Growing up, I thought my father held every pancake patent from here to Antarctica. Plain, buttermilk, blueberry, banana, potato pancakes (or latkes)–you name it and he was, as they say, all about it.
On weekend mornings, my little sister and I would follow him around, giggling with anticipation as he pulled down the big yellow pancake bowl from the highest cabinet. A generous, loving, laughing man whose steady stream of jokes melted us like butter (and still do), on pancake days he displayed a contrasting seriousness normally reserved for his work, at which we would learn later on he was exemplary. In our house, pancakes, though not work, were serious business.
Armed with a wooden spoon, tablespoons and measuring cups, baking powder, sack of flour, box of eggs, carton of cold milk, and sticks of butter, my father was meticulous about what and how much of what went into the bowl and how well things were incorporated. It was clear to us even at that age that he derived as much satisfaction from the pancake-making process as the eventual golden piles on the plate.
Heating up a griddle which, somewhere along the line, had become slightly warped and required a balancing act on my father’s part so that the heat would distribute evenly, he poured the batter onto the ready surface with the same precision an artist would apply paint to a canvas. When the pale round cake would begin to bubble and dry at the edges, something he’d call us over to see so one day we might master the method, he’d flip them with a spatula ever so softly—almost as though he was trying not to wake them. In the end, towering on plates with butter and syrup, my father viewed his culinary accomplishment the way many dads do job promotions or sports trophies. “For my daughters,” he’d always say, helping us with napkins and forks.
Today, and though I find myself comparing every type of pancake I eat from buckwheat to buttermilk to crepes and everything in between to his, pancakes are a happy staple for me. They are also a universal language, though they may take different forms. Beginning in ancient Greece, some pancakes consisted of wheat flour, honey, olive oil, and curdled milk, while others were made from spelt and topped with honey, sesame, and cheese. Called Pfannkuchen in Germany, pannekoeken in the Netherlands (can be sweet or savory and are eaten at dinner time), cheela in India, frixuelos or filloas in northwest Spain, and palacsinta in Hungary, basic ingredients may vary but the end result elicits a kind of global glory in all who partake.
Savory or sweet, and under many names, the ubiquitous pancake can cradle chopped chicken, white sauce, and asparagus, or maybe strawberries, honey, and whipped cream (both make for superb crepes). Pancake batter can be used to coat raw onion rings before frying, and of course a platter teeming with chocolate chip pancakes is the ultimate reward for good behavior (yours or your children’s!).
However you like them, try these yummy pancake ideas for a truly tempting September 26th: National Pancake Day.
Carrot Cake Pancakes
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Dash of ground cloves
Dash of ground ginger
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups finely grated carrot (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons honey
Pour flour into dry measuring cup and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 7 ingredients (through ginger) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine 1/4 cup brown sugar and next 4 ingredients (through eggs); add sugar mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in 2 cups carrot.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Spoon 4 (1/4 cup) batter mounds onto pan, spreading with a spatula. Cook for 2 minutes or until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Carefully turn pancakes over; cook one minute or until bottoms are lightly browned. Repeat procedure twice with remaining batter. Combine butter and honey in a small bowl; serve with pancakes.
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