The old pancake maker learns how to butter up the old pancake pan

October 15, 1997|By Rob Kasper

IT IS HARD TO teach an old pancake maker new tricks. Yet that is what happened recently when I read "Pancakes A to Z" by Marie Simmons.

When this small book arrived on my desk (the official, Houghton Mifflin publication date is Nov. 10) I leafed through it, checking to see if the author knew what she was talking about. In other words, I wanted to see if she made pancakes the way I make them on Sunday mornings at my house.

Mostly the answer was: Yes. She believes in buttermilk, which she wrote, "gives the pancake a lovely lift." She also puts salt in her batter, an ingredient that is making a comeback from a few years ago when, in fits of ill-informed frenzy, cooks seemed to virtually abandon salt. Salt is a vital component of pancake batter, pulling the flavors of the batter together.

She also acknowledged the importance of having a hot griddle or frying pan and of leaving your batter lumpy. To keep the pancakes from sticking, the oiled pan should be so hot that drops of water sizzle when they hit it, she wrote. If you over-mix the batter, she wrote, the gluten in the flour will toughen the pancakes. That is why you stir, but never beat, your pancake batter with a wooden spoon, not a whisk, she wrote.

I nodded in agreement as I read these passages.

I also noted a few areas of disagreement. She puts sugar in her pancake batter, I don't. I think the syrup that goes on the pancakes makes the dish sweet enough.

She puts three eggs in her batter, adding yolks and whites separately. I use just two eggs and don't separate their yolks and whites. Eggs, I think, are like adjectives. Knowledgeable folks have different theories on how many to use and how to handle them.

Then, as happens when you read a book, I learned something. I learned how to beat the butter-burn problem. This problem occurs when I grease the skillet by melting a pat of butter in it. Usually I can get away with cooking only one batch in the buttered skillet before the pan starts smoking and the next batch of pancakes starts sticking. I have to let the pan cool down, then melt more butter in it. This smoky situation develops because butter burns at about 250 degrees and pancakes cook at about 300-325 degrees.

I have lived with the smoke because I like the superb flavor the melted butter gives the pancakes. But Simmons taught me how I could keep the buttery taste but lose the smoking skillet. The trick, she wrote, is to oil the skillet with clarified butter. To make clarified butter, all I have to do is heat the butter over a low flame until the milk solids sink to the bottom of the pan. Then I can skim the clarified butter off the top and use it to oil the skillet.

Another trick Simmons' book passed along was to substitute beer for the buttermilk in the pancake batter. Putting beer in the batter, the book said, gives the pancakes a yeasty flavor.

Next Sunday, when I am armed with these two new pancake- making tricks, it will be a new morning in America.

Blueberry buttermilk pancakes

Yield: 16 (4-inch) pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups buttermilk

3 large eggs, separated

4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted.

1 1/2 cups blueberries, rinsed and sorted.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the buttermilk, egg yolks and butter until blended. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture until just blended; there will be some lumps. Add the blueberries. Add the egg whites and carefully fold until just blended.

Heat a large nonstick griddle over medium heat until hot enough to sizzle a drop of water. Brush with a thin film of vegetable oil or clarified butter, or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

For each pancake, pour a scant 1/4 cup batter onto the griddle. Adjust the heat to medium-low. Cook until the tops are covered with small bubbles and the edges appear to be setting. Turn and cook until golden brown on the other side. Repeat with remaining batter.

From "Pancakes A to Z," by Marie Simmons (Houghton Mifflin, 1997, $15)

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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