Pizza, popovers, pancakes and quiche — all from the same versatile batter

  • No pre-made dough necessary: Claire Hopley slides her Batter Pizza with Hamburger and Peppers from the oven. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tomato and Corn Pancakes —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Batter Pizza with Hamburger and Peppers —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Topped with cheese, avocado or fried plantains, Tomato and Corn Pancakes make a nice supper. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Batter Pizza with Hamburger and Peppers —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Batter Pizza with Hamburger and Peppers —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 2/8/2019 3:40:47 PM

When flour, eggs, and milk get together, their machinations are a bit of a mystery to those of us who are not food scientists. First, they turn into boring-looking batter, which then magically shape-shifts into a varied myriad of good things when cooked

Made with lots of milk, it becomes the skinniest of crepes or puffiest of popovers. Adding more flour and a little baking powder turns it into tender pancakes or waffles. Add sugar and you have the basis for desserts just crying out for sweet enhancements.

Clafoutis is a classic French example. It’s made from cherries baked in a rich batter. Other batter classics include French crepes, English Yorkshire pudding and giant Dutch Babies — a sweet pancake flavored with cinnamon, puffed in the oven, then showered with confectioners’ sugar. Despite its name, this is an American breakfast tradition based on a German recipe for pfannkuchen.

All these are made of wheat flour, but other flours can also be used in batter. Our own corn cakes and johnnycakes are examples that use corn meal. Chickpea flour is common in Indian pakoras and some roti. It’s also used in pancakes called panisse in France and farinata in Italian, and it adds the vital crispness to the Andalusian shrimp tortillas that are one of Spain’s most popular tapas.

Flour of some kind is basic for both batters and doughs. Both also need liquid — typically milk or water — and they may include the same range of other ingredients such as eggs, butter, oil, sugar and yeast or baking powder. So with the same ingredients, what’s the difference between dough and batter?

Most of us would unhesitatingly define a stiff, bulky, handleable mixture as dough, while characterizing a pourable mixture — often with identical components, though in different proportions — as batter. That difference in viscosity indicates a crucial technical difference that has practical consequences in the kitchen.

In dough, the shortage of liquid and the lengthy mixing develops the gluten in the flour, forming a structure that captures pockets of carbon dioxide produced by the yeast so that it rises to become a big tender loaf.

In batter, the large amount of liquid gelatinizes the starch in the flour, and this is what supports the many dishes you can make with it. So as not to develop gluten, you shouldn’t beat it more than necessary, and to capture the air whisked into it or the carbon dioxide produced by baking powder, you must cook it quickly. You can achieve this by making it thin and cooking it in a wide preheated pan, where it soon turns into a crepe or pancake.

In baked goods such as popovers or Yorkshire pudding, high baking temperatures quickly expand the air inside the batter while also firming the exterior enough to capture the multitude of tiny pockets that create the pillowy texture of many batter dishes.

Since making batter is easy, its ingredients are cheap, and it cooks pretty quickly, it’s not surprising that dishes made from it are homey rather than restaurant-y. The following recipes include three options for winter suppers: a tasty pizza look-alike with batter instead of dough for the base, a flavorful gratin of salmon and leeks and a hearty mixture of batter and sausages with the fun name of Toad in the Hole.

For serving on the side or for breakfast, there’s a recipe for Tomato and Corn pancakes, and for dessert a variant of the traditional clafoutis with dried apricots as the winter stand-in for summer’s cherries.

BATTER PIZZA WITH HAMBURGER AND PEPPERS

A yeast-raised dough is essential for authentic Italian pizza, but to make it you need to get going well ahead so you have time to knead it and it has time to rise and develop flavor.

The batter base used here is the work of just a few minutes, and has the advantage of being richer in protein. Toppings can be varied: sausage or pepperoni, or mushrooms, green peppers and onions.

For the topping:

3-4 tablespoons oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium red pepper (or half a red and half an orange one), seeded and cut into 3-inch strips

12 ounces ground beef

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

1 can diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano or more to taste

Salt to taste

⅔ cup grated mozzarella

Pinch hot pepper flakes (optional)

For the batter:

1 cup of all-purpose (or half all-purpose and half whole-wheat) flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 eggs

About ¾ cup milk

To make the topping, heat 2 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and gently cook the onion in it for 3 minutes, not letting it take color. Stir in the garlic, then move the mixture to one side of the pan and add the pepper strips to the cleared space. Continue cooking without letting the vegetables brown for another 4-5 minutes. Remove the pepper strips from the pan and set aside. Crumble the ground beef and add it to the pan, stirring it with the onions. Drain the tomatoes, reserving the liquid. Add the tomatoes, thyme and oregano to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring and adding just enough of the tomato liquid to make a moist mixture. Season with salt. Remove from the heat and let cool while you make the batter. (You can make this topping several hours ahead of time if you like. Store in the fridge but let it return to room temperature before using.)

Turn the oven to 425 degrees. Thoroughly grease a 12-inch diameter pizza pan with the remaining oil, leaving a good film in the base. In a bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder and oregano. In a small bowl, beat the eggs with half the milk. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the egg mixture. Stirring one way, combine the flour into the liquid, adding more milk as needed to make a pourable but not runny batter. Pour the batter onto the well-greased pan. Spoon the meat mixture on the surface, sprinkle with grated mozzarella and arrange the pepper strips on top. Bake 20 minutes, or until the edges are puffed and golden and the topping cooked. Sprinkle on the pepper flakes if using.

SALMON AND LEEK GRATIN

This gratin can play different roles. Served straight from the oven it’s a tasty supper dish; at room temperature with a salad it’s food for lunch; cut into one-inch squares, it’s a tasty party canapé. You could substitute 4 ounces smoked salmon cut in 1-inch pieces for the fresh salmon, or use a combination of fresh and smoked if you like.

