Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I was at a diner a few weeks ago eating with some friends, and was trying to decide between eggs and pancakes. One of my friends said I should get pancakes, because you can cook eggs for yourself but you don’t cook pancakes for yourself.
Channeling Bart Simpson, I said, “Au contraire, mon frere. I make pancakes for myself all the time.” (Okay, I didn’t actually say, “Au contraire, mon frere.” But I should have.)
The reason I make pancakes for myself pretty regularly is because they’re cheap and easy, they make a lot of food, and I think they’re really good the next day. They also travel well; if you need something to take with you on a trip, they make a good quick breakfast or snack in the car.
I nearly always add stuff to my pancakes—frozen blueberries or other frozen fruit, or nuts or granola, or some combination of those things.
The best combination I ever came up with was peaches and cranberries that had both been in the freezer for ages, they were shoved back in the corner and it was one of those days where I hadn’t made it to the store in a really long time and had to get creative if I wanted anything at all to eat. Those pancakes were the bomb.
I haven’t gotten too creative lately but have mostly been sticking with my current favorite — banana-pecan pancakes.
I like bananas on the underripe side, so once they start showing brown spots, I usually let them go all the way brown and then peel them and put them double-wrapped in a plastic bag in the freezer. They’ll keep pretty much indefinitely and are great for smoothies or muffins or … pancakes.
Unless you have a pecan tree, pecans are not cheap, but you don’t have to use many of them to make a big difference, and they’re very calorie-dense, so the serving size is small and the cost per serving is better than you might think. (Divide the per pound cost by 16 to get the per serving cost, for a one-ounce serving, which is a pretty generous handful and has between 150 and 200 calories for most nuts). I definitely think that nuts are worth the extra expense.
The other item that can add to your pancake cost is syrup, because pancakes without syrup are like a day without sunshine. (Hot pancakes that is; I think cold leftover pancakes taste just fine without anything on them.)
I used to get maple syrup from the farmer’s market near my parents, where it’s cheap and tasty. Then I didn’t manage to get up there (or have my folks bring me some) for a few years so I was getting it at the grocery but then the price of maple syrup went through the roof and I realized I didn’t really care whether I had genuine maple syrup on my pancakes, I just needed something sweet. So I made a simplified version of the pancake syrup recipe from the Tightwad Gazette and now that’s all I use.
Here’s the original Tightwad Gazette recipe, for you purists out there:
3 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups water
3 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp butter flavoring
1 tsp maple extract
Bring all to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolve (a good rolling boil). Turn off burner, but leave pot on burner until bubbling stops.
The first time I made it, I didn’t have maple flavoring, and butter flavoring seems wholly unnecessary (if I want my pancakes to taste like butter, I’ll put butter on them) so I skipped those, and thought it was fine. I did get some mapeline (artificial maple flavoring) from my mom the last time I was home but I haven’t used it yet. I kind of like the syrup tasting like molasses.
So here’s my simplified version (with a smaller quantitity — I don’t use enough syrup at a time to need 3 cups of it), which I call…
Better Than Aunt Jemima Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
Bring to a boil to dissolve sugar.
For my pancake recipe, I use a modified version of the basic Better Homes & Garden plaid cookbook recipe. I usually use buttermilk because I always have powdered buttermilk in the fridge and don’t go through it very quickly. (Saco brand powdered buttermilk is available in the baking section of all of my local supermarkets; I’m assuming that’s national but don’t know for sure.)
1-1/4 cup flour (I use a mix of whole wheat and white, usually 3/4 cup white and 1/2 cup whole wheat)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp powdered buttermilk + 1 cup water, or 1 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 frozen banana, cut into small pieces
1/4 – 1/3 cup chopped pecans (approx 2 – 4 oz.)
Sift together dry ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, water (or milk) and oil. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir to mix. Add banana and pecan pieces and stir until everything is mixed and all dry ingredients are moistened. The batter will by lumpy.
The hardest part about pancakes is cooking them right. I use a cast-iron frying pan and I’ve found that the trick is to not turn the heat up too high and just be patient. (If the heat is too high, the outside will burn before the inside is cooked. Not that I’ve ever done that.)
It also helps to have a good coating of melted butter (or bacon grease!) in the pan for the first round, and then subsequent batches will be fine without adding more fat.
The pancakes are ready to turn over when there are bubbles all along the top. If you lift up a corner with the spatula, you can usually tell whether it’s brown enough.
Put the oven on warm and put the pancakes in the oven to keep them warm while the rest of the batch cooks. Heat the syrup while you cook the pancakes, so you’re not putting cold syrup on hot pancakes (or my dad will send the hot food police after you, he hates that).
Eat your fill while they’re hot on day 1, then put the leftovers in a plastic bag in the fridge and have for snacks or breakfast for the next day or two.