Since e-mailing with Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell last week, all I can think about is gigantic spiders.

As part of my ongoing series of stories about the finalists for the abandoned 2020 James Beard Foundation Best Chef Northeast Award, I requested a signature recipe from the chef-owners of Palace Diner.

Cheekily, they replied with precisely what I asked for: a recipe for the Biddeford restaurant’s legendary lemon flapjacks. Having scarfed a few dozen zesty stacks of their aromatic, maple-syrup-drizzled pancakes myself, I was delighted to see the recipe arrive in my inbox.

Then I read it.

I couldn’t stop laughing when I realized that they’d sent along directions for a full-scale, bulk deployment of eggy batter. Clocking in at eight quarts, this was a recipe that only The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe could use.

What’s more, I understood immediately that I couldn’t just divide the ingredient quantities by 10 or 12 to produce something a home cook would be able to execute.

Leavened foods, especially dough and batter-based ones, are notoriously difficult to scale up or down. Trapped bubbles inside their structure (or “crumb”) paradoxically give them both strength and lightness at the same time.

But because of a rule of physics called the square-cube law, when you increase the size and weight of something, its exterior structure quickly becomes incapable of supporting itself.

Here’s where the spiders come in. If you scaled up a pea-sized arachnid to a few hundred feet tall, its legs wouldn’t have the surface area to support its mass. You’d wind up with a bulky, immobile spider. Probably a cranky one, at that.

Doughs and batters are exactly the same. Double or triple, halve or quarter the ingredients in them, and frequently, they simply don’t work. They rise, then collapse, or just never rise at all.

I learned this lesson the hard way while working at a youth hostel in Copenhagen, Denmark. Fresh-faced and 25 years old, I arrived, suffered through an intensive crash-course in Danish, then started my job as one of the hostel’s staff of two dozen. As the only one who had restaurant cooking experience, I was tossed a copy of Karolines Køkken (a fantastic cookbook produced by the Danish national dairy council) and told that, from that moment forward, I’d be in charge of preparing lunch and dinner, six days a week. (Mondays were for leftovers and sketchy delivery pizza topped with corn.)

My first week brought triumphs, like risotto with mint and peas from the hostel garden, but it also delivered a few dismal failures, including snail-shaped buns that emerged from the oven like cinnamon-scented coasters. Foolishly, I tried making them again. Twice.

After the third attempt, I carried my grease-stained cookbook to a nearby bakery and, in my hilariously accented Danish, begged someone to tell me what I was doing wrong. Thank goodness I knew the words for “bubble” and “giant spider.”

All of this is to say that, if you have 30 people to feed, the original Palace Diner recipe might be for you. Otherwise, you’ll need something a bit more modestly portioned.

Epicurious published their take on the Palace Diner flapjacks in 2014, and while their recipe was designed with a home kitchen in mind, their ratios seemed a little suspect – as if someone had divvied up the quantities in the bulk recipe without testing the result.

I did, and you won’t be surprised to learn what happened. As much as I enjoyed the squat crepes that the too-loose batter produced, they weren’t anything like the fluffy pancakes I’ve eaten in Biddeford so many times.

Over the following year, I tweaked ratios and amounts in the recipe, returning to Palace Diner’s railcar counter to triple-check, OK, quadruple-check my work. Then last week, when Conley and Mitchell sent their big-batch instructions, I returned to my adaptation to add a little more lemon juice and a bit less zest.

I won’t claim that mine is identical to the Palace Diner version – their recipe is based on ultra-accurate weight measurements, while mine uses the cups and teaspoons you’ll find in most U.S. kitchens – but it’s close, both in texture and flavor.

Just one suggestion: Keep the spiders in mind and, whatever you do, don’t try to double it.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of three recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at: [email protected]
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

——

Lemony Buttermilk Pancakes (in the style of Palace Diner)

Makes 12 large pancakes serving 4 hungry people

DRY INGREDIENTS:

4 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ to 1 teaspoon salt, to taste

WET INGREDIENTS:

2 whole eggs, plus 4 egg yolks
2¼ cups, plus 2 tablespoons (19 oz.) buttermilk
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest and ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and lemon zest. Whisk in the melted butter. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, lightly fold the dry mix into the wet ingredients until they are just combined (a few small lumps are OK). Gently fold in the lemon juice.

Heat a large griddle or nonstick pan on medium-low. When the pan is hot, add a marble-sized knob of butter to coat the bottom thinly. Use 1/3 cup batter for each pancake. Cook each pancake until you see bubbles rise and pop at the center of its surface and the bottom is golden-brown. This should take 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Stack 2 or 3 pancakes per plate and top with butter and Maine maple syrup.

The Original Palace Diner Lemon Flapjacks

The recipe has been edited for length and clarity.

Yield – 8 quarts. Each quart-sized “kit” makes about 10 large flapjacks

Chad Conley: “From its development I remember that Greg (Mitchell) started by making pancakes from the Boston Cooking School cookbook. We used lemon in the pancakes for a brunch menu I’d recently come up with at another restaurant, so that application was fresh on our minds. From there we applied our Magic Method! Make it, eat it, adjust it and repeat until it’s great.

“The name ‘flapjacks’ felt like the most fun of the synonym options. Griddle cakes, pancakes. Flapjacks. ‘Flap’ for when you slip the spatula under the first cooked side. ‘Jack’ for the splat on the other side!

“It’s worth mentioning that the lemon juice boosts the acid that you normally would only get from the buttermilk. Using baking powder in addition to baking soda does something similar, adds a bit of acid. The added acid gives the leavener more lift. As long as the batter isn’t overmixed then the result should be flapjacks that are quite fluffy.”

PANCAKE WET ‘KITS’

800 grams whole eggs
16 yolks
300 grams lemon juice
Zest of 2 lemons
5,900 grams buttermilk
800 grams butter

Combine the eggs, yolks, lemon juice, lemon zest and 1,400 grams of the buttermilk in a 4-quart Cambro (food storage container) and buzz with an immersion blender. Pour the remaining 4,500 grams of buttermilk into a large 12-quart Cambro or container. Pour the egg mixture into the buttermilk and buzz thoroughly with the immersion blender. Divide evenly between 8 quart-sized containers. Cut butter into 100 gram squares and place into 8 deli cup containers (one for each quart container). Keep the butter separate from the liquid mixture until you are ready to cook.

PANCAKE DRY ‘KITS’

3,770 grams all-purpose flour
23 grams baking powder
58 grams baking soda
720 grams sugar
48 grams salt

Pour the flour into a very large mixing bowl. Combine all the other dry ingredients in a separate, medium-sized bowl and whisk thoroughly. Sift this second dry mixture into the flour and whisk very thoroughly. Measure 575 grams of this dry mix into 8 quart-sized containers.

When you are ready to prepare the flapjacks, combine one of the wet kits, with butter and one of the dry kits. Stir to combine without overmixing the batter. On a nicely seasoned, medium-hot griddle, cook the pancakes on the first side until bubbles start to come through the top just a bit, and the bottom has a clearly firm and golden-brown surface. Flip and cook the second side. Serve with butter and Maine maple syrup.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.