I’ve always had texture issues with banana pancakes. I like the principle. Who wouldn’t mind a bit of extra sweetness in a breakfast favorite, especially if each bite echoed a slice of banana bread? I’ve tried plopping slices into pancake batter right on the pan, the way you do with chocolate chips or blueberries, so that you get the right number of banana bursts in each bite as you work through the pancake. But unlike its flavored pancake cousins, banana pancakes have a clear downfall: sogginess. Right around each banana slice, no matter how careful I am (or even if I caramelize the bananas on the pan before adding the batter), there’s a little ring of gooey batter, and I plum don’t like that. Pancakes can be many, many things, but they should not be soggy. So I don’t make banana pancakes.
Last weekend, I went to Boise to celebrate my birthday. My mother, who now goes by Lulu—or Woowoo, depending on how optimistic we’re feeling about our son’s future ability to articulate certain letters—whipped up a batch of pancakes with bananas right in the batter. These were vegan pancakes, made for a brunch with a vegan and someone allergic to eggs on the guest list.
Now, I’m about as open to eating vegan as I am to not eating at all, so I’ll admit I really had no intention of eating them. Vegan foods are for other people, I usually think. They’ll be sandy or chalky or otherwise culinarily handicapped. And there was that throwinginness to my mother’s body language when she made them; that always makes me uneasy. You’ve probably seen it before, in someone you know who is completely incapable of measuring: There’s a cereal spoon in each of four different bags of flour, and a day-old half banana sitting on the counter, and a hand dipped straight into the sugar dish. It’s how I like cooking best, honestly, but since I have very little experience with vegan food, and I know my mother doesn’t have much either, I got nervous. Blind-mixing pancake batter is one thing when you can rely on an egg to lift it up and a block of butter for flavor, but I don’t exactly think of soymilk as one of those magic ingredients that makes everything work.
Now, there’s nothing really wrong with vegan food for breakfast – one bite of a Mighty O chocolate-frosted chocolate donut will tell you that. But if you’ve ever tasted through the offerings at a vegan bakery, you might have tripped over a few gritty slices of cake, and decided that there’s nothing really right with it either, if it’s not completely necessary. At least, that’s what I did. Sometime long, long ago, “vegan” settled into my vocabulary as an overgrown four-letter word.
I also thought that my general distaste for vegan baked goods was my own fault. I might as well come out with it: I have texture issues. Give me a food – any food, even one everyone else deems perfect – and chances are good that I might find something wrong with it. This time of year, for example, I live in constant fear of someone offering me the “perfect” peach. Anyone normal would die for a bite, die to swoon right into the firm-ripe flesh and watch the juices run down the hand’s creases and past the place where, years ago, we used to all wear wristwatches.
But me? I can’t do the fuzz. Just can’t get past it. I taste that bright juice, but before the flavor gets all the way to my heart, something in my brain trips over a fuzzy caterpillar, or a square of shag carpet, and I have to eat my perfect slice like an orange, before I go into convulsions because I think I’m eating caterpillars or carpet. (Tell me I’m not the only one.)
When I think about the sandy texture a lot of unfortunate vegan baked goods have, I get that same shivery reaction. So it’s not so terribly surprising, I don’t think, that last Sunday, I planned to eat bagels and cream cheese and a few slices of bacon and avoid the pancakes entirely.
The problem was that by the time my mother had blended and stirred, fiddled and fixed, burned two batches and set my husband to the task of cooking off the rest of the bowl, I’d forgotten the pancakes she was making were vegan. One accidentally found its way to my mouth. And I have news for you: that pancake didn’t taste unfortunate in any way. The baking powder made each one stand up light and fluffy, the way eggs normally do for pancakes, and the banana flavor in the background was part sweetness, part fruitiness, and all deliciousness, without any of the dreaded soggy banana rings or any sort of grittiness.
Shoot, I said. I wish I’d watched you. I need this recipe. Are you sure it’s vegan? I had visions of our friend sinking into anaphylaxis at the breakfast table.
My mother rattled off what she’d added, and like always, it was a medley.
I used half this kind of flour, and half that kind off flour, and a little of this, and a little of that. Oh, and I used a recipe, she said. She skittered around for it, finally finding it in another room, completely untouched. Here, she said. It was a recipe for 5-minute vegan pancakes, one that obviously had never made it into the kitchen. I knew I’d have to recreate her version myself.
I woke up Monday morning, on my birthday, ready for pancakes. There was no baking soda. (Who runs out of baking soda?)
This morning, armed with leavener, I tried again. I used a whole banana, for good measure, and just one kind of flour. I sweetened with maple syrup. I whizzed in the blender, adding hazelnut oil instead of my mother’s grapeseed, and poured and flipped, and realized, yet again, that there’s nothing wrong with vegan food for breakfast. I’m apparently just going to the wrong bakeries.
Being not so strictly vegan ourselves, we piled our pancakes high with Greek yogurt and nectarines, and cooked up some bacon. Nothing was missing.
Made with soymilk, baking powder, and hazelnut oil, these little pancakes are as great as traditional pancakes – or better, with their sweet punch of maple syrup and banana. My mom, who made the first version, found her inspiration in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, and online, from a recipe for 5-minute vegan pancakes.
TIME: 15 minutes, start to finish
MAKES: 2 to 3 servings
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup vanilla soymilk
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil (or other nut oil, or canola oil)
1 ripe banana
Spray vegetable oil
Blend the flour, syrup, baking powder, soymilk, oil, banana, and salt in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set aside.
Heat a large nonstick or heavy cast iron pan over medium heat. When hot, spray with the vegetable oil spray, and drop batter by scant 1/4 cupfuls onto the pan. Cook for a couple minutes, until the bubbles reach the center, then flip and cook another minute or two. Serve the first pancakes hot, and repeat with the remaining batter.