Cornmeal Pancakes with Whipped Ricotta and Candied Orange Syrup. All photos taken on Tuesday June 7, 2016 at Venkman’s. Styling by Chef Nick Melvin. (Photo by Chris Hunt/Special) for story 062316pancakes
Photo: Chris Hunt
Photo: Chris Hunt

Make pancakes worth flipping for with flour from Georgia-grown wheat

“I See a Story: The Art of Eric Carle” organized by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts. At the High Museum of Art through January 8, 2017. 1280 Peachtree Street, Atlanta. high.org.

“Pancakes, Pancakes!” Performed live on the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage. Through July 10. Performances weekdays and weekends. Children five and under, free. Children 6 – 17, $8. Adults $15. Alliancetheatre.org.

In Eric Carle’s “Pancakes, Pancakes!” (Little Simon, $8.99), Jack wakes up one morning hungry for pancakes. His mom is fine with making a pancake, but he’s got to gather the ingredients. First he goes to the farmer for some wheat, then to the miller to turn that into flour. Then to a hen for an egg, a cow for milk that will be used as is but must also be churned into butter. He’ll need firewood for the stove and finally a jar of strawberry jam from the pantry for something sweet to top his pancake. Everything gathered, he can finally enjoy the fruits of his labor.

<< Check out a gallery of pancakes from Atlanta restaurants

If Jack had known Nathan Brett, co-owner and manager of DaySpring Farms in Danielsville, northeast of Athens, he would have saved himself at least one step for Brett is both farmer and miller of Georgia-grown wheat. And Brett would understand Jack’s urge for pancakes since he’s also a huge fan.

“Pancakes. I love them. In the winter off season from farmers markets, I make the family breakfast on Saturday mornings. I wake up before my wife and son and I make pancakes. I have an old worn-out recipe and I experiment with our flours. I’ve found a combination of our all-purpose, pastry and rye flours makes a really tasty pancake. My son eats the pancakes just as they are and my wife puts fruit or maple syrup on hers. My favorite way is to eat them with old-school cane syrup, which I get from a family friend.”

DaySpring Farms is a family business, a certified organic farm founded in 2011 on just under 90 acres of what was once timberland. “The original idea stemmed from my dad, Murray Brett. He grew up on a farm and he decided he wanted to reclaim a better way of life. That became a slogan for us. To go back to a way of life where you’re not tied to the latest and greatest new thing but you’re working with your hands on something productive.”

It may have been his father’s idea originally but Brett found himself completely in. “I drove down to see an organic farm near where my parents were living, just to take a look around. They offered me a job on the spot and I worked for them for about a year. But after the first six months, even in the dead of summer and in the blistering heat, I realized I really wanted to farm long-term, but for myself instead of for someone else. My dad and I found the property and purchased it that fall.”

The original idea had been to grow produce and raise beef cattle on pasture. But a missed planting window for establishing grass for pasture led the Bretts to plant a test plot of wheat. “My dad went in search of the best wheat varieties to grow here. Most of what is grown in Georgia is soft wheat and we were looking for high-protein, hard winter wheat.”

They connected with David Marshall at North Carolina State University and other Georgia wheat growers and grew a test plot of NU East. The success of that plot and the desire to develop a product that was shelf-stable and so could be sold 365 days a year, led them to focus on wheat. “This year we have 16 acres in NU East, about 10 acres in Turkey Red and nine acres in Appalachian White. These are all great wheats for bread flours.”

Harvesting begins in late May and early June when the wheat is cleaned, bagged and stored. The bagged grain is stored at about 30 degrees to keep insects away before it can be milled. The farm does its own milling on a 16-inch Meadows stone burr mill. Cleaned grain is sold to bakers and other small milling operations, and milled into the farm’s three whole wheat grinds: all-purpose, pastry and bread flour.

“We have both white and red whole wheat flours and a little of the heritage Turkey Red flour. The difference in flours is in the sifting. Our whole wheat bread flour is sifted to remove most of the large grain participles and remaining chaff. The pastry flour goes through the very smallest screen and what you’re left with is as close as we get to a flour like White Lily.”

This year they expect to harvest just over 40,000 pounds of wheat and grind about half that into flour. They do specialty grinds for some customers and sell their flour at the Saturday morning Athens and Freedom farmers markets. Their flour can also be purchased through their website, and it’s used at Atlanta restaurants such as Empire State South and Staplehouse.

Brett admits most of his customers are using it to bake bread, and while he can make bread, he says he really prefers using his flour to make pancakes. He’ll happily sell you a two- or five-pound bag so you can try flour grown and milled in Georgia to see what a difference it can make in your own pancakes.

Pancake griddle? Skillet? One of the great things about pancakes is that unlike waffles, they don’t require a special appliance. You can make your pancakes in a skillet. You can use a countertop appliance like a pancake/waffle maker. Or if your stove has a flattop griddle, then you’re all set to cook up batches of pancakes at a time.

Derek Dollar’s Sweet Potato Pancakes

Derek Dollar, executive chef of Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails and The Big Ketch Saltwater Grill in Roswell, created this recipe using one of Georgia’s favorite vegetables. The small amount of sugar means the pancakes are more savory than sweet. At Milton’s you’ll find them garnished with cracked mustard maple syrup, cinnamon-honey butter and candied pecans.

The recipe makes a very thick batter. The pancakes will take a little longer to cook, and they’ll never have those little bubbles that let you know the pancake is ready to turn.

