The Joy of Pancakes!

My friend Max might love pancakes as much as I do, he's good and enthusiastic that way, but over the course of my short life I haven't met many people who spring awake wide-eyed and run into the kitchen when they know pancakes are on the griddle. I have many memories from when I was little, waiting at the table while my dad made pancakes, me of course shouting commands about what shapes I wanted: men, rabbits, turtles, etc. He was good at following orders; and so, at a young age, pancakes became a celebrated breakfast tradition.

I tree-planted for four consecutive summers, a popular British Columbia activity among the "relatively" younger generations. As you burn around 4000 calories a day, it's necessary to get a good start in the morning. One summer, I went on a pancake blow-out. I had three, good-sized pancakes piled with yogurt, granola, and maple syrup every day. Of course seeing as this wasn't ever quite enough, I'd cruise by the cook shack on my way to the truck and pick up two more for the road. Our cook was awesome; she'd make peach, banana, cocount, strawberry, whole-wheat to name a few, and my favourite, chocolate chip. By the end of the summer, my consumption waned, but they still hold a special place in my heart.

I find that people are quite particular about their pancakes. Some people prefer crêpes, thin and delicate à la française, others want massive, plate-sized cakes like you get at Denny's, Max makes tiny ones and claimes they're the best in the world, but I like them medium size, round and crispy. (However, dad's pancakes these days have been on the larger, thicker side which make perfect peanut butter and jam sandwiches for a snack!) Feeling as though the excitement about pancakes could be slightly higher in the world, I encourage those who have reservations to not be jadded, jiggled or jived by the fact that you always have to use white flour with lots of sugar and butter. One basic recipe is all you need and then you can make all the changes you want - a little more liquid for thinner cakes, a little more flour for thicker ones - so put on some Paul Simon and let's get flippin!

First of all, if you don't have a copy of "The Joy of Cooking", get one. It's filled with simple to complex recipes that are especially useful for beginner cooks or more experienced ones looking for basic recipes to use as mediums for their own creations. I always refer to this book when I'm looking for recipes, or information on how to make something. It's my go to book. That being said, yesterday morning I definitely and absolutely opened my "Joy" to the section "griddle cakes and fritter variations". Here there are many recipes for different styles of cakes, but I recommend the "Buttermilk Pancakes." I adapted the recipe, so after giving the original recipe, I'll add on my variations and other suggestions.

Buttermilk Pancakes

About twelve 4-inch cakes

Measure and place in a bowl, then mix with a whisk to ensure everything is well combined:
1 C flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 double-acting baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Beat until light:
1 egg

Add to egg:
1 C buttermilk
1-2 TBS melted butter or oil

- add wet to dry and stir with a few quick strokes, until you can't see anymore big globs of flour, but of course! don't over mix.
- and ignore the lumps, the batter will be on the soupier side.
- the joy says "superior results are gained" if you leave the batter to rest for 3-6 hours, but this is not necessary by any means.

* I used 1 C spelt flour + 1/4 C cornmeal, 1 1/4 C buttermilk
I didn't add butter or sugar, but used 1 TBS of oil

** To make them extra fluffy, separate the egg, add the yolk as normal, whip up the whites and fold them gently in at the end, but with the buttermilk this isn't as necessary as it would be if you were using only milk.

I am a lover of cast iron pans, so this is what I recommend you use for cooking your cakes, but electric griddles work super well, as does any old pan you have lying around for that matter. Regardless of what pan you use, heat it up so that when you fling drops of water onto the surface they bounce and hiss. I just give my finger a quick lick, touch it to the pan, and listen for a sizzle. Then use a 1/4 C measuring cup and gently pour the batter onto the pan. If the heat is right, they should spread out a bit and then start cooking.

Use a small flipper to turn them when you see bubbles forming on the top and that they're cooked a bit around the edges. I use the bubble technique, but I always lift up the edges and take a peek. Before you get used to how your pan transmits heat, they can burn really fast, or not be cooked at all when you think they are; that equals disaster and believe me, it happens. To avoid this, it takes a few practice runs, and for goodness sakes, be patient. I always want them to be perfect instantly and they're often not. So you can do a trial run with one pancake at the beginning. Or perhaps you have a more relaxed disposition and all of these tiny things are relatively fussy. I have to say though, yesterday was the most relaxed I've felt in years during pancake production. The key? More faith in self. Yup.

I recommend heating up the oven to 200 degrees F while you're cooking the pancakes. Then the first ones you cook won't get cold, unless of course you have a pack of hungry eaters sitting at the table waiting. In that case, you'll have to eat last!

Don't forget! Lots of maple syrup, honey, butter and a mug of hot coffee (or tea, of course, and I've heard orange juice is nice as well.)

Other toppings may include:

Chopped rhubarb from the garden, heated up and stewed together with a couple tablespoons of water and honey (any fruit works for this).

Yogurt, seeds, toasted nuts, fresh fruit, and anything else you can think of.

Other ingredients may include:

blueberries, chocolate chips, puréed sweet potato, banana, wheat germ, coconut, fresh ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cottage cheese, etc.

Try different flours: substitute white, whole wheat or spelt. My next batch is going to be a mix of spelt and buckwheat. My grandfather makes the best buckwheat pancakes in the world and I can't wait to recreate them here at home.

- Chef Murph

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