I’ve always felt there to be a solid division between the sweet and savory schools of breakfast. There’s your bacon and eggs and then there’s your waffles, pancakes and fruit. I always looked sideways at people who ordered a side of bacon with their waffles and dipped them in maple syrup. Probably as a result of my Chinese taste foundations, I’ve never really had a sweet tooth. Growing up, mine was a household where it was never too early for savory offal soup, and so it was that eggs and noodles were chosen over cereal and muffins time and again. But recently, I’ve noticed that my breakfast and brunch classics don’t seem as appetizing in the hot steam of a summer’s day. I wasn’t looking for salad at 10am, but when faced with temperatures north of 35°C, bacon, eggs and beans didn’t sound like they’d sit comfortably in my stomach.
What I wanted for summer was a lightly sweet, yet filling breakfast that provided energy for the day, but didn’t weigh down the stomach. Fruit is the obvious choice, and anyone who has spent August in Beijing will remember the fragrant, blushing white juicy peaches. A breakfast of peaches is a good late morning hold over, but a full brunch demands a bit more time in the kitchen. Enter pancakes. American pancakes, fluffy, soft and tender, are summer’s answer to a full brunch.
When making a soft pancake, slightly crispy along the edges, buttermilk is key. Despite the name, buttermilk isn’t actually made with butter. It’s sort of a thin yogurt. Because it’s so difficult to find in Beijing, I usually use a good, drinkable yogurt as a subsititute. Honey gives a nice depth of flavor to the compote, and it cuts down on the use of processed white sugar. As long as we’re on a health kick, I snuck in some cornmeal, which I think makes the texture a bit more interesting, but you can leave it out if you prefer. The compote will keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for a week or frozen for a month and is delicious spooned over ice cream.
Peach and Cardamom Compote
(serves 3, with some left over)
6 large, ripe white peaches
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup honey
seeds from 2 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
juice of ½ lemon
pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Using a paring knife, score the bottom of each peach with an "x". Plunge the peaches in boiling water for 15 seconds, then drain and cover with cold water. Peel the skin off the peaches. Cut the peach in half, take the peach in your hand and twist apart the halves. Remove the stone. Peel and core all peaches. Chop the fruit into ½ inch chunks. Put fruit in a small sauce pot and add raisins, honey, cardamom seeds, a cinnamon stick, lemon juice and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cover for 5 minutes. Drain. Return the liquid back to the pot and boil until thickened to the consistency of syrup. Add lemon zest, Take the pot off the heat and fold in the fruit.
Cornmeal Buttermilk Pancakes
¾ cup flour
¾ cup cornmeal
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1¼ buttermilk (or thin yogurt substitute)
toasted sliced almonds
Whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt in one bowl. In another bowl whisk together buttermilk and eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well. Don’t worry if there are lumps in the batter. Heat a flat frying pan on high ’til very hot. Add a little vegetable oil to coat. Turn down the heat to medium high. Pour ¼ cup of batter into the pan. When you see bubbles on the surface, flip the pancake over. Keep pancakes stacked and warm in the oven until you’ve made all of them. Repeat until you run out of batter.
Stack a few pancakes on a plate, top with compote, a dollop of yogurt, whipped cream or sour cream if you like and sprinkle with toasted almond slices.