The Perfect Pancake

8 Mar

Fat Tuesday…how we missed ye!

It’s The Big Day for pancake lovers as restaurants and churches and families gather around tall stacks of steaming flapjacks, butter and syrup (and whipped cream–I see you!) on the side. It’s a great tradition for just about everybody. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like pancakes. They’re a favorite of toddlers to grandparents and everyone in between. Both of my kids, who disagree with each other purely for the sake of the argument, love pancakes. Mind you, he won’t touch syrup and she wants gallons of it, but the basic dish is a hit.

That said, they’re not quite as simple as they may appear. Someone asked over on our Facebook page about making thin flapjacks, as hers come out thicker than she’d like. Questions about recipes and technique abound, and it seems like the perfect day to talk about those things.

I learned one of the great secrets of pancakes shortly after DH and I started seriously dating, hundreds of years ago, when he took me to his church to help out with their pancake breakfast. The kitchen and I weren’t buddies yet, and I guess my big-as-saucers eyes gave away my astonishment when I saw the head cake maker carefully dollop out the first dozen cakes, wait a moment, flip them, and then chuck them all in the trash.

“First batch,” he said. “You always throw away the first batch.” And he’s pretty much right, because no matter how hot you think the pan is or how perfect the batter appears, those first pancakes to hit the griddle never come out. Think of them as testers or warm-ups and reach peace with it. Resistance is futile.

You want a really hot pan to get your pancakes that perfect golden-brown, but not too hot–golden brown outsides with mushy insides are no good. I use a cast-iron griddle and I let it sit on a medium-high flame for a good 10 minutes before the first spoon of batter goes on, and then I ratchet the heat down to medium or slightly below as the cooking goes and the pan reaches a good happy equilibrium. There’s no sure way to do this but practice. If the cakes are a nice golden brown on the bottom when you flip them and there are dry edges and bubbles throughout the batter at that point, you’ve reached the right temperature. No dry edges or bubbles means you’ll have a raw inside; dry edges and bubbles before the outside browns up means dry “blackened” pancakes (it’s never burned, loves. It’s blackened. Those 1980s chefs had a few tricks up their sleeves!).

Next question: Butter on the griddle or not? Answer: I use a combination of oil spray and butter when I make pancakes, but just a tad wee bit of each. You want them to grill up, not fry or poach. Use just enough oil to keep them from sticking; again, that comes with practice. If they start giving you a hard time about coming off the pan, grease it up a tiny bit more.

The question of thickness is a good one. People fall into two camps: thin pancake lovers, and thick pancake lovers. Thick people have it easier, because most batter comes out that way. If you’re a thin flapjack person, I have good news for you, because the answer is pretty simple.

First, remember that batter thickens up as it sits. If you want thin pancakes, whisk your batter up, turn on your griddle, and walk away for five minutes. Then stir the batter again. See how thick it got? Magic! But that’s a bowl of thick pancakes there. The remedy comes in the second half of this question, which is…WATER! Water thins pancake batter. Don’t use more milk, even if it’s what the Bisquick box says (and there is NOTHING wrong with Bisquick pancakes, y’all. I have a club-sized box in my fridge at all times and I hold my food blogging head high. You should too.). Stir in water to thin them out. And do it until the batter feels like cupcake batter–it needs to be poured more than it needs to be stirred out. That’s what thin pancakes look like in their naked, uncooked state. Kind of like a cream-based soup.

If you have batter like that and your cakes are still puffing up more than you’d like, make like a pizza chef and spread the batter out on the griddle with the back of a spoon, using a circular motion, once you’ve poured it out.

As for a recipe, I use the Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book, and I don’t mess with it. Wheat flour or less fat are going to tinker with the texture. And let’s face it, healthying up pancakes is a bit oxymoronic anyway.

The recipe is below. We’ll be enjoying a big stack of these tonight, along with lots of you. Happy pancakes!

Buttermilk Pancakes

Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 beaten egg

1 cup buttermilk (see note at end of recipe for a substitute)

2 tbsp cooking oil (canola or other light oil)

Heat your griddle or pan over medium-high heat.

Stir together the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the mixture and set aside.

In another bowl, stir together the egg, buttermilk and oil. Dump into the flour mixture and stir together until just combined. (If you want thin-as-possible pancakes, walk away for five minutes at this point. Come back, stir it again, and add water as necessary to thin out the batter.)

Lightly spray your griddle with cooking oil spray and then hit it with a little pat of butter. Pour or spread about 1/4 cup batter onto it for each pancake. Lower heat to medium (you may have to play with this). Let them cook until they’re golden brown on the bottom, the edges are dry, and you see bubbles in the batter. Flip, cook another two minutes or so, and serve.

Substitute for buttermilk: Put a tablespoon of white or apple cider vinegar into a measuring cup. Fill with milk to the one-cup line, Stir gently, let sit 5 minutes, and use as you’d use buttermilk.

Don’t forget you can win an autographed copy of Modern Spice! Go here and leave a comment to enter. And my little blog is still in the running over at Babble’s list of 100 best food mom blogs! You can vote for it here–and thank you!!

One Response to “The Perfect Pancake”

  1. Laura Beutler March 8, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    Thank you for this Kim! I’ll try this recipe tonight, and on that cast iron thingy that came with my stove that I never remember to use. I’ll leave the health-food versions for another day (pumpkin, squash, flax, ww flour…I’ve been known to sneak a lot of things in there since the kids will always eat them) But for Fat Tuesday dinner, I’ll be a purist! 🙂

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