Cream of tartar is another one of those pesky ingredients that gets used by the quarter teaspoon and stays forgotten in the back of the spice rack. A byproduct of winemaking, this acidic powder is commonly used in angel food cake to prevent darkening, in meringue to stabilize beaten egg whites (or I like to lightly beat a pinch into whites for a super fluffy and satisfying egg white omelet) and in sugar syrups to inhibit crystallization.
When I got to thinking about all the different ways to use cream of tartar, I decided it would be a fun challenge to try and employ all (or most) of them in a single recipe. There’s less than a teaspoon, but a little goes a long way!
Here are some of the ways to use leftover cream of tartar that I incorporated in my recipe:
D.I.Y Single Acting Baking Powder: When acidic cream of tartar meets alkaline baking soda, the two substances are neutralized, making carbon dioxide, which acts as a leavener (producing air bubbles to make doughs rise so they are lighter and airier). Most commercial baking powders are double acting, meaning that that their leavening powers are activated both by the chemical reaction that releases Co2 and by the heat of cooking. So, the combo of cream of tartar and baking soda (two parts cream of tartar to one part soda, if you care to experiment) makes a single acting baking powder.
For the recipe below, make sure to combine the wet and dry batter ingredients just before cooking, as the soda-tartar leavening is unleashed by the addition of liquid.
Perfectly Whipped Whites: When my mom makes pancakes she always separated the yolks and whites, adding the yolks to the batter and whipping the whites to fold in just before cooking. This makes the most delightfully airy pancakes. Because the giant pancake below gets cooked all at once, I wanted to make sure the beaten egg whites would stand up to the heavy batter. Cream of tartar’s stabilizing effect keeps the whites perky and also prevents them from getting overbeaten, so they stay silky smooth.
Crystal Clear Caramel: Caramel sauce can be tricky, but with a pinch of cream of tartar to tame sugar’s tendency towards crystallization, it’s simple to replace the standard maple syrup with a carafe of pourable caramel to drizzle over the pancake.
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Skillet Puffy Pancake with Salted Caramel Sauce
Serves 4 to 6 as breakfast or dessert
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
5 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup flour
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, divided
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar, divided
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Add 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) of butter to a large cast iron skillet and melt in the oven, about 5 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/3 cup of the sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of the cream of tartar and the baking soda. Using an electric mixer beat the eggs whites and ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar, until soft peaks form.
- Whisk the egg-milk mixture into the flour mixture and then fold in the egg whites. Pour the batter directly into the buttered skillet and bake until the pancake is golden and risen, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining 1 cup sugar with 1/3 cup water, remaining ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar and the corn syrup, stirring with a silicone spatula, until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Increase to medium-high heat and cook, undisturbed, until amber-colored, 5 to 7 minutes; remove from the heat. Gradually stir in the cream (careful, the caramel will boil rapidly and spatter; wear a pair of oven mitts if you like) then return to low heat, stir in the salt, and cook, stirring, until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes.
- Serve pancake immediately, drizzled with half the caramel sauce and the rest at the table for passing.
P.S. This is also awesome with sliced bananas and chopped nuts!
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