Archive for January, 2011


Cops & pancakes

Yeah, I know.  You were expecting “Cops & donoughts.”  Well, homey don’t fly that route.

Actually, I take that back.  Let me say a thing or two about making donoughts, and then we can move on.

Thing the First:  The easiest way to make good donoughts (that I know of, at least) is to deep-fry store-bought biscuit dough–you know, the kind that comes in a thin cardboard tube.  If you’re gunning for authenticity, of course, dig a hole through the center first, and once they’re nicely fried you can dunk ’em in chocolate or give ’em a vanilla/cream/powdered sugar glaze (à la Krispy Kreme) and you’re off to the races.  If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can leave the hole un-dug and squirt some kind of jelly or jam or pastry cream inside with a pastry bag or one of those ominous injection needle contraptions.

Thing the Second:  Proper donoughts–like a lot of other bakery-type things–maintain their properness for only a few hours, and after that it’s all down-hill, so scarf ’em down rápidamente.  You might like yours with coffee, which is fine, but I’m strictly a milk guy.

Don’t know quite why, but I’ve never cared for coffee.  Tea’s nice, but my beverage of choice is milk.  Good ol’ milk–nothing better.

On to pancakes:

I don’t know anyone who likes thin, brittle pancakes.  Everybody likes them thick and fluffy and light, right?  Right.  Here’s how to accomplish that:

First of all, buy (or, better yet, make your own) good pancake mix.  Our dear little planet is crawling with sub-par pancake mixes, I’m sorry to say, so my best advice here is that you make your own mix or buy an established name-brand mix.  You can’t go wrong with Aunt Jemima, for instance (although I can’t really, in good conscience, recommend Bisquick.  Bisquick is good for lots of other stuff–lots–but once you start pushing the “all-purpose” envelope, something’s bound to get left behind, and in this case, I’d say that’s pancakes.  Bisquick is, by my lights, a very good product overall, but if you’re going to buy a mix, buy one dedicated to pancakes and not one that’s trying to be everything for everyone).

That right there is half the battle, and the remaining half is just as easy:  Add the liquid(s) to the dry mix, but don’t over-beat it.  Lumps are okay.  If you over-beat it, you develop the gluten, which is a smarty-pants way of saying that you’ll wind up with tough cakes.  So don’t go freaking out if you find yourself with some pebble-sized bits of unmoistened mix; that’s fine.  That’s the way it should be.

Also–and I guess I should have said this earlier–use a tad less water than the recipe calls for–and when I say “tad,” I ain’t kidding.  A fraction of a tablespoon can make a big difference.  Our goal here is to wind up with a slightly thicker batter than the manufacturer would have you make, because thicker batter = thicker pancakes.

Bonus:  Thicker batter is better at staying put on the griddle, so you won’t be quite as likely to wind up with funny-looking pancakes.  Thicker ones know their place; thinner ones run all over the joint.

Before marrying batter with griddle, however, let the batter sit there, unmolested, for a good ten minutes or so; just cover the bowl with plastic wrap and go find something else to do.

At the end of the ten minutes (or so), go ahead and cook your cakes as usual.

The idea behind letting the batter sit?  Well, that’s easy.

What you’re doing is letting the flour “autolyze,” meaning that it’s absorbing the liquid and breaking down, which makes for a much more tender and light pancake, despite its thickness.

So, to recap:

  • Start with a good mix
  • Don’t over-blend it
  • Cut back a tiny bit on the water
  • Let the batter autolyze for about ten minutes before proceeding

I’m spent.  Maybe I’ll get to cops next time.

The end

We returned to King’s Cross Station, and Lawrence went straight to the luncheon room for a boiled pork pie.  I went with him and saw, in a corner, the omnipresent English television–this one playing a health & medicine program that had a segment going on about the chances of reviving drowned people, people who would be dead except for the “mammalian dive reflex”–how to resuscitate them and all that.

