Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?
With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.
Tomorrow is Pancake Day! Sweet, beautiful pancake day! I am saying this not as an ex-Catholic trying to empty their larder for Lent, but as a person that has high levels of affection for brunch-type foods and flattened objects. Pancakes are fucking fantastic. The fact that I could express that love through a Venn diagram made of pancakes proves how perfect they are.
At this point I imagine you have been making pancakes since you were old enough to use a stove. They’re fast! They’re easy! And most importantly, they’re the perfect hangover food because they require little-to-no coordination. In fact, they practically reward you for being lazy! But just like other simple foods like grilled cheese sandwiches, there’s always room for improvement, but you need to know where to start.
Pancakes are quick breads, batters that get their bubbles from chemical leaveners instead of slow-working yeasts. The acid and base components react to form baby CO2 bubbles. Said babies are nurtured by the griddle’s heat so that they can grow and mature into adult bubbles, rising to the pancake surface lightening the pancake in the process. Your job as Pancake Master is to help most of those bubbles fulfill their destiny and create the fluffiest flapjack humanly possible!
If Aunt Jemima wooes you from the baking aisle with promises of pancakes, speed and convenience, stop listening to her siren calls. You don’t need her! What’s in a pancake anyways?
(I have been dying to include a Mighty Boosh crimp in one of my articles for the past few months and this seemed more appropriate than Ode to Bouncy Castles.)
Given that it is milk, eggs and flour, you don’t need to shell out money for pre-mixed flour, baking powder, baking soda and sugar. I am 80% sure you have that in your kitchen already. (If you don’t, go get some! There are pancakes to be had!) Make your own instant pancake mix by combining your dry ingredients in an air-tight container. Whenever you get a flapjack craving, give the tub a shake to mix any settled ingredients and you’re good to go. The shake will also aerate the powders, making them easier to incorporate for a tender cake.
How much leaveners should you be adding? Can you add more for a fluffier flapjack? If most pancake recipes seem completely arbitrary, just remember that there’s method to their madness. A decent ratio of flour, sugar, acid and alkali will result in pancakes that are fluffy, golden brown and delicious. If there’s too much acid you’ll end up with pale, flat Frisbees. If you aren’t satisfied with your pancake’s pallor, try adding more baking soda. Browning reactions occur faster under alkaline conditions, so a basic batter will also be a bit browner. Just make sure you don’t stray too far from your recipe, as super alkaline pancakes taste like soap and regret.
Beyond the dry ingredients, the only things to add are milk, eggs and melted butter. As soon as the dry mixture gets wet, magic starts happening, some light and some dark. On the lighter side of things, chemical leaveners start to form shittons of tiny bubbles. On the dark side, gluten wakes up. Unlike artisanal breads that need something to capture the yeast belches before they disappear into the ether, pancake batter gets its lift by simply being thick. Even though it may seem like shittons of bubble-trapping gluten would create fluffier pancakes, think again. Gluten holds quick bread gases a bit too well, resulting in oversized bubbles and an uneven texture. To further nix gluten from the Things That Are Great in Pancakes list, gluten’s stretchy nature means overmixed pancakes morph into pucks.
Luckily there are a few ways you can prevent tough pancakes. Keep the wet and dry ingredients apart for as long as possible by fully integrating your eggs, milk and butter. For added lift, separate your eggs and whip the whites into medium peaks. Pour the wet mixture over the dry ingredients instead of the other way around. Both steps seem insignificant, but they’ll minimize the amount of stirring you do. Listen to your lazy arm and drop your spoon as soon as the batter comes together. If you see lumps or dots of flour, don’t worry about it. Fold the egg whites into the batter and walk away.
Actually, nix that last bit of advice, don’t walk away. Since the batter doesn’t have gluten to catch the gas, if you wait too long most of the bubbles will escape. Most modern day baking powders are double-acting, having one acid component that reacts to moisture and one that reacts to heat. Your pancakes will still have a bit of lift if a catmergency prevents you from baking your batter. But, if you want to get the highest rise, cook your batter quickly to maximize the pancake puffing potential.
Heat your pan until a water droplet skitters around the pan. If the drop is lethargic, your pancake will have a long road from raw to done, resulting in a tough cake. If your butter sings when it hits the pan, consider it a green light. Wait until the surface is bubbly and you’re ready for your flip. Do it once and do it gently. The more you squish your flapjacks, the flatter they’ll become. So play nice with your pancake flipper. After it’s golden brown and delicious consider yourself a Pancake Master.
If you master pancake flipping for Pancake Day, you can show off your skillet cake skills on VDay. Take a cue from Not Martha and whip your lady up a breakfast bouquet. Pour your batter into a squeeze bottle (or an old ketchup bottle) and use your pancake pen to draw her up some flowers, lacy hearts or suggestive pancake porn. If you are lacking in squeeze bottle skills, use your cookie cutters to do the artistry for you. Simply lube them up with butter, slap them on the griddle and pour your batter inside. If you happen to have sharp scissors and a few empty beer cans around, you can craft your own cookie cutters to impress your lady-folk. Just be sure to crimp the edges so your fingers are still usable post-breakfast.
Now that you’ve made more pancakes than medically advisable, what should you do? Build a tower? Enter a pancake race? If you’ve done all of that and still have some leftover discs, time to morph them into Instant Breakfast. Line a baking sheet with a single layer of pancakes, cover with waxed paper and stick them in the freezer until hard (approximately six hours). Stack your stacks in a Ziploc bag or other suitable freezer container and pop them back into the deep freeze. Whenever you’re craving a breakfast treat but do not have the time or hand-eye coordination to make your own edible Frisbees, simply pop them into the toaster or toaster oven. Faster and cheaper than buying Eggos and I will assume somewhat healthier.
There are a billion pancake toppings besides maple syrup. When in doubt, Nutella on everything! Personally, I like to lie myself and pretend I’m healthy by topping them with yogurt, granny smith apples, honey and granola. How will you celebrate pancake day?