Monday, June 23, 2014

They Call Me "Big Fluffy"

The Background

It wasn't until after high school, when I got into the restaurant business that I really did a lot of cooking.  I wasn't necessarily one of those kids that loved to cook from a young age.  My mom did almost all of the cooking in our house, and my sisters would spend a good bit of time with her while they cooked.  I did too from time to time, but not nearly as often.  There were probably a dozen other things going on that I would rather spend time doing during the dinner prep time, and it simply didn't interest me in the same way, at least not at that time.  I learned enough that I knew I wouldn't starve during my bachelor days, but I wasn't cooking for pride or entertainment.  And certainly, I didn't have that itch to experiment with flavors and textures.

 But there was one notable exception, pancakes.  Pancakes was the first "meal" that I learned to make, entirely on my own.  Now as a kid, pancakes meant using a box of Bisquick.  And to be truthful, that was the case for many, many years.  As a matter of fact, had they not done something to alter their ingredients 10 or so years ago, I'd probably still be using Bisquick to make pancakes.  I am not sure what they did, but after 20 years using the exact same recipe, something changed, and the only thing I didn't have direct control over was whatever blend of dry ingredients that they put in that box.  They didn't come out with a "new and improved" recipe, but I definitely know that something in that package changed.

 Since that time, I have tried many scratch recipes.  I love pancakes, and I even enjoy how varied the recipes are.  Some create flat, dense or crispy pancakes, some are made to benefit from a cast iron skillet, some are filled with fruit flavors, but my favorites have always been big, fluffy pancakes.  Not too sweet (that's what syrup is for), very cake-like, delicate sponges for melted butter with a light crumb.

 To achieve these kind of results, we will need to talk about the batter.  Now, I have provided ingredient quantities here, but I am going to tell you that you will need to use your culinary common sense here when it comes to consistency.  There are many variables that won't go into the mixing bowl that will affect your batter, and there is no recipe that can account for that.  Everything from the temperature of the kitchen to the barometric pressure outside will impact your batter.  And we also have to consider the age of the flour we are using and the age of the leavening agents.  Are they stale, or fresh, just how long has that sack of flour sat in your pantry?   For this pancake recipe we want a thick batter.  You should have to shake it out of the measuring cup onto your griddle.  You shouldn't be able to pour it out.

 Be mindful though, because over-stirring the batter on the way to this  thick cake-like batter can result in losing the delicate crumb.  By mixing the wet ingredients and dry ingredients separately, we will be able to mix the heck out of the eggs and milk without kicking the baking powder into overdrive.  And please, pay attention to the flour type.  I used self-rising flour, not all-purpose flour, and it does make a big difference.

The Ingredients 

  • 3 Cups Self-Rising Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3 Tablespoons Baking Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon (optional)
  • 3 Cups Milk
  • 2 Extra-Large Eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) Butter (melted)
  • 1 Cup Greek Yogurt (I used full-fat, plain)
  • Butter and Syrup for topping pancakes

 Making It Work  

  1. Preheat your griddle to 350 degrees. 
  2. Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon (if using) in a large bowl.  Make sure that the ingredients are well mixed.
  3. Mix together yogurt, eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla in a separate bowl.  Whisk these together until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is a creamy, custard-like consistency. *Note: we are treating the sugar like a wet ingredient, rather than a dry ingredient.  It will dissolve in milk and eggs, and the extra whisking to get there won't upset the leavening process.
  4. Whisk the melted butter into the wet ingredients
  5. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the center.
  6. Gently fold the flour mixture into the wet mixture until it is just incorporated.  Don't try to beat out all of the lumps, you will over-mix if you do.
  7. This is the time to add more flour if the batter is too thin, or add more milk if the batter is too thick.
  8. Scoop the batter onto your hot griddle.  (I use a 1/3 cup measuring cup for portioning).  With the thickness of the batter, this will make about 18 pancakes that are about 5-6 inches in diameter.
  1. Put your hot pancakes on a rimmed cookie sheet with a cooling rack, and cover with a towel.  Set oven to 200 degrees and they will stay hot until you are ready to serve, or until sleepy, late-risers make it to the table.  Don't get stuck manning the griddle while everyone else enjoys the pancakes in the dining room.  It is good for the cook to get to eat with the family.
  2. This recipe is not the time to substitute fat-free or sugar-free ingredients.  These pancakes will be a thick, cake-like treat.  Enjoy them in reasonable quantities with real maple syrup and lots of butter, or with fruit compote and whipped cream.  They are a treat and should be enjoyed as such. "Everything in moderation... including moderation"!
  3. Eat pancakes for dinner, it's just the right thing to do every once in awhile, or weekly, like at my house.

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