Pancakes with Fresh-Ground Flour

Fluffy, nutty, gritty: the fresh-ground whole wheat pancake. Something you need to try.

I think that pancakes are probably one of the finest foods in the world. They’re easy to make, impressively adaptable, and fabulously delicious. Eaten plain, with a little maple syrup? Yes. With fruit and whipped cream? Yes. Studded with chocolate chips and stuffed with peanut butter? Yes. While its true that there exists some debate about whether they should be thin and crispy or thick and pillowy, this is an argument kept afloat by fools: they should most certainly be big, puffy, and ready to sop up whatever’s beside them on the plate. They’re a near-perfect comfort food.

While the pancake’s ability to stand up to anything you can throw at them has helped them to be one of the world’s most popular foods, a little something can be lost through these additions. The rise of the garish, stuffed-to-the-gills pancake seems to have accompanied the advent of boxed pancake mixes made from inferior ingredients: when you’re cooking with leaden bleached white flour, or a just-add-water supermarket mix, you could probably be forgiven for needing to throw in a bunch of sugary extras just to make it palatable (though you’d not be forgiven for purchasing that boxed stuff in the first place). Can’t we cheer, every so often, for the dish at a far more basic level? Can’t we enjoy a pancake made from pretty much just wheat, baking powder, liquid, and a little salt? We can — especially when we’re lucky enough to be able to mill the flour ourselves.

Probably one of the oldest and most ubiquitous (from injera, to the crepe, to the johnnycake) prepared foods in the world, the pancake is simple: ground-up grains, water, and if you’re lucky, a fat source, like maybe milk instead of water, or some egg, or some butter. Nowadays, most of us are lucky, and so in America this is how we make them: flour, milk, eggs, butter, salt, and a leavener (usually baking powder). Common variants include pancakes which use buttermilk instead of milk, or ones which use a little sugar or vanilla for added flavor.

Wheat Berries

Wheat Berries from White Oak Farm in Belchertown, MA. Flour comes from here.

I recently came into posession of a sack of wheat berries which was grown on White Oak Farm in Belchertown MA. I purchased them through the ladies of the now-defunct Boston Localvores; this was extra-enjoyable, because the berries are local, but you can get whole wheat berries wherever you can buy most grains. Whole Foods carries them, as does Harvest Co-Op.

Flour makes up the bulk of the pancake, and really, the bulk of most baked goods. It is arguably among the more important ingredients in the world, but in America, it’s an afterthought: all-purpose flour is all-purpose flour. It’s a white powder. Sometimes it’s whole-wheat, when you’re trying to be healthier. In reality, flour is just a grain (like wheat, rice, corn, etc) which has been pulverized, en masse, into a powder. Supermarket flours are “refined,” which means that much of the actual kernel of grain is removed, and what is left behind is the fine, carbohydrate-rich endosperm. Why? Because the endosperm is texturally homogenous and doesn’t spoil as fast as the other parts of the grain. Unfortunately, it’s also generally devoid of nutrients (which are all stored in the parts which get discarded), and so is enriched by manufacturers with various vitamins.

Grain Mill

The KitchenAid Grain Mill attachment smashing up some wheat berries to make the tastiest flour ever.

As a result, almost all flour that Americans purchase from stores is of dubious nutritional value and has absolutely no flavor whatsoever. That’s why you have to add all that other stuff to white flour pancakes in order to make them good. Even supermarket whole wheat flour is bland and stale-tasting. Luckily, making flour yourself is extremely easy, especially if you can afford to make a modest investment in a grain mill, either a hand-cranked one or an electric one.
And what better thing to do with that mill — and that flour — than make pancakes? The flour obtained from the mill is grittier than refined flour, but this is more charming than troubling: it gives your baked goods an extra layer of character to go along with the fresher, nuttier flavors of the flour. This flour also wicks up a little more moisture, so add liquids slowly and be prepared to fiddle with the recipe a tiny bit.

