Banana bread cream cheese blondies with salted brown butter frosting

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Today is a Wednesday, but I am trying to frame today as a new start to the week, considering the mess of yesterday. Tuesday started off on an incredibly tired note, as I hauled myself to places where I had to be at but where my heart wasn’t. A revival was needed, I thought, when I collapsed on the couch yesterday afternoon. It tends to be during moments of stress and tiredness that I am weak of mind, giving in too much to the simplest pleasures without thinking (processed, sugary food), which leaves me feeling even more tired and disgusting, and I simply am totally unproductive and useless to talk to for the rest of the day. I wish a break in routine did not have to be so tiresome or intrusive, but that’s the reality of it.

A ‘revival’ to different people can mean different things, and most are valid- entertainment, learning, education, a walk, reading, something good. For me, it’s long walks and nourishing food, or playing around with new ingredients to create something. I recently discovered a beautiful block of salted butter in my local gourmet grocer (which you can find here), somehow so soft and creamy even right out of the fridge, when I pressed it. I came home and cooked some vegetables in a generous pat of the stuff, discovering the beauty of salt crystals from the North of France– truly a work of wonder. How have I not had the pleasure of biting into a salt crystal in a piece of butter spread on sourdough toast (or anything) before? I had to make some good use of it. With ripe banana, a new beautiful block of butter and leftover cream cheese, these delightful squares, an extravagant combination of tang and luxury, were born. Banana bread and cream cheese sounds very, um, American, since anything involving cream cheese is very typically USA, no? Anyways, I could talk for days about this recipe, but best to keep it brief.

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The use of salted butter in general here is paramount to the success in making this good salted browned butter frosting. It was magical to watch the salt crystals separating while melting the salted butter. The frosting is optional but really something special, and I literally squealed upon my first bite, which was chewy, fudgy, brimming with a natural banana flavour without being too sweet, even with the frosting on top. The cream cheese is almost a necessary component to enjoy all dimensions of this dessert, as its mild sourness offering a creamy cut-through the layers of different degrees of sweetness, from simple banana bread to rich salted frosting. It was all a simple matter of mixing a few things in different bowls and assembling the components before and after baking the blondies.

I definitely felt better about making these, by the end of the day. Still tired, but better. Creating and playing, these are the free blessings we all have.

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Banana bread cream cheese blondies with salted brown butter frosting

Ingredients (makes one 8×8 or 9×9-inch pan, or 16 medium-sized blondies)

KEY:

For the blondies:

120g (1/2 cup+ 2 tbsp) salted butter, melted

¼ cup tahini (can also use yoghurt or apple sauce)

1+1/2 bananas

200g (1 cup) brown sugar

80g (3/4 cup) almond flour (ground almonds)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

70g (1/2 cup) plain flour

1 egg

220g cream cheese (or 1 standard 8oz tub) cream cheese

90g (1/3 cup) icing sugar

For the frosting:

60g (1/4 cup) salted butter

60g (1/4 cup) brown sugar

100g (slightly less than 1 cup) icing sugar

3 tbsp heavy cream

 

General notes:

  • Use all plain flour instead of half flour and half almond flour if you wish. Would be equally delicious, just a little less kind on the gut.
  • I baked mine for 22 minutes for a fudgy centre, but bake for longer if you like a more cake-like consistency.
  • If you don’t have salted butter, add a teaspoon of salt to the dry ingredients.

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F), then grease and line your 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch pan. In a medium bowl, mash your banana and then whisk in the melted butter and brown sugar. Then whisk in the egg If you just melted the butter before mixing the sugar, make sure to wait a minute after mixing in the egg so that you don’t unintentionally scramble the egg, unless that’s your kind of thing. Then add the flour, cinnamon, and a teaspoon of salt if you did not use salted butter in the beginning. Mix everything together. The batter should appear quite sticky and not too thick, easily dropped off a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl, make the cream cheese middle by mixing the cream cheese with icing sugar.

