What do pancakes, puppies, and pillows have in common? Fluff! Nine out of 10 pancake connoisseurs (aka, my friends) agree that fluffiness is the most desirable trait in pancake prep (and puppies and pillows, too). The tenth guy said "soft," but he's never been one for words.
There are a few tried-and-true ways to achieve ultimate pancake fluff, one of them being Chef Clayton Miller's tip to incorporate three whipped egg whites for soufflé-like cakes. Others would say it's all about the stirring — not too little, not too much — and then letting the batter rest overnight. And yet others would say it's all about adding a bubbling secret ingredient, such as cider, seltzer water, or even beer.
But wait — there's another option; one that harnesses the power of probiotics to not only create that desired fluffy pancake texture, but also to introduce a fermented food that contains beneficial bacteria that can balance your microbiome. Basically it means the live bacteria in fermented foods enter your digestive tract (your mouth, esophagus, tummy, and intestines) and helps feed the trillions of good bacteria that already live, grow, and die there (that's your microbiome). Those digested fermented foods also can balance the number of good-to-bad bacteria in your gut — which, by the way, isn't slang for beer belly. Gut is a technical term meaning your stomach and the first part of your small intestine. Fermented foods also replenish the good bacteria you've lost after taking an antibiotic. And that's the power of probiotics in a nutshell.
So, what is this fermented food, you ask? In this case it's kefir! Kefir is a tart, drinkable yogurt teeming with friendly bacteria. In this recipe, it acts similarly to buttermilk, another common pancake ingredient that is also a fermented food, to create air bubbles and height (fluffiness!). But unlike buttermilk's acquired taste, kefir's flavor is something most people can get behind. You can easily use up any leftovers and even pour more of this flavorful rock-star ingredient over your hot cakes, which is what I've done here. For the perfect texture, you'll want to use whole-milk vanilla kefir (I like Maple Hill Creamery 100% Grass-Fed Whole Milk Kefir).
Finally, what would pancakes be without a fun topping? They'd be plain cakes, and nobody has time for that. I thought a tropical-sweet topping would pair nicely with these kefir cakes and, boy, was I right. This sauce is a nod to classic bananas Foster, a dessert that dates back to 1950s New Orleans, the major port of bananas from Central and South America into the United States. Obviously there was a desire to find tasty uses for all those bananas, so an innovative chef named Paul Blange created flambéed bananas and named them after his restaurant's most frequent customer, Richard Foster. This quick version of the dessert skips the rum, but feel free to add it if your gut so desires.
Vanilla Kefir Pancakes with Bananas Foster
Serves 4 to 6 (makes about twenty 4- to 5-inch pancakes)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the bananas foster:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large bananas, sliced on the diagonal
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Pinch of salt
For the topping:
1 cup whole-milk vanilla kefir
Make the batter: Heat a griddle to medium heat and preheat oven to 200°F. Whisk together the flour, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the eggs, kefir, melted butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Using a rubber spatula, mix until batter ingredients are combined, but do not overmix — there should still be some lumps and the batter will bubble slightly from the kefir.
Cook the pancakes: Ladle scant 1/4-cup portions of the batter onto the griddle and, using the back of a spoon or the measuring cup, spread the batter into a circle. Cook pancakes until browned on the bottom and bubbles appear on the surface. Carefully flip pancakes over and cook the other side. Remove cooked pancakes to a baking sheet and place in the hot oven to keep warm while the remaining pancakes are cooked. Repeat with remaining batter.
Make the bananas Foster: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet (not nonstick) over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the bananas and stir gently to coat with butter and soften, about 2 minutes. Add 3/4 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, the walnuts, and salt. Heat and stir until the brown sugar melts and becomes saucy.
Place 4 or 5 pancakes on a plate and drizzle about 1/4 cup kefir over top. Spoon 1/4 of the bananas Foster mixture over the kefir and serve immediately.
Use firm bananas (still a little green or just-turned yellow) so they won't get too soft and fall apart when cooked.
This recipe works well with more hands in the kitchen. If you have a cooking partner, one person can make the pancakes while the other makes the bananas Foster. If it's just you, I recommend following the order of the recipe: Prepare the batter first and cook all of the pancakes. Keep them warm in the oven while you make the bananas Foster, which won't take long if you have all your ingredients prepped before you begin.