Ditch the diner and DIY
Though they’ve always been a brunch menu mainstay, pancakes are making a comeback in a big way. Personally, I’m thrilled. A longtime member of a “pancakes for the table” family, I’m no stranger to enjoying those pillowy cakes on a regular basis. While I rarely think twice about ordering a stack at a restaurant, and have had plenty of lazy pancake Sundays at home, I rarely think to make them when I’m having people over for brunch. Why is that? Pancakes are filling, cheap, and easy to make in advance—either in terms of prepping the batter the night before, or even frying them up and reheating to fresh crispiness in the oven before serving. I guess I never think to make them because they’ve always been around, and perhaps aren’t as exciting as that verdant asparagus quiche or sugar-coated crumb cake.
I propose we stop thinking of pancakes as boring beige curtains, but as a blank canvas just waiting for your decorative stamp. They’re actually incredibly easy to customize, both in batter and in topping—here’s how to get creative with alternative flours and even let the cakes slant savory.
“I love to substitute about 50 percent all purpose flour with semolina flour in pancakes.” Garrison Price, Executive Chef at il Buco Alimentari & Vineria in Manhattan, told me in an email. “The semolina adds texture and flavor. I'm also obsessed with buckwheat flour, that would bring a really great nuttiness to your pancake batter.” In fact, adding any alternative flour with a distinct flavor to pancake batter is an A+ move. Chickpea flour will add a sharp nuttiness like buckwheat flour, almond flour will bring a moist, sweet quality, and coconut flour will add a whisper of fresh coconut to the batter.
Mix It Real Good
Pancake batter doesn’t have to be smooth. We probably all know the joy that is blueberries in pancakes, but try embracing the crunchy and chewy as well. Fold in in ½ cup of toasted nuts or seeds, cooked grains (like quinoa, farro, buckwheat, millet, rolled oats), or dried fruit.
Top It Like It’s Hot
Go beyond a pat of butter and maple syrup when it comes to pancake toppings. Price sings the praises of fruit: “I cook blackberries with a little water and coconut sugar and blend to a smooth puree.” says Price. “Then I fold in fresh blackberries to make a fresh compote.” Price mentioned that other fruit like strawberries and blueberries would also work great as a compote.
Of course, you don’t have to make a from-scratch sauce to still add wow factor to pancakes. Break out those fancy jams you never use and warm them slightly on the stove until they’re runny. This trick also works like gangbusters with a drippy nut butter. (Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Put them together for a PB&J effect!)
While pancakes tend to slant sweet, don’t be afraid to embrace the salty and savory. Add grated cheddar or Parmesan cheese and sliced scallions to the batter, then top the cakes with sour cream and chives. Grated zucchini, sweet potato, beets, and parsnips with a spoonful of miso paste also make a killer addition. Don’t knock it till to try it, but a packet of French onion or ranch dip seasoning also make for out-of-this-world flavor.
As for toppings, Price notes that since bacon goes so well with pancakes, why not top a stack with thinly sliced prosciutto or capocollo for more oomph? Skip the sugar in the pancake batter, then drape the sliced meat over the top with a few scoops of burrata cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. You won’t find that at your local diner, but you won’t be sorry.