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Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras. Both terms are far more cheerful and indicative of tomorrow’s excesses than the term “Shrove Tuesday,” from the word shrive, meaning “confess.” The only thing I feel like confessing the day before Ash Wednesday is that I prefer cane syrup or sorghum—something with a little whang to it—to maple syrup on my pancakes.

A pancake supper, a traditional way to say goodbye to the rich foods restricted during the fasting season of Lent, was always an event in our family. My mother would usually add cornmeal to the batter and griddle the cakes in a little bacon fat to crisp the edges and tip things toward the savory end of the spectrum. There was often both bacon and sausage, as well as huckleberries from the freezer that were stewed into a compote—my father’s favorite topping.

These days, my go-to pancake has been one made with ricotta, from a restaurant called Bill’s, in Sydney. Some former colleagues at Gourmet brought the recipe back from a research trip to Australia, and one taste had me sold. Any ricotta will do, but if you see fresh ricotta—sweeter and silkier than the usual supermarket brands—pounce. If it’s made the old-fashioned way, from sheep’s milk, then so much the better; it’s more complex in flavor than ricotta made from cow’s milk.

Beating egg whites, then folding them into pancake batter to aerate it may sound like a finicky step or be hyped as a chef’s trademark “secret,” but, in truth, it’s not unusual at all. That egg foam, or meringue, is what gives pancakes their light, properly springy (as opposed to flabby) texture. To fold, scrape the meringue into the batter with a rubber spatula. As you turn the bowl with one hand, cut down toward the center with the spatula and lift up some batter from the bottom of the bowl with the other. The technique has its own natural rhythm, and you’ll find yourself working quickly and gently without thinking about it.

Ricotta Pancakes

Adapted From The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl (Houghton-Mifflin, 2004)

This batter is what Sam would call “very receptive,” so we’ve added our own tweaks to the recipe over the years. Serve the pancakes with butter and your favorite sweetener or toppings.

1 1/3 cups whole-milk ricotta (preferably fresh)

¾ cup whole milk

5 large eggs, separated

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Zest of half a lemon (optional)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1¾ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

Melted unsalted butter or bacon drippings for the griddle

1. Preheat oven to 200ºF. Whisk together the ricotta, milk, egg yolks, vanilla, and lemon zest (if using) in a bowl. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt over the ricotta mixture and whisk just to combine (don’t overmix). Let the batter rest while you beat the whites.

2. Beat the egg whites until they just hold soft peaks. Sprinkle them with the sugar (it will help give the meringue stability) and beat whites just to stiff peaks. With a rubber spatula, fold them gently and thoroughly into the batter.

3. Heat a large nonstick griddle or skillet over moderate heat until it’s very hot. Lightly brush with butter or drippings. Working in batches of 4, scoop batter by the ¼ cup onto the griddle and spread into pancakes about 4 inches in diameter. When the undersides are golden brown, flip and cook until golden brown on other side and pancakes are cooked through. Transfer the pancakes to an ovenproof platter, cover with a kitchen towel, and keep warm in the oven while making more (brush griddle with more butter as necessary).

This year, I’m surprisingly well-organized. After a do-si-do with 365 LiveGumbo Radio is streaming, and I dug out the Mardi Gras beads. Below is a close-up of my favorite strand. They were strung by my great friend Thomas Jayne, who is very probably standing on his balcony in the French Quarter right this very minute. I need a go-cup.


Comment from Kathy
Time February 21, 2012 at 6:52 am

Happy Mardi Gras to you! We’re getting read to hit our town’s little parade, which is just right for little kids. Got the Mardi Gras music on! The pancakes look delicious, like dessert!

Comment from Cynthia A.
Time February 22, 2012 at 5:53 am

The pancakes look divine, though I always reach for the real maple syrup. What is most wonderful is the delicious Mardi Gras necklace made from all those different beads. Who needs a million necklaces when you have one that is so special?

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