My middle son loves to whip up huge weekend breakfasts. He and his dad have perfected the egg sandwich, the egg in a hole and bursting breakfast burritos, and my son is often found making unicorn-shaped pancakes for his pint-sized sister. As perfect as his egg sandwich might be, his pancakes don’t always gratify; oftentimes they are burned on one side, others turn out too dense, and, frankly, some of his ingredient combinations just taste better than others. Then there are the recipes that lack even the slightest bit of nutritional value, and since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, these are unambiguously not my favorites.
So my son set forth to discover the art of the perfect pancake, and I tagged along to ensure that his concoctions possessed a thread of nutrition. He experimented with different recipes until he found a few family winners.
When planning for the perfect pancake, we cannot ignore maple syrup. Grade B maple syrup is usually produced later in the season and is more nutrient-dense than a grade A variety. Be sure to buy pure maple syrup without any additional ingredients, additives or sweeteners. Sautéed fruit makes a tasty pancake topping, too, without the extra sugar.
Here are some dos and don’ts to make your breakfast concoction tasty and nutritious:
- Measure ingredients carefully. This was my and my son’s downfall. Even an extra dash of flour can change the texture of a pancake.
- Use almond flour for extra protein.
- Mix the dry ingredients separately from the wet, before combining. This ensures that all ingredients, especially the baking powder and salt, are evenly mixed, and the flour can uniformly absorb the liquid.
- Use walnut oil in the batter instead of canola oil.
- Blend oats with water, a banana and maple syrup to make a gluten-free batter.
- Sprinkle cacao nibs in the batter for a sugar-free chocolate treat.
- Use a griddle or a heavy cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
- If your griddle has a temperature control, 375° F is the ideal.
- Your griddle or skillet is primed when drops of water dance on the surface and evaporate immediately.
- Let the batter rest five to 30 minutes before cooking. (Waiting much more than five minutes won’t happen in our household, as everyone is markedly hungry when the cooking begins, but even that five minutes counts.)
- For the fluffiest pancakes, separate the eggs: Add the yolks with the other wet ingredients, then beat the egg whites separately and fold in at the end.
- Use a 1/4-cup-sized measuring cup for the most uniform, easily flipped pancakes.
- Leave a two-inch space between pancakes in the pan.
- Flip the pancakes when bubbles appear on top and the edges begin to lightly brown.
- If a pancake sticks, breaks or does not seem amenable to flipping, cook a little longer.
- If the pancake bottoms are getting too brown, rather than golden, turn down the heat.
- Cook for two to three minutes on the first side and one to two minutes on the second side.
- Top pancakes with sautéed fruit instead of syrup.
- Eat immediately. Do not make ahead for the child who is still sleeping; the pancakes will not taste as good. Save the batter for him to make when he wakes.
- Never overmix the batter or it will make the pancakes tough.
- Don’t let the griddle or skillet get too hot or the pancakes will burn before they are cooked through.
- Skip the butter on the skillet or griddle if yours is non-stick; otherwise, apply it to the heated surface with a paper towel rather than pouring directly into the pan where it can pool.
- Do not press down on the pancakes while cooking. This does not make them cook any faster, yet it does make them less fluffy.
- Don’t flip twice. Master the art of getting the first side golden so they don’t need to be flipped a second time.
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company, and co-author of a collection of healthful recipes and advice.