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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, April 21

Gapers Block

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I'm not usually much of a breakfast eater. Some granola and yogurt, a bagel, or even a doughnut is usually all I need to tide me over until lunchtime. But sometimes a girl needs a hearty breakfast to power her through a day of cleaning and unpacking and organizing. (The kitchen is this close to being usable.) And it is on those days when I revert to being a little kid, waiting for my mother to put piping hot flapjacks right onto my plate. She would butter a tall stack and all I would have to do is add syrup and eat, occasionally stopping for a drink of milk.

Recently, I asked my mother if she would share her pancake recipe with me. My mom was not the type of mother who would open a box of Bisquick, add an egg and make pancakes. She's a "from scratch" kind of woman, and her pancakes are my favorite, better than any diner or trendy brunch spot.

To my surprise, she didn't give me a family recipe, nor something she spent years perfecting. When I asked her for the recipe, she said, "You know the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook I gave you when you moved out?" "The red-and-white-checked one?" I asked. "That's the one. It's on page 88."

It's the perfect recipe, and one that has treated me well for decades so I can't even be bothered to try to change it. I will give you a few secrets I've learned over the years to make these work better.

  • You really will need two different bowls. One big one for the dry ingredients, and a smaller one for the wet ingredients. Once the wet ingredients are mixed together, you'll pour them into the dry. It's like pancake alchemy, and it's worth having to wash one more bowl.
  • Whisk the sugar into the wet ingredients. This adds some air bubbles into the mix and makes them lighter and fluffier.
  • Don't use a fork to stir the dry ingredients. It seems to make the baking powder and salt sink to the bottom. Use a wooden spoon.
  • Once the wet and dry are mixed together, you've got about a half hour to get all the pancakes cooked. As the mix sits, the gases created by the baking powder will start to evaporate. The longer the batter sits, the denser and flatter the pancakes.
  • Cook the pancakes in butter. It makes them brown better (the first batch in the skillet just won't be as brown as the next batches). To keep from over-greasing the skillet, wipe the wrapping from a stick of butter across the hot skillet.

Perfect Pancakes
1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 egg
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of cooking oil

Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Combine the sugar, egg, milk and oil in another bowl and whisk until the egg is beaten.

Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture all at once. Stir until the mixture is well blended but still slightly lumpy. If you stir too much, the pancakes will be flat.

Pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto a hot, lightly greased skillet or griddle to make standard-sized pancakes, or 1 tablespoon of batter to make silver-dollar pancakes. Cook until the surface of the pancake is bubbly and the edges are just slightly dry. Using a pancake turner, or spatula, flip the pancake. Cook the second side until it is golden brown.

Makes 8-10 regular sized pancakes, or 30 dollar-sized pancakes.

The perfect topping for pancakes is maple syrup. Some folks are just fine buying the cheapest maple-flavored syrup at the store. I think if you're going to go to all the effort to make homemade pancakes, you should use the real thing.

Real maple syrup only lasts about one year so make sure you're not buying more than you're going to use. That other stuff you can buy will last just about forever.

Are there different types of "real" maple syrup? Of course there are. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has three different grades for syrup that manufacturers can voluntarily use for their products.

Grade A Light Amber: lightly golden with delicate flavor and smooth texture and often a smoky taste.

Grade A Medium Amber: very "mapley" tasting. This is the most common.

Grade A Dark Amber: robust maple and very dark. Often not perfectly smooth and almost tarry in color.

Once you've picked out the syrup you want, you can do a few things to make it last longer and keep it from crystallizing. Right after you've opened the package, store it in the refrigerator. You can freeze it for up to one year as long as it is tightly sealed and there isn't a lot of air in the container. If your syrup comes in a plastic container, and you plan on having it for more than three months, you should transfer it to a glass container with a tight-fitting lid. This will keep your syrup from tasting like the leftover salmon that went bad while you were out of town.

After a little bit of research, I learned that you can substitute maple syrup in baking recipes. You'll have to do four things to make your recipe come out correctly, though:

  • Use 1 1/2 cup of syrup for each cup of granulated sugar.
  • Decrease the liquid in a recipe by half.
  • Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of maple syrup you use.
  • Decrease the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

It may take you 20 minutes to make homemade pancakes, but you'll be able to do it in your pajamas. And that's so much better than waiting outside a trendy brunch spot in the damp cold.

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