When life gives you lemons (and oh, has it ever lately), make the legendary ricotta hotcakes from a modern Minneapolis icon.

By Kara Elder
August 24, 2020
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Last year, line cooks at Hell’s Kitchen griddled about 1,748 lemon-ricotta hotcake orders—each month. The popular dish has been known to convert lemon skeptics. That’s surprising, because with 4 tablespoons of zest in each batch, the citrus flavor isn’t exactly shy. But then, neither is the restaurant.

Mitch Omer; his wife, Cynthia Gerdes; and Steve Meyer opened Hell’s Kitchen in 2002, attracting instant attention for the darkly funny decor and name (no relation to Gordon Ramsay). The restaurant also became known for its employment practices. For example, thanks in part to leadership advancement opportunities, Hell’s Kitchen boasts one of the lowest turnover rates in the biz.

Like some of the team, the hotcakes have been around since the start. Omer, who passed away in 2015, came up with the recipe in the 1980s, “way before the restaurant was even dreamed of,” says Gerdes.

More thin than fluffy, they are quite different from a typical diner-style pancake, but don’t be fooled by their diminutive height. Whole-milk ricotta and a high egg-to-flour ratio make for a luxe and—dare we say?—wickedly rich dish.

Lemon-Ricotta Hotcakes

Credit: Carson Downing

Step One: Mix

Place 6 egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form. Reduce speed to low; slowly add 9 egg yolks, followed by 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter. Stop the mixer to add 1 cup whole-milk ricotta, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, ¼ cup lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and gradually add 1/3 cup flour. Stop the mixer to scrape bowl, then beat 1 minute more. For best results, refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Tips:

• It may feel counterintuitive to whip egg whites and then deflate them by adding ingredients and resting the batter. Trust the process. The result is light, tender pancakes.

• For the creamiest flavor and texture, use whole-milk ricotta. Even better, choose a clean label—just dairy, vinegar and salt.

• Hell’s Kitchen goes through gallons of The Perfect Purée Lemon Zest, known to pros as a knuckle-saver. At home, use a fine grater such as a Microplane to (carefully) scrape off the zest.

• This recipe uses more yolks than whites—and that’s a happy ratio, since you can freeze egg whites. Defrost in the refrigerator and use for an omelet or meringues.

Step Two: Cook

Melt butter in a large skillet or griddle over medium-low. Ladle batter onto hot skillet in ¼-cup portions. Cook until bubbles appear and bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip hotcakes and cook 1 minute more. Remove from skillet; repeat. Serve with fresh fruit, powdered sugar and real maple syrup. Makes 18.

Tip: Leave at least 2 inches of room between hotcakes for spreading. Stir batter between each batch.

Get a printable version of this recipe here.

Get to Know: Hell’s Kitchen

As of January, a stock-ownership plan made Hell’s Kitchen one of only a few employee-owned restaurants in the United States.