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Pancakes are almost as ingrained into American cuisine culture as apple pie. Nothing brings the family rushing to the kitchen faster than word that pancakes are on the griddle, and they are one of the top sellers on restaurant menus. Sweet breakfast pancakes are the most popular kind but savory pancakes are unique side dishes for lunch and dinner.
One of the things that makes breakfast pancakes so appealing is you can alter the recipes to match any taste through adding assorted ingredients to the batter, on top of the pancakes while they are cooking and customize each plate with additional toppings after they’re done.
Pancake batter is made from flour or ground grains mixed with eggs, milk, leavening ingredients and a bit of oil to keep them from sticking to the griddle or skillet. Common varieties include traditional, buttermilk, corn meal, buckwheat, oatmeal, sour cream, and ricotta. If acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, sour cream, or ricotta are in the recipe, baking soda is typically used along with baking powder as leaveners. Pancakes made with regular milk and no acidics typically call only for baking powder.
It’s easy to transform regular pancake batter into “gourmet” batter by mixing in smooth ingredients like canned pumpkin or applesauce. If you use either of these flavor enhancers, add a pinch or two of cinnamon and nutmeg to intensify the tastes. Ricotta pancakes taste great with a teaspoon or two of fresh lemon juice added to the mixture. Add sweetened coconut milk to the batter for tropical tasting pancakes.
For added flavor plus texture, sprinkle blueberries, finely diced peaches, chocolate chips, or raisins on the tops of the pancakes before turning them, right after bubbles start to form on the surface. Mixing these ingredients directly into the batter is not recommended as the sugar content makes the underside of the pancakes burn or scorch and ruins the flavor. Experiment with sprinkles of tiny pieces of fresh pineapple mixed with toasted coconut or toasted or roasted chopped nuts.
Purists prefer their pancakes simply dressed with a dollop of soft butter and perhaps a drizzle of maple syrup but for many, the more toppings, the better. Chunky homemade applesauce is a favorite fruit topping, along with fresh strawberries macerated in a little sugar, sliced dead-ripe bananas, and fresh, sliced peaches. Whipped cream is a common topping but borders on turning a breakfast dish into dessert.
While maple syrup is traditionally poured on pancakes, there are many syrup choices available including cherry, blueberry, pineapple, blackberry, cinnamon and even a few flavored with liquors and liqueurs. Slightly warming the syrup before serving helps it penetrate the soft fluffy pancakes and impart the whole stack with rich flavor.
You can turn pancakes into self-contained meals by filling them with assorted ingredients and rolling them into cylinders. Start with a thin batter, make a stack of oversized pancakes the size of large burrito-size flour tortillas, and keep them warm in a 175 to 200 degree oven, uncovered to prevent them from becoming soggy. Set up an assembly line of filling ingredients including scrambled eggs, or shirred eggs, crumbled, cooked breakfast sausage, and crisp fried bacon bits. Layer the pancakes with thin layers of each item – thick layers will make the pancake hard to roll and cause it to break apart – and place seam down on plates before serving.
Pancakes aren’t just breakfast food; savory pancakes are great as lunch or dinner side dishes. Potato pancakes are an excellent way to use up leftover mashed potatoes. Add egg, flour, salt, pepper, and onion powder to chilled mashed potatoes and mix them with your hands until the ingredients are well incorporated, and they are stiff enough to form into patties. Chill them thoroughly before frying in vegetable oil in a non-stick skillet and preheat the skillet before adding the pancakes to deter sticking. You can also make potato pancakes from finely shredded and seasoned boiled or raw potatoes and do the same with sweet potatoes, yams, zucchini, and carrots. Add enough egg and flour to the shredded vegetables to make them stiff enough to form patties. Make small patties and don’t pack them too tightly or they won’t get done through during frying.
Mixing and Frying Tips
Breakfast pancakes turn out tough and chewy if the batter is overbeaten. Combine the dry ingredients and mix in the wet ones until well blended but don’t beat the batter into submission. A few lumps in the batter are fine and will cook out during frying. For extra light pancakes, let the batter sit for an hour or so at room temperature. Don’t stir it before pouring it into the pan or you’ll deflate the bubbles that have formed in the batter and lose the lightness. If your batter is too thick, add a few drops of water at a time and stir after each addition to avoid over-thinning it.
Both breakfast and savory pancakes are best cooked on a non-stick griddle or in a non-stick skillet. Make sure the pan bottom is even so the batter doesn’t run and turn out pancakes that resemble amoebas instead of discs. Electric skillets are great for making pancakes because their bottoms are level and the temperature can easily be controlled. Whatever pan you use, preheat it to medium-high, and test if for readiness by sprinkling a few drops of water on the surface. When they dance and quickly disappear, the temperature is right. If the pan is too hot, the pancakes will be raw in the middle; if your heat is too low, the pancakes will lose their moisture before getting done.