Dark Days: Pancake FAIL

We’ve had many guests over the holidays and we’ve made quite a few pancake breakfasts.  Tai has made a couple of batches, I’ve made a couple of batches, and while I would not say our pancakes are outstanding, they are generally pretty good (and anything that you can drown in Ronnybrook butter and New England Farms natural maple syrup can’t be all bad). In fact, Tai made a batch just yesterday, for our friends Erik & Melissa, who came up from Philly to spend New Year’s Eve with us.  I thought at the time, “Huh, this is a completely local meal, well, except for the Veuve Cliquot mimosas…” but I did not get around to taking any pictures or noting how much buttermilk Tai used.  Today I decided to make another batch of buttermilk pancakes, just for us, and actually write down the amounts of wet & dry ingredients I used, instead of just eyeballing it, and post it as our Dark Days meal of the week. To borrow a phrase, the best laid plans of mice and locavores…

I’ve never had a no-fail pancake recipe; I think the nature of cooking with small-batch, freshly-milled, whole grain flours means that you accept much more variability in how the flour behaves and your recipes are necessarily flexible.  I can usually manage this quite well, but…these pancakes just would not cook.  The outsides were dark brown and seriously crispy while the middles were raw.  I thinned the batter with buttermilk (and more, and more), I tried not to over stir, I lowered the heat (and again, and again), I checked the expiration date on my baking soda (Feb 2010); I even resorted to covering them while they cooked in the pan in an effort to cook the middles through; eventually I “finished” them in a 200 degree F oven just hoping to dry out the insides enough to make them edible.  They were flat, dark brown and soggy from being covered in the pan.  Tai, sweetheart of a husband that he is, said “Well, they have great flavor” and “they’re sort of like crepes… really!”  in that silver-lining tone of voice.  Then we made a few jokes about Kaela’s Crappy Crepes and the fact that, apparently, I can only make pancakes when I am not paying any attention to what I’m doing, and ate them anyway.

The true silver lining of the pancake debacle was the blackberry maple syrup, which Tai dubbed “outrageous.”  It was ridiculously simple to make and truly outrageously good.  Good enough, even, to convince us to eat an entire batch of Kaela’s Crappy Crepes with nary a complaint. 

What about you?  Any no-fail tips or techniques for perfect, whole-grain pancakes? Clearly, I can use all the advice I can get!

Adapted from Griddlecakes in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook (13th edition) by Marion Cunningham


Buttermilk Pancakes & Blackberry Maple Syrup


Buttermilk Pancakes

  • 1 cup (4.5 oz) whole white wheat flour (Wild Hive all-purpose)
  • 1 tsp baking soda [I usually use 2 tsp baking powder, but was following the FF recipe for buttermilk cakes]
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp honey

Blackberry Maple Syrup

  • 1/2 cup blackberries, frozen (unsweetened)
  • 3 – 4 tbsp maple syrup


Buttermilk Pancakes

  1. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt until well-combined [sifting might have been a good idea here].
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, honey and melted butter. [I started with the lesser amount of buttermilk, as suggested in my Fannie Farmer recipe, and then read online that you should move from thin batter to thicker batter, adding flour to adjust, to avoid overmixing a thick batter and developing gluten. I don’t really know which method works best.]
  3. Heat a large non-stick griddle or frying pan over medium-low heat, until water droplets skittle across the surface, or, if you do not have a non-stick pan, add a small amount of clarified butter or vegetable oil to just coat the surface of the pan. [Here is where I wish I had some cast iron; I love our 14-inch non-stick saute pan, but it may not be heavy enough for excellent pancakes on our can’t-get-the-heat-low-enough gas burners.]
  4. Mix the wet & dry ingredients together until just combined [I may have overmixed, a typical mistake of mine]; a few lumps is OK.  Use a 1/4-cup measure to add batter to the hot pan.  Cook until the edges begin to harden and the batter is bubbling in the center, about 3 -5 minutes, then flip and cook the other side.  [Slice a small slit with a sharp knife to see if the middle is fully cooked, moan, curse, lower heat some more, continue to cook, repeat.] Cook one test pancake first, and adjust the heat up or down.  Keep cooked pancakes warm in a single layer in a 200 degree F oven. Godspeed.

Blackberry Maple Syrup

  1. Combine maple syrup and blackberries in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until the juice thickens to a syrupy consistency and you can just smell the beginnings of caramelization, about 15 minutes.  Keep in the pan until ready to serve, as the syrup will harden upon cooling.

Yields about 1 dozen 4-inch pancakes and 4 healthy servings of syrup.


  1. Go to someone else’s house for pancakes, where they actually know how to cook them.  Bribe them with your fantastic blackberry maple sauce.


Torn into shreds and scattered under the bird feeder in the backyard.  The local fauna will not care that the pancakes are thin, dense and soggy.


I can screw up pancakes all year round!


  • Flour:  Wild Hive Farm, Clinton Corners, NY
  • Buttermilk: Garelick Farms, Franklin, MA (although I usually use Evan’s Farmhouse Creamery, Norwich, NY)
  • Egg, honey and maple syrup: New England Farms, Granville, NY
  • Butter: Ronnybrook, Ancramdale, NY
  • Blackberries: Fishkill Farms, Fishkill, NY (picked in August and frozen)
  • Baking soda, Kosher salt: Away


  1. I did not know that about “small-batch, freshly-milled, whole grain flours” – my local eating and buying hasn’t developed in that direction yet. (But I’m working on it.)

  2. Gack, sorry about the frustration. I’ve noticed some variation in small-batch mill flours too…. but isn’t it great to have Wild Hive around? The syrup though, I can see eating almost everything with it!

    In terms of making pancakes, I’ve found that the more I minimize a recipe, the less the chance of me messing it up. So its basically flour, baking powder, baking soda, egg replacer, water, applesauce for sweetness, and any flavoring in the pancakes (apple, blueberry, etc). I don’t per se measure the liquids/applesauce, but just slowly add until the batter looks to be the right consistency (slightly viscous – a bit thicker than most, I’d say). I’ve tried making it with dairy for the dairy-eaters I might have as guests, but that always throws the process off for some reason. The amount of cooking time seems to vary even between pancakes in the same batch, and I know I tend to over-cook many out of fear of “raw middles” – but they often work anyway. I don’t know…

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