Pour half of the blondie batter into your greased and lined pan, then add the cream cheese frosting and spread it in a thin even layer on top of the batter. I find that it helps to put 9 equal dollops of the filling on the batter and then using a knife or your finger to spread it out to fill the gaps. Then pour over the rest of the blondie batter and smooth it out into an even layer. Place your pan into the preheated oven and bake for 22-23 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with moist crumbs (not dry!).

For the frosting, melt the salted butter in a pan on medium heat, until it goes an amber colour and you can see the milk solids separate from a darker, browned liquid. This will be clear to see after 4-5 minutes of heating on the oven Skim off some of white bits so most of the darker liquid is left. Once the butter is browned and there’s a waft of something toffee-like and nutty in your kitchen, add the brown sugar and heavy cream bring the liquid to a boil. Once bubbling, set aside to cool down for 5 minutes, before adding the powdered sugar. The frosting may not look like a lot but is pretty rich, enough for all 16 blondies.

Once the blondies are baked, take the pan out and leave to cool on a heatproof surface for at least 10-15 minutes. Spread on the frosting and cut into squares. These are best eaten on the same day but will keep for the next 3 days.

 

Goreng Pisang on Toast

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There are too many things, upon my arrival in the homeland, this special little red dot, that I was much too eager to get into again (jet lag came, stole all my energy and enthusiasm. But now that that’s gone, each day seems a refreshing beam of light, a hopeful promise). But yes. Café hopping, family and friends aside, it’s all about food. Old flavours, fun memories, revisited. That’s what I missed. There’s always something to be aware of, to be curious and excited about. Right now I’m deeply appreciating, here in Singapore, access to good food at much cheaper prices, and the cool and quirky Asian/pan-Asian delights one can find anywhere, in the basement of any big mall (my favourite is the Takashimaya one, for the record).

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A recent tea party I had with my dear friend Charlie at an Airbnb café– how cool are these? They specially made vegan chocolate avocado mousse for me, and the accompanying chai tea was sublime. 
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My favourite place for good sourdough– The Bakery by Woodlands Sourdough at Bukit Timah. Thick almond butter and honey on thick, crusty toast. The sort of thing I actually will pay for once in a while, it’s that good.

It’s a time to revisit, guiltlessly, all the sweet flavours I missed. Black sesame, durian, matcha galore. Endless. Gorgeous! One of my favourite food thingys that I used to have on a regular basis, aside from durian puffs and dark chocolate taiyakis, was goring pisang (fried banana). My grandmother still occasionally buys them from the hawker centre, and are too, too perfect with a cold dollop of vanilla bean ice cream, or just on their own as they are.

It feels downright weird to be back. With no dissertation to complete, I am officially a graduate (ok not entirely, the graduation is in October, but still). Now, there’s a space in my head, one that need not necessarily be filled all the time. A space to feel, to think, to scroll through all the emotions that have been mashed together for too long in the days leading up to some exam, or assignment, or thesis. Because sometimes scrolling through emotions means putting rationality on the back-burner. This feels so free. This feels like a good, long, abdominal breath. And true enough, it is important to take time, intentionally, to do this daily, or at least weekly. But it’s also good to get away from it all entirely, take a break even from blogging, as I did the past two weeks. Routine, a good one, is a conscientious way of re-organizing one’s priorities. But sometimes a little break from routine allows for reflection on the meaning of the routine itself, instead of being on autopilot all the time. It’s sort of like atoms in a certain structure. The bits that make up the structure may be strong and sturdy, but breaking away and re-organizing them in a smarter and more efficient manner may leave you with a structure even stronger than before).

Now let’s go bananas. It’s all about the right banana and the right batter. The two must complement each other– too ripe a banana will leave you with mushy bits of nothing, while the batter should comprise ice-cold water, rice flour and corn starch for the perfect degree of crispiness. Then everything is fried, and I don’t think you can go wrong by either shallow or deep-frying, because it’s still a fried banana, and you can’t go wrong with that, can you?

