Every culture has its pancakes and Istria has palacinke. Truly no different from crespelle or crepes, palacinke is the name I first learned for the delicious thin pancakes my mother would whip them up for us for dinner. As a child I loved them any way she served them, often with only a sprinkle of sugar or a bit of home preserved fruits, like rose hip jam, apricot marmalade or prune butter. Sometimes palacinke were more elaborate: filled with ricotta and baked or layered like a cake with different fillings in between. But the most luxurious-and always our favorite-were palacinke spread with melted chocolate. That's the version I share with you here but I also encourage you to enjoy these homey treats any way you like. Today my mother still makes palacinke but now it is her great-grandchildren who wait in line for the next one to come out of the pan so they can spread butter and jam on top, roll them up and devour them, still warm.
For the palacinke
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sugar
⅓ teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons melted butter, or more if needed
Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
10 ounces excellent bittersweet chocolate, or semisweet chocolate
1½ cups walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream, chilled (plus sugar to taste)
To make the palacinke batter, whisk together the eggs, 2 cups of water, rum, vanilla, sugar and salt in a large bowl, until well blended. Sift the flour on top, a bit at a time, whisking each addition until smooth. Drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the melted butter, whisking until the batter has slightly thickened, with the consistency of melted ice cream. Finally, whisk in the lemon zest. Put the remaining 4 tablespoons of melted butter in a small cup and keep it warm.
Break or chop the chocolate into small pieces and put them a bowl set in a pan of hot (not boiling) water. When the chocolate begins to melt, stir until completely smooth, and keep it warm, in the water, off the heat.
Set the crepe pan or skillet over moderate-high heat until quite hot. Pour in a couple tablespoons of butter, quickly swirl it all over the pan bottom, then pour excess butter back into the cup, leaving the bottom lightly coated with sizzling butter. (If the butter doesn't sizzle, heat the pan longer before adding the batter). Immediately ladle in a scant 1/3 cup of batter, tilt and swirl so it coats the bottom, and set the pan on the burner.
Lower the heat to medium and cook the palacinka for a little less than a minute, until the underside is lightly browned in a lacy pattern. Flip it over with a spatula and fry for a half minute or longer, until the second side is lightly browned, then remove it to a warm platter. Heat the empty pan briefly, then rapidly coat it with butter, fill it with batter and cook another palacinka. Repeat the sequence, stacking up the finished palacinke on the platter, until all the batter is used up.
Fill and serve the palacinke as soon as possible, while fresh and warm. Keep the platter in a warm spot and cover the stack with a tent of foil or a large bowl turned upside down. Whip the heavy cream, unsweetened or with sugar to taste, to soft peaks. Stir the melted chocolate and reheat it if necessary so it is smooth and warm.
Take one palacinka off the stack and place it with its lacy-patterned side down .Spoon a generous tablespoon (or more) warm chocolate in the center of the pancake and spread it over the palacinka, leaving an inch wide border uncoated. Scatter a spoonful of chopped walnuts on the chocolate layer then fold the round in half, hiding the fillings, and fold again into a plump quarter-round.
Fill and fold all the palacinke the same way. For each serving, place two rounds, overlapping, on a dessert plate, heap some cream on top, scatter some nuts on top of the cream and drizzle warm chocolate in streaks and squiggles over the palacinke and the plate.