Today in New York City residents are taking to the streets, or should we say to the curb side tables and chairs, in protest against the laws surrounding brunch. Yes, brunch. The leisurely and loveliest of all meals is causing controversy in a city synonymous with dining and the art of eating. In New York it is illegal to serve brunch before noon on a Sunday, lest diners block the footpaths for those on their way to church. The law dates to 1971 but has largely been unenforced; in fact, many eateries claim they never knew the law existed.

Brooklyn residents recently complained of the difficulties many of them experience when walking to church; of navigating the footpaths crowded with restaurant patrons on Sunday mornings. Several New York cafés and restaurants have been issued with tickets and court summons since these complaints were laid. New Yorkers are appalled. Three City Councillors are entering submissions for the legal time to serve brunch on Sundays to be brought forward to 10a.m. One Brooklyn resident, opposed to any changes to the law, asks the people of New York to be watchdogs for illicit brunching. But as most people of New York will argue, no one will stand in the way of a New Yorker and their right to brunch.

The “War on Brunch” is being discussed with an interesting, maybe slightly puritanical, approach. There is little coincidence in the timing of the brunch debate; New York State politicians are also considering a loosening of the laws surrounding drug possession and “public display” of cannabis. Can brunch in New York be considered a public display of self-indulgence? An expression of lazy, joyous consumption? Some newspaper articles have labelled this law an issue of the plate versus the church. I’m for the plate.

Francesca and I made brunch this morning in sympathy for the plight of the poor New Yorker who must “have those bagels with cream cheese or Belgian waffles on a Sunday morning, and nobody should stand in their way.” I made orange and ricotta hot cakes from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, the most beautiful of cookbooks. Nigel Slater’s writing seems to evoke the quiet calm and joy of a Sunday brunch in every sentence, for every dish. Our brunch was everything a New Yorker would say brunch should be; late in the morning (but well before noon), with strong coffee, and good company.

These hot cakes are made with minimal flour, but instead have stiffly beaten egg whites folded through a mixture of ricotta, sugar and egg yolks. They are heavenly light, almost like a soufflé. The ricotta lends a savoury richness to the hot cakes, while the flecks of orange zest brighten everything up. These hot cakes are good to eat, especially with honey yoghurt and a swirl of maple syrup. If you were to doll these cakes up a bit, I think a spoonful of fluffy stewed apple, or an orange and berry compote, or a brandy spiked orange syrup would only add to the brunch quality. New Yorkers would be proud.

Orange and Ricotta Hot Cakes

250 grams ricotta
4 tablespoons caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
finely grated zest of a large orange
50 grams plain flour
butter for cooking

In a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta, caster sugar and egg yolks. Grate the orange zest into the ricotta mixture and stir it in gently with the flour. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then gently fold the whites into the ricotta mixture.
Warm a non-stick frying pan over a moderate heat and add a small knob of butter, about a teaspoon. When the butter sizzles add a heaped spoonful of mixture into the pan. Cook for a few minutes until bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Use a spatula to flip (take care! They are delicate). Cook until, as Nigel Slater writes, they are coloured appetisingly.
Serve immediately with a dusting of icing sugar, runny jam, yoghurt, compote, syrup or other fruit.

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