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Making the Perfect Pancake

The Calgary Stampede is about to kick off its centennial celebration where I live, and that means free pancake breakfasts happening all over town. There’s nothing like a freshly cooked stack of flapjacks doused in butter and syrup – Calgary Stampede breakfasts have been part of the Calgary tradition for over 85 years. The Caravan gets out early in the morning -rain or shine- to provide a western welcome, complete with food and entertainment. If you won’t be at the Stampede this year, you should still be able to cook up a great batch of fluffy pancakes.

There’s really no need to pick up a box of pancake mix, which usually contains little more than flour, sugar and baking powder (and often additives and preservatives), to make a decent stack. Making them from scratch is just as fast and easy, and you can’t make a much happier breakfast (nor as cheap a meal) as a short stack. If you want to flavor the pancakes themselves, stir grated lemon or orange zest or a teaspoon of flavored extract into the milk mixture. Of course, pancakes can always be studded with berries, banana slices, nuts, or whatever additions you like.

The key, I think, to a perfect pancake is to time the flip just right. Once the pan is hot (but not too hot), you can simulate that first pancake, which tends to never turn out quite right, by pouring in some oil and wiping it around with a paper towel. Pour your batter in. It should be thick enough to spread out on its own, without needing help nor running all over the bottom of the pan. Cast iron is perfect for making pancakes – a well seasoned skillet is naturally non-stick, and iron retains and distributes heat beautifully.

The mistake most people make is to wait until the surface is covered with broken bubbles. The time to flip is when bubbles begin to break through the surface, but not all the way through – you still want some leavening action once you flip it over to cook on the other side. Wait until the edges are matte with bubbles breaking through, then flip.

See? Perfect. It won’t take as long to cook on the other side.

Keep them warm in a 250F oven, or serve them up straight from the skillet. Extras can be frozen with pieces of parchment between them to keep them from sticking together (and making it easy for them to pull apart once frozen). Reheat in the toaster or microwave.

Classic Homemade Buttermilk Pancakes

Adapted from Starting Out, by Julie Van Rosendaal (Whitecap)

2 cups (500 mL) buttermilk
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour (or use half whole wheat, half all-purpose)
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) sugar (white or brown)
2 tsp. (10 mL) baking powder
1/2 tsp. (2.5 mL) baking soda
1/4 tsp. (1 mL) salt
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) melted butter or oil

Any additions you like: fresh or frozen (unthawed) berries, sliced banana or chopped or ground nuts

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir the egg and melted butter or oil into the buttermilk with a fork or whisk.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture; stir just until the two are combined. Don’t worry about getting all the lumps out overmixing may result in tough pancakes.

Set a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot (you can test it by flicking some drops of water on it they should bounce) spray it with non-stick spray or drizzle it with oil and swirl it to coat the pan. Turn the heat down to medium and ladle the batter onto the skillet, making the pancakes any size you like. If you want to add berries or slices of banana, scatter them directly onto the batter. Turn the heat down and cook the pancakes for a few minutes, until the bottoms are golden and bubbles begin to appear on the surface. When the surface appears almost dry with lots of bubbles breaking through, use a thin, flat spatula to flip the pancakes over and cook them for another minute, until they are golden on the other side.

Repeat with the remaining batter. If you need to keep the finished pancakes warm, keep them uncovered on a plate in a 250ºF oven. If you don’t want to cook them all at once, the leftover batter can be covered and kept in the fridge for several days.

Serve the pancakes with maple syrup, or thaw a package of frozen berries in syrup to top them with.

What to do with the leftovers:

Freeze extra pancakes to pop in the toaster on days when you don’t have time to cook.

Other things to do with them:

Corn Pancakes: Replace 1/2 cup (125 mL) of the flour with cornmeal. Stir about a cup of canned, frozen or fresh corn kernels and a few crumbled pieces of cooked bacon into the batter.

Multigrain Pecan Pancakes: Use half whole wheat and half all-purpose flour, and add 1/2 cup (125 mL) oats and 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped pecans to the dry ingredients. A few spoonfuls of ground flaxseed makes a healthy addition too.

Apple Pancakes: Add a pinch of cinnamon to the dry ingredients, and stir in a grated apple along with the wet ingredients.

Gingerbread Pancakes: Use molasses in place of the sugar, and add 1/4 tsp. (1 mL) cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. (1 mL) ground ginger to the dry ingredients.

Pumpkin Pancakes: Add 1/4 tsp. (1 mL) cinnamon to the dry ingredients, and stir 1/2 cup (125 mL) canned pumpkin puree into the wet ingredients before you blend the two together.

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