Flapjacks, griddle cakes, hot cakes, or pancakes. Whatever you call them, they’re the ultimate fun food, conjuring up sweet memories of family togetherness on lazy weekend mornings.
Pancakes tend to be pretty darn good even when they’re just average, but here are simple steps to make your cakes more fluffy, tender, flavorful — and nutritious:
Doctor basic pancake mix.
Making pancakes from scratch isn’t difficult, but a good basic store bought mix can rise to greatness with some doctoring. For example, instead of the milk called for on the package directions, use buttermilk for a tastier, lighter pancake. (Any unused buttermilk can be frozen in 1 cup portions ready for the next time you make pancakes. Thaw overnight in refrigerator.) Don’t have buttermilk on hand? Milk that’s gone sour or some plain Greek yogurt added to milk makes a good substitute. Or, cut back on the amount of buttermilk and add a 4 ounce jar of baby food fruit or vegetables (sweet potato or pumpkin) to the batter along with spices, extracts, wheat germ, or nuts.
Make a better batter.
Combine all liquid ingredients well before adding them to the dry mix. Then, stir the batter with a large spoon just until thoroughly moistened, but still slightly lumpy. Let the batter stand for 5-7 minutes, so that the leavening will have a chance to work. And, store the box of pancake mix in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer to keep the leavening at peak quality.
Skip the syrup and butter.
Topping pancakes with fruit adds vitamins, minerals, fiber and the right touch of sweetness from the healthy fructose naturally found in fruit. Try a mixture of your favorite chopped fresh fruits with a bit of light whipped cream. Or, layer applesauce in between the pancakes with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Jarred all fruit spreads are another good choice.
Make it a short stack and serve with protein.
It’s unlikely that pancakes will ever make the ranks of health foods, but that doesn’t mean they should be excluded from your diet. Two medium-sized pancakes topped with fruit and served with turkey bacon and scrambled egg whites make a hearty and delicious breakfast or brunch.
Pancakes Plus Sweet Potato
Makes 1 dozen medium cakes
4 ounce jar baby food sweet potato
About 2/3 cup buttermilk or sour milk (see note below)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup regular pancake mix (use a mix that calls for the addition of milk, egg, and oil, not a “just add water” mix)
1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons butter, divided into three 1/2 teaspoon portions
Empty contents of baby food jar into a measuring cup. Add enough buttermilk to go to 1 cup fill line. Pour into a small bowl. Add egg and oil. Combine well and set aside. In a medium bowl, stir apple pie spice into the pancake mix. When combined, add liquids and stir with a large spoon (not an electric mixer) just until the large lumps are gone and the all ingredients are well moistened. Don’t overbeat — batter should still have many small lumps. Fold in nuts, if using. Let batter stand 5-7 minutes. Heat a large skillet on low medium heat and melt 1/2 teaspoon of butter in it. You will be making the pancakes in three batches. Add enough batter to heated skillet to make four medium pancakes. Turn cakes when they are dry on the edges and bubbly in the middle. Serve hot, topped with unsweetened applesauce.
Ellen Stokes, MS, RD, LD is an award-winning video producer, director, and writer in addition to being a registered dietitian. Ellen writes and creates videos about nutrition education, food safety, menu planning, grocery shopping, and healthful cooking on a budget. Ellen has worked with organizations and companies including WebMD, the Partnership for Food Safety Education, and the University of Georgia Food Science Department. Ellen formerly worked for CNN as a writer and producer and teaches food safety and nutrition for Georgia State University. Check her out on Twitter @EllenS_RD.