My Life in Pancakes


Mom’s silver dollar-sized, thin and fluffy, right off the griddle onto my plate, where I drown them in syrup. Perfectly tanned, perfectly sized to eat with my fingers when I think Mom isn’t looking.


Pancakes from diners are too wide, too tall, too stiff, too brown and come with real butter and fake syrup. In my house we ate real maple syrup and fake butter.


Mom shows me how to make pancakes on the griddle. The trick, she says, is to wait until bubbles near the edge pop and leave a hole. Flip only once. Home from college, I’m leaning on my elbows waiting for the first batch, thinking, Why would I try to make pancakes when Mom’s are so perfect?


On my own, I flip too early, too late, too many times. I decide to leave pancakes to the professionals—diners where they stuff them with juicy blueberries or my mom, who makes them so perfectly that they don’t need any.


Blueberry pancakes stare back at me from the dark of woodsy diner. I am about to paddle the dreaded Dryway in my canoe—flawlessly, if I want my whitewater instructor certification. The batter around the blueberries and in the middle is totally raw. My poor, queasy stomach.


The waitress makes a motion with her hands to indicate the pancakes are four or maybe eight inches in diameter. She has a gleam in her eye. I gaze helplessly at the actual pancake, overhanging the dinner plate. And two eggs over hard on the side. I have 25 kilometers to ski and the gun will go off in just over an hour. It is time to steel my stomach and tuck into the pancake.


I discover whole grain pancake mix and the electric griddle. My pancakes aren’t the even slim disks my mom used to make, but filled up with blueberries, bananas, or pumpkin, they taste pretty good anyway.


I consider the recipe my mom gave me for whole grain pancakes from scratch—her neat handwriting on a sheet from a white legal pad. Whipping up the whites separately is her innovation from her original pancake recipe. I don’t have any buttermilk so I use my old standby, the mix.


By the time I’m over my whole-grain snobbery, I realize I never asked for my mom’s original recipe.


My husband indicates the overripe bananas and I nod. It’s a good morning for banana pancakes—snow is falling steadily outside and my flight out of Albany has already been cancelled. The pancakes I’m watching on the griddle for the first bubbles will resemble banana bread more than the pancakes that my mom used to make. With all that banana they actually only make a suggestion of a bubble before they are ready for their single turn.

Whole-Grain Banana Pancakes with the Help of a Mix

(makes two hearty breakfast servings)

Dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole grain pancake mix (I like Arrowhead Mills Multigrain)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg

Wet ingredients

  • 1 egg (beaten with a whisk)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 TBS canola oil
  • 1 TBS honey
  • 2 small very ripe bananas

Measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl and give it a couple turns with the spoon.

Beat the egg in a smaller bowl and then pour in the vanilla, milk, canola oil and honey. Cool hint: measure the oil before the honey in the same spoon, and the honey will slide right out like magic!

Use a fork to mash your peeled bananas onto a plate. The texture should be gooey with some lumps. Scrape the mess into the wet ingredients bowl and stir thoroughly with the whisk, making sure the honey is not all stuck to the bottom.

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry. Stir with your whisk just enough to combine.

For an electric griddle, preheat your griddle to 350 degrees and spray with a light coat of canola oil cooking spray. Scoop out half a ladle of batter and pour a disk onto your griddle. I like my pancakes to be about three to four inches in diameter, a size which is easy to flip and easy to handle at the table, too.

I like to do six at a time, two rows of three, but you’ll need to experiment with your own device. If yours is cheap like mine, you may find that some parts of the griddle get warmer than others, which may impact your arrangement and timing. Sometimes, if I’m not in a big hurry, I’ll do a test pancake to make sure the grill is the appropriate temperature and also because the first batch never comes out just right.

Normally when I’m making pancakes, I look for the bubbles my mom taught me about, which form and pop and leave little holes on the edge when the pancake is ready to flip. The mashed banana in these guys make them gloppy enough that this does not necessarily happen. You may have to slip the old spatula under the edge and check for color. If it looks golden, flip it. Don’t wait for smoke! The second side takes no time at all, so be ready to put them on the serving plate.


  1. Your mom was right about watching for the bubbles and flipping once.

    I’ve found that the viscosity of the mix controls the thickness of the pancakes. Add a bit more water and the pancakes cook up thinner.

    Thicker pancakes require a lower cooking temperature or you will burn the surface before the interior is fully cooked.

    I never employed a scientific method to the issue, but my impression was that the thinner pancakes cooked at the higher temperature were lighter in texture.

    In my house I use real butter and real syrup; I have not made pancakes in a long time however.

  2. Yes, Mom was always right! You’re right about viscosity, too–how very scientific of you to mention it!

  3. How clever to measure oil first! I’ usually too lazy to beat the eggs. I just throw them in.
    Trader Joe’s makes a good multi grain, too.
    I like adding pumkin and some nutmeg and chopped nuts.

  4. I love pumpkin pancakes!

  5. Patrick, yes that one

    I am contributing to the social webcake by saying my favorite pancake recipe is straight out of joy of cooking. I make the buttermilk pancakes as directed, but I always make my buttermilk from regular milk and lemon or vinegar. I find the challenge in achieving my perfect pancake is determining the right amount of fat IN the skillet. See, a little bit of fat, with a thin batter, makes nice crispy edges around the pancakes which lifts the pancakes out of any and all comparison with IHOP or diner pancakes and floats it safely into the land of “gourmet breakfast”

    But it’s difficult balance. Butter or vegetable oil. Butter browns quickly, but vegetable oil crisps more nicely. Too much of either and the pancake soaks it all up, coming out soggy and rubbery. Too cold a skillet, same result.

    Often I get it just right on the 2nd or 3rd iteration of pancake in the morning. The first and fourth are relegated to “are you still hungry” status.

  6. Patrick, you are a true gourmet. I’ll try the Joy of Cooking method–that tome rarely disappoints. Your own buttermilk, eh? I’m going to have to step up my game.

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