Monday, January 17, 2011

Monstrous Buttermilk Pancakes...

Be patient.
We'll get to the recipe.

The Back Story

Mmmmmm...  Nothing beats a stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes for breakfast...  tender...  golden...  piled two to three high on a plate...topped with a dollop of butter and drenched in sweet maple syrup...

...a mug of steaming hot coffee on the side...

The scent of this scrumptious breakfast treat brings me back to my childhood, conjuring up memories of the annual trips to my grandparents' Arabian horse ranch in Montana during the Christmas season.  My parents, my older sister, and I would travel by train to Butte, Montana, where we'd meet my grandfather at the train station.  He'd be waiting with his six-passenger SUB (sport utility buggy) and team of champion Arabian stallions.  After greeting us warmly and treating us all to delicious hot chocolate at the Butte Hole Diner, he'd herd us into his buggy and regale us with stories from his semester abroad in the Galapagos Islands, as we traveled over the river and through the woods to his ranch on the Northeastern shore of Flathead Lake.

Once we arrived, my grandmother would be waiting on the top step of the front porch with the alpaca sweaters that she'd knitted for us the night before.  Her long, flowing silver hair would be tied up neatly in a bun, and she'd be sporting a smile so kindly and wide that we'd be able to spot it all the way back at the servants' quarters.

Of course, the dinner she prepared that first evening was a treat, but my favorite meal was always the elaborate breakfast spread that she had waiting during our first morning at the ranch.  Awakened at 7:57 am by the smell of hot coffee and freshly-churned caramel, we'd all roll out of our goose down king-sized Tempurpedic guest beds, slip our feet into the custom-made turtle-skinned slippers that had been provided, and make our way downstairs and out the back door onto the back terrace overlooking Flathead Lake.

We'd all sit together at the main table, sip our coffee and warm spiced cider, and wait in excruciating anticipation for our breakfast to arrive.  Within minutes, my grandmother would emerge from the kitchen with a platter piled high with golden buttermilk pancakes.  With a wink and a nod, she'd carefully set the platter before us on the table.  Since I was the youngest, she'd always give me the first pick from the pile of pancakes.  I'd wait until all were served before picking up my fork.

Even though the calendar on my iPhone said December, it was always summer at my grandparents' ranch.  We'd eat together like kings and queens, as majestic Arabian horses leaped and galloped to and fro along the lake. 

That first bite was always heavenly...  the fluffy texture...  warm maple syrup dribbling down my chin...

Be Patient.
We'll get to the recipe.

Actually, I'm a dirty liar...  None of the above is true...  I made it all up because it sounded nice...  just to get your attention.

In fact, I don't think that I ever had buttermilk pancakes at either of my grandparents' houses...  ever.

As far as I can remember, my Dad's mother never served us breakfast.  We did go to her house a few times, but we never ate anything there.  She didn't keep much food in her refrigerator.  Instead of eating breakfast, we'd play games.

Sometimes, we'd play a card game that was kind of like 'Go-Fish', but the cards had pictures of dead writers on them.

     "Do you have a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?"

     "Sure, here ya go...  Do you have a Louisa May Alcott?"

     "Nope...  Go fish!"

She also had a ping-pong table in her basement.  My sister and I would play a few matches to pass the time.  In the far corner of the basement stood an off cream-colored toilet...  all by itself.  It didn't actually have a lid, so we had to make sure that we didn't hit the ping pong ball into the bowl.

When I asked my parents why there was a lone toilet in the basement, they told me they didn't know.

My grandmother also had a black and white cat named Oreo.  Oreo had been rescued from a local construction site by my aunt.  As a kitten, she'd been abused and mistreated by the workers, and my grandmother had agreed to take her in.  Not surprisingly, Oreo wasn't very fond of people.  Whenever we came to visit, she'd hide under the couch, hissing, growling, and snarling at anybody who dared to enter the room.  If any of us were foolish enough to actually sit down on the couch, we ran the risk of losing a leg.  It was fairly clear that Oreo wanted us all to burn in hell.  My grandmother kept her litter box on top of the refrigerator.

When I asked my parents why there was a litter box on top of the refrigerator, they told me they didn't know.

As for my Mom's parents, they didn't live in Montana, and they certainly didn't have an Arabian horse ranch.  They actually lived in a suburb just north of Philadelphia.  I do recall several instances when we had breakfast...  but we never had buttermilk pancakes.  Most of the time, I just had cereal.  It was actually a treat for my sister and me because we'd have the opportunity to enjoy the dirty, naughty, sugary cereals that weren't allowed at home.

