On a lazy weekend morning, the fragrant flapjack makes a perfect vehicle for maple syrup, fruit compotes, yogurt, sliced berries or a simple dusting of powdered sugar.
But why not up your game? The new-wave pancakes envisioned by award-winning food writers Heidi Swanson and Betty Rosbottom mix things up with multigrains, lemon-ricotta fillings, homemade syrups and fabulous riffs on a classic.
It's enough to make you get up early.
"Pancakes are a universal favorite," Rosbottom says, simply.
The Krusteaz and Bisquick crowd might think those mixes are easier routes to pancake heaven, but the reality is making flapjacks from scratch takes barely more time than a mix — and it gives you the freedom to tweak flavors to your heart's content.
For Swanson, whose cookbook Super Natural Every Day (Ten Speed Press, $23) won a James Beard award in May, it's a matter of making that carb load more healthful by using a mixture of oat flour, rye flour and whole wheat pastry flour instead of the generic white stuff. (You'll find those flours in the bulk bins at Whole Foods and other markets.)
"Oat flour is incredibly fragrant," she says. "Rye flour brings a bit of spicy depth, and whole wheat pastry flour is perfect for pancakes, muffins and quick breads."
Whole wheat pastry flour makes for a tender, light crumb, she says. As for the convenience of a mix, Swanson has an answer for that, too.
"If you premix the dry ingredients — a day before, a week before — and keep it in a jar, you're just a couple wet ingredients and a few minutes away from a great homemade pancake batter — weekdays, weekends, either way," the food blogger says.
And most of us have added chocolate chips or blueberries to our pancakes, Swanson suggests trying more creative ways to enhance flavor and texture by stirring in lemon zest and poppy seeds, for example, or a splash of vanilla and chopped strawberries. Rosbottom adds a Thanksgiving pie's worth of spices to hers.
At St. Michael's Alley, a restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif., they mix bananas and blueberries into the batter and call the delectable result blue monkey pancakes.
Homemade toppings and syrups are wonderful ways to add seasonal twists. At this time of year, Swanson tops her hot cakes with a deeply purple blackberry-maple compote or roasts strawberries with maple syrup, olive oil and a splash of port wine for a topping that's "outrageously delicious."
Rosbottom tops her spiced pancakes with maple-butter in the fall. Her perfect-for-spring lemon-ricotta hot cakes are topped by homemade blueberry syrup or poached apricots and Greek yogurt.
Rosbottom's newest cookbook, the irresistible Sunday Brunch (Chronicle Books, $19.95), touts the idea that brunch can go in many culinary directions, from baked sweets to savory treats.
But she is the first to admit to a soft spot for pancakes, perhaps because she's made them with her grandchildren since they were old enough to clamber on a kitchen stool and don an apron. But it's not just her grandchildren who are crazy about the lemon-ricotta pancakes. Rosbottom sent advance copies of the new book to friends, family and her small army of recipe testers, as a thank you. Without fail, the one recipe everyone singles out is that one.
The beauty of pancake recipes, she says, is that they're templates. So consider the savory possibilities of Rosbottom's spiced pancakes, too.
"It's easy to change up a pancake," she says. "The pattern — the amount of butter and flour and liquid is pretty set. Take out the spices and add some corn and chili powder. Make them more savory with avocados and tomatoes."
And don't forget that pancakes make perfect little appetizers, too.
"The week before last was graduation at Amherst, and I did a brunch," the Massachusetts writer said recently. "I made blini with different toppings — smoked salmon, crème fraiche, lemon zest, capers. People were just wolfing them down."
And that's a grand way to start the day.
This batter, which keeps for days, works well in a waffle iron, too.
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup oat flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1½ tablespoons natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
1 tablespoon baking powder
Scant ½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups buttermilk
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1⁄3 cup butter, melted and cooled a bit, plus more for the skillet
Combine flours, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Whisk buttermilk and eggs together, add butter and whisk again.
Heat a griddle until medium-hot, and brush with a bit of butter. If a drop of water dances across the surface, you're in the ballpark. Pour wet ingredients over dry, and stir until just combined.
For silver-dollar pancakes, pour the batter 2 tablespoons at a time into small puddles on the griddle. For larger pancakes, pour ¼ to 1⁄3 cup at a time onto the griddle. Cook until the bottoms are deep golden and the tops have set a bit, then use a spatula to flip the pancakes. Cook the other side until golden and cooked through. Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve warm, topped with butter and blackberry-maple compote.
Makes 24 to 26 silver-dollar pancakes.
2 cups blackberries, coarsely chopped, divided
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons maple sugar, natural cane or muscovado sugar (see note)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger juice, plus more if needed (see note)
1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
Tiny pinch of fine-grain sea salt
Combine one-third of berries with maple syrup and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Gently simmer 3 minutes.
Drain syrup through a strainer into a bowl, pressing on the solids to extract the juice. Combine syrup with remaining berries, ginger and lemon juices, and salt. Taste and adjust with more lemon or ginger juice, as needed.
The compote will keep 1 week in the refrigerator. Serve over pancakes, crepes, oatmeal, gelato or even goat cheese-slathered crackers.
Makes 1½ cups.
Note: Make fresh ginger juice by pressing freshly grated ginger through a fine strainer. Muscovado is a very dark brown sugar.
From Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson
Lemon-ricotta pancakes with blueberry sauce
For blueberry sauce:
1 cup cold water
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups blueberries
1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon
2⁄3 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, separated
1 cup whole milk ricotta
½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
For blueberry sauce: Blend water, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, until cornstarch dissolves. Add berries and raise heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes.
Purée sauce until smooth. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve back into the saucepan. Return to medium heat and simmer until reduced to 1 cup, about 30 minutes. Stir in cinnamon. (Sauce may be refrigerated up to 3 days. Reheat on low to serve.)
For pancakes: Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, ricotta, milk, sugar and lemon zest until well blended. Gradually whisk in dry ingredients.
With an electric mixer on medium-high, beat egg whites until just firm. Gently stir a third into the batter to lighten it, then gently fold in remaining egg whites.
Heat griddle over medium heat until hot, then brush with just enough oil to coat the surface. Working in batches, pour a generous ¼ cup batter onto griddle. Cook until bubbles appear on top, and pancakes are golden brown on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a warm platter and cover loosely with foil. Repeat, adding more oil as necessary. Serve with blueberry sauce.
Makes 4 servings.
Spiced pancakes with maple-butter syrup
For maple-butter syrup:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
6 tablespoons maple syrup
1½ cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves
1⁄8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup whole milk
3 eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for griddle
Powdered sugar, to garnish
For the syrup: Heat butter and maple syrup in a small saucepan, until butter has melted and blended with the syrup, 1 to 2 minutes. (May be done up to 2 hours ahead. Leave at room temperature and reheat, stirring over medium heat.)
For the pancakes: Whisk together dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together milk, eggs and melted butter. Pour wet ingredients into dry ones, and whisk to combine.
Heat a griddle or large, heavy skillet over medium heat until hot. Brush with just enough butter to coat surface. Pour generous ¼ cup measures of batter onto griddle. Cook until bubbles appear on top and the pancakes are golden brown on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and cook until golden brown on the other side, about 2 minutes. Remove to a warm platter and cover loosely with foil. Repeat, adding more butter as needed. Serve with warm syrup and a dusting of powdered sugar.
Makes 4 servings.
From Sunday Brunch by Betty Rosbottom