This joke, made by Liza Treyger, is very heartfelt. She said that she would order pancakes for the table. “Power move”: During her stand-up set for Late Nite with Seth Meyers in 2016, she called it that. With one clever menu choice, she knows what her dining companions want without having to say a word about it.
They want pancakes, but I don’t think they have them. They all want pancakes, but I don’t want to make them. It’s not like anyone at that table was going to order them on their own.
Kids always dream of having pancakes for breakfast, and many parents find it easy to feed their kids without them complaining. Pancakes are made with flour, buttermilk, and sugar, which makes them fluffy and easy to eat. They’re also the perfect dish for syrups, nut butters, chocolate, and fruit toppings. But as we get older, our taste buds become more and more excited about trying new things. Yes, that bacon smells great. Because we want to try new things and seek out savory foods, childhood foods, like pancakes, get left behind. Do they? As I talked to people across the country about short and tall stacks of pancakes, I found that the pancake is a dish that can be used in many different ways because it is so well-known.
For many chefs who serve breakfast, pancakes are a challenge. They have to remember how pancakes tasted when they were young while giving them a modern twist that shows how grown-ups like their food, too. Sometimes, all you need to do is look around the kitchen. Our griddle cakes are made with the waste from our sourdough mothers. Bunny Bottoms, the chef and owner of Cafe Marie-Jeanne in Chicago, says this: Every mother is fed by the baker. Then the baker throws the leftovers away. When you made pancakes, you’d get fluffy ones because the batter would have yeast from the scraps and baking powder would make them rise.
The pancakes are big, not like the flat, plate-sized cakes served at diner chains. Bottoms says they were influenced by the dining culture they grew up with. Teenagers who would stay at Denny’s or IHOP until midnight to eat pancakes, fries, and a million cups of coffee were like me.
Sourdough scraps aren’t the only thing that can make these pancakes look fancy for adults. Kristen Rasmussen, who works as a culinary nutrition consultant in Portland, Oregon, says that when she made porridge pop-ups, she always had extra food. Buckwheat pancakes: “But I didn’t want to throw anything away, so I’d make them with the cold porridge instead of flour.” I like this food a lot, even tho the texture is different.
Rasmussen sees a lot of potential for pancakes as a vessel for whole grains and other ingredients that home cooks might not be as familiar with. I’ve taught cooking classes on whole grains before, and people get so worked up about how much time and water each grain needs. But that’s what’s great about pancakes: no matter how you cook the grain, you can just throw in an egg, get some spices, and cook. ”
Other people have used different kinds of whole or alternative grains in their pancakes, like ready-made batters from AX, which is a now-closed restaurant in Venice, California. The owner, Joanna Moore, took the now-closed restaurant’s popular multigrain pancake recipe, which used brown rice, whole wheat flour, millet, and oats, and made it for home cooking with a mix sold at farmers’ markets. There’s Ethos in Richland, Washington, who mills their own flour and whose pancake mix includes Yellow Breton flour (commonly used for crepes) and Sonoran Gold flour. Santa Fe Culinaria’s blue corn mix is used to make blue corn pion pancakes, a staple in Southwestern cuisine.
For many, pancakes help bridge the gap between the new and the familiar. “I make Korean food that’s not often seen in the United States,” says Michelle Back, who runs Banana Phone, an occasional Korean pop-up and ice cream maker in Chicago. “Hotteok is a really popular Korean street food. My mom would have them after school, but here, most people only have them frozen. ”
Hotteok is a sweet and well-spiced filled pancake, traditionally stuffed with sugar and chopped nuts, that Back likens to “a McGriddle,” but she riffs on the fillings with savory additions influenced by her own culinary memories. “I lived in Philly from age 17 to 24, so the Philly cheesesteak hotteok made sense,” she jokes. Why did she decide on this pairing? “I combined the two because it’s fun.”
Initially, one might relegate the pancake to the breakfast menu, but the batter’s neutral canvas means savory flavors are in play as well, like Melissa Clark’s riff on a Dutch baby with parmesan and lemon; dinner pancakes made with black-eyed peas and garlic at Cadence in New York City, which was named one of the New York Times’ 50 best restaurants of 2021; or kimchi pancakes from Maangchi, whose popular YouTube channel Back is recommended for folks who want to make hotteok at home.
It can be hard to come up with a new way to make pancakes, no matter how many riffs and variations you’ve seen. This is because pancakes are so ingrained in people’s childhood memories that it can be hard to come up with a new version. If I worked at all the restaurants I’ve ever worked at, I probably made pancakes. This is what Eduardo Sandoval, the chef at Top Quality in New York City, says. Pancakes are one of those things where people have a very specific way in which they want to have them. It’s a difficult job from the point of view of a chef.
Sandoval came up with a sweet potato pancake that went well with the other foods on Top Quality’s menu. Because banana and zucchini pancakes were not on his list, he said, “I didn’t want to make them.” The spices that go well with sweet potatoes, such as cinnamon, star anise, and clove, are found in many salsas and other foods in Mexico. He lets the sweet potatoes do all the work. Sandoval adds agave to make them sweeter and adds blueberry jam with dried Morita, Meco, Guajillo, and ancho peppers on top of the pancakes to make them even more tasty.
Some people like pancakes because they give them the chance to stand on two feet at the same time. Back remembers a customer for whom hotteok was a big part of his childhood. This one person has been to every single pop-up. “No one makes this.” I’ve never had hotteok that was made from scratch before in my life. Because that’s why I do this. It’s almost like time-traveling in a way. It’s a food that connects with our younger selves but also allows us to be creative and come up with new ideas by letting us mix and match flavors, textures, and sensations. The way you eat shows that you are both young and wacky and old and brave.