I have a mixed relationship with pancakes. Drop scones, or the small, round, fluffy variety of pancakes, were a big part of my childhood, especially as they could be cooked directly on the hob of the Aga (less washing up - Agas are self-cleaning), and both my mum and grandmother were staunch Aga devotees. They were also the first things I ever learnt how to make. At around age eleven I began to make myself pancakes for breakfast every day, the quantity that I consumed growing ever larger. After a few months I was averaging around 8, and then one fateful Sunday morning I decided to stretch my own boundaries and go for the full dozen.
It happened to be a Sunday on which we were due to go to a wedding. I sat in the car on the way to the church feeling distinctly queasy, and then opted to not go in. I lay horizontally across the backseat of the car moaning gently and wrestling with sweet, milky nausea until finally it defeated me, and I opened the car door with one outstretched hand, leant my head out over the tarmac and did what I had to do. Closing the door, and feeling very sorry for myself, the kind of self-pity that only a fierce attack of vomiting can produce, I called my mum feebly on the car mobile. Of course her phone was on loud, and the whole church heard the tell-tale ring of her mobile, and my muffled wails as I told her what had happened.
After that, I didn't eat pancakes for a while.
Then I discovered these ricotta pancakes. I read about 'ricotta hot cakes' first in Nigella's Forever Summer book, I think, and as an avid devotee of ricotta I needed little persuasion to try them out. I have adapted the recipe a bit - adding and taking away a bit here and a bit there.
Ricotta, when used in baking, has the most amazing effect on almost anything it is added to. It makes things simultaneously lighter and richer, more densely creamy and yet also fluffier, it's a solid and cheesy contradiction. These pancakes are cloud-light, with a lovely cheesy background note.
These are very good eaten with any kind of fruit, fresh or poached, or simply with a little yoghurt and honey. I ate mine with poached apricots, honey and yoghurt.
Makes 6 large pancakes (2 portions for non-gluttonous teens)
1 egg, separated
80g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Zest of 1 small lemon
1 tbsp vanilla sugar (or plain sugar and a little vanilla extract)
1 tbsp melted butter
Oil, for greasing
Whisk the ricotta and the egg yolk together until smooth, then whisk in the milk until you have a smooth creamy mixture. Add the sugar (vanilla extract too, if using) and the lemon zest and salt, and then the flour and baking powder. Whisk well to get rid of any lumps.
Whisk the egg white in a separate bowl until you have soft peaks, then fold this gently into the batter.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and then pour it into your batter, and stir to combine.
Spoon out the mixture into your frying pan and fry the pancakes over a medium heat, for a minute and a half or so on each side, until golden.
Serve with your macerated strawberries, or some strawberry jam and yoghurt. They are also very good with honey and melted butter.
Note: if your ricotta is quite firm, use an electric beater to beat it until smooth, or whisk it well with a touch of the milk to loosen it; just to make sure there are no lumps in your final batter.