Traditionally, these golden beauties are eaten with ice cream or with a custard, but that Monday I decided to bung it on some toast layered with fresh, thick coconut yoghurt, peanut butter and jam, and my taste buds were on absolute fire. The combination of the creamy yoghurt, tangy and sweet with peanut butter and jam, cradled the crisp, wispy outer layer of goring pisang batter. You think about it, and the whole thing seems or sounds a little silly. I mean, fried anything can’t really go wrong. Or just leave the poor banana alone, for goodness sake. Why coat it, why ruin it? But that’s the fun of experimentation, is it not? I’ll breathe down the back of the traditionalist for as long as I can, challenging the norm. If we can fry bananas, or mars bars, or friggin’ tea bags, then why not put them on something and call it a meal? Like your usual pb&j toast. The coconut yoghurt really is just for fun. The whole thing is just fun and delicious, so let’s just leave it at that.

 

Ingredients

2-3 ripe (but not too ripe!) bananas, sliced in half (along the breadth, not down the long centre)

40g plain flour

2 tbsp each of rice flour and cornflour

¼ tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

5 tbsp ice-cold water

vegetable oil for deep frying, of which a tablespoon you will mix into the batter

*optional accompaniments: bread slices (use whatever bread you like but whole-wheat or sourdough is preferable), coconut/soy yoghurt, peanut butter, jam

 

Directions

Mix all batter ingredients (everything listed above except for the bananas) in a shallow bowl. The batter should be smooth, without any lumps. This can be done by adding the water slowly, in thirds, and whisking well in between. The batter should not be all that thick– if it is, add a little more water to thin it out.

Add your cut bananas to the batter and coat them well with the help of a fork or spoon. Meanwhile, heat 1.5-2 inches of vegetable oil in a wok/frying pan. Add enough so that the bananas will be just covered. You can also save some oil by using less oil and turning the bananas halfway through. Once the oil temperature has reached 180C (320F), and you can do this with any candy thermometer, add the coated bananas and fry until they are visibly golden-yellow. 2-3 bananas are perfect for this recipe because too many will make the temperature of the oil drop a little. Once visibly golden and crispy, take the bananas out with a pair of tongs and place them on a paper towel to drain the excess oil. Be careful this whole time, the oil may spit and hurt you. These are best eaten immediately or at least the same day they are made. For this twist, toast your bread slices, then add a tablespoon each of coconut yoghurt, peanut butter, and finally the jam. I like strawberry jam, but that bit’s up to you. Then cut your fried bananas in half lengthwise, then put them on the piece (or pieces) of toast. Take a bite. Savour that. Love that.

Apple Strudel

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Things to be grateful for the past week:

  • Billie Holiday. Happy belated, you star.
  • Extended periods of concentration
  • My mum’s lipstick (oops).
  • Discovering new, creative inspiration all around me, in the air, sights, people (Instagram aside, of course).
  • Daily yoga practice. Still trying to get better at certain inversions and balances. Nothing else truly grounds and invigorates me.
  • Love. Everywhere. Phone calls or video calls. Precious and genuine.
  • Making mistakes, and distinct feelings of unease. And then letting the right balance of stoicism and determination kick in. Feel, embrace, face obstacles, before trying to untangle and change them.
  • Coming across the cutest café (named Moreish) near the Wellcome Collection full of delicious vegan options, including vegan gelato!!
  • Coming up with more easy, AMAZING new recipes which I am so excited to release week after week! And just refining some sweet (literally) cult classics whenever I can. Snickerdoodles, red velvet cake, carrot cake, fudgy brownies galore. These things just can’t go wrong.My most recent experiment was particularly exciting and got me squealing on my knees at 10pm last night. Seriously.

Over the Easter weekend I was privileged enough to be hosted by my boyfriend’s family in Austria. On the plane ride back, my hands were itching to start playing with the Austrian cult classic– yes, the one and only apple strudel. I remember my first encounter with the traditional Austrian pastry before I went vegan so distinctly, The first bite was an explosion of thick-cut chunks of tender, stewed, cinnamony apple, enveloped in light-as-air, flaky pastry. Drenched in vanilla sauce (you usually douse your pastry in either this or vanilla ice cream if you have it), each vanilla speckle visible in pure, vivid ivory, if ivory could be so vivid. It’s the perfectly flaky pastry encasing soft apple, firm yet two steps away from being mush upon the pressure of your spoon, that I wished to replicate the past weekend.

