To me, there’s nothing like pancakes for breakfast – or dinner. They are one of my favorite foods to begin with, and I could honestly eat them at any and all times of the day. Case in point: when I was growing up, my family used to eat at Cracker Barrel frequently when we were traveling on weekends to and from races or on long road trips, and about 95% of the time I would order pancakes – even though we were usually there at dinnertime! Yum, yum, yum … cherry pancakes, peach pancakes, pancakes with apples and cinnamon…. These plate-sized, fluffy pancakes were not healthy and too sweet to be allowed anytime else but there. But I couldn’t get enough. And so, my love affair with this honorable “breakfast food” continued from its nurturing start from the boxed mix pancake of my early youth.
That said, even as an adult I sometimes turn to pancakes as a “go-to” meal when I have little else in my fridge – certainly nothing wholesome – and crave a food that I know will lift my spirits just when they need lifting. This week has been pretty tiring for me, so clearly pancakes were in order. I went on travel for work for a few days, so Monday and Wednesday were spent driving seven hours through endless construction and traffic – and to top it off, I got home Wednesday night at 10:30 pm! Waking up for work on Thursday was a little difficult, but somehow, miraculously, I managed. I was two shades short of zombie all day long, but I made it home. When I cracked open my fridge around 6:30pm, eyes heavy and bones weary, I saw … nothing. Literally, my only choices for a meal had to involve spiced olives, whipping cream, apple juice, eggs, maple syrup, mayo, and half a red onion. Bleugh… Peeking into my pantry, I saw a similarly dim dinner future. Except, except … my savior: a half-empty box of pancake mix. Haleluijia! Was I really going to be that lazy to just make pancakes from a box? Really?! Was I honestly that tired??
Yes. Definitively so. No question! My body just needed those pancakes – and a nap later. Wow, I really was tired.
And so it was. Amazingly, from the dregs of my energy reserve I had a bit of inspiration to use some of the apple juice, brown sugar, and cinnamon in my pancakes to spice them up, since I was just using a boxed mix, after all.
… [As an aside, I’ve heard an awful lot of rumblings lately about Grade B maple syrup. I’m a very, very firm believer in eating only real maple syrup if you’re going to eat any at all (sorry Aunt Jemima – go big or go home!), but I’ve only ever seen Grade A in my grocery stores, up until last weekend. Now, I don’t shop at Whole Foods or Kings (a fairly haute grocery store here in north-central New Jersey, but not particularly a specialty shop), but I finally found some of the Grade B stuff in the “health foods” section at the Wegmans in Flemington, NJ. I did a mini taste test between the two grades, but my
unrefined palette could only catch a small nuance: Grade A, lacking Grade B’s deeper, molasses flavor, seemed almost dull in comparison. However, on its own Grade A is still a winner to me. And lucky for me, I now have two bottles of wonderful caramel sweetness lying in wait in my fridge, for whatever maple whim I catch] …
And back to the meal at hand … So, lacking milk but having apple juice, I used the apple juice (note that apple cider, unfiltered, would probably be even tastier here – like adding applesauce without the density) as my main liquid, but did add a tablespoon of heavy whipping cream to replace the chemical properties that dairy usually brings (ugh… here I am completely talking out of my you-know-what … dairy binds the mixture? No, that’s the egg. Lightens it? Maybe. I’ll find out…). I used my Pyrex measuring cup to whisk an egg and scant tablespoon safflower oil with the juice/cream mixture, and it homogenized really nicely. I then whisked this into the dry ingredients (pancake mix, some brown sugar, and cinnamon). I was really unsure of how the texture of these pancakes would end up – I feared leather-tough coasters, no joke – but they ended up fluffy, sweet, and spicy. I attribute their success to the dash of cream, but whatever the savior, I’ll take it. And I’ll make these again. And again. And again….
As for the apple compote on top? I confess: I whipped that up on Friday morning and served it over the leftover pancakes. My original pancakes were slathered with the aforementioned maple syrup and slivers of butter. But I had to do something with a pile of apples on my counter (Gala, Zester, and Paula Red), so I created my take on Cracker Barrel’s outstanding fried apples (anyone who’s eaten these will argue half-heartedly that they are definitely NOT a side vegetable and shouldn’t be listed on that section of the menu – but then order them anyway, like I always do). It was dead simple, really: I simmered sliced apples in water – should have used apple juice, duh – with some Chinese five spice powder and cinnamon until soft, adding a few teaspoons of cornstarch dissolved in water about 2/3 of the way through to thicken it all slightly. Oh, and of course I added a few glugs of that glorious Grade B maple syrup.
What’s it going to be for my next date with the lovable, wonderful, comforting pancake? Hopefully a buckwheat, maybe a graham cake. Who knows? But I can bet on it being a day when I need a meal that feeds my soul and my tummy: a warm culinary hug from the inside out.
Sweet apple-cinnamon pancakes
- 1 cup pancake mix
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 large egg
- 1 Tbsp safflower or other mild-flavored cooking oil
- 3/4 cup minus 1 Tbsp apple juice or apple cider
- 1 Tbsp cream (whipping cream is good, but heavy or half-and-half would work)
Whisk dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then whisk them together. Cook pancakes over medium heat, flipping once when bubbles form in batter. Serve warm!
Warm apple compote
- 3 apples, cut into 1/3″ slices
- 1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 4 tsp cornstarch
Place the apples in a medium saucepan and sprinkle with the spices. Add water (you can use apple juice if you like) to cover the apples and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the apples are tender, depending on the apple variety. In a glass, mix together the cornstarch with a bit of water until it dissolves. Pour into the saucepan and continue cooking the apples, stirring, until the mixture thickens – maybe 5 more minutes. Serve warm over pancakes … or oatmeal … or in a wide spoon….