Morning in the suburbs. Could anything be more peaceful? Well, look again because beyond the Camrys and Camellias, behind the picket fences and vinyl siding, there's a desperate hunger growing which threatens to twist this Spielberg-ian sprawl into lynch-ian labyrinth of dyspeptic disillusion. If only they knew. If only they believed.
AB: [to the houses] You can make great pancakes from scratch, frustration and failure free! All you've got to have are a few ingredients, a couple of basic tools, the science to bring them together and of course ...
[to the camera] ... an appetite for good eats.
GUEST: Deborah Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist
When I was growing up, pancakes—flap jacks, griddle cakes, hot cakes, what will you—were more than a food. They were a culinary rite of passage. See, they were often first, and sometimes the only dish, us kids learned how to make. And why not? I mean, besides being delicious and easy, pancakes are part of the collective, American soul. You see, the Slavs brought blinis to these shores. The French brought crêpes, the Swedes plannkakor, the Scots 'griddle oakcakes', the Irish Potato boxty, the Chinese 'onion cakes', the Austrians nockrel, the Italians castagnaccio, and of course the Germans pfannkuchen, which I'm pretty sure is where farfignugen comes from, but that's another story.
Now as far as domestic product go, long before Columbus even dreamed of these shores, the Native Americans had been making a kind of a corn-meal pancake called nokechick for eons. In fact, a lot of anthropologists now believe ...
DEBORAH DUCHON: The forerunners of the modern pancake were probably the first cooked foods. Ancient man—more likely ancient woman—gathered wild grains, mixed it with water, and cooked the resulting gruel on flat stones that were built over a fire.
Sadly, these days most of us have traded in our ancient pancake knowledge for instant mixes, or even worse, we've given up the sanctuary of our robes all together to search out-there for what we ought to be getting in here [zoom into inside of Alton's robe].
Meaning the privacy of your own home, not my robe.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm as easily seduced by the siren song of instant gratification as the next guy. But trust me, most instant pancake mixes are just going to lead to heartache. Which is why, at least four or five or twenty times a year, I make up big up batches of my own pancake mix. [notices level of his own container] Oh, getting kind of low.
|Now, let's ponder the software here. I mean, pancakes are basically quick breads, right? So, just like muffins, biscuits or soda bread, it all comes down to—dry at least—flour, seasonings and leavenings.||
|Now, flour first ... ehh, not so fast. How do you know you've got the right flour? After all, soft low-protein flours like cake and pastry flour make such light and fluffy pancakes they can't even support their own weight, much less the weight of a couple more pancakes on top. On the other end of the spectrum, hard or high-protein flours like, say, bread flour, produce these kind of burley, manly, pancakes that are so tough to eat that they're more suited to outdoor sporting events. Moderate protein content, all-purpose flour—just good ole AP—is the way to go.||
all purpose flour
Now, this recipe is formulated to work with anything from 1
to 6 cups of flour. And since I'm running woefully low, I'm going to go
with the 6 cup scenario. So, just, uh, start scooping. Six
[camera pans from flour back to Alton several times noticing that's scooping and not sifting] Oh. Yeah. Um, I know. Measuring flour by volume is not my usual M. O. But trust me. With this kind of recipe, it's going to make the math a whole lot easier to do. But you can do yourself a favor. Before you start scooping, cover up your canister, give it a shake. That will aerate the flour, kind of separate the grains so that you'll get a more accurate scoop measure and you'll also won't bend off your spoon's handle ... [bends the handle] unless, of course, it was already army-surplus to begin with. I think it's time to go shopping.
GUEST: "W", Equipment Specialist
Unless you've got a spoon bending act down at the local carnival, believe me, light-gauge, flimsy measure-ware will only bring you pain. Trouble is, like so many things, prices and packaging can be deceiving. So, we've got to get 'Zen' with this one. Please look aloft and listen. [camera pans to ceiling] [light metal clanking] No. [a little stronger metal clanking] No. [a little stronger metal clanking] Better but still, no. [heavy metal clanking] Aaah.
W: What are you doing?
AB: I was just letting freedom ring.
W: Well cut it out. This is a family place.
AB: So, why don't you give us the benchmarks of fine measure-ware.
W: Heavy 18/8 or 18/10 stainless steel construction, smooth rather than rolled edges, meaning cast, not pressed, and long handle connected with spot welds. Also, spoons and cups should be easy to remove from their rings.
