12 April 2008

An American Breakfast

A pancake breakfast, in my opinion, is a quintessential American meal. Though America certainly has no monopoly on pancakes, "flapjacks" or quick, pan-cooked breads--the French have crepes and the Russians and Jews have blintzes to name just a few international examples--there's something about American pancakes that sets them firmly within our "native" food canon. Maybe it's our predilection for drenching them in maple syrup or molasses that makes pancakes seem so uniquely American. If nothing else, pancakes exemplify the American fondness for extremes, showing up on menus in petite "silver dollars" or giant, plate-dwarfing specimens. We have even exported IHOP (International House of Pancakes), a pancake-based restaurant chain (albeit a mediocre one), to Mexico and Japan. Whether or not we can rightfully claim pancakes as our own, many Americans love nothing more than a weekend morning breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs, though it most often necessitates a post-breakfast nap!

In the USA, pancakes come in many guises, from sweet to savory, buckwheat to buttermilk, but I would venture to guess that the sweet, buttermilk pancake is by far the most common. Buttermilk pancakes are light and airy, cooked to a golden brown color, and are a perfect foil for gobs of butter and maple syrup. Many people love buttermilk pancakes dotted with blueberries or even chocolate chips. Since I grew up in a natural-foods loving home, these kinds of white flour and sugar pancakes were usually just the special stuff of family roadtrips or complementary hotel breakfasts. If we made pancakes, we usually made them from scratch, with some if not all whole wheat flour. These pancakes made for heartier, if marginally healthier, fare.

As little girls, my sister and I occasionally got to spend the night with my parents' friend Grace, who has always gardened, raised chickens, and made things like tofu from scratch. Perhaps our palates were already predisposed to pancakes of the "all-natural" variety, but Grace's were something special. They most certainly were whole wheat, but instead of syrup, Grace served us pancakes with dark old-fashioned molasses. Though I'm sure many kids would have balked, we gobbled them up with a glass of homemade soy milk on the side.

Another family friend, Jeannette, who I got to visit for watercolor lessons for a special treat, once served me a "tea" with her Scottish family's favorite oatmeal pancakes. As an older person interested in food, I have recently become fascinated with the idea of oatmeal pancakes, and the recipe that follows is my latest experiment. They are tender and light, but also a filling breakfast, perfect served with fruit, yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup. The recipe is inspired by a source in Gourmet magazine. Enjoy! And please comment or post with your favorite pancake recipe.

Oatmeal Pancakes

**this recipe is supposed to make 4 pancakes, but I find it makes at least 12

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats (substitute regular rolled oats ground coarsely in the food processor)
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons well-shaken buttermilk, divided
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
canola or veggie oil for frying

accompaniments: maple syrup, plain yogurt, fresh fruit...

Soak oats in 3/4 cup buttermilk for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Stir remaining wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until JUST combined.

Heat a griddle or heavy skillet (cast iron is great) over medium heat and brush or coat lightly with oil. When skillet/oil is hot, work in batches to drop about 1/4 cup batter into oil and cook a few minutes until bubbles appear on surface and underside is golden. Flip and cook a few more minutes on other side until golden. Add more oil between batches if needed. Best served hot straight from the pan but can be kept warm in an oven until ready to serve.


laurel said...

Dude, definitely. I think pancakes are a great example of American cuisine because they were appropriated from existing recipes, ruthlessly adapted, and transformed into an authentic American experience.

Brent Evans said...

Maple syrup is right companion with pancakes. I remember "Log Cabin" Maple Syrup, which came in a can shaped like a log cabin, with a little cap where the chimney would be. So goooooooooood.


Brent Evans said...

Maple syrup is right companion with pancakes. I remember "Log Cabin" Maple Syrup, which came in a can shaped like a log cabin, with a little cap where the chimney would be. So goooooooooood.