We were four undergrad gals in the mid-'80s sharing a three-bedroom apartment while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Sarah introduced me to coffee -- Maxwell House brewed automatic drip-style, served with one teaspoon of Coffee Mate and one Sweet-n-Low. And in return, I introduced the girls to Saturday-morning pancakes.
Inspired by the Paul Reubens movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure, a bizarro world in which Abraham Lincoln flipping pancakes onto the ceiling was possible, I would wake up (often hungover), put on my ugly green bathrobe and whip up banana pancakes just in time for another episode of "Pee-wee's Playhouse," Reubens' hilarious weekly show that aired on CBS.
Ten years later, I would make banana pancakes for my roommate Christopher almost every Sunday, and then it would be another 10 when I started making some kind of flapjack for the man who would become my husband. It has been my experience that no matter what time of year or day, or whom you serve, a pancake breakfast is always received with a childlike enthusiasm that elicits a near-Pavlovian response, a yearning for simpler pleasures, such as watching cartoons in your pajamas.
We all need a pancake breakfast now and again, to keep us regular and real in the way that only children are wired to do on automatic pilot. Every season needs a pancake; spring means strawberries, summer means blueberries and autumn means pumpkin, as in that can of puree left over from Thanksgiving.
Faced with unexpected drop-in breakfast guests one recent Saturday morning, I asked myself what Pee-wee and his "King of Cartoons" would do, and suddenly the walls began to speak: "Mmmm ... pancakey."
Inspired by West Coast Cooking by Greg Atkinson
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil (or equally neutral-flavored oil)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree, fresh or canned
1/4 cup liquid – apple cider, milk or soy milk
Oil or oil spray for cooking pancakes
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a small bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.
In a larger mixing bowl, whisk egg with brown sugar, oil and vanilla extract until combined. Whisk in pumpkin puree. With a rubber spatula, incorporate flour mixture into wet ingredients. Do not overmix. Batter will likely be thicker than the average pancake batter; gradually add liquid to batter if necessary.
Heat skillet or griddle over medium heat and add oil or apply a thin coating of spray.
With a tablespoon, drop batter onto surface of pan, forming circles about 2 inches in diameter. Allow to cook for about 3 minutes, or until first side is golden brown. Flip, and cook on second side, using a slotted spatula to flatten for even cooking.
Remove from pan, and place pancakes on a plate or baking tray in warm oven while you continue to cook.
Serve with good-quality maple syrup. Suggested toppings: sliced ripe Bartlett pears, applesauce, apple butter, chopped pecans or walnuts. Makes 10-12 2-inch pancakes.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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