Ever since we set back the clocks (way back when), mornings have been a drag. Literally. As they are, always, after a time change, another health crisis and a major move. An early bird rising late. Laundry seems harder. Late, later. Commonplace tasks, out of the question. All the ordinary edges of life, a little rough, a little bruised. Next week, it all will smooth over and fade away. Until then, I'll fumble along as best I can, and try to remember things like grace and patience and chocolate.
Following a few extra-rough afternoons last week, I had to turn right around and skedaddle, nothing resolved, loose ends dangling. I always find this a particularly prickly pain, I cannot sleep until the kitchen's clean, the floor swept, the laundry folded. Possibly, the same Type A instincts. But I love when the air is as clear and breezy indoors, as out, and my hands are busy.
Again with the busy hands.
And I thought back to an ongoing internal debate I've said since pretty much forever, namely, Why? Why knit, write, bake, stuff? What's the point? How can art justify itself? And I realized I might, belatedly, be staggering my way toward an answer, which roughly goes something like this, making stuff beats Marlboro's, any day. Peace is precious. Solace, scarce. I try to grab it when and where I can.
And if the end result is a sweater, another story, cherry pie? All the better.
I do these things because it busies my hands, and my mind. and my mind is the sort that needs busying. Maybe it's a genetic thing, I had it as a child, too. Every time I turned around, there were pan pipes being made out of straws, and pop beads made into jewelry, paper dolls to cut out, fantastic pink and orange polka dot cats being colored, an impossibly tiny sweater knitted for Barbie, and bulbs and seeds and succulents being planted. Some hands are as hungry for making as some stomachs, for eating. This is why I cook. It feeds the beast. Twice over, in cooking's case.
I cook because I can pronounce the ingredients. I cook because I can double the cardamom and add extra dill. I cook because cooking's a skill, and all skills improve over time, and with practice. I cook because I'm too lazy to buy boxed somethings for every.single.meal. or too cheap. I like lentils, and leftovers, and the challenge of working yesterday's braised pork into today's spaghetti and sauce. Even if Stouffer's does it better.
Here's the thing, there's this common truth, this accepted wisdom, so widespread it approaches gospel, that homemade is better. Automatically. Inherently. Still, home cooking can be appalling. Just, bad. Really bad. Beyond awful, and not infrequently.
Because cooking, while not at all hard, is not exactly easy, either. The day is long. I'm tired. There's laundry. And appointments. And bills that still need paying. And a garden, somehow full of weeds again. And knots to unravel; and arguments, and coffee mugs with gunk glued to their insides. A fine time to be playing with fire.
I have a staff of one. My supply chain is lacking. I'm seriously under-capitalized. My equipment is
Of course, I cook anyway. I do it because there are countless reasons to cook, beyond end results. I cook because so much of what I love to eat, isn't sold in aisle 6. Stir-fry doesn't fare well in Tupperware. Smoked tofu and celery apparently have a narrow reach. Salad bar salads are mostly just sad. Grocery store frosting. Enough said.
I cook because I'm wildly independent. Possibly stubborn. Definitely obstinate. I hate the idea of depending on others. Tyson and Nabisco, included.
I cook because I love that a carrot's a root and grows in the ground and comes with a wild green leafy 'do. I love that cake starts with flour and butter and eggs and an extraordinary mess. I cook because, for all the fails, it's really, really hard to beat fresh, warm, homemade bread.
It's also hard to beat boxed pancake mix.
Was a time I made pancakes once a week, most weeks. For years. I alternated between oatmeal pancakes and ricotta cloud cakes. They are each distinct, and wonderful, and I've practiced enough to not fail too completely. What I never make, or very rarely, anyway, is straight-up, ordinary buttermilk pancakes. From scratch, I should clarify. When I'm feeling especially
Because I have, of course, made buttermilk pancakes. A dozen times. Three dozen. More? Countless recipes. Countless stove settings. Countless approaches. And they're mostly fine. Not terrible, not great. Big circles of batter, cooked. Pleasant. Nice. Nothing that seems worth the work. Nothing half as good as the boxed mix.
This is slightly discouraging, though of course, not at all unexpected.
Was, rather, because Baby the camel's come through. Buttermilk pancakes are no longer a twice-a-year treat.
