Pancakes: The Favorite American Breakfast Food

Sunday February 12, 2017

Once relegated to weekends, pancakes are a popular breakfast comfort food, as well as a soul satisfying, healthy food rich in wholesome complex carbohydrates.  Surprisingly, even made from scratch, they are fast and versatile.  Pancakes have somehow evolved to being exclusively Sunday morning or overnight-guest breakfast fare, but I have fond memories of Friday night pancake and egg dinners growing up.  Since they are easy to make and there are so many different ways to prepare them, it is a favorite hearty food to cook for a crowd.

Pancake batters are no fuss.  A bowl and wooden spoon or whisk is all you need.  First put the dry ingredients in the bowl, then add the milk, egg, and oil into the center and stir about a minute, paying no attention to a few lumps.  If a batter looks and feels too thick, thin it with a tablespoon or two of liquid; if too thin, whisk in an extra tablespoon or so of flour.

Use a large, heavy aluminum sauté pan with a nonstick surface, or an electric or cast-iron griddle to make your pancakes.  To grease, I give a light coating of butter-flavored vegetable cooking spray while the griddle is still cold, then preheat the baking surface over medium-high heat.  The age-old system for testing whether a griddle surface is hot enough is by drizzling it with a few drops of cold water.  When sufficiently hot, the water will dance over the surface.  If the water evaporates immediately, the surface is too hot, and if it sits and boils, it is definitely too cool.

Rather than stand and bake the pancakes batch by batch while your breakfasters feast, keep them warm in a 200º oven on a baking sheet covered with a clean dishtowel until you are finished with the batter.  Many bakers heat their serving plates at the same time; there’s no way around it, pancakes cool off fast. Finish baking off an entire batter; if there are any uneaten pancakes, simply store them in plastic freezer bags, and freeze for up to 2 months.  The frozen pancake is soft and steaming emerging from a short heating, in a single layer and uncovered, from a microwave oven or even a toaster.

Pancakes beg for a fluffy flavored butter, a luscious syrup, or fruit sauce as a finishing garnish.  A little bit goes a long way here; don’t smother the warm pancakes until they are soggy.  Homemade specialties far exceed commercial varieties and cater to the cholesterol, fat, or sugar-conscious feasters.  Although the long-favored topping for a griddlecake is the ambrosial 100% maple syrup and sweet pats of butter, it is easy to be creative with other favorite flavors, such as warm honey, fruit butters, hot applesauce and low-fat yogurt, stewed fruit, or whipped soft cream cheese as full-flavored, low-fat alternatives.  Compound butters are best at room temperature, then they can melt and drip down the sides of the stack.  All can be made in a few minutes and stored up to a few days for convenience.

Whole Wheat Boysenberry Buttermilk Pancakes

I first had these pancakes in a small lake Tahoe breakfast café in the Sierras with cut glass pitchers of warm syrup and sweet butter on the side. Whole wheat pancakes have a nutty, heartier nature than cakes made just with unbleached flour. Buttermilk is also a favorite addition.  The over sized berries are an important ingredient, giving a fantastic counterpoint of taste and texture.

Makes sixteen 4-inch pancakes.


1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder (non-aluminum like Rumford)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups cultured buttermilk

2 large eggs

1/4 cup light olive oil (flavorless)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups fresh boysenberries, or one 12-ounce package unsweetened, unthawed frozen boysenberries


Combine the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a mixing bowl.  In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, oil, and vanilla.  Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.  Do not overmix; the batter will have small lumps.  Let the batter stand at room temperature 15 minutes.  Gently fold in the berries, taking care not to break them up.

Coat a griddle or heavy skillet lightly with cooking spray.  Place over medium heat until a drop of water skates over the surface.  Using a 1/4-cup measure for each pancake, pour the batter onto the griddle.  Cook until bubbles form on the surface, the edges are dry, and the bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes.  Turn once, cooking the opposite sides until golden, about 1 minute.  The pancake will take half the amount of time to cook as the first side.  Serve immediately.

Honey Maple Syrup

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup

Combine the honey and syrup in a microwave proof bowl and heat until just warmed.  Serve immediately.  Makes 1 cup.

Excerpted from The Best Quick Breads, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2000, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2017

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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