Pancakes -- puffy, golden and hot from the griddle -- are among the most homey -- and underrated -- of all breakfast foods. More often than not, the flapjacks of my childhood came straight out of a box, because then it was fashionable to use such convenience foods (although we always poured pure maple syrup over them).

But, once I could reach the countertop, I changed all that, and made my own pancake batter from flour, baking powder, eggs, milk and flavorings, and consequently started an entirely new tradition.

Griddlecakes, lifted with a spatula right from the cooking surface, are marvelous. Ingenious American cooks have always drawn from a bounty of quick breads that serve as breakfast fare, and pancakes -- along with waffles, fritters and crepes -- star among the offerings.

Batters for first-rate pancakes, easily put together in a bowl in minutes, are generally made by combining liquid ingredients (eggs, milk, melted butter and flavorings) with dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt). And, after stirring up many, many batches, I have found the following observations worth passing on:

Mix, do not sift, the dry ingredients with a spoon or fork to distribute the leavening and sugar in the flour. Thoroughly combine the liquid ingredients in another bowl with a whisk. Then, mix the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture with a few brief strokes, using a wooden spatula, leaving a few lumps in the batter. (Pancake batter, covered, may be made ahead and refrigerated up to 6 hours before using.) If the batter appears too thick, simply add a little additional milk by tablespoons. Also, moderately thick pancake batter makes wonderful waffles, if you keep in mind that you'll need to add an extra 3 tablespoons of melted butter to the batter.

Pancake griddles come in many sizes and compositions; I have had excellent results using a soapstone griddle (which needs no greasing), a plain cast aluminum griddle (which was seasoned first with solid shortening, heated and wiped dry), a release-surface griddle (such as Teflon, Silverstone or T-Fal), or a stainless steel griddle (good quality stainless steel griddles have an inner core of copper that aids in heat conduction).

Heat the griddle until it passes the sputtering test: Let a few droplets of cold tap water drip onto the top of the griddle -- if the water dances along the surface, then sputters and bursts, the griddle is ready for making pancake. If the beads of water stay on the surface of the griddle and cook, the griddle is not hot enough; if the drops of water evaporate as soon as they hit the griddle, the griddle is too hot. Adjust the source of heat accordingly.

Transfer the pancake batter to a pitcher or other easy-pour vessel. Pour 1/4-cup amounts of batter, about 2-to-2 1/2-inches apart, onto the hot griddle, keeping the pitcher close to the griddle (don't pour from high in the air); this pouring technique will give the cakes a nice, plump figure. Wait about 2 minutes to turn the cakes, or until small bubbles break through the surface of the pancakes and they look set; flip them over, then wait about a minute to cook them through. Transfer the cakes onto warmed plates and serve them forth.

Pancakes may enclose fresh fruit, such as shredded apples or pears, whole blueberries or raspberries, or they may be seasoned with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. A little whole-wheat flour may replace a quantity of all-purpose flour to make delectable wheaty pancakes, and buttermilk may substitute for sweet milk to make an old-fashioned batter that is wholesome and nutritious. Although maple syrup is what we are all conditioned to pool around our pancakes, I also like to offer fresh fruit syrups (such as raspberry, apricot, strawberry, three-berry, apple cider and the like) for sloshing over hotcakes. And of course, use some whipped butter, flavored and scented with coconut, spices and such, for spreading and melting about the pancakes.

Following are recipes for pancakes and sweet compound butters that make for a warming and satisfying breakfast. And do I need to remind you that good thick bacon or country ham is delicious accompaniment? BUTTERMILK PANCAKES (Makes about 12 4-inch pancakes; recipe may be doubled)

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Large pinch salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)

3/4 cup less 2 tablespoons buttermilk, at room temperature

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Thoroughly combine flour, sugar and spice blend, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together buttermilk, egg and melted butter in a small bowl. Pour liquid ingredients over the flour mixture and stir to form a batter using a few quick strokes.

Pour 1/4-cupfuls of batter at least 2 inches apart on a lightly buttered hot griddle. Cook the pancakes for about 2 minutes, or until little bubbles appear on the surface on the cakes. Flip over the cakes and continue cooking for a minute or so longer, or until they are a spotted golden color on the bottom and cooked through. Serve the pancakes piping hot, accompanied by whipped butter and maple syrup.

Serving note: Buttermilk Pancakes are delicious with Cinnamon Butter or Honey Butter (see following recipes).

SPICED PEAR PANCAKES (Makes about 12 4-inch pancakes; recipe may be doubled)

These richly flavored pancakes, boasting a mixture of spices and shredded ripe pears, are a real teat for the fall breakfast table. Maple Butter or Cinnamon Butter (see recipes that follow) are well suited for slathering over these cakes.