18/8 or 18/10
long welded handle
easily removed from ring
AB: Thanks. Hey, what does that button do?
W: Don't touch ... [W is 'turned' off]
AB: Ha, ha, ha.
Now, for those of us lacking metallurgy degrees, 18/8 and 18/10 refer to stainless steel, well, recipes. And seeing those fractions either embossed on the cups themselves or on, say, the packages, mean that you're in possession of good stuff. Of course, there is one other way to go ... [jingles plastic cups]. Different sound but, hey, no shame in that.
|[measuring out flour] Five cups and six cups of flour measured by the scoop-and-sweep method.||
6 cups AP flour
|Next up, the chemicals that put the " quick" in to quick bread: a quarter teaspoon of baking soda and half a teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour. Now, since we have six cups here, that means one and one half teaspoons of soda. It's also going to mean 3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon of baking powder. Why both? Eh, we'll get to that.||
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
|Now when it comes to seasoning, we need half a teaspoon of kosher salt and a teaspoon of sugar per cup of flour. So that comes down to one tablespoon of salt and two tablespoons of sugar ... one, two of sugar.||
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tbls kosher salt
Now, we have reached the first mine field on the road to pancake heaven which is this: you have got to mix this thoroughly, now and before every time you open this vessel. Why? Because if you don't, you're going to end up making something resembling lumpy crêpes, which isn't the same thing as a pancake. Now, all you have to do is use this within 3 months.
Baking powder loses its punch
over time, so keep an eye
on the expiration date and use within 6 months of opening.
GUEST: The Crew including Susan Boyles, Lisa Rooney, Crew Member #1, #2 and #3
All that stands between us and satisfaction now is a little liquid chemistry. For each two-cups of dry mix you, use you'll need 4 tablespoons of melted butter, two eggs separated, and two cups of buttermilk.
for every2 cups dry mix
CREW: Ah, buttermilk? No. Not again. Please.
AB: What? We've used buttermilk, like, twice. What's the ... let me see ...
SUSAN BOYLES: [shows him the scripts]
AB: [thumbs through scripts] Yeah. Yeah. Oh, okay. Four episodes. Well, so what?
LISA ROONEY: [displays the chicken]
AB: I mean, so's ... so's that chicken there. I mean, come on. You guys need to get your mind right on buttermilk. Everyone gather around while I preach some, okay? Now, pay attention. In the good ole days, buttermilk referred to the watery, whey-like liquid leftover from butter churning. It really wasn't good for much of anything. But today's buttermilk actually has more in common with sour cream or yogurt than its ancestor over here. See, low fat or skim milk is inoculated with a bacterial culture. Now these little beasties eat some of the lactose and turn it into tangy lactic acid, right? Now when the acid reaches a particular level, the milk is heated, the bugs are thus dispatched and that leaves buttermilk. Now, bakers love this stuff. Not only because of its trademark twang, but because a cup will neutralize a quarter teaspoon of baking soda thus providing sufficient CO2 to lift one cup of flour. Okay, any questions?
1 cup buttermilk
Crew Member off Camera: Eh, uh, who cuts your hair?
AB: Back to work.
Now, bringing these together is potentially troubling
because, despite mutual origins, butter and buttermilk are basically oil and
water. Not to mention the fact one is cold and the other is
them together and you get butter cubes. Great in yak-butter tea, maybe,
but not pancakes.
The answer lies in the eggs. See, egg white is mostly water. So, it mixes easily with the buttermilk. Now, no big news there, right. But, since this egg yolk contains lipoproteins, it happily hooks up with both fats and water. Now, by mixing the butter and the yolks together, that's kind of like handing the butter a backstage pass to the buttermilk. As long as it's dressed up in these lipoproteins, it's going to blend. Now, especially if you convince it with a whisk. Now, make sure that these two are thoroughly combined before you introduce the dry goods. Ah. But beware. Because once these two get it on, irreversible events will take place. So, you better have whatever surface you're going to cook on, hot. Now, speaking of surfaces ...
GUEST: Mike, Breakfast Chef
It is a universally accepted truth that the finest
pancakes in the world are made in small, neighborhood breakfast joints just like
this. The question is, how do they do it? Is it perhaps the
batter? I mean, after all they make hundreds a day, the batter's got to be
good. But then, ours is pretty good, too. So what
else? Is it,
maybe, the cook? I mean, after all, he's a professional, right? He's
paid to make great pancakes. But, we can master that, too. So, it
must be something else. Perhaps it's the griddle. Ah, yes. That wide open plane of inch thick, high carbon
steel. It's dense so it
heats evenly and cooks evenly. There's plenty of room to flip things
around on there. And, hey, it's as slick as the back seat in Shaft's El
So, if we are to attain true pancake happiness like these guys ...
