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Breakfast 101: Pancakes

Creating your own signature recipe at home

Pancakes - as American as apple pie - right? Not so fast there. Pancakes have been around for centuries. In fact they were made before the invention of pans. In Neolithic times, batter made with flour, a bird's egg, and goat's milk was poured onto a heated rock.

But here in the west we often associate pancakes as the staple menu item of lumber jacks. They ate a lot and so we should have a big fat serving of them each time we enjoy them, too. Right?

Flours through the 1800s probably did keep a lumber jack filled up all day, but that all changed in the 20th century when we started meddling with making enriched flours that left behind the fiber of whole flours. And in doing so, the pancakes served at most restaurants today with artificial maple syrup are nothing more than a quick-carb bomb that will jack your blood sugar up quickly and drop you like a rock a short time later. Ditto for most batters sold at the grocery store.

Take a moment to search "History of enriched flour" on the web for more details.

Doing an internet search for "basic pancake recipe," you'll find most of them call for all-purpose (enriched) flour, then add in all the salt, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and otherwise. All the things westerners love. In moderation these aren't bad things, but stuffing oneself with say four fat fluffy white flour pancakes puts some stress on the system to process it all.

So if you want to eat like Paul Bunyan, you can, you just have to remember two things:

1. Get pancake mixes made with whole grains that are certified USDA organic.

2. ¼ to ⅓ cup of batter is typically a serving. That's equivalent to one medium-sized pancake.

The big difference between you and a lumber jack is you're probably not out burning 8,000 calories a day chopping down trees. The suggested serving size puts that into perspective. And by eating whole grains you won't go hungry an hour later. Plus, pancakes are always nice with a serving of fruit and breakfast meat as well.

Picking out the mix

A number of companies make USDA organic pancake and waffle mixes including Arrowhead Mills (Boulder, CO) and Bob's Red Mill (Milwaukee, OR). The higher in fiber, the better the mix will be for you by virtue of it taking longer for your body to process the sugars.

Between Arrowhead and Bob's there are more than 20 mixes to choose from. Buckwheat typically is the highest in fiber.

When you're not using the mixes, store them in the fridge or freezer so they won't go bad and/or get buggy.

Adding corn to the mix

Years ago, while dining at Seattle's Coastal Kitchen, I was introduced to the true meaning of corn cakes. These are hot cakes made with some corn meal and whole kernels of corn included into the batter. Heaven.

The trick here is you can't use a corn cake mix to make the pancakes, because you get flat corn muffins, not corn cakes. The best combination I've found so far is to cut the pancake mix in half adding in an equal amount of corn meal. So for instance, instead of a 2/3 cup of mix to make two cakes, use 1/3 mix and 1/3 corn meal. Then add in ¼ cup of whole corn kernels. Yum!

Always let the batter rest for 10-15 minutes after mixing before cooking so the flours and corn meal can absorb the moisture. This results in a moist pancake that isn't gooey.

In my kitchen, I keep some frozen corn handy. The resting time also allows the corn to thaw.

Temperature

As with all foods you cook, each has its own best cooking temperature. In the case of pancakes, the magic number is 400 F (200 C). Use your instant read gun to check the pan or griddle before you drop down the batter.

Electric griddles give the user the idea they can cook pancakes and breakfast meats like bacon or sausage together at the same time on the surface. Unless you can control the temp for each side of the griddle, this isn't the case. Breakfast meats are better cooked at 325 F (160 C). Consider cooking the meats first, then holding them in the oven to keep them warm while you crank up the griddle to the proper temp for the cakes.

Toppings

The standard here is to slather the cakes with butter and drench with syrup. Fine if that's what you like, but over the years I've come up with a few alternatives.

Instead of butter, which I rarely ever cook with, I use ghee, a pure form of clarified butter. It's better for you if used correctly. Correct usage is 1 teaspoon for any tablespoon of butter called for. I'll warm up/melt the ghee in a ceramic ramekin and swab it on the cakes using a silicone brush while they're finishing on the griddle.

Or, you can forget the butter all together and slather some whole Greek yogurt over the top of each cake. This makes for a delightful tartness like you might experience eating a sourdough pancake.

Fresh fruit is always a nice topping too, although I tend to like it on the side and blend it with some infused balsamic vinegar, like white peach. Or blend it as such, then dump it on top of a yogurt slathered cake and your taste buds will explode!

It's said that George Washington liked to drench his pancakes in maple syrup and of course we know he's not the only one. But all that maple syrup can crank up and drop your blood sugar in an unhealthy way. Plus if you're using real maple syrup, this method gets very expensive. As an alternative, pour one or two tablespoons of pure maple syrup into a ramekin and dip each piece before sending it down your gullet.

Homework

Your homework for this bit is to go shopping for some organic pancake batter, experiment with flavors on your own, heat that griddle or pan to 400, and enjoy.


Tom Mehren/Oct 14

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