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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Here. Here are the keys to my kitchen. Take them.

I joke a little that "breakfast" around here involves nuking some eggs and peeling a banana.

It's not really a joke.

In the morning I generally pour out some egg whites into a little dish, microwave them for about a minute and a half, peel and chop a banana and some strawberries, and maybe make up some toast if I've decided to allow bread in the house that week.

Erin isn't yet at an age where she can use utensils, so I don't serve up anything like cereal. Fruit and eggs. That's what she gets.

And, every once in a while I'll try to make pancakes.

I want to be able to make pancakes.

Ask most people who I've cooked for and they will probably say that I am a decent cook (even if I go through phases where everything has to have cinnamon or honey in it). But I don't bake. I can't handle the precision of baking. Cooking is a dance, there is a rhythm behind manic actions and the knife is shining, flickering grace.

Baking feels like engineering.

I realized recently that pancakes, although not involving the oven whatsoever, qualify as baked goods. This would explain why I keep screwing them up.

First, there was the "baking soda or baking powder" fiasco. Which one do you add to the batter to help it puff a little while cooking? I kept forgetting, and I'd add baking soda instead of powder and I'd end up with little hockey pucks.

Then there is the "eggs or no eggs" question. It seems as if adding eggs just encourages the batter to rubberize. But without eggs all I end up with is cardboard.

And let's not even start on the counter-intuitiveness of the idea that getting the pancakes to cook through the middle without burning on the outside requires a high heat in the pan, and a quick turn, instead of a medium heat with a slow turn. Anything else cooked in that pan that I want to be cooked evenly requires a lower heat and a slow turn. But I have to forget all of that when I'm using a reactive batter that does weird things when heat is applied. Or else I end up with blackened discs of raw dough.

Batter. That term alone should have clued me in that the normal cooking rules do not apply with pancakes.

One cannot eyeball the amount of baking soda powder to be added to the flour. You can't just "feel out" how much sugar to add to the batter, or how long to whisk the batter so the eggs don't get overbeaten and rubberize the mixture.

So, finally, after four unsuccessful attempts at good pancakes in four weeks, I pulled out my Cooking A-Z and looked up the blueprints for basic pancakes. I promised to follow the instructions to the letter. Except that I was so confident in the awesomeness of the pancakes that were about to be served up to my starving daughter that I got a little fancy and chopped up a banana to add. Banana pancakes. Because if her dad really loved her he'd man up and put fruit in it.

Mix, chop, whisk, pour, sizzle. Oh wow. Those look amazing. They are fluffing up perfectly. I'm going to turn them now. Oh, look at that, they are perfectly golden brown. Take them from the pan. Cut one up a little for Erin. Taste.

Taste. What the hell? Why do they taste so weird?

Recheck the blueprints.

Flour? Check.

Baking powder? Check.

Eggs? Check.

Butter? Check.

Milk? Check.

1/4 cup of sugar? Che.....

Oh. I don't actually keep sugar in the small white jar on the counter. I keep it in the medium white jar on the counter.

I keep salt in the small white jar.

Dammit. 1/4 cup of salt in my batter. I lose at baking.

Emily suggests I buy the pre-mixed Bisquick jug, since I've now ruined 5 batches of batter in a little less than a month. But even though this last batch proves that the pancakes aren't to blame, that I am just completely incompetent when it comes to making pancakes, I will persevere.

I will become the best damn pancake batter maker around.

Because breakfast should be something more than nuked eggs and a peeled banana.


cIII said...

Dude. Check out the kids book "Hey Pancakes". It has a killer Buttermilk Pancake recipe in the back. Plus the story is pretty funny. I've tried a lot of P-cake recipes. I've gone as fancy as whipped egg whites "until stiff peaks form" then fold them into the batter (blah, blah, blah), and as lame as Bisquick. Hey Pancakes are the bees-knees.
Good Luck.
p.s. you may want to try one of those electric skillets as well.

Badass Geek said...

