix pancake batter (preferably with a whisk) until it just comes together. Ignore lumps. They will cook out.
- Tip 2: Use buttermilk. Sure, you can make great pancakes without buttermilk, but the acidity of buttermilk really helps activate the baking soda in the recipe, giving a little extra lift to your pancakes. If you want light, fluffy pancakes with a great flavor, buttermilk is a must. It's also a staple of the American Southeast, so using it allows Knoxville to embrace its food heritage. Your best bet is to use a churned buttermilk (as opposed to a cultured one), e.g. from the Knoxville dairy Cruze Farms.
- Tip 3: Make them from scratch. Despite what Bisquick would have you believe, pancake batter is remarkably easy to make from scratch. If you do, then you have total control of what goes into your pancake batter along with total control of how the ingredients end up coming together, which matters (see below in the recipe). It literally takes only about five more minutes of prep work to make your pancakes from scratch than to use a kit.
As for the bananas foster glaze, if you haven't had bananas foster as a desert yet, then you're seriously missing something seriously great. Bananas foster was invented at Brennan's, a very famous, very good restaurant in New Orleans, and thanks to top chefs like Emeril Lagasse, it has quite a following in the world now. A Google search for "bananas foster" returns 136,000 hits, in fact. It was created in 1951 by Chef Paul Blange at Brennan's (see this link to the Brennan's website for the original recipe) as a treat for Richard Foster, who served on the New Orleans Crime Commission along with Owen Brennan, the founder and owner of Brennan's. It's really, really delicious. As a little warning, you should be careful making it since the flambe stage of the recipe could set your kitchen on fire without care!
As long as big names in the cooking world are being thrown around, this recipe is derived from the best pancake recipe that this Examiner knows of, which he learned by watching Alton Brown on Food Network some time ago. If you've tried Alton Brown's pancake recipe, then you know it's just about perfect. Adding corn, though, made it better. By the regional note bye, Alton Brown is known for having a distinctly Southern cooking style, perhaps picked up from living in northern Georgia while he went to school and where he's lived since.
Recipe: Corn pancakes with lemon topped with bananas foster glaze, Tennessee-style -- Ingredients
For the pancakes:
- 1 1/2 c. stone ground cornmeal;
- 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour (rec: King Arthur's), sifted;
- 1 tsp. baking soda;
- 2 tsp. baking powder;
- 1 tsp. finely granulated salt (rec: sea salt);
- 1 tbsp. sugar (rec: evaporated cane juice);
- 3 eggs, separated;
- 3 c. (churned) buttermilk;
- 1/2 c. (whole) milk;
- 6 tbsp. melted butter;
- Zest of 1/4 lemon, finely chopped.
For the glaze:
- 3 bananas, sliced across into thirds and lengthwise into quarters;
- 1 c. brown sugar (pref: dark brown sugar);
- 1/2 stick (4 tbsp.) butter;
- 1 tsp. cinnamon powder;
- 2 shots dark rum;
- 1 shot Tennessee whiskey or bourbon.
- Combine all of the dry ingredients for the pancakes in a large bowl and mix them well. Melt the butter (for the pancakes) and separate the eggs. Prepare a large nonstick skillet or griddle by rubbing it with butter and then wiping off all visible butter and then heating it to around 350 degrees over medium heat. Set the oven to warm with a heat-resistant dish in there.
- When the butter is melted and cooled somewhat, add it to the egg yolks and mix vigorously. Combine the egg whites with the milk and buttermilk and mix well with a whisk. Then, after each of these two liquid components are well mixed, combine them and add the lemon zest and mix well. [Science: Combining the ingredients separately like this allows the fat of the butter and egg yolks to be evenly and fully dissolved in the buttermilk mixture.]
- Test the griddle. It is ready when a drop of water placed on the surface "dances." If it is too hot or too cool, adjust the heat.
- Mix the flour-cornmeal mixture and the buttermilk mixture, pouring the liquid over the dry ingredients. Stirring a little as possible with a whisk, just combine the two ingredients into a batter. There will be lumps, and that's fine. You should only need to gently stir for 10-15 seconds to combine.
- Ladle the batter onto the pan to form rounds not much larger than the size of your spatula, whatever size that is. Allow the pancakes to cook on one side until the bubbles around the edges set, and then flip. Cook them on the second side for roughly that same amount of time, and then remove them from the pan and place them in the oven to keep warm. When most of the batter is used, start making the glaze.
- To make the glaze, start by melting the butter in a large frying pan, and then add the sugar and cinnamon. Stir over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves and starts to get bubbly.
- Add the bananas to the pan and let them cook in the butter-sugar mixture until they start to caramelize.
- At that point, add the spirits carefully, particularly if cooking over gas, and let it boil for a few seconds (it will likely boil very vigorously). Using a small torch or aim-and-flame (making sure the area above the pan is clear!!!), set the boiling alcohol vapors on fire. The flame could be quite vigorous and large (over two feet high, possibly), so keep your face back! For the best effect, turn off the lights and invite the family in! When the flames reduce, shake the pan gently by the end of the handle until all of the flames go out. At that point, turn off the heat and use the glaze by spooning it with the bananas over stacks of the corn pancakes. If desired (some people like their pancakes soggy), add a little maple syrup. Garnish with crushed walnuts or pecans.
Disclaimer: The flambe technique is rather advanced and requires you to clear the area around and above your stove, the pan in particular, and involves creating a large open flame in your kitchen. Keep the area clear, and keep your face and hands back while performing this technique. If you are uncomfortable doing that, the flambe step can be omitted and the alcohol can be allowed to boil off for 1-2 minutes without the need for a flame (though over a gas burner with spirits in the pan, spontaneous flambe is possible). The Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner claims no responsibility for poorly planned and executed flambes.
Buy it locally! All of the ingredients in this recipe, which is built from Southern favorites, are widely available in the Knoxville area at any grocery store, but particularly fine stone-ground cornmeal can be picked up at the Knoxville locations of Earth Fare in both white and yellow.
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