Full disclosure: I’ve fled Saint Louis for the sandy beaches and international octogenarian culture of southwest Florida. Everyone is down here, friends: license plates from almost every state were represented in a downtown parking lot yesterday, including some from Canada. I hear there’s another round of bad weather headed for you, so I’ll spare you the weather report from here; it would just make you angry. My own personal weather report, however, is warm and happy, with a sun index of 9 and a 5% chance of returning to my homeland before May. Winter may not be over, but I’m pretty over winter.
I’m so excited about the recipe for this month’s Feast Magazine that I actually photographed the dish in a semi-professional way! Hooray! I suppose all this time spent watching a real professional work in my own home has motivated me to try some new things. Next up, I go scavenging for aged wood pallets, and then everybody better watch out, because I’m going to tear it up. I’m currently using my time between beach jaunts here in Florida to scavenge through the thrift stores for old dishes and silverware. Take some time to let that sink in: I’m smack in the middle of a retirement community, average age 83. They migrate to Florida from all over the country, they simplify, they think of their old stuff as junk because they’ve always had it. They don’t need it anymore, so they donate. And then they become mine. I think of it as a rescue operation.
I am currently residing in a gold mine of old things, otherwise known as a photo-happy food blogger’s paradise. It’s called Sarasota County, and I’ve claimed this land of questionable treasures as my own.
While I am away from my desk (read: dining room table strewn with flour, cookie crumbs, and lined Post-Its), I give you this recipe for cheese-filled, blueberry and lemon-sauced, almond-smothered pannenkoeken. My mystery ingredient this month was mahlab; have you heard of it? If your family hails from the Mediterranean region, you may be familiar with it: it’s a key ingredient in lots of Greek and Iranian pastries. Have you ever seen tsoureki, the braided Greek Easter bread with the colored eggs on top? it’s in that, among other things. I’ll be attempting one of those for Greek Easter this year – although I’m not Greek, Mr. Table’s cousin (my closest thing to a sister-in-law) is, and I’m going to surprise her with it.
Bakers, this one is for you. Out of all the things I’ve done for the Mystery Shopper column, this is the one you most want in your repertoire. It’s the thing you never knew you always wanted, and it’ll add all sorts of special to whatever you’re making. It’s got a distinct cherry-almond flavor (and indeed, it’s the seed of the St. Lucie cherry, which you grind and then use as a powder), and it’s like nutmeg in the way that it adds a note of difference to baked goods. It’s noticeable, but not so loud that it overtakes anything, just adds a grace note of flavor that’s lovely. It’s not “too” anything, and it’s perfectly delicious.
It works wonderfully in “vanilla” things, like coffee cake, almond pastry, buttermilk donuts, sweet breads; the list goes on and on. It’s great paired with mild sweet cheeses too, which is how this recipe came about. The pannenkoeken itself contains a hearty dose of the mahlab, and the cheese danish-like filling is laced with it as well. Add some lemon-scented blueberries and toasted almonds over top and you have yourself a pretty indulgent breakfast party, pitch perfect for early spring.
Pannenkoeken, if you’ve noticed from the photo above, are just thin pancakes, very similar to crepes, but slightly more forgiving, in my opinion. If you don’t have any experience with them, try a test batch prior to your actual gathering; they’re not hard, but there’s a “feel” to swirling the batter on the hot pan that comes with a small amount of practice. They keep well in fridge or freezer, so make a crepe cake with those, perhaps, and consider them a confidence-booster for when you make them for friends. The other components are easy to make the night before as well, so you’re not messing with that the day of. Simply store the cheese filling, blueberry sauce, and toasted almonds jars until the next morning: let the cheese come to cool room temperature on the counter and warm the blueberries in a small saucepan over low heat. By the time you’re done impressing your friends with your pannenkoeken-swirling skills, everything will be ready to serve, and you’ll look like a total pro.
If you’re looking for some tips on how to make pannenkoeken, look no further than Feast TV this month, as this is the recipe which gets made throughout the episode. The episode airs today on our local PBS station at 2 pm CST, but the episode will be online shortly; when it shows up, I’ll link you to it.
Mahlab is fantastic: I’m already almost out of my jar, and I’m getting more the minute I get back into town. You can get it from Penzey’s Spices, and I’m sure if you have a Greek or Middle Eastern grocery near you, they would have it as well. If you want to learn more about it, you can read more about it in my article, found here.