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Byline: Pat Daily Chicago Tribune

James Beard, the late dean of American cooking, once wrote that ``every miner, every prospector, every pioneer who trekked across the land, practically every child, could mix up a mess of flapjack batter.''

Today, pancakes are more apt to be made from a box, poured out of a carton or popped from freezer to microwave oven than whipped up from scratch. It's a sad truth that even some of the legendary pancake houses turn to mixes.

Fast-food outlets, serving pancakes out of polystyrene containers, helped define a low point, a fate that was cemented when no mention at all was made of pancakes in ``The Silver Palate Cookbook.'' The book, which embodied seemingly every culinary trend that took off in the 1980s, left pancakes out of the running.

But just as meatloaf and mashed potatoes managed to survive the dark hours of nouvelle, low-fat and ethnic cooking, pancakes endured our flirtations with breakfast burritos, frittatas, flans and quiche. A quest for foods that bring comfort and nostalgia has flipped them back to the fore.

``People are drawn in by the promise of something tasty, warm and convenient at breakfast,'' says Rob Longendyke, director of public relations for Pillsbury Co., makers of Hungry Jack pancake mixes and frozen microwave pancakes. Industrywide sales are up for mixes and frozen pancakes, he says. Nationally, 10 percent of homes use frozen pancakes and about 35 percent use boxed mixes.

Ina Pinkney, owner of Ina's Kitchen in Chicago, a popular spot for morning meals, has had pancakes on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1991. Many customers never swerve from their standing order for a tall stack. At one point, she says, pancakes became too popular: As many as 150 orders a day on weekends caused griddle gridlock.

``We had to give the griddle a rest, so we added baked French toast to the menu. That diverted some of the pancake orders,'' Pinkney says. The menu offers at least three kinds of pancakes, sometimes more.

Just because something sells at restaurants doesn't mean a legion of cooks is intent on duplicating the effort at home. Pancake mixes have become so accepted that it doesn't necessarily occur to cooks to measure flour, baking soda and salt when a mix brings them one step closer.

Terry Thompson, a spokesman for Pillsbury, says, ``People who make pancakes from scratch would be a very small category, maybe one or two out of 10, at best.''

But the breakfast-out-of-a-box habit can be broken. One co-worker recalls the morning she promised pancakes to her family and found the box of mix empty. Only after fretting about getting dressed and driving to the store did she realize that with a cookbook and the requisite ingredients all on hand, she could make pancakes from scratch. Her children loved the homemade cakes, thus putting an end to mixes in that house.

Marion Cunningham, author of ``The Breakfast Book,'' wonders whether pancake-making is becoming a lost art.

``People aren't making them from scratch much anymore,'' she says. ``I guess a reasonable proof is that if all those boxes are in the supermarket, people are looking for a helping hand with pancakes.''

Making pancakes is simple. Just about every recipe has a short list of ingredients and quick cooking time, both of which should encourage cooks. But Cunningham says bad recipes abound and that one round of leaden pancakes can turn cooks off homemade for good.

``They used to be called flannel cakes and that's exactly what they taste like if the recipe isn't good,'' she says. ``They're floppy, and instead of being tender, they're just plain heavy.''

Pancakes are kin to muffins and quick breads and therein lies an important clue to making them. Ronni Lundy, author of ``Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken,'' writes that ``like a good mule, it works better the less you beat it.'' No less an authority than ``Joy of Cooking'' advises that, unlike gravy or mashed potatoes, a few lumps in pancake batter are quite all right.

Lundy suggests that as soon as the batter is just moistened, you should plop it in the pan.

A heavy griddle or skillet works best. Lundy prefers cast iron, although anodized aluminum and good stainless steel make some pretty mean cakes too.

Lundy writes of a helpful tradition: Make the first cake ``for the pan. ``This helps you determine whether the batter is the right consistency and the pan the proper temperature - Lundy suggests medium-high heat. It also acts like a spongecake, sopping up extra oil so that subsequent cakes are light rather than leaden.

It's best to turn pancakes only once, and this only when the top is nicely pocked with little bubbles. After turning them, judge the second side with a gentle tap with your finger. If the cake feels wet and squishy, it needs more time.

If it's not, call the family - breakfast is ready.

Here are a couple of good recipes to try.


Yes, this recipe is correct as written, with lots of sour cream and practically no flour. The resulting pancakes are ineffably light and utterly delicious, especially when topped with a drizzle of warm syrup. Don't be tempted to lighten the recipe by using nonfat sour cream or egg substitutes. The recipe was adapted from ``The Breakfast Book'' by Marion Cunningham.

4 large eggs

1/4 cup cake flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon EACH salt and baking soda

2 cups dairy sour cream

Vegetable oil for cooking

In a mixing bowl whisk eggs until blended. Add flour, sugar, salt and baking soda. Mix well. Add sour cream and mix lightly, just to combine.

In a large skillet or griddle, heat a thin film of oil. Spoon 1 tablespoon batter for each cake onto griddle. Do not try to make them larger; they will not hold their shape. Cook until top of each cake is bubbly. Turn and cook other side.

Serve hot. Makes 48 small pancakes, 12 servings.

NUTRITION INFORMATION PER SERVING: 125 calories; 10 grams fat; 90 milligrams cholesterol; 185 milligrams sodium; 7 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams protein.


This recipe, adapted from ``Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken'' by Ronni Lundy, brings tangy, light sourdough flapjacks to the table without the usual sourdough starter. In its place is an overnight version that starts with whole wheat bread.

2 cups buttermilk

3 slices dry whole-wheat bread

1 packet active dry yeast

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon melted butter OR vegetable oil

Vegetable oil for cooking

Heat 1 cup buttermilk to lukewarm. Break bread into pieces and place in a large mixing bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Pour heated buttermilk over, cover and let stand at room temperature 12 hours or overnight.

Next morning, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add to bread mixture. Add eggs, remaining 1 cup buttermilk and melted butter; mix well.

In a heavy skillet or griddle over medium-high heat, heat a thin film of oil. Make pancakes by using 1/4 cup batter for each. Cook, turning once, until golden on both sides.

Serve hot. Makes 15 pancakes.

NUTRITION INFORMATION PER PANCAKE: 85 calories; 2 grams fat; 30 milligrams cholesterol; 305 milligrams sodium; 12 grams carbohydrate; 4 grams protein.



Photo: (Color) Pancakes made from scratch are indeed hot ca kes, so skip the box mixes - you can quickly whip up your own.

Bob Fila/Chicago Tribune
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:May 9, 1996

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