"Yummy, I want to know how to do that," my friend 'The Dog' commented when he saw the cafe-style hotcakes I'd made for Peter's breakfast last weekend.
Indeed. Not only did these ricotta, strawberry, honey and almond topped hotcakes look yummy, they tasted yummy too. And they were fun and didn't take long to prepare. The most time-consuming aspect was the home-made curd cheese, a.k.a. panir or ricotta, the rest was relatively quick and simple.
There are numerous recipes for ricotta in cook books and online, and several talented bloggers have recently posted their own versions. I hadn't made ricotta for several years, so I did a little reading to refresh my memory and found a brilliant piece on the subject by chef, recipe developer and writer, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who reminded me that ricotta 'is almost stupidly simple to make at home. Basic instructions: heat milk, add acid, drain, enjoy'. He also mentions that 'true ricotta is made from leftover whey, not fresh milk... [hence] what we are making is paneer (panir) ... cheese'.
This probably explains why I turned to my old standard recipe for home-made curd cheese (or panir) by vegetarian guru, Kurma Dasa, who first showed me how to make it. Kurma's recipe, from Cooking with Kurma and Quick Vegetarian Dishes (Chakra Press), calls for two and a half litres or fresh milk (I have used both full cream and low fat milk successfully); and one to two cups or yoghurt, or two to four tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Kurma points out that 'when it comes to milk products, one cannot overstate the merits of freshness. The fresher the ingredients, the more vibrant and exciting your cooking will be'. Worth bearing in mind.
I'll keep this part brief, as the purpose of this snippet is to explain the dish as a whole, rather than focusing on the cheese. So, first, prepare a colander or ricotta basket (which you can pick up free from a good deli) by lining it with a double thickness of muslin or cheesecloth. If you don't have either, try using an old linen tea towel (clean, of course, and the thinner the fabric the better!). Pour the milk into a large, heavy-based saucepan and bring it to simmering or boiling point, stirring constantly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in about three quarters of the lemon juice (or yoghurt, if you prefer to use that). Keep stirring. The milk will thicken and should begin to separate into soft curds and a pale green-coloured whey. However, if it doesn't, pop the saucepan back onto the heat briefly and add a little more of the lemon juice (or yoghurt). Use a slotted spoon to gather up the curds and transfer them to the lined colander.
The good news is that the whey can be used to make 'real ricotta', read more about that here. At this point, we deviate from Kurma's method (which calls for the cheese to be pressed under a heavy weight and formed into 'steaks'). Instead, gather the cloth around the curds and set the colander over a bowl to allow the curds to drain. If you wish to use the cheese immediately, you can do so... it's lovely when it's fresh and warm. It can also be refrigerated and gently crumbled before use. It will keep for a couple of days.
The hotcakes, little pancakes or pikelets, involve simply a combination of about one and a half cups of self raising flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, a tablespoon of caster sugar, a few drops of good quality vanilla extract and two free range eggs, which have been lightly whisked. Mix to a smooth batter. Ideally, you should let the batter rest for a while. In the meantime, slice up some market-fresh strawberries and lightly toast some almond flakes. Set aside. Use a large serving spoon to pour quantities of the batter into a frypan or griddle plate that has been sprayed lightly with oil. Cook the hotcakes briefly until bubbles appear and then turn over and cook the other side until golden brown. Serve warm. This quantity will make about six or eight hotcakes and the recipe is based upon an old and reliable receipt from The Women's Weekly.
Allow two hotcakes per person. To assemble the dish, top each one with some crumbled ricotta or panir, fresh strawberry slices, toasted almond flakes and then drizzle with locally produced honey. Enjoy with the Caffè of your choice and a good selection of weekend newspapers.
If you're feeling adventurous and fancy an ever sweeter treat, use your home-made ricotta in Bill Granger's hotcake recipe served with honeycomb butter.
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I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.