It’s 7AM on December 29th, 2009 and I’ve just arrived in Sydney for the holidays. It’s an annual trip back to the homeland to visit and catch up with family and friends. Time to celebrate Channukah and Christmas and have a brief exchange of freezing cold New York City for some nice summer weather. I’ve gone through immigration, collected my luggage, and cleared customs. I’m exhausted after 24 hours of no sleep, rushed connecting flights and bad airplane food but I’m so happy to be back home with my loved ones. I enter the arrivals hall and I’m greeted by my mom and dad. Lots of hugs, kisses and a few tears are shed before we walk happily back to the car. “Are you sure about this?” My mum asks. “Yes. We’re doing it. We’re going to Bills.” And so that’s how it went. After hours on a plane it’s not the rest of my family I want to see. Not friends, not a bed or a refreshing shower. It’s Bills. Bills restaurant that is. I want my hotcakes and I want them immediately. I’m so grateful that my parents indulged me that day. It definitely makes for memorable moments. I also remember that cringe worthy moment where my proud mom introduced me to the head waiter, telling him all about how I came straight from the airport to Bills for breakfast. You gotta love your parents when they do stuff like that.
Bill Granger – owner of Bills restaurants has made quite a name for himself both in Australia and abroad. He’s famous for making breakfast an institution in Sydney. His simple meals like scrambled eggs loaded with sides, sweet corn fritters and oh yes ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter leave customers satisfied and wondering “how soon is too soon” for their next visit. He owns a number of restaurants in Sydney, Tokyo and London. He’s written a number of bestseller cookbooks and he’s also had his own cooking shows featured on LifestyleFood in Australia and The Cooking Channel here in the US. For more info you can check out his sites here and here.
From my opening story you can probably gather that for me, no visit to Sydney is complete without at least two separate visits to Bills. On one occasion I’m sure to order the sweet corn fritters (this will require a separate blog post) and on the other it’s time for ricotta hotcakes. On every occasion I find a way to sneak in one of their hot chocolates (another blog post needed for this too).
My favorite Bills location is Darlinghurst, the inner city suburb where I lived for many years. I actually used to avoid going to Bills, strangely enough when I lived as close as humanly possible to the restaurant. We’re talking a 30 second walk. Why? Because I thought it was too pretentious. There was no sign outside saying it was Bills restaurant. People just somehow knew that this was the place. . “Well I’m not going to some place if they don’t even have the decency to put a sign up saying who they are. They don’t even have a menu in the window. How will I know if I want to go in? What’s wrong with them?” Sometimes I want to give the me of 10 years ago a bit of a shake. “Stop overthinking it and enjoy the food!”, I would have said.
Here are some photos of Bills in Darlinghurst. It’s in a more quiet part of the neighborhood with tree lined streets. The restaurant fills up on the weekends with a good mix of locals and tourists. A line will form so I’d recommend getting their early to avoid disappointment.
Sydney (Australia for that matter) has a great breakfast cafe culture. Lots of cafes including Bills open nice and early in the morning. We’re talking 7:30AM People and we’re talking 7 days a week. None of this “Oh, we open for brunch at 11AM nonsense.” I know, I know. There are plenty of good cafes in New York and some even open up pretty early on the weekends. In fact, I just found one in Brooklyn called Seersucker that’s caught my eye and it opens at 8AM. I’m looking forward to trying it out and its been recommended by Ina Garten so it’s gotta be good. I just saw her mention it on the most recent Barefoot Contessa episode on the Food Network and she also gave them a shout out a while back on her blog. Ok time to cook some hotcakes.
