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Friday, July 6, 2007

My Big Fat Breakfast

Oh the wonderful laziness of a holiday morning. Yes, the 4th fell right smack in the middle of the week this year… but a day off, is a Day Off! That means having time to linger in pajamas, savor a cup of coffee and then make a big breakfast. Marcia’s Law says that a “big breakfast” should somehow include pancakes.

I’m not really sure why I love pancakes so much. All I can tell you is that my affection for them has no bounds – potato pancakes, box-mix pancakes, Denny’s pancakes, Korean pancakes, any-kind-of-vegetable pancakes, puffy oven pancakes, Swedish pancakes, crepes, dhosas, Italian crespelle, palacinke, moo shu, ohmy I could go on and on, and I love them all!

But let’s talk here about the typical American breakfast pancake. Remember Aunt Jemima and Bisquick mix pancakes? These were a few of the very American foods my mother would make when I was a child and they formed a sort of ‘taste imprint’, resulting in a strong preference for boxed mixes, lasting well into my 20s. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I really did think that there was no other way to make pancakes. A friend once pointed out that he made them from scratch, which made me stare at him as if he had two heads. Like, with a bunch of separate ingredients? I mean, why? I continued to believe in the infinite superiority of Bisquick.

The pancake that converted me was an ethereal, melt-in-your-mouth delight I found years ago in The Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Oooooh here, in one charming small volume, were lovely recipes for things like Sticky Buns and Shirred Eggs, and yes, folks…an entire chapter on…pancakes!! I decided to give the Buttermilk Pancakes a try. Wow. They were a dream… light and perfectly fluffy. Fellow pancake lovers at my table clamored for me to ‘keep ‘em coming’! They even passed the ultimate minimalist pancake test: a sprinkle of powdered sugar and the squeeze of an orange made you want to gobble them by the pile. Forget maple syrup.

Yet, in the back of my mind, the memory of a sturdy, fat Bisquick pancake lingered. Just for kicks not long ago, I thought I’d try my favorite cooking nerds’ version from The New Best Recipe. This was the pancake of my youth! A cake-y, yet fluffy, pancake with a nice, tangy buttermilk flavor. The Best Recipe cakes stands up to syrup or preserves, and are truly stellar when strewn with my new favorite pancake topping: fresh berries and vanilla yogurt.

So, this past 4th of July morning, after I had perused the paper and had my coffee at a leisurely pace, I spied the pint of black raspberries from this week’s CSA share sitting on the counter, and thought… mmm, pancakes. Then, perhaps a second later, this next thought crept into my mind: maybe later this week I could convince Steve to go for moo shu…

NOTE: Both recipes stress the importance of not overmixing the batter – stir just enough to combine, and leave the lumps!

When you want a light, elegant pancake…these go beautifully with a drizzle of maple syrup, my powdered-sugar-squeeze-of-orange treatment, or any warmed jam or preserves.

Buttermilk Pancakes
from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham
(makes about 14 3-inch pancakes)

1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, room temperature (this is key!)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

(Heat oven to 200 F. to keep finished pancakes warm as you are working through the batch.)

Stir buttermilk, egg and melted butter in a mixing bowl until smooth and blended.

Stir flour, salt and baking soda together in a small bowl and then add to the buttermilk mixture, stirring only until the dry ingredients are moistened – leave the lumps!

Pre-heat a skillet or griddle to medium hot. (This is important too…you want a hot surface.) Grease lightly and spoon out about 3 tablespoons of batter per pancake. Spread the batter with the back of the spoon so it is thinned out a little. Cook until a few bubbles break on top. Turn the pancakes over and cook briefly.

For a fluffy-yet-sturdy, tangy pancake…these use buttermilk, or milk mixed with lemon juice as an alternative).

Light and Fluffy Pancakes
from The New Best Recipe by The Editors of Cook’s Illustrated

(makes about sixteen 4-inch pancakes)

2 cups buttermilk, (or 2 cups milk, whisked with 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bolw to combine.

2. Whisk the egg and melted butter into the milk until combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients in the bowl; pour in the milk mixture and whisk very gently until just combined ( a few lumps should remain). Do not overmix.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet (or griddle) over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes (they’re not kidding!); add 1 teaspoon of oil and brush to coat evenly. Pour ¼ cup batter leaving an inch or two between pancakes, and cook until large bubbles begin to appear, 11/2 to 2 minutes. Flip with a wide spatula and cook until golden brown on the second side.


Jane said...

I made the buttermilk pancakes this morning. Perfect texture. I wonder, though, if I should have used a little less salt than called for, or if I should have used unsalted butter. Mine were a little salty.

When I was in high school, I went on some exchange trip to England for a month in the spring. On Shrove Tuesday my host family made the traditional pancake meal, accompanied with lemon wedges and granulated sugar. It sounds like your orange/powdered sugar combo. Anyway, delicious!

And, in a pinch, the yogurt-and-berries topping turns a toasted frozen waffle into something quite nice. A favorite of mine.

Alex said...

thank you thank you thank you!!!! I have been in search throughout my life for the perfect pancake. At times, I believe I've found it... but it's so short-lived that it's as if I never found it. I hope this recipe works.

Recently, I've been introduced to Kefir... I'm thinking this will work well as a buttermilk substitute. I think the taste must be something very similar -- buttermilk and kefir. Kefir is supposed to be very good for you -- better than yogurt.

Jane said...

This is an addendum to my previous comment on "My Big Fat Breakfast."

Er, I just realized I used baking *soda*, not powder, in the buttermilk pancakes, which might account for the salty taste.

Isn't that the oldest mistake in the (cook)book? And haven't I made the same mistake a hundred times?

Oops. Excellent recipe, and I guess salted or unsalted butter will work.

Marcia said...

Alex, I think it's a cool idea to try the kefir in place of the'll have to let me know how it goes..

Jane, it IS the oldest mistake in the (cook)book -- done it myself a number of times!

Jane said...

Attempt #2.
I made buttermilk pancakes for second Saturday in a row, and this time with baking soda (correct) instead of powder. For children, I added some chopped semi-sweet Ghiradelli chocolate. For me, blueberries. Youngest child said, "Mom, I like these better than the ones you made last weekend." Success.