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Pancakes, Waffles and French Toast

October 23, 2011

Pan cakes. Cakes for breakfast made of a rich buttery batter and cooked golden on a buttered griddle. On the inside, they are tender and moist. Be decadent, and butter them further on the plate, and stack them two or three at a time, so that each bite is a mouthful of warm, succulent, comfort.

Thin waffles with small holes need not apply. In my world there is only one waffle. And it has large deep holes to hold pools of melted butter commingled with warm grade B maple syrup. Cutting into the waffle is a tricky affair that requires a surgeon’s precision. One must cut on the ridges of the waffle to ensure the contents of each well don’t spill on the plate. But there is no better butter and syrup delivery device known to humankind.

Toast can be amazing. French toast can be transcendent. Good bread needs a chance to fully soak in a batter of eggs and dairy so that it’s thoroughly saturated and barely able to hold together. Then it can be gently fried in butter, so that when it is served on warmed plates, the bread itself is more custard than toast.

These three breakfast dishes share more than just my love and their affinity for maple syrup and butter. There is one more thing that binds their fates together.

I don’t order them at restaurants.

Surprisingly, this isn’t even about the difficulty of finding restaurants that stock real maple syrup. Actually, what I want is not just pure maple syrup, but the intensely dark and maple-flavored grade B stuff. Man, is that good. However, even the presence of good syrup can’t get me to order some of my favorite breakfast items.

Never is too strong a word. If you swear up and down that someplace has the best French toast you’ve ever tried, and then if your claim is backed up by other sources, or some other form of verification, I might begrudgingly give it a shot.

But I’ve been burned far too many times in the past.

For pancakes it’s not even a fair fight. My father-in-law has his mother’s family recipe laminated, and even so, it’s a worn and deeply faded piece of paper. I can’t make out what it says. But luckily he can. Because his are the best I’ve ever tasted, and are the source of the description above. All others that I have had, even the locally celebrated ones, are dry in comparison and serve merely as a sponge for whatever syrup is on the table.

Waffles have two modes of failure. The first is that they are not crispy enough on the outside edges. Without a good crisp exterior, the ability to cut along the ridges and deliver a mouthful of melted butter and maple syrup is severely diminished. The second is that they need to be brought to the table immediately, because any waffle that isn’t super hot will not adequately melt the butter in its deep wells. Even a long trip through the dining room could doom an otherwise excellent waffle to mediocrity.

One cannot rush good French toast. It doesn’t matter if you are using amazing brioche, this morning’s eggs, and cream from grass-fed cows. If you don’t let the bread sit long enough in the batter, you just get buttery eggy bread. That is not French toast. That’s some kind of cheap perversion of the dish. And even when it’s fully saturated with egg batter, if you cook it too hot, the batter will still be raw in the center. But if you cook it too slow, the batter tightens up too much. The ultimate goal is an interior of custard, which it is almost unheard of to find in the wild.

And that’s okay. Sometimes I’ll run into variations of the form that are fairly tasty.

Like buckwheat pancakes, which are something entirely different. They were pretty good at Mike’s Diner, except for the fake syrup and fake butter packets that were unceremoniously strewn on top of the food.

Or like the Belgian Liege waffles that don’t require butter and syrup because the pearled sugar is cooked (and caramelized) right in the waffle itself. You eat this out-of-hand like one might a warm cookie, and it is amazing. It’s the one food story on All Over Albany that I’m totally jealous I didn’t write. To be fair, they totally scooped me on this one, but that doesn’t make it sting any less.

But the bottom line is that these three classic breakfast dishes are both too good and too bad for you to make inferior versions worth eating. If I’m out for breakfast and really am in the mood for something sweet, I’ll get a bowl of oatmeal. It’s a lot harder to screw up, and it also goes well with maple syrup. Plus should there be no real maple syrup, oatmeal works great with brown sugar too.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2011 3:52 pm

    I had a really hard time not screaming in agreement at this post (I’m at work. At home I would have done it, but, you know).

    I never order waffles, pancakes, or french toast out. Ever. Because they are always a horrible, disappointing, unfulfilling failure. My mother and I make really good french toast and pancakes (our secret to the latter is sour cream or yogurt, whichever you have on hand), and my aunt makes waffles that I can barely comprehend. I’ve tried to make them but somehow something is always missing!

  2. Kerosena permalink
    October 24, 2011 11:00 am

    “All others that I have had, even the locally celebrated ones, are dry in comparison and serve merely as a sponge for whatever syrup is on the table.”

    Does this mean you’ve tried Jonesville Store’s pancakes? And that you found them dry?

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