Note: The filling for this pie can be made up to 2 days ahead of time. The potato topping, however, should be made right before assembly. To make this dish vegan, simply replace the butter...
You may have noticed a certain enthusiasm for citrus fruits around here lately. I think our situation is hardly unique--citrus in winter is like a jolt of warm sunshine. Even though I've never set foot in a citrus grove, I imagine myself walking down neat aisles of deeply green, leafy trees studded with orbs of orange, when in fact I am swaddled in several layers of clothing, trying to stay warm in our drafty cabin.
But the truth is, I didn't know that winter was citrus season until a few years ago. Perhaps this is because I do not live in a citrus-growing region. In any case, I simply took for granted that I could buy oranges, tangerines, lemons, and the like year-round. This is certainly possible these days, but the best, juiciest, most flavorful and diverse citrus still arrives at your local supermarket in the winter.
The citrus fruit that we rely upon the most is the lemon. When I first met John, our pantries were very different. I stocked lots of grains, greens, and peanut butter. John, however, always seemed to have, if nothing else, flat-leaf parsley and lemons. At first, I couldn't understand this. It seemed a bit like keeping garnishes in supply but eschewing actual ingredients. But as we shared a kitchen more and more, I began to understand that both these ingredients can bring a dish to life.
Lemons, while largely inedible in their raw state, can make flavors stand out, much as salt does. An imbalanced dish is often made perfect by a squeeze of lemon. This is equally true of baked goods. A cake or cookie that would be saccharine on its own is calibrated by a dose of lemon zest. In fact, I will often add zest when none is called for or double the amount called for just to insure it is adequately pronounced in the finished product.
There are a couple easy ways to boost lemon flavor in baked goods. One is to add the zest to the creamed butter and sugar mixture. Fat carries flavor, and so adding any flavorings to the butter mixture will be dispersed throughout the batter more effectively. Another way is to rub granulated sugar with lemon zest. This friction causes the oils in the zest to be released, and it flavors the sugar into the bargain. This latter method is one I used today for a quick pancake breakfast.
Pancakes have a tendency to be heavy to a fault. I like to combat this in a variety of ways, usually by adding fresh fruit or ricotta, or by using alternative flours. However, these lemon pancakes are perfect as they are. The relatively thin batter makes them light and lacy, and the addition of sour cream, lemon zest, and lemon juice imparts a gracious tang.
I went a step further and substituted buttermilk for the milk in the original recipe, and I rubbed the sugar with the lemon zest before adding it to the dry ingredients. This allows the lemon flavor to permeate the batter. Finally, due to a complete lack of control, I added poppyseeds. These are optional but so very lovely and delicious.
A few considerations when making these pancakes: have your pan, skillet, or griddle at a higher temperature than you normally would for pancakes. This batter is a bit thin (this is part of what makes these pancakes light), and the quick burst of higher heat will set them before they have a chance to spread too much. With that in mind, do not be tempted to crowd the pan.
Heat a nonstick pan, well-seasoned skillet, or griddle over medium to medium-high heat (our stovetop runs a bit cool, so we were closer to medium-high). Prepare the batter while the pan heats up. Whisk together in a medium bowl:
1 cup all-purpose flour
(2 tablespoons poppy seeds)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a small bowl, massage with your fingers:
1/3 cup sugar
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Add the lemon sugar to the dry ingredients and mix to combine. In another bowl, whisk together:
3/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Mix the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. The batter will be thick and bubbly. Melt in the preheated skillet:
1 teaspoon butter (you will need about 4 teaspoons total)
Using a 1/4-cup measure, pour the batter into the skillet, being careful not to crowd the pan (for silver dollar pancakes, use about 2 tablespoons batter per pancake). Cook until the bottom is well-browned and bubbles have appeared on the surface of the pancake and are beginning to break, about 2 minutes. Flip the pancake and cook on the other side until well-browned, one more minute or so.
Pancakes are best served at once, but if this is not possible, keep them warm on a plate in a preheated 200˚F oven.