Hot, fresh homemade pancakes kickstart our Saturday mornings. That huge stack of whole wheat pancakes means the weekend is official and it’s time to slow our pace. And while our family generally minimizes bread in favor of whole grains (oats, quinoa…), whole wheat pancakes are our weekly “bread”, and tradition has a lot to do with it.
Pancakes Are Global
Pancakes are a delicious weekend indulgence, but there’s so much more to this breakfast ritual. When we eat pancakes, we connect with everyone around us. Most families I know have a weekend pancake tradition, and every culture has its own version of them. (There’s even decent gluten-free pancake recipes out there now.)
It’s a fun family project trying to make as many pancake recipes from around the world as we can. Our daughter has Japanese Okonomiyaki and Korean Kimchi Pancakes high on her list of pancakes to try out next. To June, different cultures seem a little more familiar when she realizes everyone in the world eats pancakes!
Pancakes From History
Our pancake tradition also connects us to our ancestors. June loved reading about the pancakes (johnnycakes) Ma made the Ingalls family in the “Little House on the Prairie” book series. She also enjoyed finding out about the childhood pancake traditions of her own grandparents.
In honor of this post, I had June do a little pancake history research and she found out more about how our pancake ritual connects to the past. Here’s the what she thought other kids might like to know while eating their own pancakes:
*The earliest pancakes are thought to have been made by Neolithic man over 5,000 years ago, cooked and flipped on heated stones.
*Ancient Greeks ate pancakes, called tiganites (tee-gan-NEE-tes), with honey, fruit, and nuts.
* George Washington ate pancakes (hoecakes) made with cornmeal each morning with honey and butter.
*The Brits eat 52 million eggs on Pancake Day, 22 million more than on any other day. Pancake Day dates at least to the 1400s, and is celebrated on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. (Yes, Mardi Gras!) Traditionally, it was an easy way for Christians to use up their eggs and milk that they weren’t allowed to eat during Lent.
Whole Wheat Pancakes are Lighter Than You Think
We always make 100% whole wheat pancakes. If you eat 4 whole wheat pancakes (4″ diameter), you’ll get a nice 5g of fiber. compare that to less than 1g of fiber for regular pancakes. More fiber means avoiding blood sugar spikes after eating all those carbs.
Many people wrongly believe that whole wheat pancakes are denser and not as fluffy as white flour pancakes. My go-to guide for all things technique is Cook’s Illustrated, and I learned from them why whole wheat is the perfect grain for lightweight pancakes.
Whole wheat flour is ideal for making pancakes because it still contains the germ and bran, which inhibit gluten formation. When there’s too much gluten formation in your batter, it blocks air bubbles and will weigh down your pancakes. That’s why you don’t want to over-mix the batter when you use white flour. But with 100% whole wheat, there’s lots of room in the batter for air bubbles to form, leading to nice fluffy cakes. Added bonus: you can mix your batter until smooth!
Pancakes for Kid Chefs
Once your kids are mature enough and have had plenty of practice, consider promoting them from pancake helpers to primary pancake chefs. June made the transition through her own initiative when she was 8.
Having the griddle means I feel completely safe cutting the apron strings and letting June go for it without any supervision. It puffs her up with pride that we trust her with the griddle and that she can be responsible for a whole meal. It also brings Jake and I a little parental nirvana, as we wake up to ‘pancake aroma’ on a weekend morning!
This recipe is the one that our family uses most often. We like to have a lot of fun with our pancakes, adding ingredients like cornmeal, oats, pumpkin, or millet. But this is our favorite basic whole wheat pancake recipe, adapted from King Arthur Flour.
Just to make sure (devilish grin), I tested at least 10 other whole wheat pancake recipes for this post. After overstuffing my freezer and my belly, I still proclaim that the King Arthur recipe reigns supreme.
Our family eats pancakes and waffles with homemade sugar-free fruit toppings. We don’t follow a recipe, but simply throw some fruit in the food processor and start adding spices. It’s so quick, I highly recommend trying your own fruit sauce! This banana berry syrup is one example of a typical topping we might whip up.