Pancakes' comfort worth the test of time





Give it a rest. After mixing batter, loosely cover and let it sit on the counter for about five minutes before cooking.

Keep it hot. A well-made pancake requires a hot — but not scorching — pan. Here's a reliable test: Drop roughly 1 tablespoon batter into the pan. After a minute, if the cooked side is pale and beige, the pan isn't hot enough, and if it's golden brown, the temperature is correct. For electric griddle users, set the temperature in the 350- to 375-degree range.

Flipping out. It's time to turn pancakes when the face-up surface is a sea of small, un-popped bubbles.

Key ingredient. Buttermilk is the path to pancake enlightenment. It's not exactly a staple in most American refrigerators, so substitute by using this ratio: add 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice per 2 cups milk.

Worth the fuss. For a truly tender pancake, separate eggs (adding yolks according to instructions), whip whites into stiff peaks and, using a rubber spatula, carefully fold whites into the batter just before cooking.

Fresh and frozen. Rather than folding blueberries into the batter, sprinkle them over pancakes as they begin to set on the griddle. Use fresh berries when they're in season, and frozen during the rest of the year. Accentuate the berry's flavor by gently tossing 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest into each cup of blueberries.

Serve immediately. Pancakes are best enjoyed straight off the stove. If making a large batch, store in a 200-degree oven.

Finishing touch. Toppings, including butter and maple syrup, are best served at room temperature.

Turns out, there are few foods with a history as diverse as the pancake.

American Indian tribes were enjoying a form of fried cakes long before English and other Western European settlers brought their affection for the pancake with them to the New World. The colonists took particular pleasure in pancakes on the day before the start of Lent, an exercise in clearing their pantries of eggs, butter, sugar and other luxuries, all in the name of Lenten sacrifice.

"Eating such a rich, buttered cake on this day was the last gasp of gourmandism before forty days of self-denial," writes John Mariani in "The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink."

Flat, griddled cakes went by a flurry of names over the centuries: "No cake" was the early translation of nokchick, a native Narragansett word for a soft-battered cake. Other monikers included "batter cakes," "flannel cakes," "hoe cakes," "slapjacks," "Johnnycakes" and "flapjacks," and it wasn't until the 1840s that the word "pancake" became the generally accepted term.

Naturally, American entrepreneurship jumped on the pancake bandwagon. "Self-Rising Pancake Flour," the nation's first ready-mix pancake product, debuted in 1889 in Missouri. It was later renamed "Aunt Jemima," borrowing the title of a minstrel show song.

The country's first pancake restaurant chain, the International House of Pancakes, or IHOP, opened in suburban Los Angeles in 1958; the company now has more than 1,400 outlets.

But why go out when preparing delicious pancakes is so easy, and so satisfying?

Two years ago, when I encountered "The New Comfort Food" (Chronicle Books, 2011) and a different kind of pancake recipe.

Adapted from a classic New Hampshire diner, this time-tested formula has a crazy amount of leavening, which quickly turns the batter into a doughy, sticky, air bubble-filled mass. Pourable, it's not, but this batter yields a high-rising, incredibly tender pancake.

Buttermilk Flapjacks

Makes about 8 pancakes.

"For the best results, you've got to take your time and cook the flapjacks one by one with plenty of butter in a hot skillet," writes James Oseland in "The New Comfort Food."

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoons fine sea salt

12 teaspoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided, plus more

2 cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Maple syrup, for serving

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Melt 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter. In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, vanilla extract and eggs. Whisk buttermilk mixture into flour mixture, mixing as little as possible to make a thick (and lumpy) batter. Do not overmix; too much stirring will result in tough pancakes.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter and heat until butter's foam subsides. Ladle in about 1/2 cup of batter and cook, turning once, until pancake is deep golden brown on both sides, about 4 to 5 minutes total. Repeat process with additional butter and remaining batter. Serve hot, topped with butter and maple syrup.Per each of 8: Calories: 325; Fat: g; Sodium: 776 mg Carbohydrates: 31 g; Saturated fat: 12 g; Calcium: 223 mg; Protein: 7 g; Cholesterol: 95 mg; Dietary fiber: 1 g Diabetic exchanges per serving: 2 bread/starch, 4 fat.