…in this case, the pancake is called atayef, a Middle Eastern pancake filled with ashta, a type of milk pudding/custard/cheese that is delicately and divinely delicious. I love pancakes, have been known to wake up at 5 am craving them, and my mother loves ashta, so when someone gave a few of these atayef to my dad out of their brown bag a few days ago, I knew I had an irresistible excuse to make pancakes.
The pancake is easy enough to make, and comes with variations. Some call for the use of yeast and baking powder, some just baking powder alone. In either case, the pancake is free of eggs or butter, making it a perfectly light foil for the whole-milk filling that will leave you wanting more.
The batter is to be made slightly, barely, thicker than a crepe batter; making it too thick will not allow you to form a graceful, elegant cone into which the filling goes. If your batter is too thick, don’t be afraid to thin it down by whisking in additional milk (or water).
But, before you can get going on the pancakes, you must make the filling. It’s a simple enough affair, although mystifying for us non-Middle Easterners, made of milk, corn starch, some sugar, and flavored (rose and orange blossom) waters. Once sufficiently thickened, the filling is set aside, and kept warm.
As the pancakes come off the skillet, allow them to cool for a few seconds, then bring the edges together to form a cone. Hold the edges till the shape sets, about 10 seconds, and set aside for filling. Eventually, you’ll get dexterous enough to shape two pancakes at a time (look, both hands, Ma!). Fill with ashta, sprinkle with pistachios, and serve with simple syrup on the side for those who desire that extra dash of sweetness.
Recipes are on the flip side.
2 cups milk
3 TB cornstarch
4-6 TB sugar (to taste)
1 tsp orange blossom water
1 tsp rose water
- Place 1 3/4 cups milk with sugar into saucepan, over heat. While heating, combine cornstarch with remaining milk, till smooth.
- Once milk is hot, whisk in cornstarch mixture, and continue whisking till milk has thickened. Add more sugar as needed. The mixture needs to be just thick enough to hold it’s shape on a spoon; if it hasn’t gotten there within 10 minutes, dissolve an extra 1 – 2 TB cornstarch in additional 1/4 cup milk, and whisk in. Remember that the mixture will thicken as it cools, so don’t over-thicken it.
- Once sufficiently thickened, whisk in the flavored waters (either or both, as desired), and set aside.
1 cup plain flour
2 TB corn starch
1 1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water (reserve)
1 TB baking powder
1 TB sugar
1/2 tsp salt
- Sift together flour, corn starch, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Whisk in milk until batter is smooth. Batter should be slightly thicker than crepe batter; if you find it’s too thick (as I did), then whisk in an additional 1/4 cup water (adjusted to your needs) until the correct consistency is found. Basically, when you drop the batter onto the skillet, it should spread fairly quickly, and should be fairly thin.
- Cook on medium low, as you don’t want the bottom to become too dark. Cook till bubbles fill the surface AND the top of the pancake is no longer wet.
- Remove to a platter, and when cool enough to touch but still warm enough to shape, bring edges together to form a cone. Set aside, and continue till batter is used up.
- Fill pancakes with about 1 teaspoon of ashta, pushing a little of it down into the cone. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios for additional pizzazz, and serve to a very appreciative audience.