Why you should know how to make pancakes from scratch

This is not a post about why pancakes made from scratch are better than pancakes made from a mix. Pancake mix is fine. I grew up eating pancakes made from Bisquick, and while I haven’t had a Bisquick pancake in a while, if I did I bet I’d enjoy it a lot.

But I don’t have any Bisquick in the pantry. And what if I wanted a pancake? What if I woke up, groggy, wanting pancakes, only to find just a half cup of mix left in the bottom of the bag? If mix is your only path to pancakes, it means either an early-morning trip to the store or finding something else for breakfast.

But if you know how to make pancakes from scratch, you’re never in this predicament. (Assuming that is, you’re unlikely to be out of flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda, eggs, milk and butter. Which is true around here!) This recipe might not make the world’s best pancakes — or even the same pancakes each time. But it does allow me to make pancakes whenever the mood strikes without much thought about the pantry or a trip to the store.

To start, I mix together in a large bowl:

  • Two-ish cups of bread flour or all-purpose flour. We have ours in a big container with a scoop and a heaping scoopful seems about right. You can also mix in a little whole wheat flour or rye flour if you’re feeling fancy (or if that’s the only way you’re going to have enough flour).
  • A half teaspoon of baking soda
  • Two teaspoons of baking powder
  • A third-to-a-half cup of sugar
  • A tablespoon (probably less?) of salt

Then melt two tablespoons of butter in a bowl in the microwave. Whisk in an egg and add … a quantity, maybe 2 or 3 cups? of milk. (Buttermilk is even better. And in a pinch, you can water down some yogurt or sour cream. Or reconstituted powdered milk.) Better to go with a lower amount at first — it’s easy to add liquid later to get the right consistency.

Whisk that together, then pour it into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix together with a rubber spatula.

This is where some judgment comes in. The batter should be wet enough that when you drop it in the pan it will spread out into a roughly circular shape, but not so wet that it spreads out too thin, like a crepe. It has taken some practice to get this right. One thing I’ve learned recently is that if you want to thin the batter, it’s better to add water than more milk — that makes for lighter pancakes.

From there, it’s standard pancake operating procedure: fry large spoonfuls of batter in a hot pan. Flip when bubbles start to burst on the surface of the batter. I use a cast-iron pan with plenty of oil. The oil gives the pancakes crispy edges (a trick I learned from my father-in-law).

These pancakes were made with a little bit of rye flour.

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All-rye soda bread

Continuing my rye kick, for St. Patrick’s Day I decided to try to make soda bread using only rye flour.

I started from a brown soda bread recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. That recipe called for a roughly fifty-fifty mix of white and whole wheat flours, with some wheat bran also thrown in, and enough buttermilk to equal about 70 percent of the total mass of flours.

Using only rye flour, I found 70 percent hydration way too low — I could barely mix the dough together and there was dry flour everywhere. I ended up with closer to 92 percent as much buttermilk as flour. That seems to be a common issue with rye; I also needed more water than was recommended for a wheat-only crust in the quiche pastry recipe above.

My recipe was, approximately:

  • 286 g rye flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 264 g buttermilk

Stirring that together yielded a cohesive, wet dough. I transferred that to a baking sheet with wet hands so the dough wouldn’t stick and patted it into a disk.

After 30 minutes in a 400ºF oven, a cake tester came out clean and it was done.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this since I didn’t really do any research about all-rye soda breads, but it came out pretty well. The texture was very dense, as you would expect with rye. The flavor was sweet and nutty. Soda bread might be an ideal way to put together a rye loaf, since the low gluten content is always going to limit the airiness you get from fermenting a yeasted bread. But I still wanted to experiment with high-rye sourdoughs.

As for the rest of St. Patrick’s Day dinner, it was lamb stew and colcannon:

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Broccoli-cheese quiche with rye crust

Quiche was on the menu tonight. I decided to try making the crust with rye flour, figuring the toasted/nutty flavors of rye would be good with savory quiche fillings.

In the food processor I combined:

  • 4.3 oz bread flour
  • 2 oz rye flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp? kosher salt

After mixing that I added 7 tablespoons of cold butter and processed it till combined, then, with the machine running, drizzled in 6 tablespoons of cold water, which was what it took for the dough to form. That was a little more water than the recipe I was basing this off called for — maybe due to the rye.

I kneaded that together one the counter and formed it in to a disk to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. It rolled out beautifully:

I chilled the shaped crust for half an hour then baked the shell at 375°F with pie weights for 25 minutes.

Tonight’s filling was steamed broccoli and cheddar and Swiss cheeses, plus the custard base of:

  • 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • Salt, black pepper, smoked paprika and cayenne

I baked the filled quiche for 35 minutes. It needed a little longer — the middle was still pretty liquid when we cut into it.

The rye crust tasted great and also made the quiche feel more substantial or hearty. I will try this again and experiment with increasing the portion of rye flour. I also want to try a rye crust on a fruit pie.

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Hearth Breads in a Toaster Oven

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Blast pork loin at high heat

I’ve struggled with the best way to cook pork loin, which tends to come out dry (there’s not a lot of fat in it). Tonight, I think I figured out the solution:

Blast it at high heat till it’s almost done.

I’ve tried the low and slow approach, with a sear at the end, but it always comes put tough and dry. I bet cooking it sous vide would be great, but you’ve got to plan ahead.

Tonight, or this afternoon rather, I put a frozen 1.5 lb pork loin (I doubt the weight really matters, since heavier loins tend to just be longer but have the same diameter) in salt water to brine. Then I put the loin on a pan in a 425° toaster oven (our oven is gone, but that’s another story). I upped the temperature to 450 after 45 minutes because I got impatient, and the center of the loin hit 125°F after an hour total cooking time. I let it rest ten minutes and sliced it.

So going forward with pork loin (which, honestly, I mostly avoid in favor of shoulder), it’s a hot, quick roast.

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