I put salt in my wife's tea, instead of sugar, once.

It was the most hilarious mistake I've ever made.

A.C. said...

I had banana pancakes for dinnner the other night! Every once in a while, AJ and I do breakfast for dinner.

And I ALWAYS pour salt into my coffee instead of sugar...easy mistake. Right?

Miss Britt said...

I cannot bake - and NOW I know why I suck at pancakes as well.

I, however, ROCK at waffles.

Remove from freezer.
Pop in toaster.
Add syrup.


Undomestic Diva said...

Breakfast around here includes me opening a package of Poptarts.


Ali said...

premixed jug???! wait? seriously?

i NEED to move to the states.

Megan said...

Um, I ruin the premixed jug too. Pancakes, I fail.

My breakfast is typically something frozen that only requires a heat application.

iMommy said...

Don't look at me. I set the fire alarm off four times in two months. Popcorn, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese and the George Foreman grill.

I give up!

SciFi Dad said...

From my wife: easy, healthy pancakes. SFD approved.

(she also includes notes for how to cook them)

Give it one more try, tight pants dad.

attiton said...

You know what? I cook here in my very own house, six nights a week. On weekends, that means breakfast too.

I love it. I love cooking. I also love eating. I'm good at both subjects, and you people aren't going to make me feel bad about it!!

Nothing wrong with Bisquick from a jug, though.

Nancy said...

Nope, never mastered the pancake secret either.

My kids grew up loving frozen Aunt Jemima ... nuked. And they still are good.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I share Pancake Making, for this very reason. I am a baker, I like engineering my food. He is a cook, he likes to slice and dice and walk the tightrope between failure and success. So I mix up the batter (which is always excellent) and he deals with the weird problems of heat and flipping and greased pans and whatnot. And we enjoy beautiful pancakes together. Moral:get a pancake partner.

Sus said...

ok. I was you about 5 years ago and now I must say I totally kick pancakes' ass(es). (whatever) Here's what you do: use bisquick and eyeball a couple tablespoons or a 1/4 c. of wheatgerm in the batter. easy, peasy and healthy too. add a bit of flax seed if you want to get really nutty (seedy). OR you could get ruth yaron's super baby food book which has a super easy whole wheat pancake recipe in it. but beware that book - it's totally over the top. and put the skillet at medium heat but turn it on to warm up when you first start to mix the batter, so it's nice and hot but not High heat when you're ready to go. Then wait for bubbles before you flip.

Now go forth and bake, young Padowan.

kittenpie said...

First, The Joy of Cooking is the bible. Try that.

Second, when amiterpie wants to add banana, he mashes it with a fork, then when it is cooking on the first side, he puts some of the mash on the top, and it just becomes one with the pancake. Pretty good, and I'm no great fan of squishy bananas.

Jen S. said...

Yeah, really, use boxed! I make pancakes for groups of friends often and all the boxed mixes are perfectly yummy. You can personalize them by adding blueberries, nuts, chocolate chips, bananas, etc. I wouldn't waste my time making the batter. This is easy. You have other things to do. :)

Mr Lady said...

Dude, crepes you make from scratch. Pancakes? Just use the mix and supplement it with a little vanilla, maybe some cinnamon and nutmeg.

And don't feel bad. I can make Yule Logs, I can cook four course gourmet dinners. I am an EXCELLENT cook. But I can't make a cookie to save my butt.

Ms. Single Mama said...

You're funny. I'm glad I found your blog.

I was going to recommend cottage cheese pancakes (they sound disgusting but they're DELICIOUS) - about the only thing I can make well.

for a different kind of girl said...

The boys and I had breakfast for supper (aka Brupper) last night, complete with Eggo waffles. Because dude, I cannot make pancakes to save my life. Seriously. If I were ever kidnapped and the only way to secure freedom was make pancakes from scratch, I'd be all "Well, I guess I should start making myself at home here. Can I use part of your closet for my stuff?", because it would be a huge fail. Even with that Bisquik in a jug. Can't do it.

