When cooks travel, they inevitably bring back recipes as souvenirs. I found these pancakes during a summer road trip through northern Minnesota at a sweet little coffee shop in Bemidji called the Minnesota Nice Cafe -- just steps from the giant Paul Bunyan statue.
It was a chilly morning (do they have any other kind there?), and I was torn between the wild rice and the blueberry pancakes. So I got both.
And both were terrific, but more than the wild rice or the blueberries that were added to the batter, what really won me over was the nutty, coarse, slightly earthy base itself. Owner Jeannette Proulx, who runs the kitchen with her son Greg Archambault, was cagey about the exact recipe but did reveal that the secret was using ground oatmeal in place of some of the flour.
I vowed that I would break her secret code, but it took me a while to get around to it. I recently spent a week working on it. It was worth it.
The recipe wasn't all that hard to figure out. In fact, one of the things that's most remarkable about it is how simple it is. Well, that and the flavor. And the way it adapts so well to so many different accessories.
I started with my favorite basic pancake recipe -- the "sour milk" pancakes from the 1943 "Joy of Cooking." Being a responsible householder, of course, I never have sour milk in my refrigerator. Or hardly ever. What I do have at almost all times is a carton of buttermilk, which works just as well, if not better.
I altered this basic batter by adding oatmeal that I'd ground to a fine powder in a blender. Make sure you use rolled rather than steel-cut oats. Rolled oats -- like the familiar Quaker Oats -- have been cooked to soften them, then flattened and dried. Unless you're willing to do all of that yourself with steel-cut, it'll never work.
These pancakes are terrific as is -- they taste the way I always think whole-wheat will but somehow never does. Still, I have to admit they taste even better with a little accessorizing.
Adding cooked wild rice to the batter was a no-brainer. After all, that's what I fell in love with in Minnesota. Blueberries would work, too, but they just seem so ... done already.
So instead of fresh blueberries, I got a mix of dried fruit -- sour cherries, cranberries, raisins -- and softened them in orange juice. I thought that was great until I decided to use the leftover fruit by mixing it into a batch of wild rice. That was even better.
1 1/3 cups rolled oats (4.25 ounces)
1 cup flour (4.25 ounces)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk
Butter, for frying
Grind the rolled oats in a blender until they are as fine as flour. Combine the oats, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.
In a medium bowl, mix together the lightly beaten eggs and the buttermilk.
Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture in a few quick strokes. All of the dry ingredients should be moistened, but don't worry if there are a few small lumps. That's better than overbeating, which will toughen the pancakes. You should have about 4 cups of batter.
Heat a griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat until it's hot enough that a drop of water skitters and dances across the surface. Brush the pan lightly with butter and then ladle out the pancakes in roughly one-fourth-cup amounts. Cook until the bubbles stop rising from the bottom and the top surface looks slightly dried out, 3 to 4 minutes.
Flip the pancakes and continue cooking until the center feels lightly set when you press the top with your fingertips, about 2 minutes more. Adjust the heat of the griddle as needed so the pancakes cook evenly. Keep the pancakes warm in the oven until all are cooked. This makes about 16 to 18 pancakes. Servings: 4 to 6.
Per serving: 214 calories, 10 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 4 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 65 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams sugar, 829 milligrams sodium.
Wild rice pancakes: Rinse 1/2 cup wild rice under running water. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add salt and then add the rice. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the rice is tender and has opened, about 45 minutes. Drain and cool. You should have about 2 cups of cooked rice. Gently fold the cooled rice into the batter and cook as directed in the recipe.
Per serving: 267 calories, 12 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 4 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 65 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams sugar, 831 milligrams sodium.
Dried fruit pancakes: Place 1 cup mixed dried fruit (raisins, cherries, cranberries, chopped apricots, etc.) in a bowl and cover with orange juice. Let stand until the fruit has softened slightly, about 20 minutes, then drain. Alternatively, warm the mixture in the microwave for 30 seconds and let stand 5 minutes. Gently fold the drained fruit into the batter and cook as directed.
Per serving: 299 calories, 11 grams protein, 54 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 4 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 65 milligrams cholesterol, 22 grams sugar, 866 milligrams sodium.