Cavalier Pancakes

This summer, I told our son, who is moving into his first apartment as he goes to grad school, to check my blog for recipes of our old standbys. This morning, making pancakes, I realized that one recipe I’ve never written down is my pancake recipe.

Disclaimer: tread carefully. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty cavalier with my pancakes. Some of the best advice I’ve ever ignored has been to make things up when you’re cooking on the stove top (stir-fry, pasta sauce, etc. are pretty forgiving) but to follow a recipe carefully when baking. That is good advice, especially when learning to bake, so this recipe is certainly not for the faint of heart.

My pancake recipe started with a recipe in a cookbook that was geared towards cooking for one or two people. I followed it for years, but eventually had it memorized and got myself into situations where I didnt have the recipe or had to make adjustments for different numbers of people. I even made it for friends in Europe, where I didn’t have my usual measuring cups and spoons, so I had to make it up as I went along. Gradually, it became so rote, that now I hardly measure at all, though I do use a measuring cup for the flour and buttermilk: everything else is estimated by hand or sight.

For 2 people: I start with a slightly heaping 1/3 cup each of white and whole wheat flour in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Then I add about 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt — I suppose. This will make approximately 10 pancakes, depending on what you put in for fruit or nuts. Adust the flour and buttermilk (added later) depending on your appetite and the amount of fruit or nuts. If using a whole banana, I would probably use level 1/3 cups, for instance. If I had no fruit to add, I might add a little more flour.

These measurements are done in my hand, so they may not be terribly accurate anymore, and they are actually fairly forgiving. Too little baking soda and the pancakes won’t rise very well; too much, and you will taste the soda. Salt and sugar are necessary, but the amounts can be pretty flexible as long as you don’t add too much salt. Leave out the salt entirely, and your pancakes will be bland.

For 3 people: I start with a heaping 1/2 cup each of wheat and whole wheat flour. I’m a bit more generous with the baking soda, sugar, and salt. Adjust the amounts according to the number of people you need to serve. For 1 person: I would probably start with a shy 1/4 cup of each flour and adjust as needed. For 4 people: I would use 2/3 cup of each kind of flour, maybe using heaping cups, depending on people’s appetites. When it’s three of us and a grandmother, I don’t use heaping 2/3 cups unless I’m trying to have a few leftovers.

Once you’ve mixed your dry ingredients well with a wire wisk or fork, then it’s time to add some oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour in about 1 tablespoon of oil for every 2 people. I never measure this anymore, and the amount of oil is pretty forgiving. Use more for 3-4 people than for 1-2, obviously. I use canola oil, though olive oil will do in a pinch (though it may add a bit more olive flavor).

Crack 1 egg into the oil for every 2 people served. Usually I will use 1 egg for 3 people and it’s fine, though sometimes, esp. with smaller eggs, I’ll use 2 eggs for 3 people. For 4 people, I usually use 2 eggs, though I’ve gotten away with using 1 egg for that many pancakes if necessary. For 1 person, you will have to use 1 egg. The pancakes may be a little eggy, but they’ll be fine.

Add 3-4 measures of buttermilk to the well with the egg and oil. If I’ve used heaping 1/3 cups for flour, then I pour 3 or 4 1/3 cup measurements into the well; if I’ve used 1/2 cup for flour, then I pour 3 or 4 of those in. To be on the safe side, start with 3 measures. You can always add more buttermilk later. If you don’t have enough (or any) buttermilk, then regular milk can be substituted, though you won’t need as much. Start with 3 measures and see. You can also substitute a mixture of milk and plain yoghurt for buttermilk.

Add a 1/4 teaspoon or so of vanilla if you have it. (I’ve sometimes used port wine as a flavoring; it tends to make the pancakes rise well, too. Pure vanilla has the best flavor, though.)

Mix everything together with your whisk or fork. This is where you have to judge the consistency of the batter. Don’t beat it too much or too much gluten will form. For light pancakes, the batter should be just mixed up. Many recipes even say you should leave a few lumps. When mixing by hand, I don’t worry about that too much since it would be hard to over mix with a whisk or fork.

Mix in fruit (blueberries, banana, peach, fresh figs, are some of our favorites) and then check the consistency. Nuts like pecans or walnuts are great to add at this point. For decadent pancakes, add (mini) chocolate chips.

If your batter is too runny at this point, then add a little flour. (Sometimes juice from the fruit can cause it to get too runny.) If it’s too thick, then add buttermilk. You want a thick enough batter that will still pour off the spoon onto your griddle. It shouldn’t doughy and shouldn’t be too liquid. I like it if the batter is thick enough that it will be about 1/4 inch thick (or a little less maybe) when it first pours out and before it begins to rise.

Your griddle should be hot and lightly oiled. We use a Miro oil sprayer, but Pam or another commercial oil spray will work fine. Let the pancakes cook until they bubble up in the middle and the outsides begin to get firm. When they’re ready, the bubbles will also stay open because the batter has firmed up. Flip the pancakes to cook the other side. Both sides should be golden brown but not too dark, and the pancake should be cooked through (no runny batter on the inside). Adjust the heat of the griddle to avoid too much smoking (of the hot oil) yet to cook relatively quickly.

Serve hot off the griddle (or keep warm in a warmer or 170-degree oven) with pure maple syrup or your favorite commercial syrup or molasses. We have sometimes made a fruit syrup if we were out of maple, but we try not to be out of maple syrup. Extra fruit on top can also be great. Enjoy!

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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