KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book Buttermilk Pancakes
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book Buttermilk Pancakes

"I often ask people what they think of breakfast, and most reply instantly that it is their favorite meal. When pressed to tell what they eat for breakfast, their answers become rather vague. I've decided that they love the idea of breakfast, but they need some good guidance and recipes actually to get them to cook it. Breakfast has remained pure amid all the food trends with their stylish dishes and chic ingredients. The honest simplicity of breakfast is so captivating."

Marion Cunningham wrote these timeless words in the introduction to her simply, and aptly named, The Breakfast Book 20 years ago.

Although I own many cookbooks, this sweet little hardcover is covered with the most flour and butter stains. And, upon opening, it turns immediately to page 112, where the recipe for Buttermilk Pancakes sits, near the beginning of a chapter titled Griddling.

I have fed many a person with this recipe. I've made them with the substitutions Ms. Cunningham suggests, made them plain, and recently taken the liberty of changing their characteristics by moving around some of the ingredient amounts.

The Internet is full of recipes people love. I receive at least 10 emails a week from eggbeater readers looking for recipes for this or that. Sometimes I reply, as gently as I can muster, that to achieve exactly what they're looking for, they may want or need to experiment a bit to get the baked good of their dreams.

I realize few feel comfortable enough with baking in the first place enough to throw caution to the wind and change amounts, methods and substitute. I have two pieces of advice for this:

1. When you make something over and over you will get to know it like you know a friend. Recipes with the fewest amounts of ingredients will allow you to see what the nature of each ingredient does inside said recipe.

2. After you've made something once, experiment slowly. Meaning: increase, decrease or substitute partially, with small amounts here and there. Make notes on your changes so you can indeed get to know what each ingredient does and does not do to your end result.

I have written a number of step-by-step "tutorials"* on a few methods/recipes in order to teach people what ingredients do what when and how. The "why's" rarely appear in cookbooks because few authors can afford to pay for recipe testing, let alone all the extra pages it would take to go into full explanations for each recipe and its corresponding set of ingredients and method.

But back to the pancakes.

What each of likes and needs from a pancake is dependent on who made our first pancake taste and texture impression. For me it was my mother's mother, my Nanny, Eve Gordon, in her colorful Long Island neon pink paisley wallpapered kitchen. The pancakes were small, un-circles, fairly flat, cooked in a generous amount of Breakstone's whipped sweet butter. The mix was Aunt Jemima. So of course, to me, this is what the perfect pancake tastes like.

The first time someone made me pancakes "from scratch" I was almost 20. The Connecticut boy who made them for me shook his head sadly when he found out I didn't know such a thing could be done. And then he placed maple syrup on the table his family had made the winter previous.

Sometimes the best lessons are best learned over the best pancakes and their corresponding sauce.

Adapted by Shuna fish Lydon

1 Cup Buttermilk
2 Large eggs
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 Cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted

1. Put the buttermilk, eggs and melted butter into a mixing bowl. Whisk to combine thoroughly.
2. In another large bowl whisk together flour, salt and sifted baking soda. Make a "well" in center.
3. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the center of the "well" and stir until combined, but do not over mix-- a few lumps are ok.
4. Heat up a cast iron skillet slowly until medium hot. I place my hand over the surface of the pan, hovering near an inch over the surface. If I feel heat radiating out, it's ready.
5. Melt a small pat of butter in skillet. If the butter immediately browns, turn heat down.
6. Scoop large dollops of batter into prepared pan. Do not crowd pancakes; you will need room to flip them.
7. When bubbles form across the entire surface, flip pancakes. Pancakes should only be flipped once.

I like to heat up my oven and keep a plate inside so that I can place the ready pancakes in there to wait, thereby being able to sit down with the person I'm eating pancakes with. This recipe has made anywhere from 6-8 average sized pancakes, enough for two people with one or two leftover.

If you like a fluffier pancake add 1/4 teaspoon more baking soda. If you want a butterier pancake, add 1 tablespoon more melted butter or decrease the flour to 3/4 Cup. If you like an even flatter pancake than me, add 1/4 Cup more buttermilk or whole milk. If you want your pancake to be sweet before you slather it with maple syrup or your favorite marmalade, add 1 Tablespoon of sugar to the batter.

*If you're looking for more of the hows and whys concerning how certain ingredients behave in baked goods, I have written these tutorials: Pie Dough, Crepes, Dacquoise/Meringue, to name a few. And I will be teaching another set of Baking Fundamental classes starting in the Spring. Email me if you're interested.

Happy Breakfasting!

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Anonymous kudzu said...

Okay,Shuna, we have yet another favorite book in common, Cunningham's genius breakfast book. It is truly a classic at this point because of its age (and, as in your case, its speckled and dotted condition). Thanks for the lesson in buttermilk pancakes, a perfect treat in January.

1/23/2007 9:23 AM

Blogger James said...

This looks lovely - I live in the Netherlands and I've been jonesing for some genuine buttermilk pancakes. One thing - kosher salt is hard to come by here...can I substitute large-grain salt, like the stuff you'd put in salt mill? If not, then what?

2/01/2007 2:45 PM

Blogger shuna fish lydon said...


sure, any salt is ok. Kosher salt has bigger granules and more air, so the finer your salt, the less you will need. Always a good idea to taste your salt too-- some arr much saltier than others!

2/01/2007 5:48 PM

Blogger James said...

Thank you!

2/01/2007 11:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

shuna thank you for this recipe - i've made it a few times and the pancakes are brilliantly fluffy and yummy! the one time i botched the job occurred when i felt inspired to add a load of frozen blueberries to the batter - this i do not recommend! (because the pancakes are impossible to cook through.) anyway thanks and i am jealous of your griddle and am thinking of buying this cookbook!

10/13/2007 9:28 AM

Anonymous Luz said...

We added fresh blueberries and what a fantastic variation. My dear friend introduced me to these tasty cakes over the Thanksgiving holiday. Each morning since then I've lazied in bed dreaming about those fluffy, tart cakes. Tomorrow, Sunday morning, we will enjoy stacks of the little gems.

1/05/2008 6:34 PM


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