Here. Here are the keys to my kitchen. Take them.

08/07/2008 By Shawn Burns

I joke a little that "breakfast" around here involves nuking some eggs and peeling a banana.

It’s not really a joke.

In the morning I generally pour out some egg whites into a little dish, microwave them for about a minute and a half, peel and chop a banana and some strawberries, and maybe make up some toast if I’ve decided to allow bread in the house that week.

Erin isn’t yet at an age where she can use utensils, so I don’t serve up anything like cereal. Fruit and eggs. That’s what she gets.

And, every once in a while I’ll try to make pancakes.

I want to be able to make pancakes.

Ask most people who I’ve cooked for and they will probably say that I am a decent cook (even if I go through phases where everything has to have cinnamon or honey in it). But I don’t bake. I can’t handle the precision of baking. Cooking is a dance, there is a rhythm behind manic actions and the knife is shining, flickering grace.

Baking feels like engineering.

I realized recently that pancakes, although not involving the oven whatsoever, qualify as baked goods. This would explain why I keep screwing them up.

First, there was the "baking soda or baking powder" fiasco. Which one do you add to the batter to help it puff a little while cooking? I kept forgetting, and I’d add baking soda instead of powder and I’d end up with little hockey pucks.

Then there is the "eggs or no eggs" question. It seems as if adding eggs just encourages the batter to rubberize. But without eggs all I end up with is cardboard.

And let’s not even start on the counter-intuitiveness of the idea that getting the pancakes to cook through the middle without burning on the outside requires a high heat in the pan, and a quick turn, instead of a medium heat with a slow turn. Anything else cooked in that pan that I want to be cooked evenly requires a lower heat and a slow turn. But I have to forget all of that when I’m using a reactive batter that does weird things when heat is applied. Or else I end up with blackened discs of raw dough.

Batter. That term alone should have clued me in that the normal cooking rules do not apply with pancakes.

One cannot eyeball the amount of baking soda powder to be added to the flour. You can’t just "feel out" how much sugar to add to the batter, or how long to whisk the batter so the eggs don’t get overbeaten and rubberize the mixture.

So, finally, after four unsuccessful attempts at good pancakes in four weeks, I pulled out my Cooking A-Z and looked up the blueprints for basic pancakes. I promised to follow the instructions to the letter. Except that I was so confident in the awesomeness of the pancakes that were about to be served up to my starving daughter that I got a little fancy and chopped up a banana to add. Banana pancakes. Because if her dad really loved her he’d man up and put fruit in it.

Mix, chop, whisk, pour, sizzle. Oh wow. Those look amazing. They are fluffing up perfectly. I’m going to turn them now. Oh, look at that, they are perfectly golden brown. Take them from the pan. Cut one up a little for Erin. Taste.

Taste. What the hell? Why do they taste so weird?

Recheck the blueprints.

Flour? Check.

Baking powder? Check.

Eggs? Check.

Butter? Check.

Milk? Check.

1/4 cup of sugar? Che…..

Oh. I don’t actually keep sugar in the small white jar on the counter. I keep it in the medium white jar on the counter.

I keep salt in the small white jar.

Dammit. 1/4 cup of salt in my batter. I lose at baking.

Emily suggests I buy the pre-mixed Bisquick jug, since I’ve now ruined 5 batches of batter in a little less than a month. But even though this last batch proves that the pancakes aren’t to blame, that I am just completely incompetent when it comes to making pancakes, I will persevere.

I will become the best damn pancake batter maker around.

Because breakfast should be something more than nuked eggs and a peeled banana.