Pancake Traditions — top with brown sugar
In my family, when someone has something momentous to celebrate — a birthday, a graduation, some sort of championship — they get to choose their celebratory dinner. Often this means going out to a nice restaurant, but more than once, I chose breakfast for dinner: eggs, bacon, and fluffy buttermilk pancakes. The delicious proteins, carbs, and sugars (which can also include sausage, ham, cereal, waffles, French toast, biscuits, jams and jellies, and many more options) of breakfast are always a delight.
I will confidently argue that my mom’s pancakes are the best in the world. I’m sure plenty of people would make claims for their own mothers, but they are wrong. It’s buttermilk that really takes them a step above, making them tall and fluffy and perfect. However, what truly makes pancakes in the Fox home unique is what we put on top of them.
I remember having pancakes when I would visit friends as well, occasionally for dinner, but more often for breakfast after spending the night. On one occasion, with a bountiful spread laid out before us, including not just pancakes, but eggs and bacon as well, I felt dissatisfied. Something was missing, a topping that was standard on the table at home, but which I had never seen on anyone else’s. Having been raised to be polite and grateful, I had never asked for anything more than the butter and syrup laid on the table. These are, after all, plenty tasty on their own. But for some reason, that day was different. “Would it be possible,” I asked, somewhat uncertainly, “to get some brown sugar for my pancakes?”
All eyes turned toward me with quizzical expressions. My friend’s mother obliged kindly, but my friends decided immediately that my request was weird. It’s worth pointing out that these guys were in the midst of smothering chocolate chip pancakes in butter, peanut butter, and syrup. Don’t get me wrong, eating something that tastes like a Reese’s cup for breakfast is a dream come true for most kids, but it’s just too much. There’s something so much richer in patting down a thin layer of light brown sugar on your pancake so that soaks up a bit of the melted butter, becoming something in between liquid and solid. A slightly crunchy, dripping layer of sweetness on top of a hearty golden brown pancake. There is nothing like it.
My wife prefers waffles to pancakes, and brown sugar works just as well for those — almost too well. The main advantage offered by waffles is the ability of each little compartment to hold a reservoir of butter and syrup. Just think of all the brown sugar you could pack into those little squares, especially if it happens to be a nice thick Belgian waffle. You could practically use it as a mold to make candies from molasses flavored goo. Of course, even that might be pushing it. There was a time in my life where I went too far in that direction. As a child, I once covered to Eggo waffles with butter and brown sugar, stacked them on top of each other, then covered the whole thing with syrup. The sloppy saccharine mound of food that resulted was eventually banned from my home. So waffle lovers, proceed with caution.
I’ve tried brown sugar on things like toast (French or regular), bagels, and croissants, but my favorite is still the pancake. If you are open-minded and brave enough to try some brown sugar on your pancakes, I recommend using the Fox family recipe below for some delicious buttermilk pancakes.
- 1 ½ cup flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil or butter
- Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
- Whisk remaining ingredients in a separate bowl; fold into the flour mixture until just combined (it’s OK if there are some lumps).
- Brush a large nonstick skillet or griddle with butter and heat over medium-low heat. Add ¼ cupfuls of batter and cook until bubbly on top and golden on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook until golden on the bottom, about 2 more minutes.
And of course, don’t forget to top off the finished product with a little bit of brown sugar.
Greg Fox is an author, artist, and educator from South Bend, Indiana. We met at Bethel College where we worked together in the writing center. I remember convincing him to turn the folio of each yearbook page into a tree making its way through the seasons. When you flip the pages quickly it looks like a moving picture. Greg enjoys dabbling in cookery, often pulling elements from various different recipes to create his own versions, with varying degrees of success. AND, just last week I watched teary eyed as he married his favorite person and my friend, Emily.