Also? Wha? There's butter in the pancake recipe?! (tucking that info away for future kidnappings...)

Matt said...

Sus has got it right, dude. Bisquick. You can get it no trans fats now and everything. or
Get a waffle iron.
And still make the batter from Bisquick.

phenom said...

We buy that instant-in-a-container-just-add-water pancake batter and that turns out fine. I'm afraid to venture into anything more involved than that.

Loralee Choate said...

I suck at baking. Cooking is a different story, but my pancakes and rolls usually SUCK.

Anonymous said...

"...blackened discs of raw dough."

That would be me. I can make french toast, waffles, muffins, biscuits. But I can't make a pancake to save my life.

Sunshine said...

I can make pancakes, but dragging your butt out of the house at 5:30am is not conducive to breakfast.

That said, we have a huge bag of frozen pancakes in our freezer (regular AND blueberry), and that's what my kids eat for breakfast. less than 60 seconds in the microwave. Voila!!

Anonymous said...

Just like Mr. Lady said, Crepes, EASY AS ANYTHING, milk, flour, egg, pinch salt, oil...done. The only hard part is making sure the milk doesn't lump up with the flour, so add flour slowly and wisk. Then daddy can chop up strawberries, banana, use jam, use sugar, use syrup (preferably not all at the same time)...AND its on the stove so you have no excuse

TLC said...

I can cook. I can even bake. But dude, I canNOT make pancakes, even after 20 years of trying. They aren't easy.

And you are better than me, because I throw cereal at my kids and say, "Breakfast!" Ok, I don't really throw the cereal, cause that would make a mess, and guess who would have to clean it up??

But pancakes are tricky. If you figure out how to make them look purty, let me know. I make oblong raw-in-the-middle-and-burnt-on-the- sides cakes.

Anonymous said...

Tip- Nutrigrain Eggos with peanut butter and fruit on the side with OJ! My daughter loves it!

Michelle said...

I feel your pain...

Pancakes are hit or miss for me. Can never seem to get it quite right. And I quit baking long ago when once upon a time...
I took a bag of peaches out of the freezer to make a pie with. All ingredients were carefully measured and mixed. 1/2 way through baking, the pie was bubbling over and spilling juice. I drained it as much as I could and baked it the rest of the way. The problem? It wasn't peaches I was using. It was cantaloup. Needless to say, that pie was not eaten and I ended my baking career (there were other mitigating circumstances - like I couldn't seem to not burn cookies for some reason).

AEA said...

Actually, if you had been reading your Larousse instead of some piece of shit called A-Z WhatevertheShit, you would have known, as do I, that even in pastries and baked goods one always puts at least a pinch of salt.

In any case, you ought not feel too bad. In professional kitchens (like all the ones I have worked in, for example), chefs are divided down the line into two types: pastry chefs, and everyone else; the engineers, and the artists.

Also, did I ever mention to you that your cinnamon fish dish was awful? Quite possibly worse than my failure at fish and chips? It sure was, old buddy.

Also, did I mention that I used to be a professional chef? No? Well, yes, I was, thank you for asking, Fat.

Kile said...

Take it form a guy who's been there: Do yourself a favor and buy the cheap store-brand pancake mix that only requires water. Use real butter over medium heat and you can't go wrong. Next thing you know you will be adding things like "blueberries" or "chocolate chips" and all will be tasty.

Felicity said...

just wait until you discover organic pancake batter in a can, like whip cream, it is fantastic! Just don't spray it in your mouth...not the same. Might make your sinuses explode.

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

If I can make pancakes then you, too, will master them, young Skywalker.

I have no idea what Star Wars has to do with pancakes but just roll with it. Use the force. Or Bisquick.

greg said...

it's not that difficult.

you are over thinking it.

these are to die for:

Country Mouse City Mouse Indy said...

There's nothing wrong with eggs and fruit. Just throw in a piece of whole grain toast and you'll totally trump pancakes in the easy and healthy catagories. Levi has fruit and toast almost every morning for breakfast. (Keeps my kitchen clean, at least a little longer)

Tootsie Farklepants said...

