Discerning Diner...with Elan Head
A new spin on pancakes

I may have mentioned in the past that my husband has a few culinary specialties—fried chicken, for example.

Well, another thing he does brilliantly is pancakes. I’m just back from a week’s vacation with him at our cabin in New Mexico, and that string of leisurely mornings gave us time to indulge in our favorite breakfast.

Make that my favorite breakfast. In honor of the Kris Kristofferson song Sunday Morning Coming Down, Judah counts his favorite breakfast as, yes, fried chicken.

(Speaking of Kris Kristofferson, a helicopter pilot, have I mentioned that I am now a helicopter pilot, too? This may launch an entirely new and, I suspect, untapped source of food-column material, such as “Quick and Easy Crepes While Hovering.” More on that later, no doubt.)

But back to pancakes. Judah makes the best, most ethereal pancakes I’ve ever eaten, and what follows is my attempt to divulge his secrets.

I wouldn’t do it if he were a chef—but he’s actually an engineer. And if an engineer can make perfect pancakes, the rest of us can probably make pretty good ones.

Secret No. 1: The old Joy of Cooking. Not the new Joy of Cooking, issued in 1997, but an earlier edition, exclusive of the contributions of Ethan Becker.

The new Joy of Cooking has its place. But the old Joy of Cooking, with its whiff of the ’50s (see recipes for potted ham spread and veal croquettes) not only has a quote from Goethe in its dedication, it has the ultimate recipe for buttermilk pancakes.

Which brings us to Secret No. 2: Cake flour. The old Joy of Cooking recipe calls for cake flour; the new Joy of Cooking recipe calls for all-purpose flour.

Can you make decent pancakes with all-purpose flour? Sure. But perfect pancakes? Personally, I don’t think so.

Cake flour gives pancakes an unbeatably tender crumb. And it’s widely available on grocery-store shelves, in a box that also carries a whiff of the ’50s. Pick one up.

Secret No. 3: Buttermilk. Buttermilk is likewise integral to The Recipe, and since you’re already feeling anachronistic (thanks to the cake flour), add this to your cart, too.

Buttermilk gives pancakes a very slight tang that keeps them from being insipid. It’s actually wonderful in all kinds of baked goods, including scones and biscuits. I hope they never stop making it.

Secret No. 4: Beaten egg whites. Whatever pancake recipe you’re using, it probably calls for an egg. If you whip the egg white separately from the yolk, then fold it into the completed batter, your pancakes will be extra fluffy.

This step is optional. Judah doesn’t do it if he doesn’t feel like it. But when you’re using cake flour, it does give your delicate pancakes some additional structure.

Secret No. 5: Sifting. Your flour claims to be “pre-sifted.” Sift it anyway. If you don’t have a sifter, a fine strainer will work.

Secret No. 6: A deft hand mixing. This is where experience comes in, and your technique will improve every time you griddle.

You should combine your wet and dry ingredients gently, with a bare minimum of mixing—otherwise your pancakes will be tough.

Yet it’s also critical to be thorough. Tough pancakes are bad, but not as bad as pancakes with lumps of dry flour.

The consistency of your batter should be slightly thick: too stiff to pour; too runny to scoop. Rather, dribble it onto the griddle with a spatula or large spoon.

Secret No. 7: A hot griddle. If you have an electric griddle, 350 degrees is about the right setting. If you’re cooking pancakes over the stove, drops of water on your griddle should bounce and sputter. Grease the griddle with butter. Flip the pancakes once, when bubbles pock their tops.

Secret No. 8: Real, honest-to-gosh maple syrup. Perfect pancakes deserve nothing but.

Happy eating!