8-10 ounces salmon fillet, skinned

2 large leeks

3 tablespoons butter

4 eggs, thoroughly beaten

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon dried dill

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons coarse home-made breadcrumbs from stale bread

Slice the salmon into half-inch strips. Cut any longer ones in half. Set aside.

Trim any coarse or damaged top leaves or outer layers off the leeks. Cut the white and tender green parts into half-inch disks. In a small saucepan, melt a tablespoon of butter. Stir in the leeks, and place on very low heat with the lid on. Cook gently, stirring quite often, for 6-7 minutes until the leeks are tender but not browned. Turn off the heat, stir in the salmon pieces along with the parsley and dill.

Turn the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the eggs with about a third of the milk. Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in half the remaining milk and stir in the flour, gradually combining it all adding more milk as you go. Next, stir in the eggs to make a smooth batter, then finally gently stir in the leek and salmon mixture.

Melt the rest of the butter and use it to grease a shallow 1-quart baking dish. Pour in the mixture. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top. Bake for 25 minutes or until the edges look puffy and a knife blade poked in the middle comes out clean. Remove and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

TOAD IN THE HOLE

No toads are needed for this favorite English supper dish, though kids often thrill at the idea that they are lurking in here somewhere. They really love the sausages that appear instead. Typically breakfast sausages are used, though small breakfast links are too skinny for the job. The breakfast links made by Pekarski’s of South Deerfield work perfectly. Italian sweet sausage is good option, and experiments could be made with kielbasa or other sausages. Lovers of Yorkshire pudding will recognize this dish as its close cousin.

1 cup flour

½ teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1¼ cups milk

2 tablespoons oil

8 large breakfast sausages (about a pound) or sweet Italian sausage cut in 8 pieces

In a bowl, mix the flour and salt. In another bowl thoroughly whisk the eggs with half the milk. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour in the egg mixture and whisk from the center, incorporating more flour and the remaining milk as you go. It should be as thick as regular pancake batter. Set aside. Turn the oven to 425 degrees.

If you have a pan that can go from the stove top to the oven to the table, use it for this recipe. Alternately use a frying pan and a shallow baking dish (capacity 1½ quarts), greased with oil. A deep-pie dish works well.

Prick the sausages with a fork. Heat the oil in the pan and cook the sausages for about 2 minutes — long enough to brown the outside but not to cook them right through. Remove them from the pan. Pour all the leftover oil into the pan you are going to use in the oven. Put it in to heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove and add about half a cup of the batter, swirling it so it makes a thin layer on the base. Bake for a minute so it sets. Now arrange the sausages in a single layer on top. Pour the remaining batter on them and bake for about 20 minutes or until the edges are puffed and a deep golden brown. Serve immediately with vegetables. Onion gravy or mushroom gravy are good with this. Tomato sauce is another option.

TOMATO AND CORN PANCAKES

You can serve these pancakes for supper topped with cheese or avocado or fried plantain. They also make a good side with casseroles or stews. Or have them for breakfast with a dollop of sour cream.

2 medium-large ripe but firm tomatoes

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Dash of cayenne pepper

3 eggs

About 1¼ cups milk

3 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons grated onion

1 cup corn kernels (fresh or canned)

2-3 basil leaves plus extra for garnish

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1-3 tablespoons oil as needed for frying

Slash the skin of the tomatoes in a criss-cross along the top; put in a bowl, and cover with boiling water. Leave for a few minutes, then remove and peel off the skin, which will have been loosened by the water. Halve the tomatoes; scoop out and discard the seeds and liquid. Chop the flesh into small (½-inch) bits. You should have 1 cup or a bit more. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and cayenne. Make a well in the center. In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs then beat in 1 cup of the milk. Pour this into the well. Add the melted butter, too, then stirring in one direction, gradually incorporating the flour into the eggs and milk. You should have a thick but not too stiff batter. If not, stir in a little more milk as needed to achieve this. Also stir in the onion, corn kernels, tomatoes, basil and parsley.

Heat the oil in a pancake pan or large frying pan. For 4-5 inch pancakes, scoop half a cup of the batter into the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the top surface is drying round the edges. Flip and cook the other side for a couple of minutes or until the center is no longer moist when pierced by a skewer. Serve right away. This quantity makes about a dozen pancakes. For a larger number of smaller pancakes, use a one-third cup measure for making them.

APRICOT CLAFOUTIS

Clafoutis is a French dessert, usually made of cherries, though other fruits of the plum family and sometimes pears are used when cherries are out of season. Here is a winter version made with dried apricots. Choose soft not leathery apricots and simmer them until completely tender.

6 ounces (1 generous cup) dried apricots

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup cake or all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

4 eggs plus an extra yolk

1 ½ cups milk

¾ teaspoon almond extract

2 tablespoons kirsch or dark rum (optional)

1-2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Cover the apricots with about 2 inches of water, and simmer for 6-10 minutes or as long as needed to plump and soften them. Drain off the water.

Melt the butter and tip it into a 9-inch deep pie dish. Brush it around the sides, leaving any excess in the bottom. Add the apricots in a single layer. Turn the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together the cake flour and the sugar. Make a well in the center of the mixture. In a small bowl, briskly whisk the eggs with half the milk. When thoroughly blended stir in the remaining milk and almond extract. Pour about a third of this mixture into the well in the flour mixture and stir in one direction, incorporating more of the dry ingredients as you go, and adding the remaining egg mixture a little at a time until you have a smooth batter. Pour this over the apricots, and immediately put the dish in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until a thin knife blade slipped into the center comes out clean.

Remove and sprinkle the top with the kirsch or rum if using. Let stand for a few minutes then, while it is still warm, sift on the confectioners’ sugar and serve. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream is good alongside


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