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon allspice

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk, at room temperature

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup (firmly packed measurement) peeled, cored, and shredded ripe pear, such as d'Anjou or bartlett

Thoroughly combine flour, sugar and spice blend, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together milk, egg, vanilla and melted butter in a small bowl. Pour liquid ingredients over flour mixture; stir to form a batter using a few quick strokes. Fold through shredded pear.

Pour 1/4-cupfuls of batter at least 2 inches apart on a lightly buttered hot griddle. Cook the pancakes for about 2 minutes, or until little bubbles appear on the surface of the cakes. Flip over the cakes and continue cooking for a minute or so longer, or until golden on the bottom and cooked through. Serve the pancakes piping hot, accompanied by whipped butter and maple syrup.

VANILLA PANCAKES (Makes about 12 4-inch pancakes; recipe may be doubled)

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with the seed scrapings from the inside of a 4-inch piece of vanilla bean

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk, at room temperature

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Thoroughly combine the flour, sugar and vanilla blend, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together the milk, egg, vanilla extract and butter in a small bowl. Pour the liquid ingredients over the flour mixture and stir to form a batter using a few quick strokes.

Pour scant 1/4-cupfuls of batter at least 2 inches apart on a lightly buttered hot griddle. Cook the pancakes for about 2 minutes, or until little bubbles appear on the surface of the cakes. Flip over the cakes and continue cooking for a minute or so longer, or until a spotted golden color on the bottom and cooked through. Serve the pancakes piping hot, accompanied by whipped butter and maple syrup.

Serving note: Vanilla Pancakes are delicious when accompanied by a mound of Coconut Butter, Cinnamon Butter or Honey Butter (see recipes that follow).

WHOLE-WHEAT PANCAKES (Makes about 12 4-inch pancakes; recipe may be doubled)

2/3 cup unsifted all-purpose flour

1/3 cup whole-wheat flour, preferably stone ground

3 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with 1/4 teaspoon allspice and 1/4 teaspoon ginger

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, at room temperature

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Thoroughly combine the flour, sugar and spice blend, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together the milk, egg, vanilla and butter in a small mixing bowl. Pour the liquid ingredients over the flour mixture and stir to form a batter using a few quick strokes.

Pour scant 1/4-cupfuls of batter at least 2 inches apart on a lightly buttered hot griddle. Cook for about 2 minutes or until little bubbles appear on the surface of the cakes. Flip over cakes and continue cooking for a minute or so longer, or until firm and cooked through. Serve piping hot, accompanied by whipped butter and maple syrup.

Serving note: Whole-Wheat Pancakes are delicious served with Cinnamon Butter or Maple Butter (see recipes that follow).

APPLE-CINNAMON PANCAKES (Makes about 12 4-inch pancakes; recipe may be doubled)

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, at room temperature

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup (firmly packed measurement) peeled, cored and shredded tart cooking apple

Thoroughly combine flour, sugar and spice blend and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together milk, egg, vanilla extract and butter in a small mixing bowl. Pour liquid ingredients over flour mixture and stir to form a batter using a few quick strokes. Fold through shredded apple.

Pour scant 1/4-cupfuls of batter at least 2 inches apart on a lightly buttered hot griddle. Cook for about 2 minutes or until little bubbles appear on the surface of the cakes. Flip over cakes and continue cooking for a minute or so longer, or until firm and cooked through. Serve piping hot, accompanied by whipped butter and maple syrup.

MAPLE BUTTER (Makes about 1/2 cup)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1/2 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Cream the butter in the small bowl of an electric mixer on moderate speed for 1 minute. Beat in the confectioners' sugar, then blend in the maple syrup, nutmeg and vanilla. Scrape the butter into a ramekin or crock and chill.

COCONUT BUTTER (Makes about 3/4 cup)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1/2 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon tinned sweetened cream of coconut (optional)

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup (lightly packed measurement) sweetened shredded coconut

FOR THE GARNISH:

About 1 tablespoon toasted sweetened shredded coconut

Cream the butter in the small bowl of an electric mixer on moderate speed for 1 minute. Beat in the confectioners' sugar. Blend in the optional cream of coconut, coconut extract, vanilla extract and shredded coconut. Scrape the butter into a small ramekin or crock and chill. Just before serving, sprinkle the toasted coconut over the top of the spread.

CINNAMON BUTTER (Makes about 1/2 cup)

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Cream the butter in the small bowl of an electric mixer on moderate speed for 1 minute. Beat in the confectioners' sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Scrape the butter into a small crock or ramekin and chill.

HONEY BUTTER (Makes about 1/2 cup)

You can vary the taste of this butter by using different richly flavored honeys -- tupelo blossom, citrus, blueberry, orange blossom -- but it is best to avoid the distinctively strong varieties that are quite dark, as they may overpower the other ingredients.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons whipping cream

Beat the butter and honey in the small bowl of an electric mixer on moderate speed for 1 minute. Blend in the cream. Pour and scrape the butter into a bowl or ramekin.