Saturday mornings were pancake-mornings when I was growing up; my dad used to make his special recipe — incorporating oats, honey and cornmeal — for pancakes almost every weekend, and we clamored for them when he was out of town. In season, he would pile in fresh blueberries picked the afternoon before from the bushes growing in the backyard; in the winter we would eat them plain, or with the last frozen bits of summer’s preserved bounty.
Alas, somewhere along the way, I lost my taste for the things. I am more of an oatmeal-eater, a whole-wheat toast smeared with peanut butter and jam sort of a diner, and I am usually not interested in eating a big breakfast of heavy, bready sweets. I’ll let the occasional egg slip in once in awhile, but my standard work-a-day breakfast is a cup of green tea (or coffee, if I’m very tired), and a bowl of Irish oats (see also: why I love horses) with soy ‘milk.’
But this Monday was a day off, and it dawned bright and glorious with sun. My buddy, a true pancake-lover, had just returned from his DC trip, and when we bought Sunday dinner provisions at the local health food store I snuck in a little carton of buttermilk and a bag of frozen blueberries. I then scoured a few cookery websites (williams-sonoma.com and the eternal standby, epicurious), but all seemed to incorporate far too many eggs and butter for my liking. So to The Joy of Cooking I went, and was not disappointed.
Before I expound on the taste of my pancakes, let me say just this: frying pancakes is hard. It is particularly so when you own a cast-iron pan and have a tiny gas range on which to balance it — you may find yourself contorting in strange positions trying to avoid burning fingers and dropping batter all over the (newly-shining) floor. I think the most difficult part for me was getting the temperature just right; I burned the first couple of cakes right off and had to scrape the (cursed?) cast-iron clean. There may or may not have been a moment of frustration that involved wailing about how I’d never get it right and why was I spending a beautiful sunny morning trapped inside with a recalcitrant stove and curmudgeonly pancake batter.
Yet I persevered, if only because the blueberries had colored the mix a pretty purple-blue and I was interested to see how it would turn out once cooked. I fiddled around with the temperature (start out on high heat, then reduce to a low simmer on the dial) and cajoled my pan into maintaining an even temperature — imperative for well-cooked, fluffy pancakes. Eventually I was able to produce — with, admittedly, a little help — a lovely plate of nicely-fried cakes, that rested, softly steaming in the sunshine, on the dining room table accompanied by some delicious farmers market fruit.
And how did they taste? Light enough for the pancake-averse because of the cake flour (who knew? It is one of my favorite secrets), with a hint of the vanilla I threw in as a last-minute addition, plump and juicy with blueberries. The buttermilk adds delectable moisture (which is essential if one, ahem, wanders away for a few moments to set the table and returns to find her pancake a bit overdone) and its delicate tang balances the sweetness of the berries.
I won’t be making these every Saturday — too much work, don’t you know? And I like my morning protein — but I will certainly make them again; these babies have won me over. Each bite had me dreaming of summer and long, deep, lavender twilights. One more month ’til spring.
Purple-y Buttermilk Pancakes (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup+ blueberries, fresh or frozen
Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, vanilla and butter. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine (do not overmix; batter should be lumpy). Add blueberries and stir lightly to combine.
Heat a frying pan or griddle over medium high heat until a few sprinkles of water dropped on the pan or griddle splatter. Using a pastry brush, brush the pan with a little melted butter or oil.
Drop the batter by tablespoons-ful onto the pan and cook about 2-3 minutes (or until batter is firm and bubble form) before flipping over to cook about 1-2 minutes. Keep pancakes warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve (but they are best eaten very fresh and very hot).
[photos by michael]