Pursuing the Perfect Pancake.
In writing about the Danish aebleskive – a round pancake made from batter in a unique multi faceted cast iron pan – made Brunyfire appreciate just how many different versions of this interesting morsel and the cooking pan in which they are made, there are around the world.
To date, I’ve found round pancakes made from a batter mix, in the UK (as Yorkshire Puddings), in Denmark (as aebleskiver), in Holland (as poffertjes), in Thailand (as knom krok), in Japan (as tako yaki) and in India (as Paniyaram).
Traditionally, many of these ‘pancakes’ are a form of street food.
So when I knew I was headed for Melbourne to participate in the Melbourne Food Festival, it was a good opportunity to hunt out as many ’round pancakes’ as possible – quite a quest when you’re eating several of these things in one day!
First port of call, was the ‘pop-up’ Urban Coffee Farm and Brew Bar in Southbank, to kick start the day with coffee and cake – having got up at 4am to catch a 6am flight from Hobart……This was an intriguing project sponsored by one of the Festival’s supporters, the Port of Melbourne as I came to learn later over dinner at Ceres. The whole coffee ‘farm’ was set up using timber pallets, packing crates and loads of greenery.Shipping containers were turned into coffee bars, and throughout the course of the Festival, baristas from around the city pitted their wits against each other to create the best coffee.A small jungle of coffee plants, all at different stages of development, created a perfect environment…….…….for that first coffee of the day, and a doughnut – not exactly a round pancake – under the belt made a good start to the ‘pancake’ quest. Fortified, I checked out the National Gallery’s exhibitions Containment and Thrown then onto the State Library’s exhibition Gusto: A Culinary History of Victoria. Then down to the Immigration Museum to check out Sweets……..………an exhibition of photographs, multimedia and sweet making objects that explored the cultural significance of sweet foods that mark the important phases of life from the multicultural community that makes up Melbourne.
Having flogged around Melbourne’s CBD for several hours, I was ready for a ‘little something’ so headed to Vue De Monde’s Lui Bar.The Lui Bar is 55 flights above the Yarra, set within the glitzy Rialto building and whilst not my cuppa tea, the bird’s eye view of the city……….…….from the cool comfort of leather loungers (the temperature in the city was well into the 30s by this time)……………..and velvet armchairs……..………complete with a customized cocktail menu (featuring – no less – Tasmania’s fabled leatherwood honey)………….Brunyfire considered this was well worth the cost of the snack that I’d made a special effort to see and try...
Incidentally, the recipe illustrated in this cool little pop-up cocktail menu (available for sale at $50 a pop – ‘scuse the pun!) formed part of the Lui Bar’s contribution to the Melbourne Food Festival. Leatherwood Old Fashioned……………..was billed as Vue Monde’s tribute to the Gold Rush era in Victoria during a five course, bush-inspired degustation and colonial cocktails menu. The recipe is as follows: 50 ml single malt whisky (stick to a Tasmanian produce theme and use a single malt from Larks Distillery), 15 ml Leatherwood honey water (2/3 honey: 1/3 water). Combine everything in a large tumbler stir, taste and then place in a glass with a large block of ice.
But of particular interest in the pancake quest, was in the knowledge of the Lui Bar’s special bar snack – their apple and cinnamon doughnuts that I’d noted were presented in a cast iron, multi faceted pan – just like the one I’d scored recently at one of my local op-shops. Whilst these were referred to as ‘doughnuts’, I knew they weren’t deep fried, they didn’t have that distinctive greasy taste – they were light and filled with apple.But the mystery remained – the size of the doughnuts were far larger than the cast iron pan??So a friendly challenge to the local bar lad about the authenticity of the dish saw me ushered into the kitchen to meet the chef, who showed me how he had cooked them – in an electric poffertjes maker – the cast iron pan being merely a serving receptacle.So much for the romance of the open flame!
The open flame however, was used in my next taster. I’d promised myself an evening meal at the Oriental Spirit – a Thai restaurant on Victoria Street in Richmond, Melbourne. I’d seen one of their signature dishes in online reviews a couple of times and was eager to try for myself. The oysters and lemongrass were what I was after – which were cooked and presented in a traditional clay pan known as a knom krok. Having bought my own with its own brazier (from Adelaide’s Asian market) a while ago…….……..I was eager to find out how they were used in a restaurant context.
The wait staff were amused at my enthusiasm, and my insistence that the oysters and lemongrass were sure to be served in the traditional clay tray, with indentations and complete with individual lids! My entree arrived piping hot, the well used clay pan showing evidence of its being used on an open flame on a regular basis. The pan is placed directly onto a gas flame and the food cooked within the half-dome depressions – the cracks and carbon testimony to its prolonged use on an open flame over time.
The earthenware that these are made of have great insulating qualities – the open, absorbent nature of the crude, low fired clay allows for the rapid expansion and contraction of heating during cooking. The little lids (despite showing wear over time from constant handling) kept the contents below, piping hot.Not only hot, hot, but spicy hot – with plenty of chilli that tended to overpower the delicate flavour of the oyster and lemongrass, and the dried fish was a little on the generous side. But I wasn’t disappointed – I had a couple of other entrees, including these crispy prawns…….…….and a glass of Thai iced tea that soothed the burning lips. The atmosphere was great, the staff sweet and friendly and other guests very chatty – proving to have rellies in Tas.
The following day – lunch on Chapel Street at The Thai on Chapel came about thanks to a review posted by Krapow, a site dedicated to reviewing the Thai restaurants around Melbourne. The Thai on Chapel Street has a warm and friendly interior….…..and Brunyfire was immediately drawn to the traditional clay pots on display. It was early lunch time, so I was able to meet and chat to the owner and chef, Attakorn Thepamnuaysakul before it got too busy – who says he has only been open for the past 5 months. I had come specifically to try out the Knom Krok that I know are one of Thailand’s favourite street food snacks. Attakorn was most generous with his time, showing me how he made the pancakes. It seems there are two kinds of batter. The first comprises of a rice flour, coconut milk and water batter. This is poured into the pan, from an aluminium teapot……………and the tray then gently shaken – this helps to coat the indentations and helps to create a crisp and even layer in the well greased pan. Once these have cooked, several minutes, a second batter is poured in that is made up of coconut milk, sugar, a little salt and a pandam leaf, all of which has been boiled gently first for about 5-10 minutes. This is allowed to set, and is then has a number of toppings added.The toppings consisted of crushed peanuts, sweet corn and spring onion…………..served with iced Thai tea (that delicious concoction made up of tea and condensed milk) and a delicate finger bowl to rinse off sticky fingers.Looking forward, and feel more confident, to now try out my own knom krok on Bruny.