I don’t gush much, do I? I mean, I try not to be a gusher, someone who oohs and aahs so much, it loses meaning after a while, you know? I make exceptions of course: slaws, for one, and of course, Wee Jacob. I mean, look at him. Gushing is not optional for this mama.
Nevertheless, I hope I do not go over my allotted amount of fawning when I say this: This is one of the most stunning cookbooks I’ve ever seen. I just gasped when I opened it. The photographs are gorgeous; softly lit and you can see the clear crust and crumb of everything inside. The recipes are beautifully typeset. I’ve been thinking about this stuff lately, ahem, I notice it.
But it’s more than a pretty page, too. It’s a whole grain baking book and it is one of the smartest ones I have seen in the category, and here’s why: I am sure I’m not the only person who had decided one weekend morning to look up a recipe for whole grain pancakes and found a promising one. Whole wheat flour? Check. Bran? Check. Spelt? Nope. Teff? Urp. Muscovado sugar? Arrgh, I give up! It’s not that it won’t make a wonderful pancake, it’s just that you might have to go to three different health food stores to find what you need. And you only wanted pancakes. In this book, each chapter homes in on a different grain and most of the recipes within require only one alternative flour, occasionally two. Don’t have rye flour that day? Simply skip the chapter on rye. But of course you’d miss out on the most beautiful maple danishes and soft pretzels I’ve ever seen; that would be sad.
And here’s the part that I hope doesn’t come off badly, because I know what a loaded word this can be, but I don’t feel like this book has an agenda. Sometimes, just sometimes, when I read cookbooks that promote alternatives to the way we usually cook, I feel like I’m being lectured to. That the author might think I’m doing it all wrong, with my all-purpose flours and refined sugars, that I need to be changed. This book gets to the heart of the whole grain business, at least for me: not only are whole grain flours more nutrient rich, when used well, they taste better. They have more flavor. They have more complexity. The gap between the number of people using whole grains in their baking and the number of people who do not is easily bridged with a volume of killer recipes like this, recipes that would be less exciting with less robust ingredients.
Back to the pancakes, which was obviously where I had to start because if you haven’t had pancakes for a Friday afternoon lunch before, you should. The only “unusual” (except, not really) the recipe called for was oats, and it was like winning the lottery to already have them on hand. Some of the oats are cooked into oatmeal — though if you’re one of those people who smartly make oatmeal in large batches, you can skip this — some are ground into oat flour (or you can buy some) and together they make a wonderful, barely-sweet pancake, fried in butter until the edges are crisp. Ours got decked out with Catskills Comfort Maple Syrup and sliced strawberries, but these would be equally good with a fruit sauce or compote. Or Nutella, okay fine, especially with Nutella.
Adapted and just tweaked a little from Good to the Grain
Makes about 18 pancakes
3/4 cup oat flour (you can make this by pulsing rolled oats into a food processor or spice grinder until finely ground; 1 cup of oats yielded 3/4 cup oat flour for me)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon Kosher or coarse salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (plus extra for the pan)
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 cup cooked oatmeal*
1 tablespoon unsulphured (not blackstrap) molasses or 1 tablespoon honey
2 large eggs
Whisk the dry ingredients (oat flour, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) together in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk the butter, milk, cooked oatmeal, honey and eggs together until thoroughly combined. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Using a light hand is important for tender pancakes; the batter should be slightly thick with a holey surface.
Heat a 10-inch cast-iron pan or griddle over medium heat until water sizzles when splashed onto the pan. Lower to medium-low. (This is my tip; I find pancakes impossible to cook well over higher heats. I’ve got more pancake tips over here.) Rub the pan generously with butter; Boyce says this is the key to crisp, buttery edges. Working quickly, dollop 1/4-cup mounds of batter onto the pan, 2 or 3 at a time. Once bubbles have begun to form on the top side of the pancake, flip the pancake and cook until the bottom is dark golden-brown, about 5 minutes total. Wipe the pan with a cloth before griddling the next pancake. Continue with the rest of the batter.
Serve the pancakes hot, straight from the skillet or keep them warm in a low oven. We also found these to reheat surprisingly well the next morning, again in a low oven.
Do ahead: Although the batter is best if using immediately, it can sit for up to 1 hour on the counter or overnight in the refrigerator. When you return to the batter, it will be very thick and should be thinned, one tablespoon at a time, with milk. Take care not to overmix.
* Make oatmeal, if you don’t have any leftover: Bring 1 cup water and a slightly heaped 1/2 cup of rolled oats (old-fashioned or quick-cooking) and a pinch of salt to a boil and simmer on low for 1 (quick-cooking) to 5 minutes (old-fashioned), until thick. Let cool. This can also be cooked in a microwave.