Inside: A simple recipe for our family’s favorite custard pancakes! These miniature cakes are rich and sweet and were inspired by our travels after sampling pancakes all around the world.
People have different reasons for traveling the globe. A friend who is a photographer feels called to document the world through his lens. His street-style photography captures real life, all over the world. In Cuba, he captured street musicians, sitting on a classic 1950’s Chevy. In France, he photographed images of ladies in posh dresses and heels, carrying paper sacks, with baguette and carrot greens sticking out. In India, he captured streets filled with elbow-to-elbow pedestrians and street vendors sitting next to piles of dried spices.
For me, I travel to eat.
I believe food has almost magical properties. Just the scent of onions frying in ghee can transport me back in time to my childhood, impatiently waiting while my mother cooked her 12-hours-to-prepare lamb biriyani. I can still remember the first time I tried freshly made eggnog in my German boyfriend’s (now husband) living room. I remember the satisfying crunch of breaking the sugar glacé on top of my very first crème brûlée while studying abroad in France. I remember my first taste of sweet, milky coffee in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Up until that point, I had assumed, incorrectly, that coffee was just plain gross.
This became a bit of a problem when I was pregnant, as I found myself often craving the spicy, comforting dishes we had gorged on in Burma and Northern Thailand. Desperate for the nasi lamak and mee goreng we ate daily in Malaysia. Except, I was in the midwest, and no matter how much I searched, I couldn’t find it. Nor did I know exactly how to recreate these dishes. I think this is what led me to experiment and play around in the kitchen. While I often didn’t recreate exactly what I was trying for, the resulting meals were usually fun and delicious.
So let’s talk about pancakes.
I call these custard pancakes “All-Around-The-World” pancakes because I’ve pieced together my favorite parts of different styles into one perfect pancake.
From Japan, known for their towering souffle-style custard pancakes, I’ve incorporated a custardy-center. Japanese-style pancakes are quite an impressive thing. Also impressive – the amount of ingredients, steps, time, fancy equipment and patience needed to create a 4 inch pancake that is perfectly cooked through, not burnt, and jiggly with a custard center. It’s not to be attempted for the faint-hearted. This recipe produces a delightful custard pancake, minus the patience and laundry list of ingredients.
From France, known for using lots of butter in everything they do, I’ve incorporated a heavy-handed pour of melted butter. One of the starkest differences I’ve seen in French vs. American cooking is ratio of fat to “filler’ in recipes. In this case, flour is the “filler.” A traditional American-style pancake is actually quite lean. A couple of cups of flour to one lonely egg, a tablespoon of sugar, and a drizzle of oil. Southern pancakes often call for buttermilk which definitely kicks up the flavor and fat, but the ratio is still off, compared to a French ratio. This recipe uses more fat and flavor and much less “filler.”
From Sweden, known for a richness in flavor and sweet pancakes that pair perfectly with tart fruit jams (like lingonberry), I’ve incorporated a higher ratio of sugar to flour. These pancakes are so good plain, but also stand up well to tart jam (like my German husband prefers) or a simple sprinkle of powdered sugar (like I prefer) or a light drizzle of syrup (like my daughter prefers).
From Northern Germany/Netherlands, I’ve incorporated a natural rise using the magic of eggs. I’m not a huge fan of chemical leavening agents as baking soda and baking powder often add a metallic taste that is just “off” for me. I’ve always preferred European style tortes and cakes that are baked without these chemical leavening agents. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating a “Dutch” baby pancake, or a German-style oven pancake – you’ll know what I’m talking about. Using the magic of eggs, and eggs alone, we can create wonderfully puffy rises in these custard pancakes.
And from the good ol’ USA, I’ve made these pancakes “silver dollar” size. Because miniature anything is more fun. Right? Who wants to eat one cookie when you could have 4 mini cookies? Same with pancakes. Right? And also – a dash of vanilla. I feel like as much as we like to make fun of people and things by referring to them as “vanilla” – it’s a taste that feels very American to me. When we travel around the world, it’s hard to find vanilla scented anything – pancakes, cakes, or ice-cream. It just isn’t a popular flavor in Europe or Asia, in my experience.
“All-Around-The-World” Custard Pancakes Ingredients
This is a simple recipe. While it might not be as simple as opening a box of pancake mix, it’s still pretty easy to whip up on a lazy weekend morning, using ingredients that you likely already have on hand. Nothing fancy here, folks.
All-Around-The-World Custard Pancakes
A simple recipe for our family's favorite custard pancakes! These miniature cakes are rich and sweet and were inspired by our travels after sampling pancakes all around the world.
- 3 eggs yolks and whites separated
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup milk
- 3/4 cup flour
- 3 tbsp butter, melted
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Optional, for serving
- jam, optional
- powdered sugar, optional
- butter, optional
Separate the yolks and the whites into two medium bowls, being careful not to drop any yolk into the egg whites.
Whisk together egg yolks, salt, and sugar until lightly thickened - about 45 seconds.
Add half the milk and flour and stir until batter is smooth. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk, this time also adding the butter and vanilla. Stir just until it is mixed through.
Using a handheld mixer, beat egg whites until they quadruple in size and form soft peaks. For me, this took about four minutes.
Using a rubber spatula, very gently fold egg whites into batter. You want to be gentle and avoid stirring or mixing too much. Fold until just incorporated, the batter will still be lumpy.
Set a nonstick pan over low to medium-low heat. Heat pan for 2-3 minutes until a drop of water skids across the pan before evaporating. Do NOT add any butter or oil to pan - it's not needed and might overcook the pancakes.
Using a tablespoon, drop heaping spoons of batter into the pan. Cook until the pancakes rise, and then flip over using a rubber spatula and continue cooking. Depending on your stove, you may need to adjust the heat. You want them to cook low and slow, so the custard in the middle sets, without the bottoms of the pancake getting too dark. For my stove, it works out to be about a minute to a 90 seconds on each side.
“All-Around-The-World” Custard Pancakes In Photos