     "Now, David," my grandmother would say.  " What kind of cereal would you like?  I have...  Fiber One, All-Bran, All-Fiber...  Fiber-Bran, Kolon Kwiver Krunch...  Super Golden Crisp...  Flaky Oat Bran Twigs, Fiber Twenty Seven...  "

     "Um, Super Golden Crisp sounds really good, Nana."

     "Mom, don't you have any Honey Nut Cheerios?" my mom would ask.

   "No, darling, we don't.  But if you want him to have something a little more healthy, maybe his grandfather would be willing to share his breakfast.  David, would you like to try some of your Pop-pop's breakfast?"

      "Sure, Nana," I'd say, as I wandered over to the stove where my grandfather was frying something.

As I peered into the large cast iron skillet, I noted what appeared to be a mushy, seasoned, brown sponge.  My grandfather would poke, prod, and agitate it for several minutes with a metal spatula, and then he'd flip it over like a pancake.

     "Whatcha makin', Pop-Pop?"

      "It's scrapple!" he'd say, enthusiastically.

     "Scrapple...  what's that, Pop-Pop?"

     "It's scrapple!" he'd say, enthusiastically, as he continued to nudge and disturb the brown sponge, occasionally slapping it around the bottom of the skillet like a crusty hockey puck.

     "Pop-Pop, what's in scrapple?"

     "Scrapple!" he'd say, enthusiastically, as he flipped the brown sponge a second time.

     "Arthur, your grandson wants to know what's it's made of," said my grandmother.

     "Scrapple!" he'd say, enthusiastically.

     "Super Golden Crisp it is," my mom would say.


And that's the way that breakfast went down at my grandparents' place.  Pop-pop would enjoy an ample-sized serving of breaded-and-fried-rejected-factory-hog-part-loaf-boiled-into mush-combined-with-cornmeal-and-seasonings-and-formed-into-brown-sponges (It's scrapple!), Nana would spoon down a bowl of Fiber Twenty Seven topped with milk and fruit, and my sister and I would have Super Golden Crisp.

As I indulged myself in my breakfast of sugar-coated bliss, I'd study the Super Golden Crisp bear on the front of the box.  He appeared to be smiling at me.  With every spoonful I shoveled into my mouth, he'd nod his head in approval, assuring me that I'd made a wise choice in selecting a product that could, in theory, be part of a nutritious breakfast, when served with whole wheat flaxseed toast, fortified orange juice, skim milk, and a spinach seaweed salad.

Just after I turned eleven, Post Super Golden Crisp fell out of favor with my grandparents when the Super Golden Crisp bear and the Cookie Crisp thief were convicted of possession of crack cocaine, with the intent to distribute to minors.  After some extensive research, my grandparents filled the vacant spot in their cereal cupboard with Kellogg's Honey Smacks...  a Super Golden Crisp clone, which was pedaled by a neurotic frog with ADHD.

So, to make a long story even longer, I don't believe my grandparents ever served us anything resembling a buttermilk pancake.

Instead, the pancakes of my youth were typically made using the soulless, pre-mixed  powders found in a box.  First, it was Bisquick...  the unskilled cook's all-purpose baking mix, which can be used to make pancakes, waffles, biscuits, dumplings, tater tots, cheeseburgers...  anything you want.

Be patient.
We'll get to the recipe.

Then, after my mom realized that Bisquick contained trans fat, we graduated to Aunt Jemima.  Aunt Jemima was basically a powdered buttermilk pancake/waffle mix in a box, which contained a year's supply of sodium.  In addition to boxed buttermilk pancake mix, Aunt Jemima also conveniently made fake syrup to serve with your pancakes.  And eventually, we moved on to expensive, high-end pancake mixes, which were found in exotic canisters with pictures of farmhouses and windmills on the labels.

I certainly do have fond memories of what I was doing while consuming these pancakes...  whether it was breakfast on a Saturday morning at a friend's house after a sleepover, sitting with my mom at the kitchen table while watching the birds at the feeder in our backyard, or enjoying a hot breakfast with my entire family at our favorite campground in Maine.

But all of these events and breakfasts had one aspect in common...  the pancakes were never really that good.

However, the good news is that you don't need, nor should you be expected, to purchase a box or canister full of off-colored powder to make a great batch of buttermilk pancakes.  Using standard, everyday ingredients that can be found in your kitchen, you can put together fluffy, tender, mouthwatering pancakes that will make you the talk of Sunday brunch.

