Oven pancakes

I’m a big fan of breakfast. I eat it early, I eat it late, and just about once a week, I even eat it for dinner. Thus I was happy to discover a few weeks ago that one of my favorite breakfast chains, The Original Pancake House, has a restaurant just down the road.

Unlike your normal griddle-based breakfast joint, The Original Pancake House is known for its liberal use of the oven. Their baked omelets are unlike any omelete I’ve ever had (in a good way — they claim to mix in a bit of pancake batter), and their signature puffy Dutch Baby pancakes are front and center on the web site.

And the big secret about that glorious, puffy, golden brown, marvel of a pancake? It’s incredibly easy to make, and a handy dish to have in your repertoire when you’re looking to impress someone, maybe over breakfast.

The whole thing is really nothing less than culinary magic, where with very little effort, you can produce something spectacular.

I’d recommend (and normally use) Betty Crocker’s straightforward version, but perhaps in a backhanded attempt to prove that simpler is better, I gave the Cook’s Country version a try.

The oven pancake is basically a big, eggy popover. (For more on popover theory, see Alton Brown parts 1 and 2) And like a popover, the one thing that you absolutely must do without fail is to heat the pan before you pour in the batter. The batter itself is fairly forgiving — you can be technical like Cook’s Country or basic like Betty without too much difference in the final pancake, but if the pan isn’t hot, you won’t get a rise.

There’s not much to add to the recipes before you pour the batter in the pan. Unlike a soufflé (or in my house, waffles), you don’t need to worry about preserving the beaten egg whites. Unlike normal pancakes, you don’t need to worry about losing the rise from the batter sitting too long once the baking powder meets moisture. Betty will tell you not to overbeat, but you have a pretty big margin of error.

Cook’s Country called for a 450º oven to Betty’s 400º, and vegetable oil to grease the pan instead of melted butter. I used canola oil, and it was surprisingly finicky. By the time my batter was ready, the oil had apparently spent more time than it wanted above its smoke point and turned green. It didn’t affect the flavor at all (the oil doesn’t really incorporate into the batter), but it didn’t exactly look appetizing.

Happily, that didn’t get in the way of the magic happening.

If making a good impression is your goal, make sure that everyone is in the kitchen. The pancake will deflate slightly as it cools, so the big dramatic moment will be when you pull it out of the oven.

Sprinkle some lemon juice and powdered sugar, and brush up on waffles for next time.

Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.

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