Dude!!! DUUUUUUUDE! My post last week about the shake and pour pancakes was totally written FOR you!

Screw all that measuring shit.

Anissa Mayhew said...

Ok, I'm just going to throw it out there for you. There's this place. It's a house. An international house. They have pancakes. They are toasty tasty yumminess. And they have endless carafes of coffee. Go there. Tell them I sent you.

Sara Mehitable said...

Once, when I was young, my mom went out of town and my dad was in charge of me and my brother for a time. (Mom and Dad were divorced.) Dad let us put SUGAR on our cereal--which was a new concept. Mom kept sugar in the brown pottery jar, and salt in the brown and white jar. Brother and I were too young to know that though, and Dad didn't live there.

So, you've probably guessed it. We ruined the last three bowls of cereal in the house with great big spoonfuls of SALT. Yuck.

Forever In School said...

I have never made pancakes and I am afraid to try. At least you are trying.

Must Be Motherhood said...

OH God, this reminds me of the Cooking class I was forced to take in the 7th grade, where I managed to completely LEAVE OUT the sugar in the sugar cookies. Dis.Gus.Ting.

The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet said...

I'm so glad you said it. Pancakes are baking, man. Anyway you cut it.

Stick to the eggs and fruit. There's no disrespect in that.


PS Love your blog. You're a hoot. Just linked you.

Heather said...

Yeah, the boxed mix is best and still cheap. The trick in knowing when to flip them is to watch them carefully on the edges. When they appear dry, you flip. However, we have a "gadget" my husband likes to use, that is like a waffle maker for pancakes. I call it cheating, but I admit, it makes some pretty good pancakes, very fluffy and perfectly round and cooked.
I eat oatmeal for breakfast. Pancakes are a special occasion breakfast around here usually.

Elisa said...

no worries, I suck at making pancakes too. Hey, good cooks can have their weaknesses! baking was scary to me too, so I started small - with cupcakes ;-) Checkout Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, they are the best damn cupcakes ever!
Cakes still scare me though.

Mary Beth said...

I love baking but I don't even try pancakes. Luckily, I don't particularly like them either so I'm not missing out on anything. I'm a frozen waffle kind of gal.

Melizzard said...

Go get the jug, it saves all that time and energy. And I second the electric skillet suggestion - it wasn't until I discovered the electric skillet that I really learned to make pancakes well.

Redneck Mommy said...

Your wife strikes me as a smart woman.

Perhaps you should try listening to her sometime.

Especially before attempting to make pancakes.

Xbox4NappyRash said...

Breakfast here tends to be whatever you can scoff between coming home drunk and passing out until the following afternoon.

Is there something I need to learn?

caramama said...

I'm a baker, and I love making pancakes. So I can't relate to that. Sorry, man.

Here is an awesome recipe for pancake mix. You mix together all of the dry ingredients (it includes both baking powder and baking soda!!!), and store in a ziplock bag or container. Then, when you want to make pancakes, you take 1 cup of the mix, the milk and the egg and mix.

Makes delicious pancakes. I made them this morning, and I added blueberries. Mmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Just use the bisquick in a box, but follow the recipe (on the box) for the melt-in-your-mouth pancakes. They really are.

Since I've got to get 4 kids under 9 out the door every morning starting in two weeks, we do just fine with cold cereal and milk or frozen waffles. I only do pancakes when we have breakfast for dinner. Nothing wrong with eggs and fruit, that's for sure. Healthy and quick.

Dto3 said...

Nuked eggs and a peeled banana still sounds better than instant oatmeal.

bejewell said...

I tried the pre-made batter once.


AMR said...

Two words.

Cracker Barrel.

They dominate the pancake kingdom for me.

Cracker Barrel in NorCal? Probably not. Come down to NC -- Greg and I will meet you there.

Overflowing Brain said...

