I discovered zgirl1's recipe months ago and immediately fell into gluttony. You see, several months ago the warm weather began, and my already infrequent bread baking dwindled to non-existence. Neglect of my sourdough starter became a guilty fact of life. How could I dump starter? Much easier to stop feeding it as frequently. Much easier to tell myself that the strong would survive and the starter would be all the better for it. Ah the lies we tell ourselves....
Then, I discovered these pancakes, and I realized that there was a way out of the dark realm of starter starvation. I began to feed my starter again. I began to believe that for once, I could nurse a batch through the summer without throwing any out or killing it outright. For once, I had reason to remember it lurking in the back of the refrigerator as the thermometer reaches for 90°F. I began to hope again.
One thing I realized upon attempting the recipe was that all starters must differ drastically, as my pancakes have not only never turned out the same way twice, but they've never matched zgirl1's description either. I've made these pancakes many, many times, and will be making them again tomorrow. In light of my experiences, I decided to post my experimentation and modifications as an assistance to other noders. Pancakes are one of the world's easiest foods to prepare, and this recipe is no different. There is little measuring necessary once one developes an eye for proportions, and the batter is forgiving. Think of this as a learning recipe and an exercise in faith. Learning to let go of kitchen anxiety, and a return to the simple joy of preparing easy, delicious food. After all, does it really matter that they are never the same twice, as long as they satisfy?
- Ingredients: Yields approx. 40 4 inch pancakes
- approximately 4 c. sourdough starter
1 large egg
approximately 2 tsp. oil
approximately 2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt (or less)
1 tsp. baking soda
additional flour and water as necessary
The basic recipe is simple.
Place the starter in a large bowl which can handle about twice the volume of the starter. Whisk in the egg, oil, and sugar until well blended.
If the batter is too thin (and, at the beginning it will be too thin), add additional flour in small amounts and whisk until it forms a smooth batter. It should be thick and yet still somewhat loose. If the batter is too thick, add water and whisk until it is right. Yes, I know this is vague. If you've made pancakes before, this batter should probably be a wee bit thicker than you're used to. Otherwise, it will be trial and error. Luckily, the batter is easily ammended during the cooking process.
Once the batter appears to be the right consistency, start heating up a pan or griddle; seasoned cast iron is best, but any good pan will do. Coat the surface with a small amount of oil and set the pan over medium-medium high heat (this if for cast iron, if you are using a thin bottomed pan, heat it up after you get all the other stuff out, or else it may get too hot). Get out a plate for the finished pancakes, and a spatula for turning. Also, a big serving spoon or ladle for ladling out the batter. (You could also pour the finished batter into a pitcher or a large measuring cup, and pour directly into the pan. I don't mix the batter in a pitcher as my whisk wouldn't reach into the sharp angle at the bottom of a pitcher.)
Finally, add the salt and baking soda to the batter, whisk it in thoroughly, and watch the batter swell. A very acidic batter will react violently to the baking soda, and foam dramatically. This helps lead to impossibly light pancakes, although the strong reaction tends to be short lived.
When the pan is sizzling hot, begin ladling (or pouring) small quantities of batter into the pan. I like to make them about 4 inches in diameter, and generally not larger than palm sized. Smaller is, of course, fine. Keep in mind, the batter is thick, but still tends to spread. Try to avoid running the edges of pancakes together, and allow enough space for flipping them.
Flip the pancakes when the edges have started to set; they will be very bubbly, and the bubbles around the edge will have popped, looking like honeycomb. The pancake will still be extremely runny, which is why I don't make larger pancakes. The pancake is done when the bottom is a deep golden brown.
Sometimes, upon flipping, one edge of the pancake will tear and raw batter will ooze out of the breach, like a budding amoeba. This is perfectly normal, although it may indicate your pan is a wee bit too hot, and you've flipped it too soon. Just cook the pancake until the top of the puddle has set and it will be fine.
Add additional oil to the pan only as needed, if and when the pancakes start to stick a bit. I use very little oil, and only a few drops at a time, as too much oil tends to lead to less even browning of the pancakes.
- This next step is why you get to relax. You see, no two pancakes are ever alike, they are constantly changing as each one is made. Because of this, you can adjust the recipe, tasting and tweaking as you go. Taste your first pancake or two. Not perfect yet? They can be, with just a few small additions. Here are a few problems I've discovered, which are easily solved:
- Are they pale and uneven in color? Too much oil in the pan, or the pan isn't hot enough, or is unevenly hot. Wait a little for the pan to heat up some more, or tweak the temperature up just a bit.
- Are they gluey, translucent and insipid? This comes from too much oil in the batter, and is made worse by undercooking. Add more flour (try about half a cup of flour, at first) and more water. Also, try cooking them for just a little longer.
- Are they distressingly thin? This is a sign that the batter is too thin. Add small amounts of flour until they come out right.
- Are they too dense? This usually means the batter is too thick and may have been worked too much, forming gluten strands. Try adding a bit more water to thin it down, and a pinch more baking soda.
- Are they too sour? The baking soda will neutralize the acidity of the starter, without affecting the scent. However, there may not be enough to neutralize the entirety of extremely sour starter. To adjust for this, add just a bit more baking soda. Be careful, however, as too much baking soda tastes terrible.
- Are they beautiful, lofty and dark brown, yet still raw in the middle? They are cooking too fast. Lower the pan heat a bit and try again.
Cover any uneaten pancakes to prevent their drying out.
