How are your pancaking skills? Judging by the myriad pancake houses (and restaurants that serve pancakes) in America, pancakes are right up there in popularity with ice cream and Chevy trucks. Well, maybe more popular than Chevy trucks.
But not everyone likes pancakes, and not everyone can make them. I confess, I am a former pancake failure.
Pancakes are deceptively easy to make. You take some ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, eggs, milk, butter) or a pancake mix and some water, mix them up, divide the batter into quarter-cup increments that you then pour onto a hot griddle. That’s a recipe for disaster.
I started making pancakes when I was a Brownie and, as a child, always made them “from scratch,” a description that somehow suggests something that should make you queasy. As I recall, they were pretty good, but then again I was the kind of kid who would eat candy that had fallen to the ground. By the time I was 18 I had switched to Aunt Jemima pancake mix.
My husband, Chip, likes pancakes. Since I like him, I try to indulge him when I can. “When I can” means “when I don’t have to get up before 10:00 a.m.” So for the first six years of our marriage, I would occasionally drag out the griddle or fry pan and attempt to make him happy. What I actually made was horrible pancakes. Not so horrible in the realm of taste, just really ugly pancakes. And thin. Okay, maybe anorexic. I’d try different fry pans and different recipes or mixes, and always make horrible-looking pancakes. Scary looking pancakes. They were edible, but…
About three years ago, I learned the secret to perfect pancakes. The secret is so simple, yet it works with expensive pancake mixes, scratch pancakes, and cheap pancake mixes (my favorite is WalMart’s Great Value Extra Fluffy pancakes). It involves two ingredients. Are you ready? Two ingredients for perfect pancakes: time and a Presto electric griddle (the $20 model is spectacular). I haven’t tried this with other electric griddles, though I expect you would get similar results. I have never ever ever gotten pretty pancakes out of a frying pan or even that grill pan that uses two burners on the stove. Forget them.
Once you have your Presto (or whatever) griddle, you will want to set the temperature at 350 degrees. You know, the same universal 350 degrees that we perfect cooks use for all our baking. You do not want to grease, butter, or spray the grill.
And, now, for the secret ingredient: time. Yes, time. A whole ten minutes. After you mix your pancake batter, set it aside for 10-15 minutes. Just let it sit. This allows the ingredients to incorporate and you get a better batter. Seriously!
Preheat your griddle for about 5 minutes, pour your batter, and when the pancakes look dry on top, flip them. In about one more minute they will be done. And fluffy. And perfect.
Now that you know how to make perfect pancakes, you want to know, “How can I improve them?” Well, silly, you can’t. You can make equally perfect pancakes that are different, not better.
I cannot throw away perfectly good food. My definition of perfectly good is somewhat elastic and includes things like extremely brown bananas (it no longer includes things that have fallen on the ground). And when I say “bugs me,” I mean it in a very OCD way. If I buy something — as an example let’s randomly choose fruity oatmeal — for Chip and he doesn’t finish all of it, I’ll save it. Forever. I won’t eat it, but I won’t throw it away. I don’t know if food banks will accept open packages of things like fruity oatmeal.
As I was going through my pantry, you’ll never guess what I found. Oh…you guessed it was fruity oatmeal. Now what can you do with a couple of packets of Strawberries and Cream or Peaches and Cream oatmeal, other than add boiling water, stir, and eat? I’ll bet you’ve guessed that it has something to do with pancakes. You are so smart!
There is a host of things you can put into pancakes that won’t make people sick. For example one or two packets of instant oatmeal (any flavor) added to one cup of pancake mix (scratch or store-bought) and mixed with water will provide you with two things: flavored pancakes and fiber. How much water? Start with ¾ cup, and add a little at a time until you get to batter consistency. It shouldn’t be much more than a cup, but it depends on the type of oatmeal you use. Don’t forget to let your batter sit ten minutes before cooking. This will provide you with approximately eight pancakes.
Chips are great in pancakes. No, not potato chips (hmmmm….), baking chips. Mini or regular chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, butterscotch chips, it depends on what you like. How about nuts? For some reason, when I bake I always end up with a small portion of chocolate chips, pecans, or walnuts left in the bag. I carefully fold up the bag, clip it closed, and store it. Forever. Instead, the nuts are excellent in pancakes and they are good for you, too. Warm some maple syrup, add pecans, and serve over pecan-enhanced pancakes. How about mini-chocolate chips and walnut pieces together in a pancake? Sounds as good as a chocolate chip cookie, doesn’t it? It is!
Banana pancakes are made by mashing those very brown, overripe bananas and adding them to your pancake batter. Need I suggest that walnuts only add to the experience? Small chunks of fruit work nicely, but if it’s canned, be sure to drain it first. Frozen or dried berries are good candidates for pancakes. Craisins are nice. I have not tried raisins, but they might be pretty good with slivered almonds, oatmeal, or honey. I’m not suggesting you try this, because if they don’t come out well, you can’t feed them to the dog. Although, right now I’m thinking of a topping that combines honey, raisins, and slivered almonds. Gee, I’d like that on ice cream, too!
Most grocery shoppers are familiar with Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix. In addition to corn muffins, Jiffy also makes raspberry, banana, oatmeal, and apple-cinnamon mixes. For a while we were regular consumers of these flavored muffins, then we just stopped. Of course, we stopped using them after I had stocked up on them. Combine one cup Jiffy with one cup pancake mix, add 1½ cups water, stir, let sit ten minutes, and make your pancakes. One bit of advice: the fruit in Jiffy Muffins isn’t real fruit, it’s fruit-flavored chips. Oh, and another: the pancakes will be sweeter than what you’ve made before.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the value of good, plain pancakes. Or buttermilk pancakes. But variety is good for you. Variety is the spice of life. Which reminds me…a dash of nutmeg, a bit of cinnamon, a little ginger…any or all of these together can go into your pancakes to give them a little pizzazz. If you don’t know what pizzazz is, you’re too young to be reading this.
Don’t add anything you wouldn’t normally eat; you know that’s a disaster in the making. Check your cabinets and freezer for little bits of things that aren’t enough in themselves, but would complement pancakes. Coconut? Sure! Whole oats? Absolutely. The key is to stay on board. Huh? Well, don’t go overboard; use no more than ¼ cup of fruit or nuts to a cup of batter.
With all this experimenting, I have never made pancakes Chip wouldn’t eat. I may have said, “they’re okay but I wouldn’t want them again,” but nothing was inedible. And none ever made us sick. It’s like I said, variety is the spice of pancakes.