I’ve made these hotcakes a bunch of times since owning the book Bills Sydney Food where he shares this recipe for everyone to enjoy. It’s an easy to follow recipe although there are a few steps involved in preparing the batter like folding egg whites. No matter how many times I make this dish I always forget about the whole folding in of egg whites step. I end up doing it of course but at the start I’m thinking “Gosh, I should make these more often. It’s easy really.” And then my heart sinks a little and I remember I have to whisk and whisk and whisk and fold and fold and fold. It’s not that much extra work but when all you want to do is eat and eat and eat, this whisking step just feels like a real pain. Oh and you’ll need to set aside some time to make that honeycomb butter. You have to serve the hotcakes with the honeycomb butter. Seriously, that butter really turns up the volume (I couldn’t resist). For anyone who is still reading and has had an aversion to the idea of ricotta in hotcakes let me assure you that there’s nothing cheesy or savory about this dish. These hotcakes are more like very fluffy pancakes and with the honeycomb butter melting all over them and warm maple syrup drizzled on top (that’s how they serve it at the restaurant) you are in for a delicious breakfast.
Ok, now it’s time for a small confession. You see that featured photo of the hotcakes and the one below? Ok, so I didn’t make those hotcakes. They are all hotcake food shots from some of my previous visits to Bills. I wasn’t too happy with the quality of the finished product photo that I produced. Don’t worry, I’ll show you what mine look like but they’ll be buried deeper down in this blog post mkay?
Ok. First things first. We need to make the honeycomb butter. So start with your butter, honeycomb (here’s how to make your own honeycomb) and honey.
Smash up your honeycomb (I covered mine in some baking paper to avoid too much mess) and combine the ingredients. Time for my Breville do-it-all mini mixer to take center stage again.
Pour out to cling wrap and roll (actually this photo was after we went through a bit of it) put back in refrigerator to chill up. Store the rest in the freezer when you’re done.
Now it’s time to make the hotcakes. Start with your ingredients.
Separate your eggs. Combine yolks, milk and ricotta in one bowl. Sift your flour and salt in another bowl. Add the flour to your ricotta mixture.
Whisk your egg whites (whisk attachment on the same Breville gadget from above) and fold into the hotcake batter.
Heat your non stick frying pan with butter and spoon in your batter mixture being careful not to make more than 3 at a time. I use 3 heaping tablespoons as 2 tablespoons (as stated in the recipe) is not enough. When I have friends over for hotcakes I’ll have up to 2 additional pans on the burners at the same time. Basically as many pans as I have lying around that will do the job. That way no one is eating cold hotcakes. I suppose I could invest in a large griddle?
Dust with confectioners sugar. Serve with sliced bananas, honeycomb butter, warm maple syrup and devour. They were just awful as you can see.
Breaking news for US peeps! Soon, you too will be able to get your fill of Bills when he opens his first US location. That’s if you happen to live in Hawaii, specifically Waikiki. Oh Bill, when are you coming to NYC? People would line up around the corner just for your breakfasts.
Recipe – Ricotta Hotcakes with Honeycomb Butter (based on recipe of the same name from Bills Sydney Food/Lifestylefood.com.au)
The recipe below is the original recipe from the book. I actually halved this recipe as I was only trying to make it for two. I would recommend following the steps below exactly if you want to feed 3 or more people.
- 1 1/3 cups ricotta
- 3/4 cup milk
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 50g butter
- 250g unsalted butter, softened
- 100g sugar honeycomb, crushed with a rolling pin
- 2 Tbs honey
- Banana (1 per person)
- Honeycomb butter, sliced (below)
- Confectioners sugar
- Place ricotta, milk and egg yolks in a mixing bowl and mix to combine.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
- Add to the ricotta mixture and mix until just combined.
- Place egg whites in a clean dry bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.
- Fold egg whites through batter in two batches, with a large metal spoon.
- Lightly grease a large non-stick frying pan with a small portion of butter and drop 3 tablespoons of batter per hotcake into the pan (don’t cook more than 3 per batch).
- Cook over a low to medium heat for 2 minutes, or until hotcakes have golden undersides. Turn hotcakes and cook on the other side until golden and cooked through.
- Transfer to a plate and quickly assemble the other ingredients.
- Slice one banana lengthways onto a plate, stack three hotcakes on top with a slice of honeycomb butter. Dust with icing sugar.
- Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
- Shape into a log on plastic wrap, roll, seal and chill in a refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Store remainder in freezer for future use.