Brunch or Bust: A Guide to Making the Best Pancakes, Waffles, and French Toast
As a famous cereal company once said, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
What started as a catchy advertising slogan has become a mantra, particularly on weekends when leisurely, pyjama brunches reign supreme.
Starting your Saturday with an underwhelming plate of pancakes or waffles is a dud, so these dos and don’ts will help make sure that you break your fast in the most satisfying of ways.
Of all the recipes in a brunch cook’s arsenal, having a reliable formula for pancakes is always a crowd pleaser. While simple at their most basic, needing only flour, milk, eggs, and baking powder to come together, it isn’t to say that ratios and quantities aren’t important in producing a desirable outcome. Some prefer their pancakes on the thinner side, more of a flapjack as it were. This usually requires a thinner batter and less leavening. On the flip side (pun intended), thicker batter with more leavening produces cakier pancakes, all the better for sopping up syrup.
If you’re looking to spice up your traditional recipe, there are two angles you can come at it:
1) changing up the batter itself or
2) working with the same base, but adding in accoutrement after the fact. This is easier, and only requires knowing what add-ins tickle your fancy.
A sprinkle of blueberries or chocolate chips is classic, but creativity is king. Try pina colada pancakes, bejewelled with chunks of pineapple, fresh or candied, and toasted coconut. Or opt for the savoury route with bacon pancakes. That’s right, you can inlay cooked bacon into your pancakes, merging two brunch favourites into one.
Should you wish to experiment with the batter itself, it can be helpful to think about other forms of cakes that could translate into pancake form. For example, adding finely grated carrots and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, can turn your standard pancakes into carrot cake pancakes. Add in poppyseeds, lemon zest, and lemon juice and you’ve got yourself a batch of lemon poppyseed pancakes.
Don’t be afraid to play around with other styles of batter either. For example, whipping your egg whites in advance before folding them into the batter make for an airier pancake. Take it a step further with Japanese style souffle pancakes, which err more on the side of soft meringue, with their egg and sugar-heavy base. They may not be grandma’s traditional recipe, but they are delicious in their own right!
In a sense, waffle batter and pancake batter are close to being one and the same, in terms of their ingredients and ratios. The main thing that differs is the cooking method, which does mean you want to keep some points under consideration.
First off, super runny waffle batter can be a recipe for disaster and leave you with a spackled countertop that takes way too long to clean after you’ve finished your breakfast. Second, the nooks and crannies on a waffle iron can create extra stickage, so you want to ensure that you adequately grease the iron and have enough oil in the batter itself. Third, and probably most important, you have to treat your waffle iron itself as an ingredient.
Differences in waffle irons themselves are enough to create different outcomes, even if using the exact same recipe. For example, it’s crucial to dial in the temperature. If your waffle iron is too hot, you run the risk of burning the exterior before the interior is cooked through. If it’s too cold and requires longer to cook, the waffles might get dehydrated by the time they are up to temperature. Waffle iron design matters too. Having fewer, larger squares versus many, tiny squares changes the surface area and thus the cooking time, crispiness, etc.
All of this to say, trying out a new recipe for the first time when attempting to feed a hungry brunch crowd probably isn’t the best idea. Take your waffle iron and desired recipe for a test drive first to make sure you know what you’re working with!
Once you have the basics down, you can riff on them as you see fit. Waffles are the perfect application for savoury recipes like chicken and waffles, or even waffled stuffing, which simply entails cooking your favourite stuffing recipe in your waffle iron. That’s right, waffle batter isn’t the only thing you can cook in your waffle iron. You can even try using it like a panini press to make waffled grilled cheese! Just keep in mind that the more you add into the mix, the higher your changes that things will stick, so be liberal with the oil.
The oft forgotten carbohydrate of the brunch world, and underrated at that, might have to be French toast. Everyone has had at least one experience with horrible French toast in their life and when it’s bad, it’s bad.
The two biggest sins exist on both sides of the spectrum, either under-soaking or over-soaking the bread in the egg wash. While under-soaking yields a finished product that is effectively just toast, over-soaking is a travesty in and of itself, given that “French toast” and “liquid” were not meant to be uttered in the same sentence.
So how do you avoid these faux pas? Choice of bread is a key player here because what you choose dictates how you treat it. Plain, white sandwich bread can yield delicious French toast, but because it is soft and squishy, it only needs a second or two to soak up the custard before cooking. Alternately, if you’re worried about it disintegrating, cut it into thicker slices and allow it to dry overnight so it loses some of its moisture.
Conversely, if you’re working with a heartier loaf, you’ll probably want to cut it thinner and soak it longer to avoid ending up with cardboard. Keep in mind that a two-stage cooking process is often helpful. In other words, start your French toast in the pan, and finish it in the oven to allow it to cook all the way through.
Because of French toast’s durability, it’s a great canvas to get creative with sauces and fillings. While maple syrup is classic, mixed berry compotes and all forms of jams and jellies go great on top of or inside French toast. Mix plain yogurt with orange juice and zest for a creamier finish that isn’t quite as rich as whipped cream. You can also crust your French toast for added texture and flavour. Try sprinkling it with coarse sugar after it’s cooked but before serving, and melt the sugar with either a blow torch or using your broiler on low. Voila, brûléed French toast!