Boot Camp is a back-to-basics series focusing on some classic easy-cooking staples. If you would describe your cooking ability as “my-easy mac-is-on-fire,” then this is a great place to start, and if you’re more of a veteran, we hope you’ll pick up on some new ideas and add advice of your own as a comment. If you’re only interested in how to sous vide heirloom romanesco, you might want to move on.
As I’ve worked my way into my twenties, I’ve lost my teenage ability to sleep in, especially when I’m away from my own bed. So when I go with friends to the beach or a cabin, etc., I am often among the earliest risers. In recent years, I have actually come to take a strange and almost certainly excessive pleasure in being the first person awake in a house. I really love having a quiet hour to myself to start the day, and it feels like winning to me in some way that probably suggests I’m in need of some good psychotherapy.
But it’s not an entirely selfish pleasure. My third favorite early morning activity, after drinking 2.5 gallons of coffee and reading in the morning air, is making breakfast for everyone. Scrambled eggs are always a good option for feeding a lot of people, but there’s something about a pancake breakfast that just feels special.
And with a little practice, pancakes are not very difficult. They require near-constant attention while cooking, but they’re much more forgiving than you might assume. The most frustrating aspect of making pancakes is that you wind up with a lot of batter-covered dishes to wash.
But given that you’ve just fed a houseful of people, I bet there’s something that can be done about that.
The recipe I’ve been using for the past couple of years is from The Joy of Cooking and is flawless and foolproof. Yes, you can make pancakes with buttermilk, and yes, you can beat the egg whites for fluffier pancakes, and yes, you can make buckwheat pancakes or whole wheat pancakes or even quinoa pancakes.
I’m a fan of all the above, but I’m also a fan of a recipe that can easily be committed to memory and requires 7 ingredients that most people already have in their pantry.You should measure each ingredient, but you’re not making a souffle or anything here, so don’t fret about being super exact.
Here are my major tips for pancakes:
- Combine the milk and eggs together before adding the butter. Adding hot butter to just the eggs will actually cook them a little bit, and I don’t think I have to convince you that this is a really undesirable outcome.
- Give the dry ingredients a good whisk (or sift them) before adding the wet to prevent big clumps.
- Combine wet and dry ingredients thoroughly, but don’t overmix. It’s fine for the batter to be a little lumpy, and overmixing makes tougher pancakes. There’s some scientific explanation here involving gluten that Harold McGee could help you out with, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what it is. It’s pancake voodoo as far as I’m concerned.
- Add butter to the pan before cooking your first pancake, and then again every three pancakes or so, as it seems like it’s needed. You want a greased pan, but you don’t want the pancakes actually cooking in a layer of fat. This is where the practice comes in. Once you’ve made pancakes a few times, you’ll be able to easily tell when you need a little more butter.
- Pancakes are ready to be flipped when bubbles have formed and popped across the surface. You can also peek at the bottom to see if it’s that good color of pancake brown. If you’re pancakes are burning on the bottom before the bubbles happen, your heat is too high. (Don’t fret about a messy flip. Unless your pancake totally falls to pieces, it should still cook up just fine.)
- Pancakes are done when second side is golden brown.
- The first time I made pancakes, I served them to people as they were ready. Some pancake afficionados insist on this, saying that they really should be eaten the instant they’re cooked. Whatever. I think serving them this way is a totally miserable experience for the chef. People hovering around with plates asking where X, Y, or Z item is, which item is inevitably in the drawer in front of where you need to be standing just at that moment. Instead, put a tray or casserole in the oven at 150, and stack the pancakes in there as they’re ready. That way, you can lay out all the miscellany that people require, get your breakfast, and get the hell out of the way as the hungry masses storm in.
- Pancake syrup is not maple syrup. Do not be fooled. Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. Pancake syrup is made from corn. Maple syrup is for putting on pancakes. Pancake syrup is for putting on your enemies.
And that’s about all I’ve got. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Pancakes keep much better than you would expect; I, at least, wouldn’t expect them to keep at all. But wrap any leftovers in saran wrap and keep in the fridge, and they’ll heat up great in the toaster. I’ve never tried keeping pancakes for more than a day or two, but if you’ve wound up making so many pancakes that you can’t eat them in the course of 72 hours, I think you’ve got a recipe problem, not a food storage one.
1. Preheat your non-stick griddle or pan and add a pat of butter.
2. Whisk together in a large bowl:
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
3. Whisk together in another bowl:
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla (optional)
4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently whisk them together, mixing just until combined. If you wish, add nuts, bananas, berries, etc.
5. Spoon 1/3 cup batter onto the griddle for each pancake, nudging the batter into rounds. Cook until the top of each pancake is specked with bubbles and some bubbles have popped open, then turn and cook until the underside is lightly browned.