“He who goes to bed hungry dreams of pancakes.”
– Maltese proverb
Henry doesn’t like pancakes, which, if he didn’t have other redeeming qualities would likely end our relationship. It doesn’t mean I can’t make them anyway, it just means that normally then I’d have to make two different weekend breakfasts (during the week my breakfast consists of coffee, sometimes with more coffee), so I generally just don’t bother. With him off to Peru for the month, it was a good time to get to a back-burnered question that had come up during some of the vegan cooking classes that I’ve been teaching, which boiled down to, “are there any decent vegan pancake recipes out there?” There were a couple of qualifiers to that given living here in BA – the recipes couldn’t require commercial egg-replacements because those, as best I can determine, don’t exist here – and likewise, no oddball ingredients that are impossible or nearly so to find here either. I threw in one additional requirement, I wasn’t interested in finding a plain, white flour pancake – that’s too easy – baking powder pancakes are perfectly common, so don’t require any special modification – I wanted to find flapjacks that were interesting in their own right.
In terms of ingredients, pancakes are typically made from flour, milk, eggs or baking powder for lightness, and some sort of fat – none of that should be all that hard – there are plenty of non-dairy milk options – commercially, soy milk is available here at most supermarkets, or making a nut milk is relatively easy and quick if you have a decent blender. Since the eggs are there primarily for lightness, the baking powder option is an easy one, though for some grains a little bit of a binder is needed, and either flax or chia seeds fill the bill for that, though, I find the texture that they produce to be not always pleasant. One non-vegan note, I used honey in place of agave or maple syrups which were common ingredients, honey not being vegan, but those not being extant here, so a minor flavor change no doubt where it was used in the batter.
I started off with the goddess of all baking things vegan, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, chef and cookbook author from The Post Punk Kitchen. I have to say I came away a bit disappointed, which surprised me as generally I’ve found her recipes to be quite good. These Carrot Cake Pancakes came out gummy from the flax seed (by comparison to other recipes that used these as binders, the quantity in this recipe seems really high) and I couldn’t really taste any carrot in them, the spices were too strong. I also tried out her Fresh Corn Johnnycakes, which in contrast, probably could have used a binding agent as cornmeal is a bit too crumbly to hold together, and the pancakes simply fell apart in the pan, they were just a mushy and crumbly mess and I ended up tossing them.
One of the best vegan restaurants in the U.S., if not the world, is Millennium, where at some point in his career our friend Diego Felix of Casa Felix worked. Straight to their cookbook and what turned out to be the star of this exercise, the unquestionable front-runner, with their Oat and Walnut Pancakes. Nutty, rich, and still somehow light and delicate, easily some of the best pancakes I’ve had, ever, including non-vegan versions. The linked recipe doesn’t include the delicious blueberry sauce that is in their cookbook, a simmered mixture of apple and orange juices, orange zest, sugar, ginger, and blueberries (I used dried ones, as fresh aren’t in season here right now).
An internet search for best vegan pancake recipes turned up a whole lot of play for Gwyneth Paltrow’s Buckwheat and Banana Pancakes, no doubt fueled by her name rather than anything else. I have to admit, I didn’t hold out much hope, my experience of her and cooking was her blah performance in Mario Batali’s Spain…On the Road Again series, which was already a pretty blah show, and she came across most of the time as pretty useless when it came to food (strangely, when the show aired down here, it was billed on television and billboards as Gwyneth Paltrow’s cooking and travel show, and Mario got the short-shrift, most folk referring to him as “some guy she got to help her demonstrate cooking as she took us on a culinary tour of Spain”, and she wasn’t even in all 13 episodes). To my surprise, these came in a not very distant second to Millenium’s, they were absolutely delicious, with the nuttiness of the buckwheat contrasting nicely the sweetness of the bananas.
Although a lot of vegan restaurants have been touted for their brunches and their pancakes, few of the recipes were online that I could find, particularly the ones that got the most raves. So I next turned to the online resource, the Vegan Baking Net, and found these Lemon Poppyseed Pancakes from community member “Mattie”. I liked the flavor, nice and lemony playing off against the poppyseeds, a great classic combination, and the nice touch that the toastiness of the wheat germ in the recipe added, and the use of flax seed for binding was just a small amount (compare this 1 teaspoon with the 2 tablespoons used in the first recipe above), which gave them a touch of springiness without being gummy or rubbery.
And finally, looking for another buckwheat pancake recipe, just to try something else, I ran across these “detoxifying” Buckwheat and Chia Pancakes which are also gluten free. While perhaps great for that detox diet, they turned out to be be pretty tasteless and have the texture of a scrunchie. Even the addition of some figs reconstituted in honey and spices did nothing for them and after finishing off the fruit, these went into the bin. I did like the use of coconut oil (which while unavailable here as far as I know, I usually pick up on my trips back to the States), because it gave a nice flavor… actually, the only flavor, to the pancakes. Maybe I’ll go back and use it to cook up a batch of the Millenium or Paltrow’s winning recipes.
I’m game to try others if you know of one that you think is a winner, though it’s going to be tough to beat those top two.