Monday, March 3, 2014

Happy Pancake Day!

Tomorrow is Mardis Gras, aka., Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, and Pancake Day. Mardis Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of Lent and the beginning of fasting by many Christian denominations, who now days in the US give up meat on Fridays or some other "luxury" for 40 days leading up to Easter. However, in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, they celebrate Pancake Day. Eating pancakes is an old tradition preceding Lent as a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar. In Britain, they even participate in "pancake races," which began when a housewife from Buckinghamshire was busy making pancakes, heard the church bells ring, and raced out of the house with her frying pan and pancake in hand! Funny Brits!

So, I thought I would share my recipe for "Classic American Pancakes." First, growing up in Texas, I prefer my pancakes to be made with buttermilk, which is very popular in Texas, showing up in soups, dressing, biscuits, cakes, pies, and makes an excellent marinade for chicken and game. However, it has come to my attention that cultured buttermilk in the US is not the same thing in the UK. It is not thick like yogurt or sour cream, nor is adding vinegar or lemon juice to milk a satisfactory replacement. It is only slightly thicker than milk with an appearance of skim milk, sort of watery looking with a distinct tangy smell. So, if you can't find cultured buttermilk where you live, that's okay, use whole milk instead, or try to find Saco Powdered Buttermilk. Whole milk will still give you the delicious goodness of American style pancakes, however, lacking the slight tang and loft. 

After inspection of other recipes for American pancakes by non-Americans, I was astonished to find how laborious and wonky they have become! Separating eggs, beating the whites into soft peaks, folding in gently, no sugar, no vanilla extract, lemon juice?, what are ya'll doing? American pancakes are simple! Mix the ingredients and cook. There's a reason they are popular weekend breakfast faire because they are fast and easily made with standard pantry staples. While many Americans today just buy standard pancake mix at the store (e.g., Aunt Jemima), this recipe is better! In fact, I have made many a young fan following slumber parties at my house! In addition, you can enhance this recipe with berries, sliced bananas or strawberries, and even chocolate chips! Instead of mixing your choice of fruit, etc. into the batter, drop a few pieces into each pancake after ladling the batter onto your griddle or frying pan. And finally, good quality Vermont or Canadian maple syrup make the ultimate accompaniment (no creme fraiche or sour cream on top!), as well as a few crisp slices of bacon (served on the side, not on top!) and maybe some scrambled eggs (also on the side!). What to drink? Orange juice or a glass of milk is traditional!

(These buttermilk pancakes are light and fluffy thanks to the reaction between the lactic acid and sodium bicarbonate that creates carbon dioxide bubbles!)

Classic American Pancakes (with or without buttermilk)

Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (not self-rising, just plain flour)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/4 cup cultured buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter, for frying or non-stick cooking spray
Maple syrup, for drizzling on top


In a medium mixing bowl (I use a 1 quart Pyrex bowl), combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix with a whisk until well blended. Add the buttermilk (or milk), eggs, and vanilla extract and whisk until well blended and smooth with just a few lumps.

Heat a griddle or frying pan over medium heat until hot. (To test if the griddle is hot enough, add a drop of water to the pan. If the drop sizzles quickly and evaporates, the pan is ready!) Add a pat of butter to the griddle (or non-stick cooking spray), once melted, ladle approximately 1/4 cup batter to the griddle, approximately 3" apart. (If you are adding berries, etc. drop them in now.)

Continue to cook until bubbles begin to form on top of the batter, approximately 2-3 minutes. Flip each pancake over and cook until the bottom is golden and the top is puffed, 1-2 minutes longer.

Transfer to a platter and continue with the remaining batter. Serve with maple syrup to be drizzled by each diner.

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