Perfect pancakes made from scratch

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

A bit of research on the history of pancakes informs me that this universal breakfast treat probably dates way back to when Neolithic humans domesticated einkorn wheat, ground it into flour mixed with bird’s egg and goat’s milk and poured the batter on a heated rock.

“It happened before there were pans and long before ovens,” according to the website, “The ancient cooks dropped a little gruel on a hot rock of campfire, resulting in thin cakes that were tastier than plain gruel or cakes cooked directly in the embers of the fire.”

My mother’s pancakes were born of Bisquick. Maple syrup was an extravagance, the Log Cabin syrup bottle got passed around by me and my siblings leaving a sticky trail across the table unless my mom decided to get fancy and warm the brown goo before pouring it into a small pitcher perched on a saucer. I’m pretty sure that the yellow pat of melting fat was margarine, not butter, and the paper-thin slices of bacon were cooked to a brittleness so that one bite created pork shards on the plate. Hey, it was the ’50s: asparagus came out of a can, pizza was Appian Way and spaghetti was Chef Boyardee.

The pancake soon evolved from a purchased mix to lovely, light from-scratch creations as my mother began stretching her cooking chops. One favorite were the thin and crispy pancakes similar to crepes that we called Dutch Babies (but were actually Swedish pancakes). The process was more involved — each pancake created individually — and we waited as patiently as we could with forks in hand before downing them as fast as she could flip the next one. No butter needed here, just a dusting of powdered sugar and some fresh berries. (The recipe has survived the test of time as they were my daughter’s very favorite and I still have the recipe she copied from her grandmother’s file in her precious schoolgirl script on a scrap of paper.)

Other variations included fresh fruit and real honest-to-goodness butter that assumed it’s rightful place over the fake yellow transfat (was that even a word back then?) I do recall the delicious occasion when finally the Log Cabin was replaced with real maple syrup and sometimes honey.

The allure of pancakes has not waned for me. When my own children were little I would make them for dinner, sneaking in a shredded veggie or two along with whole grains and eggs. It was a complete meal even though the nutritious cake was often drowned in syrup (pure maple, if you please). If truth be told, the idea of pancakes for dinner was more to delight me than my children, they were a wonderfully convenient excuse for breakfast for dinner.

Pancakes don’t have to be heavy, either. You can lighten up by substituting yogurt, sour cream or cottage cheese along with skim milk for the whole milk portion. You can add cornmeal or buckwheat flour, oat bran or granola to the batter to heap on the heartiness factor and toppings can be fresh blueberries cooked into a syrup, fresh sliced strawberries or bananas or honey spiced with cinnamon. Think of the pancake as several food groups in one lovely disc.

Pancakes are also the funnest food. You can create them in various shapes and sizes (I kept various molds for when my grandson came to visit and we would whip up a batch); add just about any goody — from fruit to nuts to chocolate chips — and watch a plate get clean in a wink.

With Mother’s Day approaching, I may just create my own special pancake perfect for the occasion. Or maybe I’ll just pull out my daughter’s handwritten masterpiece and remember my mom. She may have started with Bisquick, but she moved on pretty fast.

Kate Lawson is the retired Detroit News food writer.

Puff Pancake

Recipe from

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup whole milk

2 large eggs, beaten

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (substitute cinnamon or nutmeg)

Pinch of salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (approximately 1/2 lemon)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine flour, milk, eggs, salt and cardamom in bowl. Beat with spoon until mostly smooth. (Some lumps are fine.)

In 10-inch, oven-proof skillet, heat butter until sizzling, but not brown. Pour batter into hot butter and immediately transfer to oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with lemon juice and confectioners’ sugar. Serve immediately with jam or syrup. Serves 4.

Per serving: 212 calories; 12 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 51 percent calories from fat); 20 g carbohydrates; 7 g sugar; 119 mg cholesterol; 85 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 0.5 g fiber.

Coconut Buttermilk Pancakes

with Orange Syrup

Recipe from

For pancakes

2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon dried ginger

2 teaspoons nutmeg

Zest of one lemon

2 eggs

5 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or 1 cup yogurt (not greek), plus 1/2 cup whole milk)

1 cup coconut milk (If you don’t have coconut milk, you may substitute whole milk)

1 teaspoon almond extract (may substitute vanilla)

For syrup

3 cups fresh orange juice

1/2 cup granulated sugar

zest of one orange

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon almond extract (may substitute vanilla)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare syrup first: Combine orange juice and sugar in medium pan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, while preparing pancakes, until reduced by half. When reduced, remove from heat, add butter, zest, and almond extract. Stir to combine.

