Small, Good Things: Not-So-Cold Comfort

Almond Pancakes with Spiced Apple Compote

Almond Pancakes with Spiced Apple Compote

Despite the warmer-than-usual January temperatures and a noticeable lack of the more arctic manifestation of meteorological precipitation, early winter is still tough. There’s a decided inertia to the late-coming morning light and too-slowly lengthening days, regardless of what clocks and calendars say. Chilly souls long for warmth and easy, familiar comfort.

There’s no comfort food more evocative of home and hearth than pancakes. The typical recipe for pancakes — flour, egg, milk, oil, baking powder and maybe a pinch of sugar and salt — is humble and always welcomed. Likewise, it’s simple enough for children to master and satisfying enough to check all the right emotional boxes.

But it can be messed with: When substituted for some of the usual wheat flour, almond flour and its innate nuttiness immediately suggested a few other tweaks.

On the practical front, almond flour alone would make for a heavy dough, so we split the difference with a combination of almond and whole wheat flours. (Those with serious dietary concerns could substitute others: spelt, oat or even rice flour. Likewise, oat or almond milk can easily be substituted for common dairy.)

Almond flour also had the unexpectedly Proustian effect of evoking frangipane, the sweet almond pastry cream familiar as a filling for almond croissants. Easily accomplished with a touch of vanilla and/or almond extract, the addition adds a welcomed bit of soft spice, an effect both comforting and a little exotic, further helping to dispel hovering winter doldrums. 

To be sure, almond pancakes would be fine with butter and maple syrup, but assuming you might just be in a deep funk, the accompanying recipe for warm apple compote should turn the tide.

Apples are simply stewed (quickly, to preserve some crunch) in a sweet base of maple syrup (add boiled cider or apple molasses if you can find them) and spiced with ginger and star anise. The compote is finished with a generous handful of golden raisins. Top a stack of pancakes with a couple of spoonfuls, along with a scattering of crunchy sliced almonds, and here’s a breakfast to widen sleepy eyes.

Or you could top it all with a dollop of cream, yogurt or vanilla ice cream and call it dessert. Or share it with a cup of coffee or tea as the perfect mid-afternoon snack to help forget the chill in your bones. Comfort is best served warm … and with friends.

Almond Pancakes with Spiced Apple Compote

Serves 4

Spiced Apple Compote

  • 2 large tart, crisp apples (suggested: Honeycrisp, Granny Smith or a combination)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ cup maple syrup (or combination of maple syrup and boiled cider or apple molasses) 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 to 5 star anise pods
  • ½ cup golden raisins

1. Peel, core and quarter apples. Slice thin. Put sliced apples in a mixing bowl; sprinkle ground ginger over all; set aside.

2. Add butter, brown sugar, syrup, and vanilla and star anise to a medium saucepan; cook over medium heat for 5 minutes to dissolve and caramelize sugar. (Keep an eye on the pan; reduce heat if the mixture starts to bubble rapidly and thicken.) Remove from heat and let steep for 10 minutes.
Remove star anise pods and return to low heat on the stove.

3. Add the apples to the pan and stir well to coat. Cook over medium to medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until apples soften slightly. (Depending on the apple variety, timing may vary, so watch carefully. If the compote is too thin, cook gently to thicken, being careful not boil the apples down to mush. If too thick, thin with water or apple cider.) Remove from heat; add raisins and stir to incorporate. Set aside while you make the pancakes.

Note: This compote is better if made just before making the pancakes. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated, covered, in a bowl. It will keep up to five days. Warm gently before serving.

Almond Pancakes

  • 1 cup almond flour (look for Bob’s Red Mill brand)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (substitute spelt or oat flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons raw sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil plus more for skillet (substitute Macadamia or coconut oil)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1½ cups milk (substitute almond or oat milk)
  • 1½ teaspoon vanilla or almond extract (or combination of the two)
  • Lightly toasted slivered almonds for garnish

1. Combine the dry ingredients — flours, baking powder, sugar and salt — in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the egg, milk, vanilla or almond extract, and ¼ cup oil. Add blended liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients; stir to incorporate. Let batter sit for 5 minutes or so to thicken before proceeding.

2. Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Use about 3 to 4 tablespoons of batter for each pancake; cook 3 at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, until surface is pitted with bubbles and edges appear dry and “set.” Flip pancakes and cook another 2 to 3 minutes until browned, checking regularly.

3. Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm, or keep warm partially covered in a 200-degree oven. Repeat as needed to use all the batter.

4. Serve warm with spiced apple compote and garnish with lightly toasted sliced almonds.

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