At-Home Chef: Pumpkin Perfection
By Kimberly StolzPublished October 1, 2012
It’s October, and we all know what time it is.
As we head into the sunset of autumn, chefs and eaters alike rev full throttle down the gourd highway, leaving pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin pies, pumpkin chais, and pumpkin sloppy joes in their wake.
As a culture, we can’t seem to resist adding the squash pulp with its twin flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg to anything and everything during this season of red leaves and smoky backyard fires. Sunny Street Café puts it into the most favorite of breakfast foods: the pancake. A seasonal offering, fans start queuing up on the first day of this month, when the orange-hued discs hit the menu, and whine at the end of November, when they go back into hibernation until next year.
“I came up with the recipe three years ago,” said Sunny Street culinary specialist Matt Stasko. “It was hard on the stomach … every day, I was eating pumpkin pancakes.”
As Stasko wields his spatula ninja-like at the griddle, the pancakes magically rise, with that fluffy light band between the two crispier layers on the outside. “I wanted them to be like the pumpkin cookies you get at the store – big and fluffy.”
The trick, explained the Worthington native, is to not overmix the batter.
“You want the mix to still be a little lumpy,” he added. “Those little pockets of flour kinda go ‘poof’ when it cooks.”
Once on the griddle, Stasko cautions home chefs against fussing with them. “The great thing about pancakes is they’re not supposed to be perfect, just throw them on and let the magic happen.”
Served with a trés leches drizzle and scoop of cinnamon-walnut butter, the pancakes are sweet enough for a mid-morning swoon, but not so sweet that your teeth run for cover. A dusting of fresh nutmeg makes for both an aromatic and flavorful bite. “Definitely use fresh nutmeg,” he advised. “Whenever you can skip a step between the plant and the food, it’s that much better.”
Stasko admits that it’s “kinda cool” that his recipe is now featured in all the Columbus-area Sunny Street Cafés. “If they make them right,” he smiled.
Pumpkin Spice Pancakes
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
6 ounces pumpkin puree, unsweetened
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside. Lightly beat the eggs and combine with the rest of the wet ingredients. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix. Ladle three ounces of pancake mixture onto 350 degree, well-oiled griddle. Let cook for three-to-four minutes, or until bottom side is golden brown, then flip. Cook for another two-to-three minutes, or until pancake is cooked through. Repeat until all batter is used. Makes about 8 pancakes, serves 3-4 people. To serve, place two/three pancakes on each plate. Top with a scoop of the cinnamon walnut butter and drizzle with the tres leches sauce.
Tres Leches Drizzle
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
Combine and chill until needed
Cinnamon Walnut Butter
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons walnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Chill until needed.
Meet the Chef
It was in middle school that Matt Stasko started aiming for culinary perfection. The family would spend every Thanksgiving at Grandma’s in Barberton, eating their way through a giant feast featuring Slavic and American favorites. A year after his grandmother died, the young Stasko endeavored to recreate her legendary noodles. “I would roll out the dough over and over,” he recalled. “I finally came pretty close; that was a really satisfying moment for me.” Then came the Nigella Lawson years. “My younger sister and I became obsessed with her and we made this huge meal for our parents – it was probably atrocious.”
After a stint at the Ohio State University studying architecture, Stasko realized the world of traditional college was too subjective.
“I decided I wanted to learn a trade, so I got a job on the line at Sunny Street on Sawmill,” he said. “It was task-oriented and I excelled at it.” Jump forward six years and the self-taught chef is now creating recipes for the breakfast chain, as well as training chefs from around the country in the Nationwide Boulevard location’s immaculate kitchen.
Stasko works with his older brother, Mike, Sunny Street’s marketing director, and the pair good-naturedly rib each other while working in the kitchen. They also share a home in German Village with their miniature dachshund, Franklin.
“Mike, he cooks some things well,” joked Matt. “He makes the best chili.”
The pair clearly enjoy working for the Columbus-based operation and are proud that the spot has attracted so many fans.
“For those who want to support local businesses,” Mike added, “each location is locally-owned and operated.”
As for Matt, he’s still searching for perfection. “I like the day-to-day routine; there is beauty in repetition,” he mused. “How good can you be doing this one thing? I strive for perfection … it may not happen, but I’m gonna get close, which I like.”