Through all the breakfast fads – the avocado toast and the green smoothies and the eggs poached in a microwave – pancakes stand resolute, the definitive breakfast meal, something almost everyone loves and all of us should master.
There they are on the tray for breakfast in bed, studded with blueberries. And again after the 8-year-old’s sleepover, this time with bananas and coconut and maybe whipped cream. Pancakes are heroes of the breakfast table. Fluffy stacks, with crisp edges and lots of butter and syrup, are indulgent and yet always appropriate.
Making flawless pancakes is an exercise in patience. There may be burned bottoms and raw interiors in your past, but with an excellent batter and enough practice on the lowest settings of your stovetop burners, you can achieve pancake perfection.
The right ratio of eggs to buttermilk create a tangy, custard-like interior; baking powder and baking soda build the ideal lift and a light texture, and the right amount of sugar crisps the edges without crossing into dessert. Yes, there is quite a bit of salt. But if you try to cut back, you will miss it. As with any food, pancakes need proper seasoning.
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then create a well in the center to pour in the buttermilk and add the eggs (no need to combine the eggs with the buttermilk first; there are only so many mixing bowls you should wash this early in the day). Using a whisk or fork, starting from the center and moving toward the outside, thoroughly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet.
As with cakes, pancakes should not be overmixed; the batter develops gluten and results in a tough pancake. Do not be afraid of a few lumps. They'll take care of themselves.
The Mix-Ins and the Flour
Because of their small size and unfussy cooking method, pancakes are the perfect place to experiment with flours. You can use almost any flour, and then pair it with a mix-in that complements the taste.
A good general rule is to substitute 25 percent of the all-purpose flour with another grain.
For example, swap in 1/2 cup of coconut flour and add some sliced banana for a creamy, tropical pancake. Or try cornmeal with blueberries, fresh or frozen.
You need lots of fat (say, a tablespoon) to get the exterior properly browned and the edges wonderfully crisp, which may be the best part.
Most people think cooking pancakes in butter is the way to go. It isn’t: Butter belongs inside and on top of your pancake, but it will burn at the heat needed for cooking. Try a neutral oil instead. Choose one with a high smoke point, like vegetable or canola. Or try coconut oil for a subtle, nutty flavor.
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups blueberries
Vegetable, canola or coconut oil for the skillet
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and kosher salt together in a bowl. Using the whisk, make a well in the center. Pour the buttermilk into the well and crack eggs into buttermilk. Pour the melted butter into the mixture. Starting in the center, whisk everything together, moving toward the outside of the bowl, until all ingredients are incorporated. Do not overbeat. (Lumps are fine.) Coat blueberries in a teaspoon of flour so they don’t sink, then stir them into the batter. The batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 hour.
Heat a large nonstick griddle or skillet, preferably cast iron, over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet. Turn heat up to medium-low and using a measuring cup, ladle 1/3 cup batter into the skillet. If you are using a large skillet or a griddle, repeat once or twice, taking care not to overcrowd the cooking surface.
Flip pancakes after bubbles rise to surface and bottoms brown, after about 2 to 4 minutes. Cook until the other sides are lightly browned. Remove pancakes to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet, and keep in heated oven until all the batter is cooked and you are ready to serve.
Yield: 4 servings