Pancakes are the perfect cottage fare, don’t you think? They’re universally loved, can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you only need a few key ingredients to make basic ones and they’re super simple to whip up. The real question is why wouldn’t you make pancakes a part of your cottage getaway?
Still, there are pancakes and then there are chef-quality pancakes that you’ll want to eat all weekend long. To achieve the latter, we asked everyone’s favourite MasterChef, Mary Berg, for all of her expert tips.
“They’re great because they’re the perfect quick and easy thing to throw together on your first day there when you’re maybe still getting unpacked. But they’re also a great way to use up a bunch of stuff you have in the fridge, whether it’s some extra berries that are about to go, or if you have chocolate hanging around from s’mores the other night. All that can get tossed into your pancakes and it can be kind of a fridge clean-out breakfast.”
So how does Berg get the best flapjacks on this side of the lake? Here are a few of her tried and tested tips.
Decide what kind of pancakes you want
All pancakes are not created equal. If you like your pancakes full of fluff, make ’em on a griddle. Trying to achieve that crispy-on-the-outside, cake-like on the inside cook on your pancakes? Just grab a good old-fashioned frying pan. Want to try something entirely different? Give the “Dutch baby” a go.
Mary’s go-to? “I like a pancake to be kind of fried up. A frying pan gives you a slightly different kind of finish on them.”
When frying, mix oil and butter
We’d never heard of this game-changing trick, but when you look at the science behind it, it makes total sense. Mary likes to fry her pancakes up in a mixture of butter and vegetable oil, because oil stops the butter from burning.
“Butter has a really low smoke point…So when you’re making brown butter and those little bits of brown start coming in that taste so good (and that’s exactly what you’re looking for), those things can also easily burn,” she explains. “You can go from yummy brown butter to gross butter really quickly. Adding the oil brings up the smoke point.”
Mary notes that vegetable oil is best because it doesn’t add any extra flavour to your pancakes the way, say, olive oil would. Or if you’d prefer, you could also fry your pancakes up in ghee, which is a clarified butter that has already had the milk fat skimmed from it.
Choose buttermilk, every time
We’re all familiar with the genius that is buttermilk pancakes, right? Mary certainly is. She says it’s usually her secret weapon when it comes to perfecting her pancakes, because the buttermilk adds a nice hearty but fluffy taste.
“It’s a little bit acidic and it cuts through the oil and butter you’re frying the pancake in. And it helps highlight the flavours in the sugar,” Mary says. “Buttermilk is actually one of the lowest fat options, because buttermilk is usually only about a one per cent fat amount. It’s just a great ingredient that helps activate the baking soda and powder and creates a fluffier pancake.”
Don’t have buttermilk? No problem. For every cup of milk that you use, add a teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar and then let it sit for a couple of minutes before using. Instant (sort of ) buttermilk.
Know when to flip
First, Berg says to start with a medium heat on your frying pan. When your butter and oil are warmed up, scoop some batter in without crowding the pan. You’ll know your pancake is ready to flip when the bubbles start to rise and slowly pop.
“I want the butter to sizzle but not to smoke immediately,” she says. “Once I put the pancake in there, I leave it and it’s the classic thing where you watch the sides kind of get a little bit dull. You see the bubbles starting to pop, but it’s not just when they pop: it’s when they pop and hold. That means it’s time to flip.”
Don’t be afraid of pancake mix
It’s super easy to whip up your own pancake mix, sure. But then again it’s also really easy to just bring a box of store-bought stuff with you when you’re headed to the cottage. Mary says either way is totally fine, but if you do go with the boxed stuff, just jazz it up once you actually cook them.
“I grew up on a boxed pancake. Our cottage was on an island,” she says. “If your cottage is like a real cottage — like a rough-and-tumble kind of place, there’s no qualms with store-bought mix. You just have to then doctor it up. Whether it’s with blueberries, or chocolate chips, or some cinnamon in there, just add flavour to the base.”
Don’t mix your add-ins before pouring
Whether you’re adding fruit or chocolate chips, when it comes to flavoured pancakes you want to wait until the mixture is slightly firm on the frying pan or griddle before sprinkling in those extras. That way, if you have something like blueberries the batter won’t turn purple, but it also ensures an even distribution of goods.
“You want to spoon the batter into your pan and then let it go for like 10 seconds. When it starts to cook that’s when you sprinkle your toppings on top,” she explains. “I like it when you have one side that has the fruit and the other side just looks like a pancake. And then you can serve them either right side up or upside down.”
Keep them warm the right way
Some people use aluminum foil to tent their pancakes, but that’s a great way to lose all of that crispy goodness you’ve just achieved. Instead, Mary recommends setting the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and then transferring cooked pancakes onto baking sheets in a single layer.
“I find if you stack them they get a little wobbly and they get a little bit…for lack of a better word, sweaty. That’s not good, you don’t want that on a pancake,” she says.
Mary’s also a really big fan of popping any leftovers in the freezer and then tossing them in the toaster like you would an Eggo, whenever a pancake craving hits.
Play with your toppings and ingredients
Once you’ve got the perfect pancake base, then you can start experimenting with different flavours. At the moment, Mary’s super into lemon and orange zest.
“It brightens everything up. It still tastes really good with syrup on it,” she says. “My favourite thing right now is to zest lemons and add poppy seed, so it’s kind of like lemon poppy seed pancakes. It’s delicious.”
Other flavour options: Strawberry and basil pancakes, flapjacks topped with mascarpone cheese or sweetened sour cream or Greek yogurt. Mary says it’s perfectly OK to beyond the traditional syrup and jam every once in a while for a truly unique take.
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Now that Mary’s given us the low-down, here’s her perfect pancake recipe for the cottage:
One batch of 12 to 14 pancakes
DIY pancake mix
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 cups DIY Pancake Mix
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- For the DIY Pancake Mix, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and whisk very well to combine. Store the dry mix in an airtight container or jar until ready to use.
- To make pancakes, whisk together the pancake mix with the beaten eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted unsalted butter just to combine. The batter should not be completely smooth so a few lumps are a-ok!
- Lightly grease a frying pan with a little butter and a splash of vegetable oil and cook the pancakes until they are golden brown on each side.
- Feel free to add in spices, fruit, chocolate, or anything else you might like in your pancakes!