- Thoughts, Variations, and Options
- I know I said it was a carefree recipe. However, you may notice that I have not made the salt and baking soda quantities terribly flexible. These are the only two ingredients I regularly measure any more, although I will sometimes measure the sugar as well. I do this because too much of either can make one's pancakes taste nasty; salty and with that bizarre baking soda flavor which (if you've ever encountered it) is as unmistakeable as it is unpleasant. It's better to err on the side of caution, and both quantities are right for a fairly wide range of circumstances. Don't worry, you can eyeball everything else!
- Gluten and Loft
- The leavening of the pancakes comes almost entirely from the baking soda. Unlike bread, an elastic dough is not the goal. Try to work from thin batter to thick, as stirring a batter which is very thick tends to build gluten strands. This will lead to tougher pancakes even if you thin down the batter later as these threads do not break down upon addition of water. On the other hand, tougher pancakes also tend to be impossibly lofty, the gluten catching the air bubbles as in bread. So if you like pancakes with a bit more chew, but are as much as half an inch thick, this may be something to aim for.
- On this note, bread flour is not ideal for tender pancakes. I generally use all-purpose white flour for any additional flour to my pancakes. My sourdough starter is a mixture of white flour and stone ground whole wheat (lately, it is mostly whole wheat). I have discovered that I prefer the sweet, mild flavor of white flour in the pancakes, as opposed to the more aggressive whole wheat. White flour also has texture differences to whole wheat, generally being a bit more tender. I find that using white flour is sufficient to offset the large amount of whole wheat in the starter, and create pancakes that are sweet, toothsome, and still have the fantastic, complex nutty smell of whole wheat. What you choose to use depends entirely on your own preferences.
- An Embarrassment of Riches
There are a few things you can do if this batter makes too much for one sitting.
1) They keep excellently for several days in the refrigerator. The microwave is the best way to reheat them without having them dry out. 10-15 seconds on high power for each pancake is a good starting time, adjusting more or less depending upon your microwave.
2) They also freeze extremely well. Place them slightly offset from one another in plastic bags, suck out most of the air to help prevent freezer burn, and stick them in the freezer. Offsetting them makes it easier to separate them if they stick together upon freezing. They are best used within a month.
3) Another option, if you like to make fresh pancakes frequently, is to prepare the batter as usual. However leave out the salt and baking soda.
- - Refrigerate half of the batter. Add half a teaspoon each of salt and baking soda to the remaining batter and cook as usual.
- - Use the chilled batter within 24 hours (adding half a teaspoon each of baking soda and salt just prior to cooking). The two batches will differ slightly, as the yeast in the chilled batter will still be munching lethargically through the flour, egg, oil, and sugar. However, as long as you keep the batter well chilled, the differences should be minor.
- Even the math challenged should note that the quantity of salt and baking soda has simply been halved. Since most measuring spoons come with a quarter teaspoon measure, you could easily divide the batter into any variation of quarters, and add the appropriate quantity of salt and baking soda when it's time to cook. So, if you want a few to snack on today, and are having special guests over for brunch tomorrow (and thus want them perfect and freshly made), make a quarter batch today, and a three-quarter batch tomorrow. Etc, etc, etc.
- Buried Treasure
- Blueberry pancakes anyone? Or perhaps, chocolate chips and cinnamon? How 'bout some lightly roasted pecans, broken up into little pieces? Adding solid bits to the batter is only marginally more difficult than adding herbs or sesame seeds (or some such thing) to the batter. Tiny seeds, lemon zest (lemon poppyseed, anyone?), herbs, spices, etc. should be added to taste directly to the batter, and the batter should be stirred prior to scooping, if they settle. However, larger items such as berries should be added to each pancake as it starts cooking. Simple scatter 5-10 of whatever you are using into each pancake. If the berries are large, such as large blackberries or raspberries, cut them into halves or thirds, first. Fresh fruit is best as frozen fruit will mess with the cooking temperatures, and defrosted fruit is messy. However, if all you have is frozen fruit, defrost and drain them first! Otherwise, you will not be able to get the middle of the pancakes to cook in a reasonable amount of time.
- - Even when using fresh berries, the more berries you use, the longer it will take to cook the pancake, as the berries will absorb heat that would otherwise go into cooking the batter. Cook both sides of the pancakes a bit longer than you would normally.
- Another neat addition is sweetened red bean paste, which can be found in Asian groceries. It's made of adzuki beans, and is a component of many Asian sweets. The best way to do this is to make oval pancakes, place a heaping teaspoon or so of the bean paste slightly off center of each oval, and let the pancake cook until most of the bubbles have popped. Then, fold over the pancake so that it forms a pocket or turnover. Cook a little longer to make sure it has set. These will be considerably darker than regular pancakes, and you may need to decrease the pan temperature to prevent burning. I have done this several times, and find it time consuming and a bit awkward. However, the results are truly delicious. And simply spreading red bean paste on a cooked pancake does not even remotely compare! It's definitely worth trying.
- Gilding the Lily
These pancakes transcend the usual sweet association which dogs the traditional pancake, despite its varied antecedents. Because of the nose-tickling sourdough aroma and complex flavor which is neither sweet nor not sweet, these are addictive plain. I usually eat my fill while cooking them, sans any additions whatsoever. However, they are also equally delicious with both sweet and savory accompaniements. Sure, butter and maple syrup are stellar additions. As is jam, or fruit macerated in some sugar. However, consider trying these instead of bagels the next time you've got some cream cheese, tomato, onion, and lox. Or wrap one 'round a bit of sausage and a lettuce leaf for a quick sandwich. I happen to know that fried onions and mushrooms are a particularly nice addition. Let your imagination (and the contents of your refrigerator) dictate.