  • 2c flour
  • 2tsp salt
  • 2tbsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2c liquid (milk, soymilk, almond milk — even water will work)

Yes, it’s that linear. If you find that you like things a little thicker or thinner, just adjust the amount of flour or liquid you use, but a 1:1 pancake recipe will absolutely work. Mix the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry ingredients in another, and then  mix with a spoon until just barely combined. Wait a minute or two before baking, because with whole wheat flour, the consistency will change as the flour sucks up the liquid.

If you prefer, you can swap out a small amount of the liquid  for something like melted butter or canola oil. You can also whip the egg whites and then fold them into the batter just before cooking. They’re best cooked in a skillet with butter.  Pancakes are a relatively simple thing to make. The best cooking strategy is to make them all the time — not only will you learn how to make the perfect pancakes for you, but you’ll get to eat all of the hits, misses, and everything in between. They’ll all be good. They’re pancakes.

The results are awesome. Because of the flecks of bran throughout the mixture, the pancakes, while still light, seem much more rustic and authentic. They are also delicious without needing to add any sugar whatsoever; eaten plain, they are somewhat akin to a bran muffin. They’re also more substantive and filling than regular pancakes — even though the recipe is virtually identical, these feel like a serious treat, like you’re going back in time to enjoy an old-timey meal on the farmstead. Topped with some homemade jam (from our massive quantities of strawberries picked at Sapowsky Farm in Granby this summer), honey from Jamaica Plain, and fresh greek yogurt (from Sophia’s Greek Pantry in Belmont, purveyors of what is easily the best greek yogurt in the world), these are one of our favorite breakfasts to make. With a good grain mill, they actually only take a few more minutes than using store-bought flour. Home-milling flour isn’t for everyone, but if the idea interests you, go for it — you’ll have all the more appreciation for what used to be a boring, uninspiring pantry item.


6 Responses to Pancakes with Fresh-Ground Flour

  1. We recently bought a grain mill for our stand mixer, and the flour we have made from Upinngil wheat berries has been superb. We’re also really excited to try making corn meal with dent corn later on. Pancakes made with fresh flour totally take these humble pastries to a whole new level. The pancake becomes a legitimate food, and not just a sponge to convey whatever topping you choose.

    Out of curiosity, what setting do you use on your grain mill and how much flour do you make in one go? We have had the opposite issue of what you state, where our flour absorbs less liquid than regular flour. Is it our setting, our wheat berries, or something else? Even if we wait for several hours, it stays the same. Advice?

  2. Finn says:

    Interesting! My grain mill has 10 settings, and if 1 is the finest and 10 is the most coarse, I usually will grind on 3. This is owed more to my fears of burning out the motor (is that silly? I don’t know) than for preferring whatever texture I achieve.

    I think that there are probably a lot of factors that go into the absorption. Most of what I’ve read about flour and absorption comes from breadbaking sources, so I think that protein/gluten definitely has something to do with it. If you have a high-protein flour, it absorbs more water. If you knead it to develop the gluten, it absorbs more water. Obviously you don’t knead pancakes (but you do need them! aha…..ha), but the protein content could have something to do with it. Perhaps you’re using lower-protein berries? I can’t think of any way to test that theory though.

    Finer grinds will definitely absorb water faster. I don’t think the absorption capabilities of the flour will really make the flour better or worse. If your flour is consistently absorbing water at the same rate, that’s probably a good thing — just adjust the water accordingly (use less, in your case), and you should achieve a consistent product, right?

  3. details says:

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    könnte so exzellent wie der geschrieben ist. Alle Daumen nach oben und viel Glück noch weiter so !

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  5. Norman says:

    When I initially commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the exact same comment.
    Perhaps there is a means you are able to remove me from that service?
    Many thanks!

    • Heather says:

      I apologize! I imagine there is a way you can unsubscribe in the emails wordpress sends you. I don’t have access to the list of subscribers, unfortunately!

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