AB: Hey, Mike. You're happy. Happy guy, right?
MIKE: Oh, yeah. I'm happy.
AB: Yeah, look at that.
... if we're going to be happy like that, we're going to have to learn how to mimic that surface.
Of course, if you're lucky enough to have a griddle built
into your cook top, you're all set. But if you don't, do not despair. You've got some
options. Stove top griddles come in a range
of size and style, from expensive soap stone to cast iron to aluminum. Now, aluminum is light-weight, economical, and with the right coating it can be
really slick. Now, aluminum is an extremely responsive conductor, but it's
not dense enough to hold heat well. So, even minor temperature changes
will be translated to the food. That means you've got to keep you eye on
the heat at all times, which is something I'm not too good at first thing in the
Of course, an electric skillet has a built in thermostat to do the thinking for you. Plus, it's got a nice, big, wide, non-stick surface. So, this is a good choice. Of course, if you're a real pancake maker, an electric griddle is the perfect purchase. You get it all: the big, wide, open plane, the responsiveness, and, of course, the brain to do your thinking for you.
Set said device to 350 degrees. And when this light goes off, then you mix the dry with the wet, not a minute before. Now, if you don't trust your light, there is another way to check on your griddle heat: ask a few drops of water to dance. Just place them right on the middle and if they just lay there, you know you need to turn up the heat. If they jump right off of the griddle, you know you need to turn it down. But if the boil and skittle around like little hovercraft, you're good to go. This is perfect. Now we mix.
Now the great majority of pancake fatalities result from over mixing. Over mixing creates gluten and gluten gives the pancake a certain vulcanized character better reserved for steel-belted radials.
over-mixing = gluten = bad pancakes
Now, the problem is a lot of pancakers don't realize that they are over mixers, just don't know they have the problem. But once you know you are one, there's an easy three-step program for avoiding the problem.
|Number one is the wet stuff goes on top of the dry stuff. Why go in this order? Well, simple: now the heavy stuff is pretty much on top of the flour and when you mix it is not going to fly all around the room.||
add wet to dry
|Number two, a decent whisk. More tines means less time and that is critical.||
|How long does it actually take to do the mixing? Well, let's find out. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Just walk away. Just walk away. [camera pans down and back up to Alton] I know. There's some lumps. Forget about it. They're going to cook out, I promise.||
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
"ready-mix" food product, a pancake
mix called Aunt Jemima, was introduced in 1889.
It's time to lube ... the griddle, that
is. [indicates his robe] Oh, I've got to quit hanging out with Hef.
Now granted, lubing can be a dangerous pancake event, because if you get too much fat on the griddle, well, you're basically going to fry the pancakes and I think that's called a doughnut without a hole. So, just barely wipe the griddle with a stick of butter and then buff it down with a big thick wad of paper towels. Basically, you want just enough fat on there to where you don't even see it. If you can't see the fat any more, then you know you've got just enough.
|Now, portion is control is only important if you want your pancakes to all be the same size, same texture and done at the same time. That's pretty important to me. So, here's how I go about it. I've got a spatula that's 4 inches across, which means my pancakes have got to be 5, maybe 6, inches across tops or they're going to flop off the edges when I try to flip. So, that means I'm going to go with a 3 ounce ladle. All right?||
<— 4" —>
[indicates batter] Hey,
look. Bubbles. Isn't science fun?
Okay. Here we go. I want to keep those bubbles in, at least as many of them as I can. So, be very gentle delivering this to the griddle. Don't splat it down, pour it out.
Of course, some gas is going to go up immediately, but that's okay. Because, you remember we put double-acting baking powder in here. And that's important, because when this batter gets to be 120 degrees, there's going to be another release of carbon dioxide. And this is a pretty good thing, especially if for some reason you've got to abandon your batter for an hour or two—you've got to run of to, I don't know, do something—you come back, you're batter is going to be very, very, very, very thick. All you have to do is kind of mix in a little bit of buttermilk to loosen it up and go ahead and cook it. You won't get quite as thick a pancake as you would if you with it fresh. But that second rise will still take care of you.
more CO2 at 120°
Now, also, is the time to add fruit. Not in here [the batter bowl] but on here [the griddle]. Now, my choice, almost always, is blueberries. Not just because they taste really, really terrific, but because they're small, they're uniform, they cook really quickly, and, if they're fresh at least, they don't bring too much liquid to the party. Just scatter them on and then when you do your flip, they'll be right in the middle of the pancake.
