Generally speaking, I'm more of a crêpes man, while Michelle leans toward pancakes.
Where we find some middle ground is with a good sourdough pancake. There's just something about them. They're not nearly as cakey as a standard pancake, but they have a little more flavour and chew than your average crêpe.
The best sourdough pancakes we ever encountered were at a roadside diner in southern Vermont, but when this establishment underwent a change in management, the pancakes changed, too. And not for the better. We were disappointed, of course, but we quickly realized that it just meant that we had to come up with our own recipe.
I hunted around for a while, ran some tests, and eventually settled on a recipe from Edna Lewis.
Actually, it's a recipe from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock's The Gift of Southern Cooking, so I guess you could say it's doubly trustworthy. The original is a sourdough recipe in name only. It's made with commercial yeast, but involves a slow fermentation process, which gives the recipe sourdough-like characteristics. The Lewis/Peacock original is a great recipe, but I've always got levain on hand, so I wanted a recipe that would make use of it.
I just made an adjustment or two and the results were lovely. Even Michelle was impressed. "These are definitely my favourite pancakes," she told me as we were eating the last batch I made. That was good enough for me.
1 1/2 cups unbleached AP flour
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp levain
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp melted butter
lard or butter for greasing the griddle
Using your levain, make the starter: In a mixing bowl or some other kind of lidded container, add the levain to the warm water and mix thoroughly with your fingers, until fully incorporated. Add the flour and stir and fold until fully mixed. Drape a tea towel over the dough bowl or container, then rest a plate or a lid over the towel, fully covering the bowl or container. Set aside for 8-10 hours or overnight.
The next morning, when your starter is bubbly and ready for action, and you're eager to make (and eat) your pancakes, take a moment and put some good music on first.
When the music is playing, and you're in an even better mood than you were already, get to work on the pancakes. Don't worry--it won't take long.
Mix the milk, beaten egg, salt, sugar, baking soda, and melted butter together thoroughly, then stir into the starter just until well blended. Heat the griddle or frying pan over medium to medium-low heat*, and brush lightly with grease. Spoon the batter by 1/4 cups onto the hot surface, and cook until the pancakes are dotted over with little bubbles, about 1-2 minutes. Check the underside carefully. If it has become nice a golden colour, flip it over and cook another minute longer. Transfer to a heated platter, and keep warm while you cook the rest of the pancakes.
Serve hot with fresh butter and preserves or syrups of your choice. This being the Northeast, we insist on using the best maple syrup we can find, and a side of bacon makes for a pretty nice accompaniment, too. And don't forget about your coffee.
[adapted from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock's The Gift of Southern Cooking]
Don't let the funny shape fool you. These are fantastic pancakes. And this is the season for them.
* As with all crêpes and pancakes, the heat of the griddle is everything. Too hot and your butter may brown too quickly and spoil the flavour of pancakes. Too cool and you may find yourself frustrated by how slow things are proceeding. Find that sweet spot, and your pancakes will turn out perfectly and you'll be cranking them out at a steady pace.