At the store this weekend, I counted no fewer than a dozen different varieties of pre-packaged pancake mixes. And this was a fancy, highfalutin store that doesn’t even bother to stock the aerosol or otherwise weaponized shake-and-pour varieties. What’s the lesson here? That pancakes are hard; here, gentle consumers who are far too busy to bother making from scratch, just add water.
Pancakes are not hard. As long as you have the right ingredients on hand, making them from scratch requires no more effort than measuring from a box.
The basics are these: flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, milk, eggs, butter. You should be stocking your larder with these already and if you don’t have these basics on hand, pick them up next time you hit the store. The batter is pretty much equal parts wet and dry, which you’ll want to mix separately and then combine until the batter just comes together. The biggest mistake novice pancake makers make is to over-mix the batter. Two final tips: let the batter rest for at least five minutes before spooning it out, and let your griddle cool a little between batches.
Here’s a recipe for pancakes for two people. It’s easy to double, triple or quadruple depending on your needs.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 three finger pinch salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 3/4 - 1 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
- Some more butter for the pan
Set your oven to its lowest temperature so you have somewhere to store your finished cakes while making the rest. No one likes cold pancakes.
Melt the butter (30 seconds on a medium setting in the microwave is about right) and let it start to cool. Combine the dry ingredients in a good sized bowl and stir a few times to distribute. In a separate bowl, beat the egg into the milk with a fork, then add the melted butter. Start with a little less milk; you can always add more if the batter is too thick.
By mixing the wet and dry ingredients separately, you make sure that the wet ingredients are mixed properly without overworking the batter. Now, combine the wet ingredients with the dry and mix until the batter just comes together — don’t over mix, it’s ok if the batter is still lumpy.
While the batter is resting, heat your griddle on medium heat. I like to use a flat griddle for pancakes instead of a pan with sides, it’s easier to get to them with a spatula. Cast iron is a fine, economical choice, and one that spans two burners on your stove will keep a big crowd happy.
Add a fair amount of butter to the griddle, which will add to the flavor and keep the cakes from sticking. When the butter is foaming, ladle some batter onto the griddle, usually between a third and half a cup’s worth. Try to make them all about the same size so that they cook at the same time. In about two to three minutes, you should start to see bubbles forming on the top. A minute more and those bubbles will pop, meaning it’s time to flip. Don’t get fancy, just flip them with a spatula and let them cook another two to three minutes. Stack them on a cookie sheet and store in the warm oven while you cook the rest.
Wipe out any butter between rounds with a paper towel to avoid cooking in burned butter and let the pan cool down for a minute before the next batch.
Pancake batter is wonderful because it’s so variable. You can replace half the flour with whole wheat flour or other grains like cooked cornmeal or whole oats. You can stir in a little spice like cinnamon or add fresh blueberries or thinly sliced bananas once you ladle the batter but before you flip the cakes. Try separating the egg(s), beat the yolks as usual then whip the whites with a handmixer and fold them into the combined batter. Zest some lemon or orange peel into the batter to brighten it up. You can even add chocolate chips if you’re feeling indulgent.
You know what to serve this with already — warm maple syrup, melted butter, three slices of thick bacon or sausage links, some fresh fruit and cold orange juice.