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New flour and homemade syrups enhance a pancake routine

  • Special to The Washington Post
  • Published Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, at 8:56 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at 12:11 a.m.

Photos

Scratch Pancakes

2 to 4 servings (makes eight 6-inch pancakes)

The flour mixture can be refrigerated in a zip-top bag for up to 3 months.

Note: The flour is available at Whole Foods Markets, Walmart and some natural foods stores.

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (see note)

2 tablespoons baking powder

2 tablespoons cane sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

1 3/4 cups whole milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Vegetable oil, for the griddle

Place a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet on the middle oven rack; preheat to 200 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a medium bowl.

Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then whisk in the milk, vanilla extract and melted butter.

Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until thoroughly incorporated.

Heat the oil on a griddle over medium-high heat, being careful not to let it come to a smoking point; it’s ready when a few drops of water sizzle when flicked onto the griddle.

Pour 1/ 2 cup of batter onto the center of the griddle. Cook, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes, until bubbles and air pockets form on the top of the pancake, then turn it over. Cook for 2 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to the baking sheet in the oven. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Serve warm.

Nutrition Per serving (based on 4): 450 calories, 13 g protein, 57 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 145 mg cholesterol, 1,290 mg sodium, 8 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar

Coffee Maple Syrup

4 to 8 servings (makes 1 cup)

Note: The author recommends a medium-amber maple syrup, to keep strong flavors from competing against each other. But dark amber may be substituted.

The syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 year.

1 1/4 cups maple syrup, preferably medium amber (see note)

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon instant coffee (do not use instant espresso)

Combine the syrup and coffee in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; cook, whisking vigorously, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook for 10 minutes, stirring a few times.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer; skim/discard any foam on the top. Serve warm.

Nutrition Per serving (based on 8): 130 calories, 0 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 30 g sugar

Blueberry Agave Syrup

10 to 14 servings (makes 1 3/4cups)

The syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Warm before serving.

1 1/4 cups agave syrup

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1/4teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the agave syrup and fruit in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low (barely bubbling) and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring often, until all of the blueberries have popped.

Remove from the heat; cool until lukewarm, then stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.

Strain, if desired. Return the saucepan to the stove over low heat to rewarm, or cool the syrup completely before storing.

Nutrition Per serving (based on 14): 90 calories, 0 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 24 g sugar

Spiced Piloncillo Syrup

6 to 12 servings (makes about 1 1/2 cups)

The syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 year.

Note: Piloncillo is sold in firm blocks. It is available at Latin markets and in the international aisle of large grocery stores.

1-pound block piloncillo sugar (see note)

2 sticks cinnamon (3-inch)

2 whole star anise

6 to 8 whole cloves

2 cups just-boiled water

Combine the block of sugar, cinnamon sticks, star anise and cloves (to taste) in a small saucepan. Pour the just-boiled water over them, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, to create the consistency of a good-quality maple syrup. It should coat the back of a spoon, but be careful not to reduce the syrup too much or it will not pour easily once it has cooled.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the solids. Serve warm, or cool completely before storing.

Nutrition Per serving (based on 12): 140 calories, 0 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 38 g sugar

“Pancakes or waffles?” That’s what my father asked me almost every Saturday morning of my childhood.

I usually voted for the pancakes. They weren’t fancy: Dad simply added water, and sometimes an egg, to a few cups of Hansmann’s Mills buckwheat mix. If he was feeling particularly inspired, he would dot the griddled rounds with fresh blueberries or slivered strawberries. But I didn’t care what he put in or on them. His pancakes were just an excuse for me to drown my plate in maple syrup (the real deal, not the fake stuff in the aunt-shaped bottle).

It’s been a long time since my father manned the stove and cooked me breakfast. The spatula has been passed, and I’m now cooking for my 1-year-old son. I wanted to share my family’s pancake tradition with him, but I didn’t want my flapjacks to come out of a box.

I’m not the first cook with such an impulse, of course, but I also didn’t want just any from-scratch pancake. I wanted a version of the pancakes I had as a kid. So I looked at recipes to get a general idea of ingredients and ratios (flour plus baking powder plus eggs, milk, a little sugar and some vanilla) and then set to work playing around with types of flour. All-purpose didn’t give deep enough flavor. Buckwheat and whole-wheat created pancakes with a rustic texture perfect for “Little House on the Prairie,” but not for my house. I even experimented with coconut flour, and the flapjacks had a nice natural sweetness – and the texture of lead.

Ultimately, whole-wheat pastry flour came out on top of the stack by creating fluffy pancakes with a slight touch of grainy richness. I filled them out with diced fruit, chopped nuts or chocolate chips, but to avoid pockets of uncooked goo I sprinkled them on top of the batter after it went onto the griddle and settled.

When it comes to the drizzling options, there will always be a jug of New York state maple syrup in our fridge, plus a few fancier possibilities, accented with whiskey, and Noble’s vanilla-chamomile infused number. But I wanted to take my pancakes to the next level with some house-made toppings.

The first of those was inspired by a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, where I tasted piloncillo, unrefined dark cane sugar that’s sold in hardened cones and boasts a deep caramel flavor with hints of stone fruits. I cooked it with water to make syrup and infused it with cinnamon, cloves and star anise. For the second, I wanted the taste of coffee, and after some experimentation with whole beans (barely discernible flavor) and finely ground espresso (gritty goop), I settled on instant coffee, which gave the syrup a jolt as robust as that of my favorite cup. For the third, I wanted something summery, so I lightly reduced golden agave syrup with a bounty of fresh blueberries, then pureed the result with a little vanilla.

It was all too easy, by the way, to over-reduce the syrups, resulting in something too sticky to pour and be absorbed. The age-old lightly-coating-a-spoon indicator works here, and if after cooling your syrup isn’t thick enough, all it needs is a little more time on the burner.

Soon it was time to test the recipes on more than my own palate. I griddled up a few silver-dollar pancakes for my son, drizzling each with only a small spoonful of syrup (so he could get a taste without being wired for the rest of the morning). He gobbled and smashed each of them with equal enthusiasm: A family tradition was reborn.

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