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Batter Up!

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Pancakes make an improvised meal

By Greg Summers

As long as there has been a flat rock, mankind has been using it to make pancakes.

From Day 1, pancakes have been “a good answer to a necessity,” writes Naomi Duguid, co-author of “Home Baking: Sweet and Savory Traditions from Around the World.”

Pancakes, Duguid says, are one of the most improvised foods in the world. It is one of the original fast foods made with cheap, easy-to-find ingredients – flour, eggs, and milk –  which gives pancakes a versatility that many foods just don’t have.

According to John Mariani, author of the Encyclopedia and American Food and Drink, the word pancake wasn’t generally used until the 1870s.

But they date back thousands of years, with the Romans feasting on similar flat breads made from flour, milk, eggs and spices. Called “Alita Dolcia” (Latin for “another sweet”), these flat breads were sweetened with fruits and honey or filled with meats and cheeses.

The flat breads even outlasted the Roman Empire.

“Life is about flexibility, not formulas and that’s exactly where the pancake fits in,” Duguid writes.

Pancakes, as we know them, can be traced to medieval Europe. Pancakes gained appeal because they were cheap, easy to transport and could be cooked on open fires on flat cast-iron pans or hoe blades.

One English culinary manuscript from 1430 mentions “Journey Cake” (johnny cakes) made from a batter of eggs, milk, water and a little flour that was fried and served with pepper and honey.

When English and Dutch settlers brought these tried and true recipes to America some two centuries later, imagine their surprise to find that pancakes were already here.

One Native American tribe – the Narragansett Indians, from Rhode Island, Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts,  were making nochick (“it is soft”) from a soft batter that was shaped by their hands.

Cooking tips

The real trick to cooking great pancakes isn’t a secret recipe. It’s the griddle.

According to Dr. Myles H. Bader, author of “20,001 Food Facts, Chefs Secrets & Household Hints, the proper griddle temperature to cook pancakes is 325 degrees.

Bader suggests using a drop or two of cold water to see if the temperature range is correct.

“The water should bounce around on the of the griddle close to the spot you drop it because of steam being generated and gravity forcing the water back down the griddle,” he said.

If the griddle is too hot (425 degrees, or greater), the water will be propelled off the griddle. When this happens, Bader recommends to stop mixing the batter and place it the refrigerator to slow the development of the rising agents (baking powder or yeast).

Another trick is to add a little sugar to the recipe. The sugar caramelizes, which will result in a deep, golden brown outside.     

Pancake tricks

– It’s easy to make pancakes that are the same size. Pour the batter into a 1/3 measuring cup before putting it on the hot griddle. You can also squeeze out batter by using a turkey baster. You’ll just need to make the opening a little bigger.

– Add a tablespoon of real maple syrup into the batter to boost the taste.

– Use club soda or seltzer to make pancakes instead of water or milk. The substitution results in a much lighter pancake.

– Another way to make lighter pancakes is separating the egg yolks first. Beat the egg whites until stiff and set aside. Stir in the yolk with the other wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Then, fold in the egg whites last.

– Don’t make too much batter at one time. Instead, mix small batches while the pancakes are cooking. That way, the ingredients won’t settle and will stay well aerated. This technique always makes better-tasting pancakes.

– Overmixing batter causes the gluten to overdevelop, which makes  pancakes have the texture of leather. The overmixing forces out all the carbon dioxide, which aids in the rising process. Don’t think you have to mix the batter until all the small lumps of flour are dissolved.

– You can make lighter pancakes by replacing the milk with apple cider to create a different taste.

– Don’t be afraid to stray from the recipe by adding fruits and nuts. You can also experiment with different grains or spices like cinnamon or nutmeg.

Now that you know a trick or two, here are four pancake recipes you may want to try.

Old Fashioned Pancakes, from about.com, is a recipe that works every time and is made from every- day ingredients found in most kitchen cupboards.

For those requiring a special diet, Diabetic Pancakes, along with a homemade pancake/waffle sauce may fit the bill. Then, there are Chocolate Coconut Pancakes, which has a distinct Southeastern Asian flavor with its use of coconut milk as an ingredient.

Sweet Potato Pancakes are great with maple syrup or cranberry sauce. Once you try them, you may never want to eat regular pancakes again.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/4 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups milk

1/4 cup butter, melted

Directions

– Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Combine mashed sweet potatoes, eggs, milk and butter. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Drop by tablespoons onto hot greased griddle or skillet and fry, turning once, until browned on both sides.

– From southernfood.about.com

Diabetic Pancakes

Pancake ingredients

1/2 cup unbleached white flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup non-fat milk

2 egg whites, slightly beaten

1/2 cup to 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

1 tablespoon orange bits (optional)

Pancake/waffle sauce  ingredients

1 cup apple juice or any unsweetened fruit juice

1 tablespoon tapioca, corn starch or arrowroot

Directions

– Sift dry ingredients together. Combine milk and egg whites. Stir into dry ingredients until just moistened. Carefully stir in blueberries. Drop batter onto heated non-stick frying pan or griddle. Brown on both sides and serve hot with waffle/pancake sauce.

– To make pancake/waffle sauce, combine ingredients and cook, stirring constantly over medium-high heat until thickened. For variation, add cinnamon or nutmeg.

– Recipe from informationaboutdiabetes.com

Old Fashioned Pancakes

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups milk

1 egg

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

– In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, eggs and melted butter. Mix until smooth.

– Heat a lightly-oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using about 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown or both sides and serve hot.

– Recipe from about.com

Chocolate Coconut Pancakes

Ingredients

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions

– Combine ingredients, gently stirring. The batter should be pourable and if it’s not, add a little more coconut milk. Heat a lightly-oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using about 1/3 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

–  Recipe from recipezarr.com