Sunday, June 7, 2009

Another Boring Treatise - Pancakes Deconstructed

Whoo-hoo! One of my rare, but ever-so-fascinating cooking posts.

Except, not. Fascinating that is. But if you're having trouble sleeping, give it a read.

Remember last weekend when I offered to make BS a tasty weekend breakfast and he put the kabosh on it, so I made myself one instead? I am going to try again today. It feels like a pancake sort of day.

I know I have harped on the whole wheat flour & whole wheat pasta thing until you want to punch me, but when something is a large part of our diet, like sandwiches, spaghetti & PANCAKES, I want those items to be as good as possible, in every way possible, including taste.

When BS was little, he was a cold-cerealaholic. He loved the stuff, so I would get the best cereal I could and started buying organic milk. All for the same reasons. We eat enough crap as it is without adding insult to the injury. I am NOT a health-food nut. I just try to use common sense about CERTAIN things - and this is something that I can control, and it is easy and tastes good.

That said, pancakes for breakfast is one of our favorite things. Although there are scrambled eggs with Velveeta cheese, also an irresistible treat. Actually BS prefers waffles, but pancakes are easier, and being the kind of mother that I am - one that has no regard whatsoever for her offspring's wants & needs - I make pancakes.

I have said this before - pancakes are stupidly easy to make. As long as you keep your basic formula the same, the world is your griddle. The basic formula is equal parts dry stuff & liquid stuff, with some egg, fat, leavening, a little salt & maybe some other stuff thrown in to turn them into stacks of deliciousness.

That's it, really, but there are some things to keep in mind. First up . . .

THE WET TEAM: The traditional liquid to use in pancakes is milk or buttermilk, but fruit juices can also add great flavor. When I use anything non-dairy as the liquid, I will add some milk powder to the batter for some extra calcium (I need it. I'm gettin' & protein. You can also use yogurt or sour cream (you'll need to thin it a little).

Buttermilk, yogurt & sour cream are acidic, so if you use one or more of these, you will also need to add some baking soda to your dry stuff to offset the acidity - between 1/4 - 1/2 tsp per cup of buttermilk. Sometimes I have used buttermilk powder mixed with juice instead of water, and the result was gobbled up.

Also remember, if you use milk powder or buttermilk powder in your batter, don't count it as part of your dry ingredients. Even though it is a dry powder, it is really a liquid. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Egg: generally use the equivalent of 1 large egg per cup of liquid. Sometimes I cheat & use 2 just because I can, but the pancakes won't rise quite as high.

Fat: Use vegetable oil (Canola or safflower is best). But if you really want extra yumminess, use melted butter. I won't tell. About 1 tbsp per cup of liquid will be just fine.

THE DRY TEAM. You can use one type of grain or mix them up for interesting textures & tastes.

Flour: The thing that gives bread it's stretchiness & shape is gluten - a protein that is found in wheat, rye & barley. It allows the bread to maintain its structure when the gas bubbles from the leavening do their gassy thing. If gluten wasn't present, bread would be flat, sad & unappealing. However, this quality that makes bread so good would make for a tough pancake.

Since not many people make pancakes from rye or barley, we'll look at wheat. There are basically 2 types of wheat flour: hard (high gluten, high protein - aka bread flour) and soft (low gluten, low protein - aka cake flour). What you see in the grocery store as all-purpose flour is a combination of both, a happy medium, a 'let's please most of the people most of the time' kind of flour. But, alas, it is WHITE flour, and if you make your pancakes from this stuff & cover them with syrup, you may as well just go ahead & admit that you're eating dessert. 'Cause they're NOT "part of a nutritious breakfast" (and neither are Froot Loops).

Whole wheat flour comes both ways - regular whole wheat (high gluten, high protein) & whole wheat pastry flour (lower gluten, lower protein). You can combine them to replicate AP flour, but the pastry flour is especially suited to the light & fluffy destiny of pancakes, since we don't want invite too much gluten to our pancake party.

Other grains & flours can make for deliciousness in your pancakes too - buckwheat flour (which is also used to make Japanese soba noodles), brown rice flour, nut flours (ground up nuts), corn flour (look for whole corn flour), and oat flour (or rolled oats blitzed in your blender). You can use rolled oats 'as is' for oatmeal pancakes, but they work better if you soften them in your liquid first. Or even heat the liquid and let the oats steep in there until it has cooled off enough to add to the batter.

Leavenings: Baking powder is the gold standard, but don't use more than 1 tsp per cup of flour (along with 1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt). Look at some of the pancake recipes that boast of their fluffiness and you will usually see way more than the 1 tsp per cup of flour. Yeah, they will rise to puffy & fluffy heights & you will impress your friends, but more than 1 tsp will sacrifice most of the thiamin in your flour. Also, don't forget the bit of baking soda if you are using an acidic liquid.


Flavorings: I'll bet you couldn't guess which flavoring is my favorite. . . . . You can? Sigh, I am so predictable. Other than vanilla, I guess there are other flavorings you could use. Other extracts, essential oils, zests, herbs & spices. Go hog wild and experiment. I also add a little honey to make them a bit sweeter. That way, we don't use as much syrup. If you don't have any honey, you could use a little brown sugar.

