In Search of the Perfect Pancake

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(Host) When the sap is boiling and the syrup is flowing this time of year in Vermont, our thoughts turn to… pancakes. The perfect ones.

Until now, the secrets behind a golden stack of tasty flapjacks have long been closely held in the minds of experts.

But VPR’s Neal Charnoff and Patti Daniels uncovered the tricks of the trade in the steamy world near the heat of the griddle in this audio postcard from Vermont kitchens.

(Tracey Skinner) “Stirrin’ stirrin’ stirrin – we all have big forearms.” (Sounds of beating batter in a bowl) “Little tiny bit more water…” (Sound of water running) “There we go!”

(Charnoff) Tracey Skinner is whipping up batter for the crowds who have come to taste the pancakes and the maple syrup at Eaton’s Sugarhouse in Royalton. At roadside cafes and community breakfasts, cooks and chefs are on the same mission: to bake the perfect cake.

(Montage of voices)
“Well, everybody does it a little bit different. It’s the consistency of the dough makes a big difference on the flavor of a pancake.”

“Some people like ’em large, some people like ’em small. Vermonters are quite independent when it comes to pancakes.”

“Blueberry, banana, chocolate chip – if George’s wife brings in chocolate chips for me. I’ll put everything in a pancake.”

“The ingredients of our pancake, or griddle cake as we call it, are flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, whole eggs, which we separate into whites and yolks… . You should have someone with you who knows the tricks. There’s always tricks to a recipe.”

(Charnoff) That’s pastry expert Joseph Harrewyn with his no-longer secret recipe. At the Chef’s Corner Café in Williston, he’s almost nostalgic when it comes to his batter:

(Sounds from kitchen: whipping batter, eggs.)
(Harrowyn) “The batter looks like… clouds. (laughs) It looks like big fluffy clouds. Especially when you fold in the egg whites, it’s frothy. It doesn’t really smell like anything when it’s made, just plain. But when you put it on the griddle, then it’s got like a – just a very good smell. Like a home-baked smell.”
(Sounds of sizzling on a griddle.)

(Charnoff) Perfection is not just in the ingredients, it’s in the looking and the cooking.

(Montage of voices)
“The key is in the griddling part.” (Sizzling sounds) “See how the bubbles start? If it bubbles all over the top, it’s cooked enough through that when you flip it, it stays together.”

“To tell when it’s all done, once you flipped it and you see this edge of the pancake? It curls off of the grill – that’s when it’s done cooking.”

(Sounds of flipping pancakes)

(Charnoff) But the proof – the moment of truth – is when the pancake hits the palate.

(Sounds of plates, forks, dining room conversation. Montage of voices.)

“They’re golden brown, they’re puffy, they smell good. And the main reason is they’re all natural – made from scratch.”

“Wull, what I really like is the syrup. That’s what I really like about it. And the butter.”

“This is my favorite – apple & spice. It tastes like a piece of apple pie.”

“The pancakes are perfect, the sausages are delicious … And everyone has a smile!”

(Charnoff) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Neal Charnoff in pancake country.

(Host) Our search for the perfect pancake was produced by VPR’s Patti Daniels. Our pancake experts were Tom Kenyon, John Lights, Susie Hudson, Darlene Horn, Sherry Clark, Kyle Holt and Diane Fletcher.

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