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The Ancient Pancake

Food Fitness. Nourish your body.

Pancakes are ancient! There is a recipe in a cookbook by the Roman epicure Apicius, but it is Americans who folded them into their daily lives and made them into the stuff memories are made of. Following are some tips on making the perfect pancake as well as some out-of-the-ordinary pancake recipes.

The Ancient Pancake

The ancient Romans enjoyed a simple flatbread consisting of flour, milk, eggs and spices, sweetened with honey or fruits and called "Alita Dolcia".

Germans gave us the famous and delectable Potato Pancake.

Pancakes for Lent

We would be totally remiss not to also mention the role of pancakes for Lent. Shrove (originates from the word "shrive", which means to confess) Tuesday or Pancake Day is the day before Lent (forty days before Easter). Lent is celebrated by the fasting of dairy products to celebrate the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness. The flat, very thin Pancakes cooked in a frying pan were a way of using up the eggs, butter and milk before the Lenten fasting began.

Special Significance

Eggs The ingredients of pancakes also has special significance:

  • Eggs: Creation
  • Flour: The staff of life
  • Salt: Wholesomeness
  • Milk: Purity

Pancake History

"Pancakes have long been a staple of the American breakfast table, and their history is as old as that of the Native Americans who shaped a soft batter in their hands and called it, in the Narragansett, nokehick (it is soft), transmuted by early white settlers into " no cake." Cornmeal pancakes were called "Indian cakes" as early as 1607. The Dutch in America made similar cakes from buckwheat, panekoeken, which by 1740 were called "buckwheat cakes." English settlers brought with them the feast of Pancake Tuesday, an old name for Shrove Tuesday, the day before the Lenten fast begins...By 1745 Americans were also referring to hoe cakes," perhaps because they were cooked on a flat hoe blade...One of the most beloved versions of this simple cake is the Johnnycake [also known as journey cake], specifically associated with Rhode Island...The word "pancake" itself was not in general usage until the 1870s..."
Source: Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 229-30)

The Healthier Pancakes

For healthier pancakes on the fly, buy regular pancake mix that just requires water for cooking and stir in one-third cup of old-fashioned oats and a little extra water for each cup of mix. Quick, easy, tastes great and boosts the nutritional value of your pancakes considerably.

We add many things to our pancakes these days - the variations are absolutely endless. But we can share the nutrition information for a basic pancake, made with whole milk and eggs. You can dramatically cut fat and calories by using skim milk and egg substitute. You'll still get great pancakes, especially if you season and flavor with spices and/or fruit. For example, adding cinnamon and vanilla makes wonderful pancakes, yet adds zero calories or fat. Plus, cinnamon has health benefits.

The most nutritious pancakes are homemade and contain fat free milk and whole grain or whole wheat flour with added orange or lemon juice. One 6-inch plain pancake, made with whole milk and eggs, contains:

Pancakes and syrup

  • Calories: 180
  • Total fat: 10g (sat. fat 2g)
  • Cholesterol: 45mg
  • Sodium: 340mg
  • Carbohydrates: 20g
  • Dietary fiber: 3g
  • Protein: 5g

Go Healthy with Pancakes The Easy Way

Want to "go healthy" with pancakes without all the mess of cooking them up? Try WonderSlim Fluffy Pancake Mix - Buy It Now at only $12.95! These are delicious and guilt-free whether you're dieting or just trying to maintain your weight. Healthy for the whole family!

Pancake Batter

When you mix your pancake batter, always go easy. The less mixing of the batter the better the pancakes will be. Mix the wet and dry ingredients separately, combining them just before cooking. The little lumps are supposed to be there, so don't try to mix them out -- just leave them. You do not want to over-mix pancake batter, either, or you will wind up with tough pancakes.

Chef's Cooking Tip. Pancakes are lighter and fluffier when you substitute club soda for milk in the batter.

Making Pancakes

The best type of griddle for making mess-free, near-always perfect pancakes is a nonstick, electric griddle. They supply even heat and maintain the right temperature. Preheat your griddle before you blend the wet and dry ingredients, just as you would do your oven before baking a cake or cookies, etc. Turn the heat to medium-high and test the griddle by sprinkling a few drops of water on it. If the water dances and evaporates quickly, the griddle is ready.

Cook most batters until bubbles appear on the surface and pop. Then flip the pancakes gently and cook just until the underside is golden. The flip side will always cook in less time than the first and will never be as brown.

If the pancakes will not be served right off the griddle, overlap them slightly on a heat-safe platter, cover loosely with foil and slide them into a 200-degree oven. For extra tenderness, you can brush them with a little melted butter.

Overlapped and covered, they will keep warm about 20 minutes, giving you enough time to make the rest of the batch and join your family in enjoying them.

Stack of Pancakes Suggestion: Make more pancakes for "later". Most pancake recipes are very flexible. You can double or even triple them, a great idea if you are cooking for a crowd or want to stock your freezer with heat-and-eat home made pancakes. This is ideal when you are single! They freeze perfectly and you can reheat them without defrosting in your microwave. About 40 seconds per side for two pancakes should do the trick. Personally, I like to add the syrup after they are heated and zap in the microwave another 15 to 20 seconds to warm the syrup as well.

