“There’s no such thing as a real Italian brunch,” says Albert Di Meglio, chef and partner of Brooklyn's Barano. While many restaurants in New York City opt for lemon-ricotta pancakes, Di Meglio took a different approach with his semolina pancakes. Unlike baghrir, the thin and savory Moroccan semolina pancake with lots of tiny holes, this Italian-style pancake is thick and hearty but not too heavy. It’s also slightly sweet but not too sugary. Semolina, derived from the Italian word semola, meaning bran, resembles the taste and texture of cornbread. With semolina mixed into the pancake batter, these pancakes become something like a Southern-style flapjack—super crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.
While semolina and durum flour—both used in Di Meglio's recipe—are products of durum wheat, their textures differ magnificently. Semolina is a coarse and heavy milled flour with a consistency like breadcrumbs. Durum is the fine powder that’s left after the milling process is over. Semolina is more commonly used in Italian cuisine, especially for pastas, but it can also replace all-purpose flour in pancakes for a heartier and more flavorful breakfast.
Di Meglio admits that substituting semolina for all-purpose flour isn’t all that simple or straightforward. It’s no quick swap. If you’ve sold your soul to one pancake recipe for the rest of your life, you can only substitute about 40 to 35 percent of the all-purpose flour for semolina. And because the semolina is thick and coarse, you have to add a lot more liquid like butter and milk to the batter and let it sit for a few hours to hydrate before cooking.
Semolina pancakes are not meant to be flipped when slightly brown—you want them charred and crisp. The best way to achieve that finish is a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. At Barano, Di Meglio cooks his semolina pancakes in a wood-fired oven from start to finish, but we know that’s not easy to do at home (unless you have a wood oven in your kitchen, and if that's the case, we’re jealous). If you’re the average home cook, you have two options: finish the pancake on the stovetop or stick it inside your conventional oven. Your choice. Either way, you win.
1 ½ cups semolina flour
1 ¼ cups durum flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
⅔ cup brown sugar
3 ⅔ cups milk
½ cup mascarpone
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
½ cup brown butter
1 tablespoon clarified butter
How to Make It
Whisk the semolina, durum flour, baking soda, and brown sugar together. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk, mascarpone, vanilla extract and lemon zest together. Add warm brown butter and mix for a minute more—this will help to better incorporate the mascarpone.
Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. It’s OK if the mixture seems a bit too watery—that’s how it should be.
Refrigerate for 4 hours and test your batter. Quickly make a small pancake on the stove to see if the consistency feels right. Semolina hydrates slow and steady, so if the batter seems too thick, add a bit more milk and let the mixture sit and soak for a few more hours.
Add 1 tablespoon of clarified butter to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter starts to smoke, lower the heat to medium and fill the pan with 1 inch pancake batter. You now have two choices: Continue cooking your pancake on the stovetop, or place it inside your preheated oven set at 375°F. Cook for 5 minutes and flip for another 2 to 3 minutes.
Top with a slab of butter, mint sprigs, and fresh fruit like figs and berries. Feel free to pour pure maple syrup all over it, too.