In Search of a Pancake

I’ve yet to find a restaurant in Paris where I can get really good American-style pancakes. (Not that I ‘ve stopped looking, mind you.) Of course, France is home to the crêpe—arguably the most amazing pancake ever invented—and I do love a good crêpe (or two) every now and then. But sometimes, you’re just jonesin’ for a stack like they have back home.

Now, the following advice is not really for my American friends, because you should know better. It’s for my non-American friends here in Paris. DO NOT BUY THE SO-CALLED “PANCAKES” THEY SELL AT STARBUCKS!

I probably should be careful here, or Starbucks is going to come after me. This is second time I’ve dissed them in a post on je parle américain. But this is a serious issue of national culinary importance! Those mass-produced, yellow sponges they have in the pastry case are not pancakes. Every time I see someone order them (which is more often that I would have thought), a cloud of shame descends over me as I realize that a completely unsuspecting Frenchman is about to have his perception of the pancake ruined forever. <soupir audible>

So what’s the solution? Make them at home! They’re not that hard to cook, and it gives you the opportunity to really impress your French friends with an American breakfast delicacy that few of them, if any, have ever truly tasted.

Here’s the recipe I use:

  • 1-1/2 cups (180 grams) self-rising cake flour (in French, that’s “farine de blé avec poudre levante pour gâteaux“): This gives the pancakes a delicate, fluffy texture inside. I use Francine brand, in the yellow-orange bag.
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1-1/4 cups (300 mL) whole buttermilk (in French, that’s “lait fermenté“): Again, this really improves the texture and flavor of the pancakes.
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons real butter, melted
  • more real butter for the pan
  1. In a large bowl, beat the egg and add the buttermilk. Mix in the cake flour and sugar until smooth. Add the melted butter and stir. (Note that pancake batter will be thicker than crêpe batter.)
  2. Heat a pan over medium high heat and add a pat of butter. When the butter is melted, ladle some batter into the pan, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake.
  3. Let the pancake brown sufficiently before turning. The pancake is ready when bubbles appear in the batter and the edge of the pancake is crispy and brown. Flip the pancake and brown on the opposite side.
  4. Melt a little butter in the pan for each pancake. This makes the pancakes decadently buttery, but hey … this is petit déjeuner à l’américaine ! You can go to the gym tomorrow.
Voilà ! © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

The first time my French husband had American-style pancakes, he fell in love. Now he asks me to make them from time to time, all the while looking forward to our upcoming visit to South Carolina when he will get some from my mom‘s kitchen. This year for Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), I introduced my extended French family to American pancakes with a traditional Anglican/English pancake supper. It was a risky second attempt at culinary cultural exchange, given that my Thanksgiving feast the previous November didn’t go over so well; French and American palates are different. (More on my first Parisian Thanksgiving in another post this fall.) The French generally seem to be a little confused by the idea of sweet pancakes as the main course for dinner, and I guess I can understand that. But when my brother-in-law Guillaume tasted these beauties for the first time, his reaction was—and I quote—

“Ohhh, LA VACHE !”  
(That means they were really good.)

So, why not ditch the mass-produced hockey-puck-sized sponge cakes masquerading around Paris as pancakes, and heat up that griddle? You might just impress a Frenchman to the point of bovine-themed exclamation.

Updated 8/26/11 to include metric measurements. Updated 1/28/12 to change the metric measurements because they were SO wrong! My apologies to anyone who ended up cooking the hockey pucks that that recipe generated!

© 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

10 thoughts on “In Search of a Pancake

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog on pancakes. Did I ever tell you that Daddy (your grandfather) made pancakes as a treat for us on Sunday mornings? Mama had a break from the kitchen, and we had a break from the traditional breakfast of grits, eggs, country ham, sausage, or bacon with homemade biscuits.

  2. Any newbies should be sure to make sure a sprinkle of water sizzles before pouring the batter for the first pancake as pan temperature is vital to getting the perfect golden brown. 😉

  3. I love buckwheat pancakes. Sbux Clover brewed coffee is pretty good, though I feel a cloud of gaucheness hovering every time.

    1. Thanks Kat! I checked out your blog and it’s great. I LOVE the concept. I’ll be sure to go back and check out your recipes because that cinnamon swirl pancake thing has got me excited for pancakes again very soon! By the way, how did you find me? I’m always interested in how my blog gets located. À bientôt!

  4. I just want to thank you. I have been attempting to make pancakes since I arrived in France seven months ago. I went out and bought the farine de ble pour gateaux and will make an american breakfast for some friends tomorrow. Pancakes and bacon? You can’t go wrong. Merci.

    1. Je vous en prie ! I’m glad you found my recipe and I do hope it works out for you. I completely understand the difficulty of adjusting to new products in a new country and how that impacts something that’s so easy to make when you’re back home. I really do think the farine de blé pour gâteaux makes a big difference. Bonne chance demain et bon appétit !

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