Before I disappoint you, I should preface this column by coming clean. I, Patrick Buck, do not know the secret to a perfect pancake. Nor have I ever knowingly taken part in creating one. But I do believe this is a discussion we need to have. Pancakes may seem simple, but this is not the truth, my friend. In fact, a well-executed triple stack is a highly sophisticated balancing act tying together science, luck, karma and sacrifice.
So now you know: I donít know what Iím talking about, and I have every intention of making you very hungry through words in print. Keep reading, but know you were warned.
Pancakes are one of the many pins in the wagon wheels that took this country from a humble (and morally wrong) startup to a full-blown world power (with questionable morals).
Theyíve been there for our sensory delight and physical nourishment since the beginning. Around 30,000 years ago, cavemen were huddled, squatting around their first fires in caves, and through what can only be described as an act of fate that kept a fellow caveman from being eaten ó someone made a damn pancake. Thatís not the exact storyó but National Geographic would say Iím pretty close. Take that, historical accuracy.
Today, the elegant pancake, dressed with golden brown skin and the types of curves men kill for and women cry for, is a transcultural phenom. You can find a variation of flour, liquid, and fat combined into a paste and cooked flat on every continent.
Donít believe me? Think of French crepes, American hoecakes, Irish Boxty, Welsh crampog, Hungarian palacsinta, Indian poori or even Dutch pannenkoeken. It doesnít get more obvious than ďpannenkeoeken.Ē Weíre on to your game, Dutch-speaking people. The pannenkoeken is merely the gross amalgamation of a crepe and a pancake, and the world will not continue to turn a blind eye.
The point of all that information is to show you how diverse the pancake community really is. Itís deeper than Bisquick and buttermilk. The Romans were some of the first people to record and update pancake recipes. Thatís no coincidence once you consider the fact that they also developed concrete, modern plumbing, modern commerce, and oh yeah ó democracy. If Caesar synthesized it, itís good enough for me. (Nero, not so much.)
Just like the Romans and Greeks did for their gods, we do for the gods of the most delicious and malleable breakfast food item. We sacrifice. If youíve heard anyone say, ďThe first pancake is always a sacrifice,Ē you probably know how true that adage really is.
The first pancake to come in contact with a fresh, hot griddle is typically in for a bad time. The surface is almost always at a non-conducive temperature, meanwhile, the pancake is panicking because itís been taken away from its people to be sacrificed before a cruel god. Therefore, to all breakfast cooks, it is a sacrifice. One that, while still edible, will never be as good as his opposite: the final pancake.
The first pancake can be something like the biblical prodigal son. It was first and proved ruinous, stomping on your cooking operation before disappearing to the bottom of the pancake storage pile until the end of the eating process. But when you go back for your last nib, and the only thing staring back at you is the defeated, fluffy body of your sacrificial lamb, youíre reminded of your love for it, and why you did all this in the first place.
Itís an age-old process of trial and error with the tastiest possible payout. A stack of amber-colored, steam-venting, belly-filling warmth and sunshine. To receive that stack, men have gone to great lengths only to find a half-proud full belly at the end of their rainbow. Why? Because letís face it: the perfect pancake does not exist.
I said it, and I stand by my statement. If the perfect pancake were possible, humans would know no boundary. We would finally be able to affect a flawless and complete breakfast, lunch or dinner depending on our unique ďBreakfast Time Types,Ē but thatís another column for another time.
Pancakes cannot and will never meet the human standard of perfection, and they donít have to. Humans want everything to be symmetrical, beautiful, manageable (meaning it goes easily from fork to mouth to tummy) and appropriate (meaning itís not served off anyoneís body or anything else outrageous done after hours like this place I stumbled into while in Las Vegas.)
The pancake is none of those things. Itís never symmetrical unless you watch someone do it on the magical TV box. It canít be beautiful, because thatís an opinion (donít get me wrong I havenít seen a single ugly American Johnny Cake in years.) Theyíre hardly manageable, but typically this is the easiest parameter of perfection for food to meet. And as far as appropriate, can you break out a Rootie Tootie Fresh and Fruity for your power lunch with the branch manager and expect your maturity to not be in question? (If this happens and you feel judged for your decision, please seek new employment. You should be able to enjoy a worldwide classic whenever you want ó like Beethovenís 9th in D Minor.
Pancakes arenít any old fried egg to be thrown in at the end and looked at with disgust then refused by half the room. Pancakes are the hinges on which your whole day depends. They are the lifeblood of happiness for those ages 3 to 5,300 (in the case of Otzi the Iceman.) Personally, I would lay down my life so the legacy of flour, milk, and eggs in a flattened caked form may live on ó sorry mom, itís my hill to die on.
In closing, thereís something I want you to remember: Pancakes are a lot like spouses ó theyíll never be perfect, but always worth the love. Some days they arenít built the way you remember from when you were younger. Some days theyíre just a little ugly, even though the flavor is still there. Once in a while, itís nice to see them in pretty, vivid colors, but typically you wonít complain if they come standard. And occasionally, itís entirely appropriate to break out the whipped cream.