In addition to freezing, you can use any pancake recipe to make cakes of just about any size, from as small as silver dollar pancakes or as large as a DVD!

Healthier Pancake Tip

For healthier pancakes on the fly, buy regular pancake mix that just requires water for cooking and stir in one-third cup of old-fashioned oats and a little extra water for each cup of mix. Quick, easy, tastes great and boosts the nutritional value of your pancakes considerably.

For the adventurous, following are recipes that are a bit off the beaten path where pancakes are concerned. For diet and/or more "typical" pancake variations, please visit our list of all Pancake Recipe Links.

Lemon-Ricotta Hot Cakes Recipe

6 large eggs, separated
1-1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
Powdered sugar for dusting
Blackberries for garnish (optional)

Preheat griddle.
In bowl, whip egg whites until they hold firm, glossy peaks and set aside. In another bowl, beat ricotta, butter, egg yolks and vanilla together and set aside. In another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and zest.

With rubber spatula, stir dry ingredients gently into ricotta mixture. Stir spoonful of whipped egg whites into batter, then gently fold in remainder.

Grease heated griddle, if necessary. Drop 3-tablespoons of batter for each pancake on griddle, allowing space for spreading. Cook until golden on bottom and top shows a bubble or two. Gently flip and cook until undersides are light brown. Dust with powdered sugar. Top with berries, if desired.

Recipe makes about 20 small hot cakes.

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Savory Corn Pancakes Recipe

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh frozen or canned and drained
1 tablespoon grated onion
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, separated
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled (divided)
1-1/2 cups sour cream and 2-ounces golden or black caviar (optional)

Preheat griddle.
Stir cornmeal, flour, baking soda and salt together in medium bowl. Add corn, onion and a grinding of pepper; stir to coat.

In separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg yolks and 2-tablespoons butter. In another bowl, whip egg whites until they form soft peaks. Stir buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients until just blended. Add beaten egg whites and gently fold in.

Lightly grease heated griddle. Pour scant 1/4 cup batter onto griddle for each pancake. Over medium-low heat, cook until tops have small bubbles and bottoms are lightly browned and edges are beginning to set. Carefully turn and brown other side. Brush with melted butter. Serve with sour cream and caviar. If desired. Recipe makes about 24 small pancakes.

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Gingerbread Pancakes Recipe

Stack of Gingerbread Pancakes

1 cup flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons molasses
1 large egg
Vanilla ice cream

Preheat griddle.
In bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients, making sure brown sugar does not clump. In another bowl, whisk together sour cream, milk, butter, molasses and egg. Pour liquid ingredients over dry, and mix gently with whisk.

Grease griddle, if necessary. Spoon 1/4 cup batter onto griddle for each pancake, allowing space for spreading. Lightly press batter into rounds with spatula. Cook until undersides are very brown and tops are lightly speckled with bubbles. Flip pancakes over and cook until undersides are light brown. Serve hot, topped with ice cream. Recipe makes about 12 medium-size pancakes.

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Mini Pancakes Recipe

1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Warm maple syrup or honey
Sliced fruit:  Strawberries, bananas and/or peaches and nectarines

Combine flours, oatmeal, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Stir to blend.

In a separate bowl, whisk milk, egg, brown sugar and vanilla until blended. Heat large non-stick griddle or skillet over medium heat until hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle. Brush with thin film of vegetable oil spray. Drop batter by scant tablespoons for tiny pancakes (use a 1/4-cup measure for larger pancakes). Adjust heat to medium-low. Cook until tops develop small bubbles and bottoms are lightly brown, about two minutes. Turn and lightly brown other side.

Keep pancakes warm on plate in oven set to lowest temperature while you cook remaining batter. Serve in cereal bowl with warm syrup and sliced fresh fruit. Recipe makes about 36 tiny pancakes or 16 (3-inch) pancakes.

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Corn Pancakes with Mango Sauce Recipe

Mango Sauce, recipe follows
2 ears of corn-on-the-cob
2 tablespoons minced chives
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter

Prepare mango sauce and set aside while making corn pancakes. Scrape corn kernels from cobs into large bowl. Stir in chives, bell pepper, egg, and egg yolk and milk.

In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir flour mixture into corn mixture to form batter.

Melt butter in medium non-stick skillet. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls onto skillet to form eight pancakes. It may be necessary to do this in two batches. Saute three to four minutes per side or until firm and golden brown.

To serve, arrange half of the pancakes on each of two platters. Pass mango sauce on the side. Recipe makes eight pancakes.

Mango Sauce:

1 medium mango, peeled, pitted and finely chopped
1 small jalapeno Chile, cored, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon minced chives
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon honey

In a bowl, stir together mango, jalapeno, chives, salt and honey. Set aside for flavors to blend. Recipe makes about one cup of sauce.

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