The first thing that I ever learned to cook was pancakes. I’d already mastered cold cereal and peanut butter sandwiches, of course, but pancakes were the first food I ever prepared that involved actual heat. I was around 8 years old, and I still remember the lecture about how I must never, ever touch a burner. Because even if it looked like it was off, it could still burn the skin off my hand.
(To this day I feel guilty handling a stove burner, even if I know it’s cool and I need to perform periodic cleaning of my stove top to prevent my kitchen from being filled with smoke. I guess that means the lecture was effective.)
I think I’d been asking my mom to teach me to cook for a while, and she decided that the right thing would be to start with pancakes. They were our Sunday breakfast, just right for a lazy weekend morning when you can take your time. And let’s face it, when an 8-year-old’s doing the cooking it will probably be a while before you eat. And also you might want to make sure you’re all stocked up on frozen waffles in case disaster strikes and you need a quick equivalent.
I memorized the pancake recipe right away. You start with a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add a bunch of butter to the pan, at least 1-2 tablespoons. While the pan’s heating and the butter’s melting mix together 1 egg, 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of flour, and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. You can use white flour or whole wheat. These days I go with whole wheat myself, but it’s really a matter of preference. Also, you can use buttermilk or even plain yogurt instead of milk if you like. You could also use oil instead of butter (and then you can skip the whole melting and scraping bit), but butter is really more pancake-y.
Once your batter is mixed and the butter is melted, scrape it from the pan and mix it into your batter. Then you cook the pancakes.
I’m sure that there are a bunch of methods people use to determine pancake done-ness. The one my mom taught me, and that I use to this day is to pop a bubble near the centre of the pancake. When the hole left by the bubble doesn’t fill in, flip the pancake. Since it’s already cooked through more or less, it needs only a minute on the other side. The other side will not be the same uniform golden brown, it will be more of a yellow with brown spots and little bubble holes. It’s actually sort of reminiscent of a crumpet.
I am not a stuff-in-pancakes sort of person. I suppose that you could add bananas, chocolate chips, blueberries, or nuts to this recipe. As for me I like my pancakes straight up and drenched in real maple syrup. Little bits of stuff distract from the purity of the experience for me. But I will not judge you (much) if you take yours differently.
In the past 25 years I must’ve made pancakes hundreds of times. They are, to me, the ultimate comfort food. They’re easy, and they’re loaded with carbs and covered in liquid sugar. They’re about weekend mornings, family tradition, and my first forays in the kitchen. They need to be cooked just so, not rushed but also not over-done. There’s a lot of meaning, for me, in this simple breakfast food. Which is why I will always make my pancakes by memory from my childhood recipe.
Amber’s Scratch Pancakes
* Gluten-free option
1 cup milk
1 cup flour, wheat or gluten-free (I prefer light buckwheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1-2Tbsp melted butter
Pour pancakes into a pan heated to about medium. Cook until the bubbles near the centre leave a hole when popped (maybe 2 minutes?). Flip and cook about another minute more, then remove from heat.
Douse your pancakes in maple syrup. Enjoy!