Recently, I wanted to make pancakes. As a kid, my dad used to make pancakes, and he did it from a mix. We had some kind of Aunt Jemima or some similar brand of pancake mix. Initially, I remember we would have problems with lumps. Basically, when you mix milk or water with flour, you'd get lumps of flour, and we'd spend a long time trying to break them up. Later on, I discovered a trick. Add very little liquid first, then, you get a dough ball. This wouldn't have lumps. Then, add more liquid, and it would get to the consistency you wanted.
I also wanted pancakes that were light brown all over, much like those I had at McDonald's. To get that, you needed to waste one pancake using oil in a nonstick pan. From then on, you added no more oil. Enough oil would get in the "pores" of the nonstick pan to be really nonstick. If you did that, and the temperature was right, the pancake would be fine. I never did get flipping the pancakes quite right though.
Since I've been cooking more, I wanted to make pancakes from scratch. Part of the motivation were these undercooked pancakes that I would get at this veggie coop diner kind of place in Greenbelt. Their pancakes just weren't that good.
I used a recipe out of Bill's Food. Bill is Bill Granger a cook in Australia somewhere. Ever since Donna Hay published her cookbooks in the US, epitomizing food porn, it seems others have followed, in particular Bill. Bill has pictures in his cookbook of himself, but he never seems to be staring at the camera. He's looking behind, or down, or some other direction.
His recipe worked all right, except that it didn't rise nearly as much as I had hoped. The next recipe I used was out of The Best Recipe which is written by the staff of Cooks Illustrated, one of the better cooking magazines out there. Most magazines on cooking merely give you recipes. Cooks Illustrated approaches cooking like Edison approached inventing. They try a bunch of recipes, see what's working, and what's not, and tweak. Eventually, they come up with their master recipe, but they tell you how they get there.
Two reasons this approach is fantabulous. First, you see what ingredients are important to a recipe, and why. Second, it encourages you to experiment when you cook.
The recipe from The Best Recipe was all right, but it produced an extremely thick batter, almost too thick. I had to dilute it a fair bit. Where Bill's version called for three cups buttermilk to two cups flour, The Best Recipe called for two cups milk to two cups flour. It also used one egg, where Bill used two, and used some baking soda in addition to baking powder, where Bill used only baking powder.
Then, yesterday, I made pancakes yet again. However, I was out of buttermilk, and even though I asked Dave to get some, he became distracted and forgot to buy buttermilk. So, we used some combination of sour cream, yogurt, and milk. The recipe I used was from Tyler Florence who has a show on Food Network. He used three eggs, four tablespoons of sugar (twice that of Best Recipe) and vanilla extract (the other two didn't use it). The result was also a very thick batter, though this time I didn't dilute it.
It was also quite sweet and eggy. My thinking is the Best Recipe had the best recipe. I want less sugar and less egg, too.
The lesson I learned? Making pancakes from scratch is not that hard. It takes maybe 10-15 minutes to make the batter, as opposed to 5 minutes if you do it yourself. It has very few ingredients, and it's very robust. I had three recipes that were seemingly different, yet all produced roughly the same results.
Dave then read this rather lengthy segment about flour in Cookwise which has some recipes as well as food science. Depending on the gluten content, flour can absorb quite a different amount of water. One reason the batter may have been so thick is that the flour we had may have had high content of gluten. Thus, you need to adjust the recipe based on gluten content adding more or less liquid depending on the amount. It's certainly possible that the recipes I had assumed a low gluten content for the flour. It's also possible they like very thick pancakes, but I doubt it.
Anyway, I'll try it again this weekend, and see how it turns out. I also need a new recipe to try out. Just have to figure out what.
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