Monday, June 22, 2009

Whole Wheat Pancakes (that are actually good)

I'm guessing one of the hallmarks of a good pornographer is that they can hide all the flaws and grossness of the activities they are portraying and make it look like happy fun time with beautiful people. Well, maybe not actually "beautiful" so much as thin, copiously implanted, and shaven.

A good food pornographer similarly takes a subject which can look like slop and make it look appetizing. What is more, they can take utter failures and make them look like successes. One of my major pet peeves (which I've mentioned before) is that a lot of the recipes I find on the Internet look fabulous or are steeped in superlatives, but when I try the recipe, I get something inedible or lame.

Invariably, a lot of the best looking pictures with bad recipes have a bunch of comments under them saying, "it looks fabulous! I can't wait to try it!" They never have comments from people who have actually tried it. This irked me as the comments are relatively useless to those of us wanting to actually try the food rather than just treat it like a statue to admire, but I have finally figured out why there are no comments from people who make the featured item. I have posted comments on some of these failures and said in a polite way that the recipe didn't work out for me. Sometimes I've even asked for advice about where I may have gone wrong. Unsurprisingly, these comments are never posted. This goes a long way toward supporting my suspicion that people who post their glorious food porn pictures know that the recipes suck, but they post them anyway and hide the consequences.

I've made whole wheat pancakes on many occasions, but the results have been somewhat disappointing. Mainly, they're denser than I'd like, too flat, or too eggy. On the whole, they simply weren't fluffy enough to satisfy compared to the glory of cakes made with white flour. The truth is that whole wheat can't hold up to the decadence of white flour cakes. It never will because it has a different taste and texture due to the extra protein in them. The best you can hope for is something which is as good as it can be, but not so different from beautiful white pancakes as to disappoint.

I was poking around for a recipe for whole wheat pancakes and you'd be surprised how many included white flour. How can it be whole wheat if there's white flour in it? It sort of takes away the "whole" part. At any rate, I found an abysmal recipe which was just 4 ingredients - whole wheat flour, baking soda, brown sugar and milk. I was going to try it anyway because I though a radically different approach might work better. The next morning I had second thoughts and decided to heavily modify the recipe to include things I think should be in any pancake recipe. The results were surprisingly good.

Whole Wheat Pancakes:

Dry ingredients:
1 cup (regular) whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 semi-heaping tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt

Wet ingredients:
3/4 cup milk with 1/2 tbsp. distilled vinegar added (or buttermilk)
1 medium egg
1 tbsp. Canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Sift the flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a bowl. Scoop most of it up and sift a second time. Add the sugar and salt and mix up the rest of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients until well-blended. Add the wet into the dry and stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Don't overmix it or smooth out lumps. Mainly, you're just looking to make sure there's nothing dry in your pancakes.

Heat a skillet or griddle at medium-high heat. The pan should be good and hot, but not smoking hot. Add just enough Canola oil to coat the pan and let it heat for about a minute. There shouldn't be any pools of oil. You just want to add enough to make sure they don't stick.

Add the batter by the tablespoon. I used about two tablespoons per cake and they were not huge, but not small. It's very important to follow this next part when cooking if you want to have good, fluffy pancakes. You need to watch them carefully and flip them when the edges look dry and/or the very first bubble starts to form on the top. If you have the heat set properly, they will brown quickly as well. Only flip them once or you will have tough pancakes. You can test for doneness once they're flipped by pressing gently on the center of one of the cakes. It should feel firm, but be springy.

If you wait too long to flip them, they won't rise enough. You should also be able to tell if they're ready by the fact that they don't break apart when you attempt to flip them (and by the edges looking dry near the bottom). Essentially, the bottom should be cooked and the top still quite wet. If you look at the stack of cakes at the top of the post, you can see that they are uneven because they were flipped when top was still very moist and it splayed out a bit (bottom is smaller than the top). This is what you want.

These are very hearty tasting and undeniably "wheaty" in taste, but they have the right texture and look and feel like an real, fluffy pancake. They're actually better with things like jam and honey than the average white flour pancake, but good with syrup as well. When you add the syrup, the pancakes will be more "crumbly" than usual pancakes because those made with whole wheat flour isn't as gluey as those made with white, but they don't disintegrate.

My feeling is that the baking soda made a huge difference with the whole wheat flour because it acts much more rapidly than baking powder. I think it gave these extra lift, but it also means you can't make too many at once or save the batter for the next day if you won't want to use it all. My recipe made 7 medium-sized pancakes. I ate two and put the rest in the refrigerator for the next few days. I recommend cooking them all up at once rather than saving the batter because I think they'll lose all of their capacity to rise by the next day.

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