Besides fruit, there are
pancake recipes that call
for clams, elderberry blossoms, and fish eggs.
|Now, of course, we've reached the final pancake challenge: when to flip. Well, unfortunately, time is irrelevant, Grasshopper. You must watch for the signs. Now when bubbles start to set, not break, but set around the edges, just slide under and take a peek under there. If you've got good color, nice bronzy-brown, just slide under and then flip as close to the surface as you can. Now, this is where a griddle has definite edge over a pan, but if you work from the middle out, you're going to be okay.||
|Now, try to get a flat delivery. You might loose a bubble or two, but in the long-run you're going to get a much evener pancake. Now, the second side will finish in about half the time as the first. So, make sure that you've got plenty of softened butter and, of course, real maple syrup.||
Did he say "evener"?
[voice over] To produce maple syrup, one must take a walk in the woods, rock (or sugar maples) to be exact. Approach a specimen that's at least 10 inches in diameter and liberate its botanical booty with a 7/16ths inch drill and iron spigot called a 'spile'. Hang a bucket on said spile and repeat several hundred times.
Maple sap only runs when the
mercury rises above
freezing during the day but falls below freezing at night.
The next day brings another walk in the woods, only this time
you'd better bring a bucket, or two or three. Now unlike you're average
sticky tree goo, sugar maple sap is 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar. Now the average take is about 10 gallons per tree per season, just enough to
make a quart of syrup. Although monsters like this hundred year old last
scene punching through that kid's window in "Poltergeist," can fill 5 buckets in a
Now, a large stand of trees called 'a sugar bush', generates a thousand gallons a day, most of which is still gathered by hand. This is a walk in the woods that isn't a walk in the woods. Now once the tank is full, it's off to the sugar house for a little relaxation.
Then again, maybe not. After all, what is a sugar house
but a big pan, a big fire, and, of course, a roof with a really big hole in it. Did I mention that the fire likes to be fed on a regular basis?
Now the point is to boil off the water, thus concentrating the sap's measly sugar supply. It takes some 40 gallons of sap to produce just one gallon of syrup. Did I mention the fire? [clears throat] Okay.
Now as it cooks, the sap is herded from one end of the pan to the other via gravity and partitions. Now, various impurities foam up along the way and must be skimmed off. Lucky me. Now as it reaches the pan's far end, the young syrup's temperature rises to seven and a half degrees above the boiling point thus signaling the sugar master to test the waters.
|Now, if the syrup falls off the paddle in aprons or sheets ... like that ... it's time to draw off the pail and put the hygrometer to it. Ah, 67% sugar. This is now legally maple syrup. There's nothing left to do but filter, package, and, of course, grade.||
|Whether a syrup receives a grade of Grade A Fancy, Medium Amber, Dark Amber, or Grade B, greatly depends on when during the season the sap was drawn. Now, Fancy may be the favorite, but I personally go for the darker stuff.||
Grade A Fancy
|Now, the cakes have been on their B sides now for about 2 minutes. And when gentle pressure is applied, we get a 90 percent return bounce. Time to plate, warm plates, that is.||
2 minutes later
|Oh, and if you want to stockpile these and serve up a whole mess all at once, a 200 degree oven makes a dandy storage vessel. Just, uh, stack your new creations—one story at a time, please—on a towel-lined sheet pan and then cover it with either another towel or a clean napkin. Now, you can stack several layers—you know, more pancakes, another towel, pancakes—and on up to the top if you want to, but remember, time is not on your side. These things will only stay at peak for about 20 to 30 minutes.||
20 - 30 minutes maximum
Now as far as servings go, one cup of mix combined with its requisite liquids will serve two ... or, maybe one ... so scoop accordingly. And don't automatically throw leftovers to the dogs. Let them, the pancakes, cool completely on a cake rack, and then wrap each one in a paper towel, seal in a zip top bag and freeze, flat, on a chilled sheet pan. And once they've reached discus status, you can stack them however you want. And just bring them back to life in your toaster or toaster oven, just like those ones you used to bring home from the market, except good ... eats, that is. See you next time.
AB: This neighborhood has a lot of big
trees. I like
Last Edited on 08/27/2010