If you’d like a lighter pancake, add more milk, or even water, to thin the batter to your preference. Bake your sweet potatoes up to 3 days ahead and refrigerate them. Then you’re ready to mix up the pancakes whenever you want to serve them.

2 pounds sweet potatoes

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 1/2 cups milk

2 eggs

3 tablespoons oil

1/4 cup light brown sugar

Butter and maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool, then peel. In the bowl of a food processor, process sweet potato flesh until smooth. You should have 2 cups. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, oil, sugar and reserved sweet potato puree. Gradually incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, just mixing until combined. Do not overmix.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Lightly spray skillet with nonstick spray. Ladle batter into skillet by 1/4-cup measure. Do not crowd skillet. Cook until first side is golden, then turn and cook another 1 to 2 minutes or until pancake is cooked through and both sides are golden brown. Remove from skillet and repeat with remaining batter. Makes: 20 5-inch pancakes

Per pancake: 128 calories (percent of calories from fat, 24), 3 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 3 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 23 milligrams cholesterol, 181 milligrams sodium.

Bread & Butterfly Pancakes

Listed just as “Pancakes” on the Bread & Butterfly menu, these are pancakes at their most basic. No flavorings except flour, sweet milk, eggs and butter with a little leavening, sugar and salt. They were named Best Pancakes in the 2016 AJC Brunch Guide. Bread & Butterfly’s executive chef Bryan Stoffelen says pancakes as simple as these require excellent ingredients and make the perfect vehicle for “good” butter and pure maple syrup.

Stoffelen uses a 1/2-cup measure to produce pancakes about 6 inches across. With all their leavening, they bake up almost a 1/2-inch high. The batter is thick, so be patient as the pancakes cook through.

If you have time to plan ahead, make the batter and let it rest 30 to 60 minutes, or even overnight, in the refrigerator. The result will be a more tender pancake. The recipe makes a thick batter. The pancakes will take a little longer to cook and develop those little bubbles that let you know the pancake is ready to turn.

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

10 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon salt

4 cups whole milk

3 eggs

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for griddle

Maple syrup and “good” butter, to serve with pancakes

Sift flour into a large bowl. Whisk in baking powder, sugar and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Slowly whisk in melted butter. Gradually mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Do not overmix.

Heat a griddle over medium heat. Lightly butter the surface. Ladle batter in 1/2-cup portions onto griddle. When pancakes begin to bubble and top is no longer shiny, flip pancake. When second side is golden, remove from griddle and serve immediately with maple syrup and butter. Makes: 14 6-inch pancakes.

Per pancake: 164 calories (percent of calories from fat, 24), 7 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 4 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 54 milligrams cholesterol, 325 milligrams sodium.

Cornmeal Pancake with Whipped Ricotta and Candied Orange Syrup

Nick Melvin, chef and partner of Venkman’s in Old Fourth Ward, created these pancakes for their Saturday and Sunday brunch. We’ve scaled back the recipe to a fifth of what they prepare with each batch.

Because the pancakes are low in fat, be sure to butter your griddle or skillet before cooking your pancakes, and repeat between pancakes.

Since this batter contains whipped egg whites, it’s not a good candidate for standing too long. But the cooked pancakes freeze perfectly if this recipe will make more pancakes than you need for your meal.

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

4 cups buttermilk

4 eggs, separated

1 2/3 cups ricotta

Whipped Ricotta Pancake Topping (see recipe)

Candied Orange Syrup (see recipe)

Candied Almonds (see recipe)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

In another large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg yolks and ricotta. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

In a large, clean stainless steel bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry, fold them into the batter.

Heat a griddle over medium heat. Lightly butter surface. Ladle batter in 1/2-cup portions onto griddle. Do not crowd griddle. When pancakes begin to bubble, turn. When second side is golden, remove from griddle and serve immediately with Whipped Ricotta, Candied Orange Syrup and Candied Almonds. Makes: 20 5-inch pancakes

Per pancake (without ricotta or syrup): 164 calories (percent of calories from fat, 24), 7 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 4 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 54 milligrams cholesterol, 325 milligrams sodium.

Nick Melvin’s Candied Orange Syrup

2 oranges

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup water

Using a paring knife, cut the colored zest from the oranges. Cut zest into long matchstick-wide strips. You should have about 3/4 cup zest strips. Juice oranges. You should have about 3/4 cup juice.

Blanch orange zest: In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add zest strips and cook 30 seconds. Drain. Fill saucepan with water again, bring to a boil and add zest. Boil 30 seconds and then drain.

In a large saucepan, combine orange juice, sugar, water and blanched zest. Bring to a simmer and cook until liquid has reduced to a syrup. Remove from heat. Makes: 1 cup

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 44 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), trace protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, no fat, no cholesterol, trace sodium.

Whipped Ricotta Pancake Topping

1 1/4 cups ricotta

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl, whisk together ricotta, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes: 1 cup

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 34 calories (percent of calories from fat, 59), 2 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 10 milligrams cholesterol, 16 milligrams sodium.

Candied Almonds

1 cup whole skin-on almonds

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons water

Salt

In a large skillet, combine almonds, sugar and water and cook over medium heat until sugar begins to crystalize on the almonds. Remove from heat and add salt. Toss together to coat evenly and move almonds to a baking sheet to cool. May be made up to 1 month ahead if kept tightly covered. Makes: 1 1/4 cups

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 120 calories (percent of calories from fat, 59), 3 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 8 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 10 milligrams sodium.

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