And that I did.

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This easy vegan apple strudel is about an hour away from you if you feel like buying some filo tonight. Seriously, it’s so darn easy and delicious I can’t possibly think of what is stopping you. Since I was only making this for me and my uncle last weekend, the strudel I ended up with was a rather small thing of a sausage, but nevertheless satisfying in portion. Double the ingredients if you wish to make this for a larger party or, say, 5 or more friends who are more cautious than carefree when it comes to dessert after a hefty dinner of pot stickers and the likes on a Saturday night. I personally enjoy any dessert a la mode, as opposed to drenching it in custard or vanilla sauce. Ice cream any day for me, who’s with me?? I also drizzled over some of my homemade salted caramel sauce of extra pizzaz, though any sauce is of course optional, if you’re the sort who also hates stuff like sweet chilli sauce. Is that even possible?

Filo pastry actually comes in so handy for these types of dessert– I like to chuck mine in the freezer and let it thaw for at least 3 hours or overnight in the fridge to be used the next day.

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Apple Strudel (makes one 4×8-inch strudel. enough for 2-3 people)

Ingredients

2 large apples, diced

juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

2 and a half sheets of filo pastry, with the 2 larger ones cut in the middle along the longer edge, so you end up with 5 halves. If you’re using frozen filo pastry

A handful, or about 30g of chopped nuts (or buckwheat groats, as I used in my case since I didn’t have many nuts lying around– sacrilege!), and some extra for sprinkling later on

4 tbsp vegan butter, melted in the microwave

4 tbsp brown or coconut sugar

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350C). In a bowl, mix together the chopped apple, cinnamon, lemon and nuts. If you don’t have any nuts or buckwheat groats, granola or any trailer mix sort of thing works well too. Set the bowl aside.

Place a piece of parchment paper that fits a standard baking tray, and place the paper on the tray. Flour the parchment and lay down one sheet of filo pastry. Carefully (filo pastry is quite delicate) brush on some vegan butter, then sprinkle on a tablespoon of brown or coconut sugar, then some of your finely chopped nuts/granola/something crunchy basically! Then lay down your second piece of pastry and repeat. Repeat until all five sheets are used up. Place the filling in the middle of the pastry, leaving a border of an inch from the shorter edge (breadth) and 2 inches from the longer edge (length). Refer to the pictures above for a clearer idea of what I’m saying. Using a sharp knife, roughly cut lines going from the edge of your filling to the length of the pastry, spaced 2 cm away from each other and parallel to each other. The lines should match up to each other on both sides of the filling.

Carefully fold the strips of pastry towards the middle, using the extra melted butter to stick any overlapping bits together. Continue doing this along the length of the strudel until you reach the bottom. Brush the top of the pastry with more melted butter, sprinkle on some brown sugar, and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. The pastry should not be dark, but crispy all the same. Serve with a healthy dollop of vegan vanilla ice cream, and more nuts for crunch. This can be kept in the fridge for a few days

 

Red (Adzuki) Bean Hand Pies

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So I brought these little hand pies to my mum and two friends for a taste test, and we were all floored. One of my friends, who doesn’t have the biggest sweet tooth, started off with an ‘omg, these are incredible’, before pausing and commencing to talk specifically about the balance in texture and flavour of his delicate, puffed-up pie. ‘I like how it’s mildly sweet and soft in the middle, and crazy crisp everywhere else. Not too sweet either. Whoa.’ I couldn’t agree more. As my mum and I shared one, a tingling warmth rippled through my being. There is nothing like sharing a delicious treat with those you love.

London’s cold spell was brief and impactful. Harsh winds and cancelled train rides aside, the most beguiling thing was to watch my gloved hand traverse the page in my diary, just this time last week. Not once did I ever have to write in my diary with a shivering hand.

