Pancakes have been one of my favorite Sunday breakfasts ever since I was little–but not really the pancakes you get at restaurants, the perfectly round, thin, puffy, evenly golden circles. No, my favorite pancakes are the ones that are (or so it always seemed to me) unique to my family and so steeped in memories.
Sundays at my dad’s were almost always the same routine: church (when he could drag me out of bed—sorry Dad!), grocery shopping at Wegmans, then home for a big breakfast and reading the paper—which really just consisted of the comics section for me and my sisters. The best breakfasts though were the ones where my dad would ask us “Letter or apple pancakes?” These were his pancake specialties—thankfully my sisters and I have initials that translate well in batter.
Letter pancakes were year-round options, but apple pancakes were only during fall or winter and necessitated a special trip to the apple orchard/mill/country store (with a hello to the store’s resident rabbit and a cider doughnut for later). My dad would cook up the pancakes while my sisters and I watched cartoons or read the comics. Pancakes would be served with a side of bacon that my sister Erica would inevitably dip in a pool of maple syrup—and my dad always only had real maple syrup.
My mom’s pancakes, on the other hand, always remind me of summer vacation at the beach. If it wasn’t just a PB&J before a day in the water, my mom would fry up a big plate of pancakes for us (and usually an assortments of aunts, uncles, and cousins). More like fry cakes, with a crispy outside and fluffy inside, she always topped them with a dusting of powdered sugar, maybe a little blob of raspberry jam. Now she makes those delicious fry cakes with an amazing mix she gets from a restaurant called Poppycocks in Aspen, CO—it’s like her best, crispy pancake with a gooey oatmeal center.
I’ve made a dozen different pancake variations on my own: grocery store boxed mix, “fancy” mix, buttermilk, whole wheat or other grains, with whipped egg whites, and more that I’m forgetting, but they never turn out quite as good as when either of my parents make them.
This time of year though, my craving for my dad’s apple pancakes gets the better of me. While nothing ever quite compares to when my dad makes them, these pancakes are a pretty good version, if I say so myself. The added whole grain flour adds some nutty flavor that really goes well with the apples, and the buttermilk gives them a little tang and a nice puffy lift.
This is a combination of my dad’s apple pancakes, Alton Brown’s buttermilk pancake recipe from I’m Just Here for More Food, and my own preference for adding a bit of whole grain. It makes about 10 medium-ish sized pancakes, enough for about 4 people, and leftovers are great reheated in a toaster oven or toaster.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat, or mix of whole grain, flours
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/3 cups diced apples (about 3 small to medium apples)
2 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons butter, melted, plus additional butter for the pan
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, then mix in the apples. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and butter (it’s ok if the butter re-solidifies in clumps when you add it to the cold buttermilk). Add the liquid to the dry ingredients, and stir just until there are no large pockets of dry ingredients, no need to mix it together completely. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes.
While the batter is resting, heat a pan (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Generously butter the pan, then drop in 1/3-1/2 cup scoops of batter and gently spread to a round-ish shape.
To get an even browning on the pancakes, once bubbles set in the pancake towards the middle of the pan, carefully slip a spatula under the pancake and rotate it to brown the other half of the bottom. When the bottom is nicely browned, flip the pancake, brown, and repeat the rotating. I usually do about 2 pancakes at a time, and set finished pancakes on a cooking rack in a warm oven.
Serve with butter and warm syrup, then call your parents and tell them you still miss their pancakes.