Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

Buttermilk Buckwheat Pancakes

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I think there may be the slimmest chance that obsessiveness lurks in my genes.

My oldest son’s first two-syllable word wasn’t “Momma.”  It was “backhoe” (pronounced “ba-toe!”). By the time his baby sister was born, when he was twenty-one months old, he was identifying varieties of construction equipment that neither I nor his father had ever heard of, much less learned to differentiate from other yellow-orange blade-bearing vehicles: grader, scraper, vibratory roller, ditch witch–all, I should say, without the benefit of having mastered more than a couple of consonant sounds.  Fortunately, he had a well-worn board book with images and words, and he would trot it out and point to the vehicle in question, when we couldn’t make sense of what he was saying.

A year or so later, he left behind his construction equipment obsession and switched to dinosaurs.  With a few more consonant sounds at his disposal, he would explain that the dinosaur in question couldn’t be a t-rex because it had three fingers instead of two and so was clearly an allosaurus.  And, no, that was not a meat-eater at all, silly Mommy: every three-year-old knows that’s a pachycephalosaurus, a herbivore known for its bony head.

Then he switched to an obsession with birds, then paper airplanes, then snakes, then back to birds (“raptors, you know, birds of prey”), and now to sharks.  He’s not recognizable if he isn’t talking nonstop about something.

Meanwhile, his little brother has just grown into his own dino-fascination (with the benefit of even fewer consonant sounds).  And the other day, walking home from preschool, he glanced around and said, “Mommy, did you hear an owl?  It went hoo-hoo. But owls only come out at night, don’t they?” I thought I heard in this question the sound of his intellectual automatic transmission,  hiccuping, preparing to shift gears.  I prefer raptors to dinosaurs, so I’ll welcome the shift, if it comes.

I like to pretend I’m not obsessive, that this quality in my boys comes from their daddy, that our well-rounded daughter takes her cues from me. But, in this blog, I see signs of my own single-mindedness.  Onions. Herbal purees. Citrus. And pancakes.

In my imaginary cookbook–the one I reluctantly agree to write after turning down my own Food Network series–pancakes need a whole chapter. I’ve already written about my oatmeal pancakes, toothsome, wholesome, and laden with dried fruits and nuts. And next time I make sourdough pancakes with cinnamon and fresh peaches (a recipe I recently piloted, to my own rave reviews), it will be making an appearance.  And today, I want to tell you about my buttermilk buckwheat pancakes, a recipe that reminds me simultaneously of my childhood and of robust, malty ales with hints of molasses and roasted nuts.

My mom made “buckwheats” from a box of Aunt Jemima Buckwheat Pancake Mix, but I think they’re pretty easy without the box–especially since buttermilk lives in my fridge anyway.

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Buckwheat Buttermilk Pancakes

2 cups buttermilk

1 egg

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup buckwheat flour

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

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1. Melt your butter in a large skillet over medium/medium-high heat.  Then whisk it into your buttermilk and egg.  Return the skillet to the eye over medium heat to get ready for the pancakes.  The rest will only take a second.

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2. Whisk together your dry ingredients, sugar included.

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3. Add the wet to the dry and combine with a wooden spoon to form a lumpy batter.  Add a bit of water, if necessary, to create a batter that is almost “pourable.”

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4. Drop into the hot pan a few tablespoons at a time.  I like pancakes that are about 3 tablespoons of batter. You do what you like.  Adjust your temperature so that they begin to bubble and look dry around the edges within 90 seconds or so.

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5. Then flip ’em.  Cook for another 60-90 seconds.  Keep them warm on a cookie sheet in a warm oven while you cook the rest of the batter. Or, if you have very hungry kids, serve them right away with a little blob of salted butter (if you’ve got some lying around) and maple syrup.

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I like mine best with a side of Sunday newspaper and a hot cup of coffee.

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