Don't dis' the Bisquick version. If you add about a 1/3 to 1/2 cup melted butter to their recipe (my grandfather swears by this) they are superb. No kidding. Make sure you butter the pan too. I wonder why my family has cholesterol issues?

And I've done the salt thing, only it was when I was a kid for a cake baking contest. Somehow 1/2 tsp became 1/2 cup and there just no amount of cocoa or chocolate chips in the universe that will overcome 1/2 cup of salt.

Christina said...

You really don't need to go out and buy the pre-made stuff.

You just need a good label maker. Then label all of the canisters in the kitchen. Voila - problem solved. Perfect pancakes next time.

Insane Mama said...

Pancakes are pancakes, no matter how you make them... Personally I go with the easy ones, where you just add water and shake the container.

Lollie said...

Don't kill yourself...go with the Bisquick in a container. Add water. Voila. 'Nuff said.

Kyddryn said...

Not that you asked: pancakes

Please believe that I am not usually given to shameless acts of self-promotion.

Meanwhile, have you considered muffins?

Shade and Sweetwater,

Backpacking Dad said...

Wow. You people sure like posts about pancakes. I will now write more posts about pancakes. I will keep you up to date on the Jug or Homemade war that I'll have in my house.

Thank you all for your recommendations, recipes, chastisements (I'm looking at you Greg :} ) and sympathy. I'm just gonna go ahead and try to not add a 1/4 cup of salt next time and see what happens.

I will make homemade pancakes that rock. Someday.

And now, because I'm masochistic:

ciii: I've heard good things about skillets.

badass geek: I did that once to my mom. Once.

a.c.: It's also a hilarious April Fool's Day joke

miss britt: I might switch to waffles.

undomestic diva: not toaster streudel? which, I wonder, does Pillsbury have a trademark on that? Because that would be like trademarking "microwave popcorn".

ali: you're so sheltered :}

megan: don't disillusion me. I need to hope that there is some last resort I can have.

imommy: how did you set off the fire alarm making macaroni and cheese???

scifi dad: I think I'm going to have a lot of recipes to try out after this one.

attiton: who's trying to make you feel bad about cooking? Not me. I'm a good cook. I just suck at baking. Carry on cooking!!

nancy: You can nuke pancakes? Oh, breakfast may have just gotten a hundred times easier

anonymous: word.

sus: no fair starting out with Bisquick :}

kittenpie: No, the Larousse Gastronomique is the bible. But I'm afraid of it, because it told me to take all day to make crepes and I don't want to think about what it will say about pancakes. :}

jen s.: If I can't make batter then I am no better than Betty Botter.

mr lady: oh, cookies I can do. I forgot that one. With caramel chocolate chips.

ms. single mama: I'm actually not afraid of ingredients like that. Because I know that when baking is involved you end up with some crazy chemical reaction that totally changes the flavour of the ingredients so the cottage cheese probably makes the whole thing taste like cherry pie or something.

FADKOG: yeah, I was all "butter? and 4 tablespoons of it? that's all the butter I have, and now I have no butter to put on top of my now way salty pancakes."

matt: a waffle iron would complicate my life severely. I'd be trying to make chicken with it.

phenom: I will probably end up doing the same thing.

loralee: yeah, I don't even want to try rolls. I'd end up with weapons.

anonymous: ooh, I need to try to make french toast too. dammit.

sunshine: If I ever manage to make pancake batter that works you can bet I'll be freezing them so I don't have to heat a pan ever again.

loudange: to hear the Larousse tell it crepes are the most complicated batter you would ever want to try to attempt to make. I like your version better. But I need one of those stick things to spread the batter thin.

tlc: Yeah, they're always oblong aren't they? How does IHOP do it?

starrlife: The word "Nutrigrain" makes me think I'm being lied to, like a consumer in some dystopic future who is being fed soylent green.

michelle: that is just one more reason why I hate cantaloupe. Sneaky bastards.