Ready to make breakfast?  Read on...

The Recipe

The following recipe is for basic buttermilk pancakes.  It yields 8-10 small-but-thick pancakes, and it easily serves 2-3 people.  A few things to keep in mind...  First, these are a lot thicker than your typical pancakes.  They appear to be fairly small, but they rise quite a bit.  Second, fresher, higher quality ingredients DO make a difference.  How long has that baking powder been sitting in your pantry?  Has it been awhile?  If so, toss it out and buy a new container.  If you use the old stuff, the finished product will be flat as a...  um, pancake...  uhhh, never mind.  Anyways, pay a little extra for a higher quality flour.  I'm very satisfied with King Arthur, but there are multiple brands that you can use with great success.

Today, I'll be adding frozen Maine blueberries to the batter.  During the summer, use fresh blueberries, if available.


     1 cup all-purpose flour
     2 Tbs sugar
     2 tsp baking powder
     1/4 tsp baking soda
     1/4 tsp kosher salt
     1 Tbs ground flaxseed
     1 cup buttermilk
     2 eggs (organic free-range!!!)
     2 Tbs light olive oil (DO NOT use extra virgin... we're making buttermilk pancakes...
        not baked bruschetta squares with frumunda cheese...)
     1/2-3/4 cups blueberries

Yes, that's right.  Make a well in 
the center of the dry ingredients.

What ya do:

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium-sized mixing bowl.  If you don't have a sifter, you can use a wire whisk to mix everything together.  Add the kosher salt and ground flaxseed and continue whisking until evenly combined.  Set aside.

In a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, pour in 1 cup of buttermilk.  Add the 2 eggs and mix together thoroughly...  without the shells, of course, smartass.  Add the olive oil and mix together.

I know it's cliche.  But yes, you need to form a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Pour in the wet ingredients, and...  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT...  mix together until all the wet and dry ingredients are just barely combined...  NO NOT OVER MIX!!!  The batter should be thick and lumpy, and that's OK.

It's lumpy...
At this point, you can let the batter rest for at least an hour....  or, you can prepare the batter the night before and put it in the fridge.  In the morning, just give it a quick stir, and you're all set to make pancakes.

If you're using frozen blueberries, you'll want to rinse them under with cold water until the runoff in the sink is no longer blue.  Then, lay them on a paper towel to dry.  Instead of adding them to the batter and mixing them in, add them to the batter after it's been spooned onto the griddle.  If you add the blueberries and mix them in the batter beforehand, your pancakes will be smurf-colored.

Heat a non-stick griddle or frying pan to medium...  or 'pancake' setting.  Once it's heated completely, drop 1/4 cupfuls of the batter onto the griddle.  Sprinkle the blueberries into the pancakes if desired...  Don't worry, they'll sink in and cook along with the batter.

Remember not to cook them too 
long before flipping them.

Now, it's time to let these babies cook.  On that note, many other recipes you've read may suggest that you cook the pancakes for 3 minutes on one side, flip them, and cook them for 90 seconds on the other side.  Again, these pancakes are much thicker, so they'll take longer to cook.

Here's the golden rule for this recipe.  If you're going to cook them on one side for a longer time than the other, it will be the SECOND side...  AFTER you flip them.  So, let them cook on the first side until the underside is golden...  but not TOO brown.  Then, after you flip them, you can let them cook for longer on the second side.  For some reason, the second side takes longer to brown.

Golden...  Brown.

Once they're finished, move them from griddle to plate, and top them with butter and...  REAL MAPLE SYRUP.  Again, it's imperative that you use the real thing.  Dumping a puddle of fake syrup product on your pancakes will ruin them.  Yes, real maple syrup is more expensive than a bottle of the fake stuff...  but it's better for you.  Maple syrup is a good source of potassium and calcium.  The fake stuff is full of sugar and calories.

Buy fresh...  buy the real stuff...  buy good food.  Your body will thank you.

Please note, that's REAL maple syrup.

Your mother would not be very happy if
she found out you were using the
fake stuff...  would she?


  1. Looks good Dave! I can't wait to try this recipe for my girls. BUT, I am disappointed that your first family description is fictitious. I really wanted to see an Alpaca sweater! Thanks for ruining it for me!!!!

  2. Yeah, sorry to disappoint. The sweaters that Nana knitted for her dear grandkids were actually made from spider silk... not alpaca.

  3. It's scrapple!

    P.S. You can also use Bisquick to make Fiber Twenty Seven.

  4. I mean... YOU'RE damn right it is... (LOL) (OMG)