Prepare pancakes: Spread coconut flakes evenly on parchment lined baking sheet and place in oven. Check every two minutes. Stir if edges brown quicker than center. Remove once browned. Approximately five minutes.

Combine flour, sugar, powder, soda, ginger, nutmeg medium bowl. Stir to evenly mix. Add 3/4 of the toasted coconut (reserve remaining,) and lemon zest. stir to evenly combine.

Combine eggs, buttermilk, coconut milk, melted butter and almond extract in medium bowl. Whisk together well.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, in three batches, stirring thoroughly between each addition. Batter should be barely pourable. If too thick, thin with additional milk.

Heat nonstick (or greased) griddle to medium temperature. Pour five inch circles of batter onto griddle. Once bubbles appear on surface, flip. Cook until both sides are light brown.

Serve immediately, garnished with reserved toasted coconut, and orange syrup. Makes about 32 pancakes. Recipe can be easily halved.

Per serving: 137 calories; 7 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 46 percent calories from fat); 16 g carbohydrates; 9 g sugar; 20 mg cholesterol; 126 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Rum Raisin Pumpkin Pancakes

Recipe from

1/2 cup dark raisins

1/2 cup dark rum

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or some mixture of yogurt and regular milk)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup pumpkin puree

3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed.

3 eggs

1/2 stick butter, melted and slightly cooled

The night before, soak raisins overnight in rum.

In large bowl combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, black pepper, salt, and baking powder. In medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, brown sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla extract, and pumpkin puree. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Stir to combine. Drain excess rum from soaked raisins (save for cocktails) and fold raisins into batter. The batter should be wet enough to be scooped with ladle. If not, add more buttermilk or milk.

Heat stove-top griddle over medium flame. Pour batter onto griddle. Flip once when ready, and serve warm. Makes about 16 pancakes.

Per serving: 164 calories; 7 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 38 percent calories from fat); 18 g carbohydrates; 7 g sugar; 51 mg cholesterol; 223 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Zucchini Dill Pancakes

Recipe from

Pancakes don’t need to be sweet to satisfy. These savory zucchini dill cakes are the perfect side for grilled chicken or pork.

2 medium zucchini (12 ounces total), shredded on large holes of a box grater

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup chopped fresh dill, plus sprigs for garnish

2 tablespoons fresh chives or scallions

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1/4 cup sour cream

Place the zucchini in a colander set over a bowl and squeeze the zucchini with your fingers until dry. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the flour, dill, chives, salt and egg to combine.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Using a number-18 ice-cream scoop (the equivalent of 3 tablespoons), or a scant 1/4-cup measure, place 4 to 5 mounds of zucchini mixture in the pan, flattening with a metal spatula to a 1/2-inch thickness. Cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side, lowering the heat if over-browning. Repeat with the remaining mixture.

Top each pancake with a teaspoon of sour cream and a dill sprig. Makes about 8 pancakes.

Per serving: 72 calories; 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 63 percent calories from fat); 4 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 26 mg cholesterol; 233 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 0.5 g fiber.

Swedish Pancakes

Once you eat these, you’ll never go back to regular pancakes. They’re thin, moist, dense and delicious. Similar to crepes, but more substantial. Recipe adapted from

3 eggs

3/4 cup flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cup milk

Beat eggs lightly. Whisk in flour, sugar, salt, then add milk and beat just until blended. Drop onto hot, butterred skillet, should form approx. 3-inch cakes. Batter will be very thin and pancakes cook quickly. Serve with butter and powdered sugar, syrup or fruit. Makes about 12 pancakes.

Per serving: 66 calories; 2 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 27 percent calories from fat); 8 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 49 mg cholesterol; 126 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 0.2 g fiber.

Cornmeal Molasses Pancakes

Recipe from

1 large egg

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

4 tablespoons molasses

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

Whisk the wet ingredients together in a measuring cup.Whisk the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add the wet to the dry, stirring just until combined, don’t over mix, lumps are OK. If the batter seems too thick, add a little more buttermilk.

Cook on a hot griddle. Makes about 16 pancakes.

Per serving: 97 calories; 4 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 37 percent calories from fat); 14 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 20 mg cholesterol; 223 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 0.4 g fiber.