aea: yeah, the cinnamon fish was bad. But the cinnamon filled stuffed peppers made it bearable. No, no they didn't. Your fish sucked way bad though.

kile: actually, I never butter the pan. I don't want to partially fry the outside. That's just me, though. I know some people like that in a pancake.

felicity: organic pancake batter in a can? That sounds awesome. Just for the can part if nothing else.

chicky chicky baby: I will try. No, I will do.

greg: thanks. :}

country mouse city mouse indy: You made me feel much better about my breakfast laziness.

tootsie farklepants: I totally almost stole the picture of the Bisquick Jug from your site.

anissa mayhew: I think I have stock in that company now. I need to stop giving them money.

sara mehitable: and now I can never eat cereal again :}

forever in school: no fear, baby. Just try it, burn it, then you can say you gave it a shot and no one will make you do it again.

must be motherhood: so they were just cookies? Oh, you mean all the sugar. Yeah. That would be a doorstop, not a cookie :}

the yummy mummy cooks gourmet: see, I should have asked you first.

heather: that gadget totally sounds like cheating.

elisa: I had aspirations of baking my daughter's first birthday cake. Yeah, that didn't happen.

mary beth: I'm starting to not like pancakes too. They're too salty and burnt tasting. I don't know what people see in them.

melizzard: it sounds like cheating though. They are PAN-cakes. Right?

redneck mommy: if you ask her she will tell you that I never listen to her. And I would agree, except that I wouldn't have known that she said it.

xbox4nappyrash: ah, those were good breakfast days. I miss those days.

caramama: You are blowing my mind. Both soda and powder?? But, what about the paradox? The space-time continuum?

fishygirl: but if I follow the box directions then I can't really say that I made them when I want to brag about the awesome pancakes my daughter is eating.

dto3: word.

bejewell: Good to know. :}

amr: I've heard of cracker barrel for cheese and sausages, but pancakes? really?

overflowing brain: again with the butter in the pan. hmm. maybe I have to rethink my objection.

christina: you are smarter than all of these people :}

insane mama: but pancakes aren't all pancakes. If I'm the one making them.

lollie: after all of this I think I'm obsessed with making my own pancakes. Next you hear of me I will be covered in 8 different versions of the batter and gibbering to myself about ratios.

kyddryn: Ah!! one thing at a time, especially when it's baked goods.

Anonymous said...

Salt? Oh, I can't even imagine how those tasted! Go the bisquick route, and add some fresh blueberries, and be done with it!
Leave the baking to the experts (not me!)

Anonymous said...

So they taste a leetle different.

Call them "mancakes" and sell them as "special." I find putting "special" in front of new food helps.

Maura said...

Baking is chemistry. It's not hard, it's just exact. I suggest doing what they call "mise en place" for prepping - lay everything out before you start and you won't forget anything.

Uh, this would follow labeling the salt and sugar, however!

Keep persevering, you'll get it.

Jerri Ann said...

Give it up, buy it in a need in all that extra work

Kaza said...

Okay, you MUST try those new boxes of packets. They are nearly idiot-proof (I'm not calling you an idiot, I'm just sayin' they're easy), as you only have to open the packet, add the water, mix, and then cook. I put veg oil in the pan on med-high, and flip when I see bubbling. They come in buttermilk & blueberry, and are awesome. If you prefer thinner, chewier cakes, just add a bit more water. I would NEVER make pancakes if they hadn't come up with this stuff (Hungry Jack, I think?).

LiteralDan said...

Start by finding a good, simple (number-of-ingredients-wise) organic mix, assuming that's a priority, and then just add what they say to add, and you should be fine. After you do that a few times, you can move on to making your own mixes.

LipoSucks said...

Dude, trust grandma on this. Buy Pioneer biscuit mix and use the pancake recipe on the back. Bisquick sucks hard, but Pioneer rocks the house. Your kids will thank you.

Robin said...

I lost you after 'I want to make pancakes.'

T with Honey said...

"Baking feels like engineering" - no wonder I enjoy it so much!