Oh okay, you can use the evil white sugar too. Just don't tell me, because if you do, there will be an awkward silence.

Add-Ins: Pancakes are a blank canvas just begging for the addition of splashes of goodness. Mashed sweet potato, pumpkin, bananas (chunky or mashed), applesauce, these are just a few things you can add to your batter to get pancakes your family will beg for. And what better to give you a feeling of omnipotence than seeing your family beg you for something from the kitchen? Hmmmm? You might even be able to milk some favors out of it.

If you want to add this kind of stuff, remember that, in general, they will be in addition to your basic formula. Of course, if you are going to use something really runny, like applesauce, just decrease your liquid by a little bit to offset the extra water in the applesauce.

Chopped fruits, small fruits & nuts stirred into the batter just before baking or sprinkled on the batter while they are cooking will also earn you points.

Toppings: oddly enough, we don't use much syrup here, even though it is America's favorite pancake drizzle. When we do, my tree-hugging side turns up my nose at anything but real maple syrup, then my rational side slaps me across the face and says "it's all just sugar, idiot." It's just hard to find plain pancake syrup that isn't made with high-fructose corn syrup, that's all.

(And don't believe those commercials the corn board is putting out these days that claims HFCS is just like sugar. Yes, it's basic components are forms of sugar, but the way it has been processed changes it. And your body metabolizes it differently. There is plenty of research on both sides, so I will err on the side of caution and avoid it.)

Our favorite thing to put on pancakes is peach sauce - take a can of peaches in juice, dump it all in the blender, add a little honey & vanilla, and give it a whirr. Yummm. Works with frozen thawed strawberries too.

Ooh ooh, another good thing is to spread a thin schmear of peanut butter on each pancake & top with some cinnamon applesauce.

Holy cow, now I'm hungry.

Today, I had a hankering for pumpkin pancakes, but I couldn't find my can of pumpkin. I did find a can of sweet potatoes though. I don't know WHAT possessed me to buy them, but I hate waste, so they'll have to do as a stand-in.

Here are the players for today's batch (I'm making a lot so the leftovers can be used as Frisbees):

Hey, how did that get in there?! There's some monkey business afoot, I do believe.

Before I started making the batter, I put some pecans on to toast with a little butter, brown sugar & cinnamon.

In this bowl are 3 eggs, about 3 tbsp canola oil, 2 cups of vanilla yogurt, 1 cup of skim milk, a couple tablespoons brown sugar, some more vanilla, a dash of orange oil (orange goes well with sweet potatoes), and the can of drained sweet potatoes (which I mashed).

Here, I have 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 1 cup oat bran flour, some salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon & pumpkin pie spice (I was expecting to make these with pumpkin & I forgot to put it back). Stir the dry together . . .

. . . and whisk into the wet. I don't have to worry about the ominous admonition to "DON"T OVERMIX. BATTER WILL BE LUMPY." I don't think so. I am using pastry flour, which has less gluten, so I can whisk the lumps away. That makes me happy. Lumps disturb me. Now I have a big, beautiful bowl o' batter.

The first batch is never the prettiest . . .

. . . as you can see.

And dummy here used the ugly first batch for my blurry money shot. Sigh. Live & learn. What you don't see here are BS' hands reaching for the plate.

Stop it. Get back. I'm not done yet. I have to take a picture. No, I'm NOT crazy. Here, you pour the syrup while I take the picture.

Whooooossssshhhhhh. That was the sound of the plate being snatched up after I released the shutter button.

Me: Well, are they good?

BS: Mmfffppphh gwrrooooffhh

Me: Huh?

BS: (gulp) They're very good.

Lessons learned today?
  • I needed more butter & less brown sugar for the pecans. Either that or take it off the heat sooner. It started to form caramel in the pan.
  • The dash of orange oil was a about a half a dash too much. That stuff is potently strong. Use sparingly!
  • Don't forget about pancakes on the griddle while you type blog posts. A few of them really did turn into Frisbees. They should be tender & light. They should NOT be so flat & stiff that they can stand up on their own. But I think my foxes might like them.


Rosie Hawthorne said...

I made buckwheat pancakes for the Hawthorne Boys. Oooh boy, were they good.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Those toasted pecans look really good too.

Donna-FFW said...

These sweet potato pancakes sound wonderful. How creative. Bet they were delicious with the toasted pecans.

Sista G said...

Hey...pork brains in milk gravy - are you psycho??? What even possessed you to buy such a thing - was it kind of like for the Halloween meals Dance used to make?

Anyway, not being a sweet potato kind of girl, I remember the applesauce pancakes verrrry fondly. I'll have to buy some whole wheat pastry flour and whip some up this weekend, with strawberry sauce of course - you're the peach sauce girl!

Kathy said...

Thank you Rosie & Donna.

Sista - long story about the pork brains. Actually, Rosie could tell it too, since it took place with her. I'll tell you about if you remember to ask, because I won't.