Why You Should Make Cachapas, Venezuelan Corn Pancakes Stuffed With Cheese
Pancakes are a beautiful thing. As simple as a basic buttermilk anointed with little more than butter and maple syrup, or made fancy with fruit or nuts, spices or other mix-ins, or garnished with everything from whipped cream to caramel to compotes. They can be thin, like crepes or Swedish, or extra thick like the Japanese wiggly versions all over Instagram. They can be tiny, like one-bite blinis, or enormous, like a towering shareable Dutch baby. Almost every culture has their version of a pancake, and many of them are served stuffed with something. Blintzes full of fruit, crepes with ham and cheese or jam, Chinese scallion pancakes, or Japanese okonomiyaki thick with octopus and cabbage. But for me, nothing is as satisfying as the Venezuelan cachapa.
This sweet-corn pancake is usually served stuffed with cheese and hits all the most important food qualities. The pancake is crisp on the edges and soft in the middle. It is sweet and salty. The cheese is both savory and creamy. It is like your perfect ear of summer corn and your favorite grilled cheese sandwich had a really delicious baby.
The pancakes are super easy to make, the batter can be pulled together right in your blender. The natural starches in the corn, with a little boost from some corn flour, keep the pancake together, making it naturally gluten free, and vegetarian to boot. It can be made with fresh corn when in season, or canned or frozen corn. While queso de mano is traditional, fresh mozzarella is a perfect swap-in, but you can experiment with things like cream cheese or soft goat cheese.
To make, for every two cups of corn kernels (fresh, canned or thawed frozen), add two tablespoons of corn flour (fine ground corn meal, not corn starch) or masa harina, a pinch of salt and good grinding of black pepper, and whiz up in your blender or with an immersion blender until well ground. I like mine a little chunky, but if you want them creamier, go full puree.
Let the mixture chill out in the fridge for about 20 to 30 minutes just to rest. Then cook in a hot buttered nonstick skillet, using the back of a spoon to spread the batter in the pan. These are better if on the thicker side, about half an inch. I like mine about 4 inches across. Cook until the bottom is crispy and well-browned, then flip carefully to cook the other side, about 3-5 minutes per side. Once you flip the first time, top with the cheese of your choice which will begin melting as the underside cooks. When done, fold over like a small omelet and serve hot. If making for a crowd, hold the cachapas on a greased sheet pan in a 200-degree oven till you are finished. They don’t need anything, but if you like a garnish, a drizzle of crema, scattering of cilantro or parsley, or dash of hot sauce don’t go amiss.