by Terry Telford
Pancakes are the staple of a delicious breakfast and the highlight of a casual brunch. But for many weekend chefs, the first pancake inevitably ends up in the trash can or the belly of the family pet. So what’s the secret to perfect pancakes? How can you master the art of cooking right from the very first pancake? Here are a few of the most frequent pitfalls of the pancake artist:
* Leaving lumps in the batter. Although many people feel that good pancake batter should be lumpy and uneven, many chefs actually encourage cooks to completely mix the batter until it’s the consistency of rich cream. This allows the gluten to be released from the flour. For best results, whisk the batter thoroughly for several minutes to allow air into the mixture.
* Cooking right away. It’s hard to wait for breakfast, especially when it’s something as delicious as pancakes. But batter needs some time to set – at least one hour minimum, but three hours is ideal. This allows the starch to grow and expand and air bubbles to release. For lighter, fluffier pancakes, mix your batter and then cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap and let it sit for a few hours in the fridge.
* Using a pan that is not properly seasoned. For best pancake results, start with a flat non-stick frying pan. Season the pan with a bit of vegetable oil first by heating the pan and then roll up some paper towel and carefully rub the oil into every inch of the heated pan. Leave the pan to cool down and then remove the unused oil. While not everyone can devote an entire fry pan just to pancakes, you’ll find the most success if you never wash a seasoned pan. Instead, wipe it down after cooking with a wet cloth.
* Using a pan that is either too cold or too hot. Stove temperatures vary, so there is no “perfect” setting to make pancakes. Ideally, the frying pan should be so hot that it almost smokes. But if it’s giving off plumes of bluish smoke, then it’s too hot and your pancakes will burn. If you’re not sure if your pan is ready for cooking, throw on a few drops of water. If the water instantly evaporates on contact, your pan is too hot. If the water sits for awhile and takes its time to boil, then you need to turn up the temperature a few notches. You’ll know the pan is the right temperature when the water droplets sizzle on contact and then evaporate after a few seconds.
* Pouring too much batter. Most amateur pancake chefs make the crucial mistake of overdoing it on the batter for the first pancake. This usually results in a thick, oily cake that is burned on the outside and raw in the middle. For thin crepe-style pancakes, use just enough batter to coat the bottom of the pan by turning the pan in circles. For thicker pancakes, use about half a ladle or about two or three tablespoons.
* Flipping the pancake too soon. Once you’ve poured the batter, let the pancake set for a few seconds, or until small bubbles start to form on the surface and the edges begin to look solid. Then take a spatula and gently jostle the ends of the pancake before shaking the pan to jar the cake loose. Firmly place the spatula under the entire pancake and then flip it in one quick motion. Stack pancakes on top of each other to keep them from cooling down too quickly while you continue cooking.
Follow these tips and your first pancake will wow your guests and loved ones – instead of your dog.
Terry Telford is the publisher of Kingston East News and an avid promoter of Kingston Ontario. He highly recommends the fine dining experience at Bistro Stefan.