I love the music, the tree, the candles, the cards. I even love the hustle and bustle.
While I do miss my family during the holidays, I don't miss the snow or the cramped flight or the hours in the car (often with snow) as we drive from Chicago or St. Louis to my small hometown in central Illinois. I admit, I have forgotten how to drive in snow.
But I really do miss Christmas morning at my mom's.
My mom would often make cinnamon rolls while we lounged in the living room among wrapping paper detritus and too many presents. It was a matter of time before I would be curled beneath the Christmas tree, usually with my cat (who was the most glorious cat that every existed® --Jujube), looking up at the lights and then falling asleep.
Her cinnamon rolls were classic--Pillsbury, of course. From time to time, she mixed things up and got the ones with the orange icing. But those were blasphemous years. More often than not, she stuck with the standard flaky roll with a swirl of cinnamon and sugar and just a glaze of confectioners sugar icing squeezed from an aluminum packet--and, oh, I loved them.
For years, I tried to replicate this tradition without employing store-bought fare. I would labor over the dough or try to mix up an icing that was not tooth-achingly sweet. But after awhile, I got sick of burning the edges of the rolls and gave up on finding that utopian icing. No matter what I did, mine were never a match for Pillsbury. And I was left grumpy and hungry and without a nap underneath the tree.
So, I stopped competing.
These perfectly spiced sweet potato pancakes from Nopi are the foolproof antidote to my failed attempt at the cinnamon roll.
Oh, yes. Yes, they are.
Bursting with pumpkin pie spices (hello there nutmeg and cinnamon) without all the sugar, these pancakes satisfy the need for carbs on Christmas without weighing you down. Plus, Yotam Ottolenghi (London's food guru) and Ramael Scully (Nopi's chef guru) know how to whip up a fluffy pancake that is bursting with flavor.
When these hotcakes are on the griddle, those smells of homeyness and holidays make you forget there was ever such a thing as Pillsbury. And for good reason, because for a hot second you can convince yourself that these are good for you. From beta-carotene to magnesium with a loop back through pantothenic acid (which I admit I have no idea what that is or why it's good for me), the sweet potato is your Christmas morning corrective for the refined flour, a massive sugar jolt, and the high-glycemic shakes that can be found in a certain kind of cinnamon roll.
And while Ottolenghi and Scully advise a 3-pancake stack, I am going to admit that I can eat only one. One really good one.
But, let me tell you a secret.
I scrapped the yogurt and date syrup once the pictures were done. I know! I am a complete charlatan.
You might argue that the yogurt and the date syrup make the pancakes into the perfectly satisfying breakfast that you would come to expect from Nopi. And you may be right.
But we had whiskey-barrel-aged maple syrup in the fridge (a hostess gift from a dear friend from Seattle). I wanted to be all virtuous about my pancake, but the siren sound of sweetness (and whiskey, no less) called me.
What could I do?
A note to those of you who really are considering making these for Christmas morning--or any morning that you don't want to spend tethered to the stove:
You can make up the batter up to the egg whites and plop it in the fridge overnight. But add the freshly whipped egg whites the next morning. Those are what will make these pancakes soar.
And I recommend making the batter the night before. Because that means you have more time in the mornings. Which means you can sleep later. Or catch a longer nap under the tree.
And yes, I did just compare Nopi to Pillsbury. I am totally losing all of my foodie cred on this post, aren't I? But I am willing to do so--in honor of my mom and Christmas morning. Come on, are you really going to argue with me when it comes to nostalgic Christmas mornings? Yeah, I am totally losing this fight, aren't I?
May these be the perfect breakfast, no matter how you top them or what time of year you eat them or what you compare them to.
Sweet Potato Pancakes with Yogurt and Date SyrupAdapted From Nopi
2 medium sweet potatoes, unpeeled
1½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 eggs, yolks and white separated
⅔ cup whole milk
3½ Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp honey
⅓ cup butter, diced, for frying
Coarse sea salt
½ cup yogurt
3 Tbsp date syrup (also known as date molasses)
1 tsp confectioners' sugar, for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 465 degrees.
2. Roast the sweet potatoes for an hour, or until completely soft and browned. Remove from the oven, set aside to cool, and then peel off skin.
3. Reduce the oven temperature to 360 degrees.
4. Mix together the flour baking power, nutmeg, and cinnamon in a medium bowl with 1½ tsp of salt.
5. Place the egg yolks, milk, melted butter, vanilla, and honey in a separate bowl and whisk to combine.
6. Fold in the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Then add the sweet potato flesh, whisking well until completely smooth.
7. Place the egg whites in a separate bowl and whisk until stiff (3-4 minutes by hand; 1-2 minutes with an electric mixer). Gently fold in the sweet potato mixture and set aside.
8. When ready to serve, put 4 tsp of diced butter into a large frying pan and place over medium heat. When the butter starts to foam, ladle about 2 heaped Tbsp of the pancake mix into the pan.
9. Cook for 3-4 minutes, turning once halfway through when the edges of the pancakes are brown and the mixture starts to bubble in the middle.
10. Transfer to the oven for 5 minutes to ensure everything stays warm while you cook the next batch of pancakes.
11. To serve, place 3 pancakes in the middle of each plate and spoon yogurt on top. Drizzle with date syrup, and dust with confectioners' sugar. (Or do what I did eventually: serve with your favorite maple syrup.)