I’ve never made bread before, and I spent days looking for a recipe that was perfect. I wanted to make bread using an old school pioneering recipe, like Michael Pollan does in his book Cooked. I realized two things: one, that all the recipes I found call for baking powder or baking soda, and two, I don’t really know what baking powder and baking soda are. So I went down a bit of a rabbit hole this week while looking into these pantry staples.
Baking powder is a leavening agent that makes baked goods rise, such as cakes, muffins, and breads, by releasing carbon dioxide and creating a chemical reaction with wet ingredients. Baking powder can be made with baking soda, cream of tartar or corn starch. Baking powder is instant: once added to a dish, the chemical reaction happens immediately. Before we had baking powder in the kitchen people used yeast, which takes a much longer time (it’s best when left overnight or for several days if you’re making bread). Imagine trying to make waffles and having to leave the batter overnight. Gasp!
I feel weird using ingredients that I don’t understand, so I looked around for a baking powder substitute. Baking powder is made using baking soda, so that search didn’t really lead me anywhere. When I searched for leavening agents, I found a blog post by a woman who says that she used meringue to fluff up her pancakes. Meringue is made from beating egg whites until they are fluffy and thick, like a marshmallow oozing on a s’more. The addition of meringue made sense; I’ve seen my mother use meringue to fluff up pumpkin pie. I’d never made meringue before, let alone try to use it in pancake batter, and while my pancakes didn’t turn out quite as fluffy as they would have if I’d used baking powder or soda, they definitely aren’t flat.
I learned that when making meringue, you need to whip the egg whites first and then add sugar, otherwise it takes FOREVER. Also, I totally burnt the first pancake while waiting for the tiny bubbles to form and then burst, only to realize through the smoke that these pancakes weren’t going to have any bubbles (no baking powder, remember?) This recipe does use a lot of eggs, so any vegans out there have a suggestion for another way to make pancakes?
Acorn Squash Pancakes with Meringue Batter
Makes 10 pancakes
Total time: 90 minutes (30 minutes if using pre-cooked acorn squash)
In my basket:
1 Acorn Squash (from Freitas Farms, Middleborough MA)
4 large Eggs (from Chestnut Farms, Hardwick MA)
Maple Syrup, for drizzling (from Natick Community Organic Farm, Natick MA)
From the pantry:
1/2 Shallot, minced
1 cup all-purpose Flour
4 tbsp Butter
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
Salt to taste
- Preheat oven to 400°. Halve squash lengthwise. Place on a baking sheet, cut sides up. Using a basting brush, spread 1 tbsp melted butter over the cut sides, then season with salt to taste. Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, until soft when pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool when done.
- While squash cools, sift together flour, a pinch of salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in large bowl.
- Melt 1 tbsp butter in skillet over medium heat. Cook minced shallot for a couple minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Add sautéed shallots to bowl of dry ingredients.
- When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh into a blender a pulse for a few seconds. Add squash puree and 1 egg to the dry ingredients, stir to combine.
- In separate bowl, add 3 egg whites and whip until stiff peaks form. This will take a few minutes, so use a stand mixer or a hand mixer. Be careful not to over-beat; stop once you see stiff peaks form.
- Add the meringue to the large bowl of ingredients, stir until there are no white streaks. Be careful not to over stir the ingredients once the meringue has been added.
- Heat butter in a skillet over medium low heat, then add one spoonful at a time of the pancake batter. Flip after a minute once the edges start to turn golden brown.
- Plate and serve with maple syrup. Enjoy!
Alice Kathryn Richardson is a new media photojournalist based in Boston, MA. She created The Clean Food Club on May 1, 2016, and previously spent two years working on Deserts in the District, a series of short-form documentaries exploring food access and hunger in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter @AKR_Pictures.