The next segment had a nurse talking about the hardships of working the emergency room of a London hospital.  “We see a lot of rubbish,” she said, “but I suppose some other casualty departments get more.  It’s an unrewarded job, really, dealing with all the rubbish.  Naturally, some are filthy, but so are some workaday people.  Some aren’t.  Some are rude, some offensive.  Some meek.  Some are unbearable.”

The man tending the luncheon counter alternately watched the show and glanced out into the lobby, at his own rubbish to deal with, and then he turned off the television long enough to make a watercress sandwich for an Indian gentleman waited patiently ahead of Lawrence and me.  The Indian had turned and asked Lawrence “Watercress.  Is this vegetarian?”  Lawrence shrugged, so the man asked the same question of me.  I said “I believe it probably is, but you should ask the man there,” and the man smiled and thanked me.

Larence sighed and looked around the station, as if he were trying to find something, and then he turned to me and said “No.  Let’s go.  Let’s get out of here.”

We left the station and walked around the city for a while, down to Tottenham Court Road and along Woburn Place, as far as Southampton Row, where Lawrence spotted an Easter display going up in a Grace Bros. department store window.  He mumbled something, but I wasn’t really listening.  I was too busy watching him look the window over, look at the artificial grass and plastic Easter eggs and stuffed bunnies, and the Easter hats and suits for kids.  So I didn’t catch his comment, whatever it was.

When he had seen enough, we turned onto Coram Street, and there was the Lord John Russell pub.  It was a place I had wanted to visit since I first arrived, especially because the portrait of the Lord swinging on a shingle out front showed a guy who looked a lot like me–red hair, blue eyes, aquiline nose.  But Lawrence had managed to sidetrack me, and I hadn’t been in yet.

“Now or never,” I thought, so we went in and sat at a small round table in a back corner, next to a fireplace piled high with burning logs, and we drank shot after shot of Cardhu and Laphraoig Scotch.  We didn’t talk much, except about the coincidence of the Lord and I sharing names and appearances.

“He was a good Scot,” Lawrence said.”

“Tautological,” I said, meaning it to sound like a joke.

There was a long, awkward silence after that.  I sat there quietly because I could tell Lawrence was thinking about something, but he wouldn’t say what.  He just stared into his glass of Laphraoig.  I picked up a sports page from the hearth–even though I couldn’t make much sense of it.  It was all about scrums, rounders, and chukkers.  When I put it down again, several minutes later, Lawrence looked up at me and then back into the glass.

“I think that I should go back up there,” he said.

“To where?” I asked, even though I thought I already knew the answer.

“Stirling.”

“How come?”

He cocked his head and shrugged, the way a little kid does when he has an answer but doesn’t want to share it.

“It is a beautiful place,” I said, “and the people are nice.  I wouldn’t mind going back up there myself.”

“Yeh, but you’re a tourist,” he said, in kind of a snarly and derisive way.  “You’re supposed to keep moving.”

“What do you mean?  You’d stay?  Not come back to London?”

“I don’t know.  There’s nothing for me here any more.”  He shrugged again.  “Asides, I don’t generally plan things that far in advance, you know?”

I think that Lawrence understood why he felt compelled to go back.  Even if he didn’t, I think I understood.  It was for the same reasons I’d like to go back–not as a tourist, but as someone included in that union up there, someone more than a pitied transient.

*     *     *

After Lawrence and I had said good-bye and thanked each other, we went back out onto Coram Street.  He turned to the right and I stood there and watched him walk along the buildings, into and out of the light from street lamps and store fronts, blue-backed and brown-legged in the bright fluorescent light, hands shoved deep in his pockets and tattooed head bobbing low.  He passed on unsuspected and helpless, like a stray lap-dog in a street full of men, melting into London at the tube stop.  I turned the other way and walked along Marchmont Street, past the soaring Postal Tower, red and orange in the final rays of the early spring sunset, and back towards No. 47 Cartwright Gardens.  It was clear to me that the best thing to do, or at least what I wanted to do, was spend the following day lazing on the strong bright grass in Saint James Park.