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The recipe isn’t what matters

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A little while back, I made pancakes for someone, and she liked them a lot. She said, “My pancakes never turn out right. What’s your recipe?”

I had to admit that I took a shortcut and made them from Bisquick. She was a bit annoyed. See, she made them from Bisquick, too, but, she said, hers were always flat and tough and tasteless. Mine were light and fluffy and delicious.

She and I used the same recipe — followed the same prescribed steps in the same order — but my results were good, and hers weren’t. What’s the deal?

It turns out that there are a great many things they don’t write into a recipe. Things that a cookbook author, who is adept at cooking, assumes one knows. So people buy cookbooks, or trade recipes online or with friends, and complain that theirs doesn’t “turn out” and they don’t know why.

I taught myself to cook. I love to eat, and I enjoy good food, and I absolutely enjoy trying new things, so learning to cook was a must. I can read a recipe and hallucinate how it’ll taste, at least most of the time. It took me a long time to get where I am, and if I’d gone to culinary school I’d have cut that time way down. I’d be a lot better at cooking, too. But I’m still pretty good. I can follow a recipe and it’ll “turn out”.

Anyway, here’s what pancake recipes don’t tell you:

  • Don’t beat the batter. Stir it. It’s OK if there are some lumps. If the lumps bother you, break them up with a whisk. Just don’t beat the batter. It develops the gluten in the wheat flour, which will make your pancakes flat and tough and bland.
  • Let the batter sit for a while. Ten or fifteen minutes at the very least. Overnight in the refrigerator is great. This lets the milk and eggs soak into every bit of the flour, which helps the flavor a lot.
  • The griddle or skillet has to be hot. Toss a drop of water on it, and it doesn’t sit there and sizzle; it jumps around and tries to get away. Pancakes cook quickly to trap air bubbles in the batter. Cook them too slowly and the bubbles can all break up and get away, making things flatten out.
  • Flip the pancakes once and only once. Flipping is another thing that can develop gluten.
  • Most important: use real maple syrup, not that godawful fake maple flavored stuff. It matters. Try it once and you’ll see. Just don’t use too much, because real maple syrup has a rich flavor you won’t find in those chemical compounds that pretend to by syrup.

Enjoy your breakfast.

(Jeez… why is he writing about pancakes on an NLP blog?)

Written by Michael DeBusk

March 21st, 2009 at 9:47 pm

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