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Monday, January 02, 2006

Making Pancakes

The addition of pancakes to my breakfast repartee raised the esteem in which at least two of my children held me: Kimberly, the oldest, never liked pancakes as a child. Her tastes—at least insofar as pancakes are concerned—improved as she grew older.

I think this recipe originated from one in an old Betty Crocker cookbook that we had around the house when we were first married. The cookbook is lost, but the recipe—simple as it is—has stayed with me. On pancake mornings, I tried to get up before the rest of the house—not always easy when the youngest wanted a 5:30 am bottle—and get the batter ready.

Then, as now, pancake making can be a messy affair, particularly in the heat of battle. As much as I try to clean up as I go, when the breakfast is over, there are more mixing bowls than were necessary; more spatulas, spoons and wire whips than needed; and drops of partially cooked or hardening batter—sometimes in close proximity with sticky syrup—on most surfaces.

But the pancakes are great, so the family lives with the mess and even offers to help clean up at times. In fact, the pancakes are so good, that I used them to compensate for my ineptness in Indian lore during a period of father-daughter bonding with my daughter, Carey, called Indian Princesses. This is where fathers pause each week to dress as white people think Indians do, sit cross legged on the floor and do crafts, while their daughters slowly move off to the other side of the room to play quietly among themselves.

This weekly bonding is punctuated by two or three overnight camping trips where fathers and daughters wander through the woods until boredom sets in before returning to the main cabin where the fathers sit cross legged on the floor drinking beer while the princesses move off to the other side of the room and play quietly among themselves. Indian Guides, which is the father-son version, is much the same; but the boys are noisier. My son, Brian, and I tried that in lieu of cub scouts. As a fun experience, the Indian thing is over-rated (and now apparently politically incorrect); but I must admit, as a bonding experience, it is unequalled.

But let’s return to pancakes and how they enhanced my stature. For an Indian Princess winter overnight camp-out, I was assigned breakfast duties. Since my daughter and I weren’t going to be winning any feathers for tent making or fire kindling, I decided to depart from the usual individual-cereal-servings-in-a-box breakfast and surprise my tribe-mates with something original: I pre-made pancake batter and took it along.

We were the hit of the tribe that chilly December morning. They didn’t make me chief, but we both got extra feathers. And we made as much mess as I do at home, but without the mixing bowls or a reason to bother cleaning up. Here’s what you will need to make about six, 6-inch pancakes.

Pancakes: The Recipe
For about 6 pancakes

1 cup of flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
4 teaspoons of baking powder Don’t overdo the baking powder or the bottom of the pancake will burn before the insides set.
1 cup milk (plus two tablespoons) It’s just as good with skim milk.
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Vegetable oil for cooking


First: Mix together the dry ingredients

Second: Whisk together, in another bowl, the wet stuff.

Third: Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a fork. Don’t beat, just mix the ingredients together. The batter should be slightly lumpy. If it’s too dry—closer to dough than batter—add milk a tablespoon at a time to thin it.

Fourth: Let stand for about 30 minutes or so until bubbles form on the surface of the batter. In the meantime, heat up the griddle or fry pan; warm the syrup and make sure the butter is soft.

Fifth: Make sure everyone’s seated then liberally coat the griddle or fry pan with vegetable oil. If it smokes, it’s too hot. Crank back the heat and wait a few seconds.

Sixth: Stir the batter lightly: it should be thick but still be batter. Drop a teaspoon of batter in the oil to test. If it balls up quickly and sizzles in the oil, you’re ready.

Seventh: Pour about a third of a cup of batter onto the griddle or fry pan. When bubbles form on the top of the pancake and a few of them break and stay open (about four minutes), it’s time to think about turning them over. Lift one up and peek under. If it’s golden brown, turn them all over. Let them cook for another three minutes or so, then remove. (If you’re not sure, make a small cut in the center of one of the pancakes. If you see uncooked batter, it’s not done.)

And finally: Serve immediately, smallest kids first. If you’re making several batches of pancakes, they will keep between towels on a warm plate in a warm oven, but they will deflate some.

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