Saturday, March 13, 2010

Basic Training #2: Pancakes (Or, Flipping Off Breakfast Foods)

"He who goes to bed hungry dreams of pancakes."

Hungry or not, my boyfriend wakes up every Saturday morning, rubs his eyes, and instinctively says, "Want some pancakes?" I like pancakes, but I'm not as crazy about them as he is. So he is usually the one to hop out of bed and heat up the frying pan. Meaning I have never learned to make them for myself. And what's more, any time anyone has made me pancakes, they have been from a box or bag of pancake mix. 

Being a breakfast staple, I 100% consider being able to make pancakes a basic of being a Good cook. Heck, it's a basic of being an ok cook. So I decided it was time I learned to make them myself. From scratch, of course. But, in order to make them more interesting, I wanted to fancy up the recipe. I hoped if I made it more challenging, the results would be more impressive.

So I started with a recipe that I got from a cooking show called "Made in Spain." The host, José Andrés, makes an olive oil pancake with chopped chocolate, drizzled with honey. I drooled when I watched this episode, so I decided this would be my first (and perhaps ultimate) pancake recipe.

1 ½ c. flour
2 T. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
touch of salt
1 ½ c. buttermilk
1 beaten egg
1 T. olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk from the center, just until mixed. Don’t over-mix.

Spoon in preferred amount of chopped chocolate.

Pour olive oil on skillet. Ladle mix onto skillet.

Drizzle with honey. Garnish with mint.

Now, I've seen pancakes made plenty of times. So I know that you barely mix the ingredients and then plop the batter onto a hot surface. But I have also seen this simple process go awry. Burnt pancakes, soggy pancakes, ones that look as though they narrowly escaped a Dali painting. There is a subtle balance between heat, amount of batter, and of course, the elusive flipping technique.

Working in batches of three, my first batch was not pretty. Too much batter on too-high heat (medium) being flipped by a rookie resulted in crispy outsides, gooey insides, and wonky shapes.

The chocolate in the batter muddied the process, making the edges look darker than they were, which led to premature flipping, which led to leaving the second side to cook too long, and so on and so forth. (Not that I'm making excuses.) I wiped the pan off with a paper towel between batches to remove the melted chocolate, drizzled a bit more olive oil on the pan, and turned the heat down to medium-low. Round 2 turned out slightly better, but being an electric stove, the burner hadn't really cooled down enough, and I suspect I had used too much olive oil in the pan, causing more of a frying effect than an even cook. And even though I used less batter, it was thick and didn't spread at. all. in the pan, also hindering the pancake from cooking properly all the way through.

Tweaking all the factors—lowering the heat, using less olive oil in the pan, perfecting a plop-and-spread technique with the ladle, and looking for the little bubbles on the edge of the pancake indicating it's ready to be flipped—during the next few batches, my pancakes were finally starting to turn out golden brown and cooked throughout. 

Now, it was time to address the flip factor. Basically, I spent the next three batches practicing, and ended up with this:

After six batches, my pancakes eventually got rounder and flatter and a little better looking. But I realized that to consistently make a good-looking pancake, I will need a lot more practice. 

In the end, I was left with a mound of sloppy pancakes.

So I made four stacks of four pancakes each, and drizzled them with honey. Luckily, I have a boyfriend who loves pancakes!

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