Souper Tuesday: The Best Pancakes Ever
I love pancakes.
Pancakes are the first food I learned to cook. In middle school, I hauled an electric griddle and a bowl of ingredients to my English class for my demonstrative speech “How to Make Pancakes.”
Pancakes have not had a trendy moment like cupcakes or donuts or ramen. They’re not particularly healthy, and a traditional pancake is anathema to today’s most popular diets.
But pancakes are so good. Breakfast, lunch and dinner good. A staple in my meal planning.
But then on Fat Tuesday, as we sat down to our traditional dinner of blueberry, banana and plain pancakes with a side of (questionable) vegan sausage links, I realized something alarming.
My pancakes were awful.
I don’t know when, exactly, this happened. I had been using a very basic recipe from my food guru Mark Bittman, whom I quote here regularly. Granted, I had been cutting out the sugar in his recipe; he listed it as optional, and it seemed unnecessary when the pancakes were going to be doused in maple syrup anyway.
But the sweetness wasn’t the problem. My pancakes were flat and rubbery. Wan and listless. Acceptable, but far from the fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth pancake of my dreams.
Then, last Thursday, I picked up the Indy Week, our local free weekly newspaper. And, there inside, like a gift straight from God, was an article on making the perfect pancake. It featured the pancake recipe from one of the best restaurants in town, Guglhupf. (That’s not a typo, spell check; it’s German.)
I’m only including the basic recipe here. If you decide to make the pancakes, I strongly encourage you to read the full article with the author’s helpful notes.
Makes 12 pancakes, serving 4–6
1/3 cup melted European-style butter, such as Plugrá (note 1)
530 grams (about 4 loosely packed cups) White Lily Self-Rising Flour (note 2)
4 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
4 cups whole cultured buttermilk (note 3)
4 large eggs
Melt the butter over low-medium heat until it just starts to brown and emit a nutty fragrance. Set the butter aside to cool. In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients until well combined. In a second large bowl, mix the wet ingredients, again whisking until well combined. In a slow stream, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Whisk with a light hand until the batter is pourable and remaining lumps are no bigger than cottage-cheese curds. The batter should have the consistency of medium-viscous cake batter; it should pour but not run. Ladle 1/2 cup of the batter onto a lightly buttered, medium-hot griddle (see note 4). Thin and spread the batter to a diameter of 6 1/2 inches. Cook for two minutes. Flip the pancake and cook for another two minutes. Re-butter the griddle before adding each ladleful of batter.
The recipe is specific in a way that I would normally ignore. But the author was adamant about following it exactly. And I was desperate enough to make the perfect pancake that I was willing to comply.
So I went to Target and bought White Lily Self-Rising flour. I searched Whole Foods for a buttermilk that seemed thin enough, but not too thin. I did NOT by “European butter,” though coincidentally I had Kerrygold in the fridge. And Ireland is part of the EU, right? So that should count. Plus, I get bonus points for using Irish butter on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
Sunday came. I got out my ingredients and read the recipe carefully. As I’ve mentioned before, my family usually plows through pancakes, so I always increase any recipe that says “serves 4-6” by 50%, if not double. But I knew by the time I had mesaured out six cups of flour that it was a mistake. And it turned out that I had bought only a quart of buttermilk, so I had to supplement with two cups of 1% milk. By the time I was finished, I had a veritable vat of pancake batter.
Pancake recipes always tell you to leave the batter somewhat lumpy. I try to obey, but tend to panic and over-stir. I found the author’s directions, above, very helpful in that regard. In the end, the lumps I left behind were probably too big. But it did not seem to be a problem in the final product.
I prepared the griddle (an electric one that I’ve had at least 15 years, not much different from the one I hauled to middle school for the demonstrative speech) with butter and heated it to about 325 degrees. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of batter per pancake, which is bigger than I usually make, so I could only fit two on the griddle at a time.
Between that and my vat of batter, I was standing at the griddle for a long time.
But good things come to those who wait. Seriously, you guys. These were the pancakes I’d been lusting for: a plate full of fluffy sweet goodness. Miles from my Mardi Gras hockey pucks.
The perfect pancakes. I served them with strawberries and maple syrup.
I was full after two. But they were so incredible (and this explains why I will never be thin), I forced a third down. Pat had three, Rory had two, and I lost track of how many Noah ate. But there were still many leftover.
It almost felt criminal to wrap that stack of still-steaming pancakes in plastic and put it in the refrigerator. But it sure gave me something to look forward to this week.
And though Saturday seems a million miles off, hopefully these pancakes give you something to look forward to this weekend!