The good news: my search for the perfect pancake is over! The bad? You’re not gonna like where it got me.
I think I was in college before I finally got up the courage to tell my mom that I didn’t like her pancakes. Don’t get me wrong—they’re fine. They’re just not my bag. Her pancakes are light and airy from that no-fail combo of baking soda and powder, moist with a hint of tang from buttermilk, and crispy around the edges from a quick fry on the griddle. Sounds good, right? Eh, not for this girl.
In my efforts to find something better, I ordered pancakes at just about every diner, IHOP, hotel, and breakfast joint. I tasted variations like wild blueberry-ricotta and strawberry-rhubarb in the Fine Cooking test kitchen. I tried recipes from respected cookbooks and beautiful blogs (Joy the Baker likes pancakes almost as much as I do!). I’ve tried cooking them in oil, in butter, or in nothing at all. I’ve tried adding yogurt, whole milk, chocolate chips, fruit, and spices. They were all good. (Because really, how bad can a pancake be?) But I had yet to encounter something that straight up altered my existence.
A few mornings ago, I was lying in bed (ok, I was watching Mad Men) and not looking for any reason to budge, when I heard that telltale sizzle of batter hitting a hot pan. I shuffled, bleary-eyed into the kitchen where I found my roommate—who lives off canned soup, trail mix, and Trader Joe’s—actually making something.
Without a word, Kelly grabbed another plate (she doesn’t talk much before 10 am), and started making me a warm little pile to match hers. First bite and I knew—I’d searched the tri-state area over, and the perfect pancake was in my kitchen, at the hands of my culinarily-challenged roommate. (Irony-1. Sharon-0.)
“WHAT IS THIS RECIPE?!” I demanded, with vigor unbefitting the early hour. She walked to the cupboard and took out a box of Aunt Jemima Complete—the kind where you literally just add water. A minor existential crisis ensued. “How could this be the one? I am way too food-snobby for this.” But, the proof is in the pancake, friends. And let me tell you, they are gooooood.
I should not tell you that she layers her hot little short stacks with “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” and Aunt Jemima syrup. But, since we’re being honest, I did it, too…and it was awesome . . . though I’ll bet some good ole butter and Mom’s pecan syrup would blast these suckers out of this world.
The great thing about Aunt Jemima is that people will let you make it for them without all the usual, “Oh, no. You don’t need to do that!” nonsense. What is it about the sight of a measuring spoon that inspires hell-fire guilt in our guests? But with Aunt J, everyone knows you just add water. The pancakes are piled high before the coffee is done brewing.
And, of course, there is something so fulfilling about being able to feed people a warm, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast (or midnight snack) before sending them on their way. I like to think that’s me bringing the Anderson family motto to my new place: It doesn’t so much matter what you’re serving, it’s what happens around the table.
Slap an ill-fitting suit on me and give me some pamphlets. I am ready to go door-to-door as an Aunt Jemima’s Witness.