Making Pancakes

pancake1 This is a puffy pancake made from 1/2 cup of flour, 1/2 cup of milk, a dash of salt, and 3 eggs. That’s all…here’s the recipe if you don’t believe me. You bake the mix in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes in a pan lined with butter, and it puffs up! I’m told that this is a form of popover. I’m astonished that such simple ingredients can do this, and even more astonished at how easy it is to mess up.

Baking is essentially a form of chemistry, and thus there is a narrow window of excellence that’s tough to nail. I would say that that this applies to all food preparation; I would guess that the vast majority of food we eat (at least here in the U.S.) is between 40-70% of its ultimate expression because of overcooking, errors in technique, or unbalance in ingredients. That’s just my uninformed opinion, but it’s one that generally keeps my apetite in check. Why get excited about eating something that isn’t the best it could be? Those are the emptiest calories!

I never enjoyed chemistry that much in high school, with all the memorizing of reactions and so forth, but in the context of making yummy things to eat it is much more interesting. With the tiny ingredient list, making a puffy pancake is all about timing, temperature, measurement, and technique.

I wondered what would happen if I used a shiny stainless steel pan instead of the dark cast iron one. Mistake!

pancake flop The result was a dense, very eggy pancake that crawled out of the sides of the pan. Not puffy at all. Very disappointing. However, it’s possible that I overmixed the batter; I was reading that when making unleavened quickbreads, you don’t want to mix the ingredients too much, as this releases more gluten. As the popover is leavened by steam as opposed to an active ingredient like baking soda or yeast, I guess the presence of gluten makes the dough too elastic and rubbery to rise.

And so the experimentation continues. What if I use fewer eggs? Or a higher temperature? Or try a different flour? Add baking soda? It’s actually pretty exciting, sort of my own personal version of Yakitate! Japan (a manga/tv series about baking bread)…but I’ve gained 10 pounds since starting this experiment. Time to close the lab!

Visit AltJapanContinuing on the pancake theme, I also came across this set of cartoon instructions from a Japanese pancake mix, thoughtfully translated by everyone’s favorite gaijin and robot raconteur Matt Alt. I’ve always wondered what those cute cartoons were saying; actually, I still do :-)