Dalai Mama Dishes

by Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

Dalai Mama Dishes

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

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Buttermilk Pancakes

Posted February 23, 2009
Find more about breakfast , dalai mama , pancakes
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These are smallish pancakes, maybe 4 inches across. Aren't they lovely?

I'm including this photograph because Michael's hands are so utterly the hands of a massage therapist.

Stirring the wets into the dries: not so different from using a mix!

Don't tell Michael I included this one.

Do you have a griddle? If you eat lots of pancakes and/or grilled cheese sandwiches, bacon, and quesadillas, then you should really consider investing in one. It kind of changed our life.

The bottle makes it easy to squeeze out fun shapes, if you are so inclined. Michael claims that only because I was snapping pictures did his typically adorable snail come out looking like a drowning earthworm.

Note the array of jams.

The pancake maker.

If you've ever lived in--or even visited--Santa Cruz, California, then you've eaten breakfast at Zachary's. Doubtless people bring their children there, and doubtless we brought our Benny when he was a wee nursling who stared excitedly up at the ceiling fans like they were movie stars he recognized, but all my memories are of the twenty-something variety: adding our hungover names to the wait list that was so long you felt like you were signing a petition for something really popular and obvious, like love or not killing puppies for no reason, and then sitting on the sidewalk to wait in the sunshine with a never-ending mug of coffee while pages flew off the calendar and trees budded and flowered and leafed out and then dropped their russet foliage and your beard grew down to the ground and out of the county. Oh, but once you were seated! Your food was already coming out of the kitchen, I know this is impossible, even as you were still ordering it.

And what you ordered were the sourdough pancakes. I just Googled them and even someone's dim personal snapshot made me drool: the same orange-slice-and-gobs-of-butter garnish that I remember, the same flock of thin, golden disks that you could slather with apricot jam and roll up and stuff into your waiting, happy mouth. These are not the cakey kind of pancakes that you would describe as "light" or "fluffy." They're tangy, spongy, and damp--a little like the injera you might get at an Ethiopian restaurant to scoop your stew. Only not made from fermented teff. We have spent ages trying to recreate them, and this recipe--an adaptation of one from The Joy of Cooking--is the excellent result.

Michael makes weekend breakfast at our house, which is almost comically consistent with the gender cliché, right? Women bustle around in frilled aprons doing all the boring everyday soups and roasts while the men get the dramatic manly tasks of grilling and griddling. But given that Ben's impression of the world is that "Moms usually work full-time and Dads seem to work less or not at all, I know that's a stereotype, but it's just what I'm noticing," well, I figure it's okay. It was the same in my house growing up, and there's even an apocryphal story about our father flipping a pancake behind the stove, where, for all we know, it remains in all its fossilized glory.

Try these, even if you have a mix that you like. They will take you, like, 11 seconds longer to measure and stir than a mix would, and they're stunningly delicious. Plus, if you have leftovers, you can seal them up in a Ziploc bag and pop them in the freezer, and then defrost them in your toaster oven for school-morning breakfasts. If we make pancakes on a Sunday, then we usually have enough leftover to get through Tuesday or so of the school week, which is pretty good, right?

Buttermilk Pancakes
Milk will make an okay pancake, but not a fabulously tangy one. Buy a quart of buttermilk and then plan to make corn bread with the leftovers. These pancakes are not sweet and we don't put fruit in them while they're cooking, but we do slather them with jam and syrup afterwards.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 large eggs
Jam and syrup for serving

Whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. If your buttermilk and eggs are cold, then the butter will kind of seize and clump, but you don't need to fret about it. Pour the wets into the dries and whisk it all until it's nice and smooth. If you like your pancakes thinnish, and we do, then the batter should be thinnish; whisk in a little more buttermilk if it seems really thick. Now pour it into a squeeze bottle, if you like, or else scoop it directly onto the hot griddle. You know, the griddle that's been heating over medium heat until a flick of water bounces and steams on contact. Butter the griddle well and then begin pouring on your batter, using a third of a cup or so for each pancake, but really just kind of eyeballing it. When the pancakes are nice and bubbled on top and the undersides are brown, flip them and cook another minute or so to brown the bottoms lightly. Taste one: it should be nice and brown on the outside and nice and moist--but not raw--on the inside; if they're cooking too fast or too slow, adjust the heat accordingly. Rebutter the pan as needed between batches. If you like, you can keep the pancakes in a warm oven until they're all cooked, but we tend to serve them as they're ready, taking turns eating and manning the griddle; even Ben will take a turn at the stove, which makes life quite grand.  

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Buttermilk Pancakes

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About Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir, Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family, available online and in bookstores nationwide.

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