Pancakes, the traditional meal of Shrove Tuesday, inspire fierce loyalties.
Everyone has his own opinion on the best way to serve them. Some people like jelly or jam; some prefer warm fruit sauces made by boiling fresh fruit with a simple syrup and then pure'eing it. To me, the most traditional accompaniments--butter and maple syrup--still are the best. The butter should be served at room temperature so it doesn't cool the pancakes too much. The better the maple syrup, of course, the better the pancake.
James Beard suggests combining freshly squeezed lemon juice, just a few drops, with the maple syrup; the lemon and maple flavors are wonderful together. He also suggests a pancake sandwich: a slice of breakfast ham between two large pancakes, topped with a fried egg.
Although almost every home cook has baked (baked is the proper culinary word for cooking pancakes on a hot griddle or pan) griddle cakes dozens of times, it is helpful to review some of the techniques of pancake making.
* Use only the minimum amount of fat necessary to grease the griddle and prevent sticking. Excess fat burns around the edges of the pancakes and leaves an unpleasant taste.
* Use a ladle to pour the batter onto the griddle, and pour quickly and steadily. Pouring slowly or dribbling extra batter around the edges to make evenly shaped pancakes leaves the pancake with different degrees of brownness and uneven texture. Plan about half a cup of batter for a large pancake.
* Once the batter is on the griddle, leave it alone until it is ready to turn. Turn pancakes when the surface is evenly covered with bubbles. If you turn them too early, the center will remain uncooked.
* Scrape off any bits of pancake stuck to the griddle between batches to prevent the encrusted bits from burning into the new pancakes and causing them to stick as well. Also, wipe any old butter or fat from around the edge of the griddle or pan before adding fresh butter for the next batch.
* Pancakes can be stored in a single layer in the oven to keep them hot while the rest are being baked, but it is best to serve them straight from the griddle. TRADITIONAL PANCAKES (16 to 20 pancakes) 4 cups flour 4 teaspoons (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons sugar 4 eggs 3 cups milk 8 tablespoons (1 stick) melted butter
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and mix well. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly together, then stir in the milk and beat until well combined. Mix the milk and egg mixture with the dry ingredients, beating until the batter is free of lumps. Finally, stir in the melted butter. Let the batter rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
Ladle the batter, about 1/2 cup for large pancakes, onto a preheated, lightly greased griddle or frying pan and cook until the surface fills with bubbles. Turn with a thin spatula and cook until done. Serve immediately. VARIATIONS
Blueberry Pancakes--After the batter has been ladled onto the griddle, sprinkle some blueberries on the top of the wet batter and allow them to set into the pancake. Frozen blueberries are almost as good as fresh, and are available all winter. Defrost the berries before using. Plan about 1 1/2 cups of blueberries for 16 to 20 pancakes.
Strawberry Pancakes--Proceed as directed for blueberry pancakes, above, but use 1 1/2 cup of fresh strawberries that have been hulled, cleaned and quartered.
Pecan Pancakes--Add 1 1/2 cups very coarsely chopped pecan pieces to the batter with the melted butter. Pecan pancakes are great when topped with sliced bananas and maple syrup.
Whole-Wheat Pancakes--Substitute 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour for that amount of regular flour in the recipe above. SWISS APPLE PANCAKES WITH CINNAMON SUGAR (12 to 15 pancakes) 3 cups flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 8 eggs 2 cups milk 4 tablespoons melted butter 1 1/2 cups applesauce For topping: 3/4 cup sugar 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the milk and beat until well combined. Add the butter and applesauce to the egg mixture and mix well. Finally, beat the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until batter is smooth. Bake as directed for traditional pancakes. Serve with cinnamon sugar made by mixing sugar with cinnamon. CORNMEAL PANCAKES (Makes 20 pancakes) 1 cup cornmeal 2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 cups boiling water 4 eggs, lightly beaten 2 cups white flour 2 tablespoons baking powder 2 cups milk 8 tablespoons melted butter
Combine the cornmeal, sugar and salt in a large saucepan and add the boiling water. Stir over low heat for a minute or so until cornmeal is fully thickened. Cool cornmeal to lukewarm in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs to the cool cornmeal and mix well. Mix in the flour and baking powder, then the milk and melted butter. Bake as directed for traditional pancakes. BUCKWHEAT PANCAKES (20 pancakes) 2 packages dry yeast 4 cups warm water 2 cups white flour 2 cups buckwheat flour 2 teaspoons salt 2 tablespoons molasses 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 4 tablespoons melted butter
The night before, combine the yeast and warm water in a large mixing bowl and allow the yeast granules to soften. Add the flours and salt and beat well. Cover and set aside to rise until morning.
In the morning, add the remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Bake as directed for traditional pancakes. SOURDOUGH PANCAKES (24 pancakes) 1 cup sourdough 2 cups warm water 2 1/2 cups flour 2 eggs 3 tablespoons melted butter 3 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/3 cup or more milk
Combine the sourdough, water and flour and mix well. Set, covered, in a warm place overnight.
In the morning, beat the eggs lightly, then mix in the butter, sugar and soda. Add to the sourdough mixture and beat thoroughly together. Finally, add the milk, a little at a time, to make a batter about the thickness of very heavy old-fashioned cream (the exact amount of milk will depend on the thickness of the sourdough).
Bake as directed for traditional pancakes.