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And so comfort had to be in tow. No question about it. Tinker tinker, tinker tinker. A brief encounter with the adzuki bean reminded me how powerful it can be in conjuring up such profound memories and nostalgia. Native to the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, it is especially common in Japan, where it is used in a variety of different desserts. Red bean mochi and red beans scattered in my ice kachang were some of my favourite desserts as a child, ones I appreciate now more than ever in London, where Asian desserts are still rather uncommon. If one is so lucky to find them, they still tend to bear ridiculous prices. Another reason to make these yourself at home!

The best thing about these hand pies, cute filling aside, is the delicious, outrageously crisp crust. Complementing it is the just-right sweetness of red bean paste, smooth and sticky. You could customise the filling by adding things like soft dates (deglet/medjool) and nuts for some interesting dimension and a different mouthfeel.

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Red Bean Hand Pies (makes 10-12 little hand pies)

Ingredients 

For the red bean paste:

200g (1 cup) adzuki beans

240ml (1 cup) water

pinch of salt

200g (1 cup) granulated sugar

 

For the puff pastry:

280g (about 2 and 1/4 cups) plain flour, and have a little bowl with some extra flour set aside for sprinkling later on (sub: half white and half whole-wheat, or use a gluten-free flour such as coconut or rice)

120ml (1/2 cup) vegan butter (sub: coconut oil)

120ml (1/2 cup) cold water

pinch of salt

1 tbsp sugar

 

Directions

The night before you make the pies, soak the adzuki beans in the water. In the morning, drain the beans, place them into a saucepan. Add fresh water to the saucepan until there is about an inch of water covering the beans. Turn on the heat and let the beans come to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook the beans for about 45 minutes. During this time, start making the pastry. You could use a food processor but I prefer using my hands in a bowl to get a good feel of the dough. In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter/coconut oil and squeeze it into the flour until you get floury clumps. You don’t have to make sure everything comes into clumps, you should just have a relatively dry and crumbly mixture. Add a quarter cup of water to start, then add the rest slowly until the dough just comes together in a large clump. The mixture will be quite dry. Add more or less water until you get to this point. Put the dough in a bowl and place this in the fridge.

After 45 minutes of cooking the beans (give them a stir every once in a while), add half of the sugar and salt. Continue cooking for 15 minutes. Squeeze one of the beans– if it breaks easily then you’re on the right track. If not, never mind, just continue cooking until most of the beans are easily smushed (I LOVE that word). Continue cooking until most water is evaporated. Add the rest of the sugar and cook for another 5 minutes before taking the pan off the heat. Use a fork to smush the beans more into a paste. Leave the beans to cool in the fridge; this is also when the paste (termed anko in Japanese) will thicken.

Preheat your oven to 190C. Lightly flour a work surface and, using a rolling pin, roll out your dough until about half a centimetre thick. Using the edges of a glass cup, cutters or a measuring cup, cut 5-inch circles in the dough, starting from the edges to save space. Take your bean paste from the fridge and place a heaped teaspoon of the paste in the centre of one circle. Wet your finger to draw a thin layer of water along the borders of the circle surrounding the paste, then place another circle of dough on top. Pinch the pie along its sides to seal the pie. Using a fork, make little fork marks (or claw marks, as I like to call them) around the edges, then flip the pie and do the same on the other side. Repeat until dough is finished. And now for the important part!! Brush the tops of the pies with water– this will make the tops super crisp once out of the oven. Then sprinkle some sugar on the tops, and place the pies in the preheated oven. Bake them for at least half an hour. Check on them at 25 minutes– if they are already golden-brown take them out, but mine took 30 or so minutes.

 

Mochi Pancakes and a Matcha Ritual

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I meant to be writing this on a train to Durham, best beanie on, heart on my sleeve. Instead, I’m sat snuggled in a jumper at home, hoodie on, tea on my sleeve. The train was cancelled, everything was delayed, and my heart was pumping with an anger and impatience it wasn’t used to. Acceptance is typified as the answer to frustrating situations, which in itself is frustrating once things don’t go as perfectly planned. Acceptance, a lighter heart, and a laugh that starts out as fake to try and persuade yourself,  before reifying the humour of day-to-day disappointments, making it all ok again. Small hiccups in a big world. I had a conversation with a sweet old lady as we sat waiting for the next District Line train, shivering from our covered heads to toes. This is Earth’s payback for what we’re doing to it, she exclaimed. And to an extent, I agree. I smiled in the cold. There’s only so much we can do, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do.

