A whole new take on pancakes

June 30, 2012 

On a lazy Sunday morning, the fragrant flapjack makes a perfect vehicle for maple syrup, fruit compotes, yogurt, sliced berries or a simple dusting of powdered sugar.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

There's a reason for that phrase "selling like hot cakes."

On a lazy Sunday morning, the fragrant flapjack makes a perfect vehicle for maple syrup, fruit compotes, yogurt, sliced berries or a simple dusting of powdered sugar.

But why not up your game? The new wave pancakes envisioned by award-winning food writers Heidi Swanson and Betty Rosbottom mix things up with multi-grains, lemon-ricotta fillings, homemade syrups and fabulous riffs on a classic.

It's enough to make you get up early. "Pancakes," Rosbottom says, simply, "are a universal favorite."

The Krusteaz and Bisquick crowd may think those mixes are easier routes to pancake heaven, but the reality is making flapjacks from scratch takes barely more time than a mix -- and it gives you the freedom to tweak flavors to your heart's content.

For Swanson, a Los Gatos, Calif., native whose "Super Natural Every Day" (Ten Speed Press, $23, 250 pages) cookbook won a James Beard award last month, it's a matter of making that carb load more healthful by using a mixture of oat flour, rye flour and whole wheat pastry flour instead of the generic white stuff. (You'll find those flours in the bulk bins at Whole Foods and other markets.)

"Oat flour is incredibly fragrant," she says. "Rye flour brings a bit of spicy depth, and whole wheat pastry flour is perfect for pancakes, muffins and quick breads."

Whole wheat pastry flour makes for a tender, light crumb, she says. As for the convenience of a mix, Swanson has an answer for that, too.

"If you premix the dry ingredients -- a day before, a week before -- and keep it in a jar," the food blogger says, "you're just a couple wet ingredients and a few minutes away from a great homemade pancake batter -- weekdays, weekends, either way."

And while we've all added chocolate chips or blueberries to our pancakes, Swanson suggests trying more creative ways to enhance flavor and texture by stirring in lemon zest and poppy seeds, for example, or a splash of vanilla and chopped strawberries. Rosbottom adds a Thanksgiving pie's worth of spices to hers.

Creativity can even be found in the concept. At St. Michael's Alley in Palo Alto, Calif., for example, they mix both bananas and blueberries into the batter and call the delectable result Blue Monkey Pancakes.

Homemade toppings and syrups are wonderful ways to add seasonal twists. At this time of year, Swanson tops her hot cakes with a deeply purple, blackberry-maple compote, or roasts strawberries with maple syrup, olive oil and a splash of port wine for a topping that's "outrageously delicious."

Rosbottom tops her spiced pancakes with maple-butter in the fall, and her perfect-for-spring lemon-ricotta hot cakes with homemade blueberry syrup or poached apricots and Greek yogurt.

If Rosbottom's name looks familiar, it's probably because the Massachusetts-based writer has penned so many food stories for Bon Appetit magazine over the years. Her newest cookbook, the irresistible "Sunday Brunch" (Chronicle Books, $19.95, 120 pages), touts the idea that brunch can go in many culinary directions, from baked sweets to savory treats.

But Rosbottom is the first to admit to a soft spot for pancakes, perhaps because she's made them with her grandchildren since they were old enough to clamber on a kitchen stool and don an apron. But it's not just her grandchildren who are crazy about the lemon-ricotta pancakes. Rosbottom sent advance copies of the new book to friends, family and her small army of recipe testers, as a thank you. Without fail, the one recipe everyone singles out is that one.

The beauty of pancake recipes, she says, is that they're templates. So consider the savory possibilities of Rosbottom's spiced pancakes, too.

"It's easy to change up a pancake," she says. "The pattern _ the amount of butter and flour and liquid is pretty set. Take out the spices and add some corn and chili powder. Make them more savory with avocados and tomatoes."

And don't forget that pancakes make perfect little appetizers, too.

"The week before last was graduation at Amherst, and I did a brunch," she says. "I made blini with different toppings -- smoked salmon, creme fraiche, lemon zest, capers. People were just wolfing them down." And that's a grand way to start the day.

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