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One Family Meal

Posted 6.13.2014

Posted 6.13.2014

There are certain things everybody needs to know: How to tread water, for example, or how to ride a bike, and certainly how to make a basic batch of pancakes. Only, I DIDN’T KNOW that I didn’t know how to make pancakes until I was playing around with alternatives like oats and buckwheat flour. I had no idea how much flour to add because I didn’t have a basic recipe.

So, I started over from the beginning and hunted down my husband’s grease-stained recipe taped inside the kitchen cabinet. Then I talked to lots of moms – my mom, neighborhood moms, and also to my friend’s 18-year-old son who entered the batter war zone to ask for a high school lacrosse donation. After an impassioned ten-minute debate, he had me convinced that buttermilk is the only way to go.

For the next few days, we had pancakes just about every morning. It turns out, as long as you know a little about the power of baking powder and that one egg goes a long way, you can’t really make a terrible pancake. Average pancakes, though, are as common as peanut butter and jelly.

My friend’s son was right. Buttermilk is the secret weapon.

The batter I settled on was pretty thick, so I let it rest for about five minutes while I heated the skillet. When I dropped in a scoop, the batter spluttered and puffed out its chest. I watched the outer ring turn from runny to opaque, and the center bubble and pop like hot lava. When the bubbles retreated into permanent indents, I flipped. The cakes puffed up on contact, then sighed and settled down into their last sizzle and pop.

When they were finally done (three! whole! minutes!) I tore through a hot cake, inhaling the whisps of smoke curling out. It was at once crispy and fluffy; an absorbent sponge for the melting pat of butter and thick maple syrup I drizzled on top.

I ate four of them for the sake of testing, then slipped the recipe on the counter the following week, just before Mother’s Day. We ate them again that Sunday morning. For Father’s Day breakfast-in-bed, the kids and I might drop in chunks of bananas or blueberries or drizzle fruity syrup on top. If that works, we’ll probably dive into some alternative flours like whole wheat, buckwheat, spelt, or corn, but I’ve vowed never to slip in any squash or spinach. These are pancakes, for goodness sake, not an April Fool’s joke.

I’ll admit now, at the end of this lovefest, that I was never great at making pancakes because, before now, I never really liked them. I was firmly planted in the crepe camp, but teaching a four-year-old how to swirl the pan just so and flip a paper-thin plate-sized round without ripping it seems as cruel as throwing him into the deep end without a life jacket.

We’ll stick to pancakes for now. Stay tuned to see where they take us…

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Basic Buttermilk Pancakes
Print Recipe
Serves 6
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 25 min
Prep Time:
10 min
Cook Time:
25 min
This recipe is simple, with ample opportunity for measuring, so if you have one, two, three, or four kids, everyone gets a job. My preschoolers can mostly cook them on their own now. Sometimes we add blueberries or sliced bananas to the batter, or just leave them plain, as a base for the rich maple syrups that came from this year’s cool and rainy early spring.
  1. 1 1/3 cup flour
  2. 2 tablespoons sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon salt
  4. ½ teaspoon baking powder
  5. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  6. 1 egg
  7. ¾ cup milk
  8. ¾ cup buttermilk
  9. 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  10. Canola oil for frying the pancakes
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir to combine. In another medium bowl, beat the egg with the milk and buttermilk. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients, stirring to combine. Add the melted butter and stir to combine. Let the batter sit while you heat the pan.
  2. Heat a 12-inch skillet over low heat (this could take up to five minutes). Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat the pan. Using a 1/3-cup measure, pour 3 servings of batter into the pan, spaced apart so the pancakes aren’t touching each other as they cook. Cook for three to four minutes, until bubbles form and pop in the middle of each pancake, revealing a dry center. Turn and cook an additional three minutes until the pancakes are golden brown and cooked through.
  3. Serve immediately or hold in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve. Leftovers can be re-heated in a toaster oven for up to four days.
  1. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand (who does, really?), add 1 tablespoon lemon juice for every 8 ounces of milk, stir, and let sit five minutes before using. Or you can substitute ¾ cup yogurt thinned with ¼ cup milk (but if you use a flavored yogurt, add less sugar to the recipe).
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