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Exams are done!! On Friday I used up the ink of three pens, and now it’s time to use up all my flour. More time to potter around in the kitchen, experimenting with different sweet and nourishing recipes, putting more time and effort into this blog, my baby, my alter ego. These spurts of creativity, life-giving and soul-satisfying, perfectly balance the head-banging revision one can endure in the space of a couple given days. After my recent trip to Austria, where I was gifted with some gorgeous fresh matcha (Attila Hildmann). And so started my daily matcha ritual, complete with the whisk, bowl, meditation, everything. It has replaced my Nespresso ritual, that crutch, but now I can’t look back. The harder shots of black are welcome once in a while, but the strong emerald brew gives a lasting, strong mental energy which I especially needed the last few weeks. The earthy scent and potency of fresh ground matcha twirling in rich heated almond milk, lightly sweetened with maple syrup, is the best thing to ease yourself into a hardcore (or easycore?) day.

So here’s a recipe for my favourite matcha latte, which may be jazzed up with some froth on top and some smears of hot chocolate, if you please. It goes perfectly with my new pancake recipe– MOCHI PANCAKES. Yes, you read and heard right. Made with rice flour and a good deal of soluble protein for stretch and the perfect balance of light and heartiness. Funny how being in Germany and Austria made me think of Japan so much. The hospitality, cleanliness and attitude in both countries are fairly similar, perhaps. Or maybe it was because I was surrounded by clean, white lines and it all resonated with the minimal simplicity I find so appealing in Japan.

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These pancakes are delicate and tender, a far cry from the fluffy ones I’m used to making but nonetheless delicious. Perfect with pear, tahini, a homemade red bean paste (watch this space, might refine that recipe to be posted soon!) and soy yoghurt, as pictured above.

 

Matcha Latte (serves one)

Ingredients

1 tbsp matcha powder (I use the Attila Hildmann brand)

2 tbsp hot water

240ml (1 cup) plant milk of choice

1 tsp maple syrup

Optional: 2 tbsp hot chocolate powder or chopped dark chocolate, and a scoop of either vegan vanilla ice cream/whipped cream to top.

 

Directions

Pour the milk into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. While waiting for it to come to a boil, whisk the matcha and water together in a small bowl. I use my cute little matcha whisk from Kanuka Tea for a good, thorough whisk. Pour the matcha mixture into a large mug, add the maple syrup, then pour in the hot milk. Mix everything together with a teaspoon. For some extra fancy schmancy, add the hot chocolate powder or chopped dark chocolate to the bottom of your mug first, before pouring in the matcha mix and milk. Then after pouring in the milk, top with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream that will melt on top of the hot matcha to create a sweet, frothy top.

 

Mochi Pancakes (serves 2-3 people)

Ingredients

70g plain flour+50g rice flour

50g porridge oats (or substitute coconut flour/almond flour/any other gluten-free flour)

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp ground flaxseed

6 tbsp water

5 tbsp melted vegan butter/coconut oil (just melt it by putting the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and nuking it for 30 seconds or until you can see that it’s mostly melted)

pinch of salt

3 tbsp white/brown/coconut sugar

350ml plant milk of choice (I use a mix of rice and soy)

 

Directions

In a small bowl, make your egg– mix the flax and water and set it aside to thicken. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients– flours, oats, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Then pour in the milk and butter. Mix briefly, then add the flaxseed mixture, and continue mixing until everything is well combined. It should be quite a wet and drippy mixture. If not, add more milk until it reaches that consistency. Heat a pan on medium pan, add a pat of vegan butter and let melt. Once it is sizzling a little, dollop tablespoonfuls of batter onto the pan (or griddle if you have one) and let the first sides cook. Flip once you see bubbles form on the surfaces. Let the second sides cook for 20-30 seconds before removing and placing on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess moisture, or if you’re making a big batch for guests and you want to keep the pancakes warm ahead of time, in a warm oven until they arrive and you are ready to serve.