Several months ago, I stumbled upon The Buttermilk Pancake To Beat All, in get this, My Father's Daughter. I know, I know; don't go there. This was before Gwyneth's everything-free phase. This wasn't, even then, her house pancake, which dutifully includes soy milk and seeds and other Proper Things. What this is is her father's recipe, and I quote, "Bruce Paltrow's World-Famous Pancakes". Humble? No. Accurate? Absolutely.
There are a thousand ways to make a buttermilk pancake, but as a rule, most recipes are strikingly similar, a standard formula of 1:1:1—one cup of flour, one cup of buttermilk, one egg. Easy peasy. Leavening varies, sugar Tablespoons fluctuate, fat types and sorts are subject to change. But by and large, this ratio rules. It's a good ratio. A nice ratio. I've used it three dozen times. Maybe more. Like I said dude, not bad.
Paltrow's pancakes almost follow suit, almost. But in two crucial ways, they vary at the margins, and as we know, those margins are everything. To his three cups of flour and three cups of buttermilk, Paltrow adds six eggs. Six eggs make magic things happen. Six eggs make for a flapjack that's delicate, and light, and unequivocally tender. Never doughy, or bready, or heavy, as I find most (from-scratch, non-mix) buttermilk pancakes to be. Six eggs provide body and structure and a togetherness in the skillet I can only call poise. Poise in a pancake is a fine thing. Six eggs suggest custard, but in lower case type, a softness and creaminess that so suits pancakes. Six eggs make a batter, and pancake, as handsome as handsome can be, golden, sunny, happy
What makes me happy is Paltrow's second small tweak, the mixing up of the batter the night before. All of it. Wet, dry, baking powder, even. This wigged me out, the first several times, as I was sure the baking powder would deflate. Probably, it does. Definitely, it doesn't matter. I've made these some 16 times now, and counting. They've never failed. They're always wonderful. The overnight rest likely does all sorts of important chemistry-ish things, like letting the gluten relax, and the flour hydrate, and yada yada... More importantly? It allows the batter to sour, ever so slightly. Poise: meet personality.
Most importantly? With all the prep done the night prior, I can stumble downstairs, bleary-eyed, caffeine-hangry, and ta da!, start flipping flapjacks as I brew. Flapjacks that cook up as fragrant and deckle-edged and faintly tart and subtly sweet and reliably swoony as any I've ever made. From scratch, for sure. From a mix, even. From me? High praise, indeed.
Bruce Paltrow's World-Famous Pancakes
I've rounded a few ingredients up + down ever so slightly, to be less fussy, as is my way, and love them just like this. As is also my way, I've inverted and consolidated the mixing down to one bowl, two big dirty bowls have no place before breakfast. Feel free to mix the dry ingredients properly, separately. Additionally, Paltrow has you leave the batter out, apparently on the counter, overnight. I don't do broken and beaten eggs at room temp, all night. I refrigerate.
The yield on this recipe is vast, at least 3 dozen. I usually make this as written, and run through half on a Sunday morning. The remainder, I cook off, cool, and freeze, for snacks and future breakfasts. Pancakes reheat brilliantly. That said, this recipe halves easily.
6 extra-large eggs
3 cups buttermilk (whole, if possible)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbs + 1 tsp baking powder
6 Tbs. salted butter + more for cooking
++ additional milk and/or flour, to thin or thicken
The night prior: crack eggs into a large mixing bowl, then whisk well, to break apart. Add well-shaken buttermilk, and whisk, to combine. Add sugar and salt, and whisk well. Finally, add flour, with baking powder sprinkled over, and whisk or fold gently, until batter is mostly homogenous and just combined. Cover with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap, and refrigerate until the next morning.
In the morning, in a large skillet suitable for flapjacks, melt the 6 Tbs. of butter. Add butter to batter, and whisk to combine. Return skillet to burner, turn heat to medium-low, add a good knob of butter, and once melted, deposit batter in 1/4 cup portions. (I can manage 3 pancakes at a time in my 12" skillet.) When pancakes are drying at the edges, and bubbles are appearing throughout, 3-4 minutes, flip one to test. If the bottom is golden and rimmed with lovely, flip the remaining flapjacks, and cook another 2 minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove, and either serve immediately, or hold in a 200 degree oven, as you work through the batter.
Continue until all batter has been used, adjusting heat so as not to burn, and adding an additional slosh of milk or spoonful of flour, to adjust heft to suit. I love these on the thin side, typically exactly as written, though now and again, I'll add an extra Tablespoon or two of flour, for loft. Experiment. Play. Enjoy. And above all, top with butter. (Maple syrup optional, but excellent.)