It’s called “brinner” around here. Breakfast for dinner. You know, the meal you used to have when Mom and Dad were going out for the evening and a babysitter entered the scene? At our house, it’s also something we do for fun when no one feels like making much of a big deal for dinner.

Pancakes are the perfect brinner, and even good for a weekend breakfast in a pinch, or so I’m told. In my years of standing over the stove flipping I-don’t-know-how-many pancakes at the start of each trip on the bay, I’ve had my fair share of time to test all sorts of different riffs on the familiar favorite.

There are a couple of potential pitfalls when making pancakes, the most sensitive being how much liquid to add to the mixture. Even when a recipe calls for a specific amount of milk or buttermilk, I usually aim for the perfect balance of thickness: a batter thin enough to drip off the spoon but thick enough to not run all over the pan.

In the end, my perfect pancake has an edge that sets up high with big bubbles that form over the surface before the first flip and a center that cooks before the top and bottom burn.

Steady, medium-high heat is another trick to perfect pancakes. If the heat is too high, you can’t get the inside done before the burning commences.

I have a big griddle that I use all summer on my wood stove. The heat is even more of a challenge under these conditions, and sometimes I end up turning the griddle five or six times to even out the heat. If things get too out of hand, I’ve even been known to move the griddle off the heat entirely to flip the pancakes while waiting for the heat to settle down.

Buttermilk may not be an item you ordinarily have in the larder. There is a solution, but with a few caveats. Simply substituting milk for buttermilk one-to-one usually produces the thin, watery pancake batter of which I’m not a fan. Watery batter requires adding more flour, demanding too much stirring, which then makes heavier, chewier pancakes.

The best solution is to make your own buttermilk, of sorts. Add 2 teaspoons of either lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of milk. Let it sit on the counter for at least 10 minutes for the milk to thicken and curdle fully. Use this in place of the 11/3 cups of buttermilk in the basic pancake recipe. Do note that even when the milk is curdled, it’s still a bit thinner than buttermilk.

Lastly, if you experiment by adding fresh fruit or cooked grains to a batter, note that this also adjusts the moisture content. Go slow and easy on such additions, or when adding homemade buttermilk. It’s far better to need to add a bit more milk to a too-thick batter than it is to try to balance too much liquid by adding more flour.

If you feel you might have stirred too much, just let the batter sit on the counter at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes to let any gluten that’s been developed relax. This will give your pancakes a delicious lightness.

Whether for a fun weekday brinner or a fabulous weekend breakfast, these buttermilk pancakes will leave everyone flippin’ happy.

Buttermilk Pancakes

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/3 cups buttermilk

1 large egg

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Additional salted butter for cooking

In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Make a well in the flour mixture and mix in the buttermilk, egg and butter. Do not over-mix.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat until hot. Swipe the griddle with a small bit of salted butter. The easiest way to do this is to rub the end of a stick of butter over the surface of the griddle. Ladle or spoon the batter into the pan; when the pancakes start to set and you see bubbles popping on the pancakes, flip them and cook until the other side is brown.

Keep pancakes in a warm oven until all of them are done.

Makes 10 pancakes.

Raspberry Peach Pancakes

To the above recipe, add 3/4 cups of both raspberries and peach slices. Add after mixing in the buttermilk, egg and butter.

Makes 14 pancakes.

Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes

To the basic recipe add:

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Substitute 1/2 cup of yogurt for 1/2 cup buttermilk

Add 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Add 2 tablespoons lemon zest; zest from about 1 lemon

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add the poppy seeds to the dry ingredients and then all of the liquid ingredients with the buttermilk, egg and butter.

Pumpkin Pancakes

To the basic recipe add:

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup pumpkin puree

Add the spices with the dry ingredients and the pumpkin puree with the buttermilk, egg and butter.

Makes 12 pancakes.

Corn and Jalapeno Pancakes

In the basic recipe, substitute 1/2 cup of corn meal for 1/2 cup of flour.

1 cup corn kernels

1 tablespoon minced jalapeno, seeds removed

Add the corn meal with the dry ingredients and the corn kernels and jalapeno with the buttermilk, egg and butter.

Makes 12 pancakes. 

Annie Mahle is the chef aboard the Maine windjammer, Schooner J. & E. Riggin. Her latest cookbook is “Sugar and Salt: A Year at Home and at Sea.” Contact her at:

chefannie@mainewindjmmer.com