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Chef Michael Smith's recipe: whole-grain pancakes Add to ...

Sometimes I wonder if I'm part of the problem or part of the solution.

Today, fewer Canadians then ever before actually cook, and many of us have no understanding of what we're eating or what food can do for us.

But at the same time, we're inundated with new cookbooks (including mine), cooking shows (including mine) and foodie websites (including mine). What's going on?

And am I helping or hurting?

I've been a chef for more than 20 years, but I didn't truly learn how to cook until my son was born. Sure, I had created award-winning food, owned restaurants, even written a few cookbooks - but everything changed when the world's toughest food critic moved into my house. He is 7 now, lives just down the hall and has changed my perspective forever.

As a working chef I advocated organic foods largely because I thought they tasted better. I supported local producers because they were less expensive and helped me market my restaurant. I thought flavour came first. Now I know better. In any kitchen, health comes first.

So I am still a fan of local, organic food - but because it is healthier for my family (not to mention my community and the planet).

I now know the joy that comes from eating nutritiously and being my best - and the pleasure that comes from seeing my son thrive on healthy food.

But I also know that we have lost a generation of cooks, and are about to lose another one. Kids are growing up never experiencing the lightness and clarity that comes from eating real food. They literally don't know what they're missing.

And yet, chefs are celebrities. Many people are substituting the vicarious thrill of watching food being prepared for getting off the couch and making it themselves.

So what can I do?

For starters, I can be honest: We do face many challenges in the kitchen, but it's not all doom and gloom.

I can write and talk about things that matter. I can encourage you to engage with your food, to support local producers in your community. I can remind you how easy it truly is to cook, how a skill that is embedded in humanity can be a part of your lifestyle.

I can serve as an example and share my family's food with your family. And a lot of days that means a simple batch of healthy, tasty pancakes with real Canadian maple syrup.

This favourite flavour of ours is a first in many ways. It's the first recipe in my new book, The Best of Chef at Home , and often the first thing I cook in a day. A batch of these is a great way to spin a strong dose of whole grains into a get-out-of-bed treat to kick-start a nutritious day.



Whole Grain Pancakes

Ingredients

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat, grain or almond flour

1 cup oatmeal flakes

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk or water

1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter

2 tablespoons honey

2 eggs, or 4 for added richness

1 teaspoon or more of pure

vanilla extract

Method

A preheated pan is the first secret to pancake perfection. While you mix the batter, preheat your largest, heaviest skillet over your sweet spot, the medium to medium-high heat that gives the batter time to cook through while the surface browns. Your pan is at the perfect temperature when a few scattered water drops dance on it (just right) without evaporating (too hot) or just pooling and simmering (too cool).

Whisk together the dry ingredients to distribute the fine powders evenly among the coarser ones.

Whisk together the wet ingredients and then pour them into the bowl of dry ingredients. Lose the whisk and grab a wooden spoon so it won't clog in the batter. Stir the batter until it is smooth, but don't overmix.

Because the batter has very little refined white flour in it, it can take lots of stirring without "toughening." White flours are high in gluten, which gives bread dough strength but toughens muffins, cakes and pancakes. Oatmeal, almond and other grain flours don't contain gluten and are ground fine enough to support the batter. They're also great for adding extra flavour, richness and nutrition.

Spoon the batter into the preheated pan, evenly filling it with a lot of little pancakes or a few large ones. Smaller ones are easier to flip and to pass out to a hungry crowd.

Watch for bubbles. As the batter heats through, the baking powder will activate and release leavening bubbles that rise to the surface. Keep an eye on them. At first, they'll burst and disappear, but as the batter cooks through they'll leave behind a telltale hole.

When the pancakes are evenly covered here and there with holes, it's time to flip. Because the batter is heated through, and the first side is already browned, the second side cooks faster.

You can get ahead of a crowd by stashing a plate full of pancakes in a warm oven. Cover it with a bowl, and they'll stay fresh and warm while you cook more.

Serves 4, can easily be doubled.

Freestyle Variations

The 3 cups of flours and grains can easily be custom-blended. Use any mixture you like as long as it measures 3 cups in total.

You can also use any milk - cow, soy, rice or a blend.

Honey adds lots of complex aromatic flavour, but you can also add 1/2 cup of brown or white sugar to the dry ingredients.

If you like experimenting with spices, you can brand every batch with a new name and a new spice flavour. Simply varying your choice of spice completely changes the flavour of the pancakes. Just for aromatic kicks!

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