Apple pancakes are the first dish I ever cooked and my first form of culinary rebellion. I was nine years old, scrawny, and just over four feet tall. Mom had made sinigang—again. I was usually down with this tamarind-based Filipino soup. Sometimes, though, I’d get tired of it, like white kids probably get tired of yet another meat loaf. “I’m not eating that,” I told her. “I want apple pancakes.” Apple pancakes might be the polar opposite of fish-head sinigang. Mom wasn’t having any of my shit: “If you want pancakes, make them yourself.” So I did. I dug around the kitchen cabinets until I found the Aunt Jemima pancake mix we’d had for more than a decade. It was a strange sight in a pantry filled with shrimp paste, fish sauce, and tamarind pulp. I’m still not sure why we even had it, but knowing Mom, I’m sure it had been on sale. Things didn’t go well. Today, though, I’m a better cook and these fluffy pancakes topped with five-spice-spiked apple might even convince my mom to go a morning without eating fish. Especially if she doesn’t sleep on the coconut brown butter syrup. When you’re cooking the pancakes, remember not to flip them too early, the mistake I always make. You need a certain amount of patience to cook pancakes, and that’s not something I have. I’m still trying to find a way to cook them in a blazing-hot wok. Your best bet is a nonstick electric griddle, which provides reliably even heat and means you can forget that stuff about the first pancake being the ugliest. A well-seasoned cast-iron griddle does the trick, too.
Excerpted from the book ASIAN-AMERICAN by Dale Talde with JJ Goode. Copyright © 2015 by Dale Talde, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Put a large plate or baking sheet in there, so you have a place to keep the finished pancakes warm while you make the rest. Toss the apple slices with the five-spice powder and 1 teaspoon sugar in a bowl.
Combine the ½ cup sugar, eggs, milk, buttermilk, and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl and whisk vigorously until the sugar has dissolved. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and stir well. Add half of the liquid mixture to the dry mixture, stir briefly, then add the remaining liquid mixture and stir gently but well, just until the batter is fairly smooth with pea-size lumps of flour. Embrace the lumps. They lead to fluffier pancakes. Let the batter sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to let the glutens relax, which will give you better pancakes.
Heat a well-seasoned griddle or very large skillet over medium heat until it’s good and hot. Add a tablespoon of butter and spread it all over the griddle. Work in batches to make about three or four pancakes at a time (use about ½ cup batter per pancake), adding just enough butter between batches to coat the griddle and transferring the finished pancakes to the plate in the oven.
Cook until bubbles form at the edges of the pancakes, about 30 seconds, then add four or five apple slices to each one, pressing the slices gently so they sink in a little. Keep cooking until the bottoms are deep brown (I don’t like mine light golden), the edges look dry, and bubbles form on top, about 3 minutes.
Use a spatula to flip them and cook just until they’re cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve them in a stack, drizzle with syrup, and eat.
Set a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl. Melt the butter in a small pan over medium-high heat. Let it bubble and crackle, stirring occasionally. After about 4 minutes, it will stop bubbling and you’ll be left with a light-golden froth on the surface. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, occasionally using a spoon to push the froth aside to check on the butter, until the solids in the butter turn a shade or two darker than caramel, about 2 minutes more.
Pour it through a strainer into the bowl and discard the solids. Combine the brown sugar with ½ cup water in a small pan, set over high heat, and bring to a furious bubble. Cook, without stirring, until the mixture is the consistency of thick syrup, about 3 minutes.
Pour the brown butter into the brown sugar mixture. Stir in the salt and vanilla extract, then gradually whisk in the coconut milk. The syrup keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month. It solidifies and separates slightly when cool, so stir well and gently reheat before serving.