My Favorite Breakfast Food – Pancakes.

A lady recently asked me, “Chef, what’s your favorite food?” My reply was, “Breakfast foods. Bacon, eggs, omelets, biscuits and gravy–you name it.”

Then, after a brief pause, “And pancakes. I love pancakes!”

I’m not sure when my affinity for pancakes began. You’d think it would have been as a young child, but I don’t remember my mom making pancakes very often. Truth is, I can’t remember her ever making pancakes, although I’m certain she did. I believe my love for this iconic American flatbread came as a teenager going out with family and friends to the local pancake house, a place I still patronize when I’m in the mood for pancakes.

Pancakes date back to at least the fifth century B.C. where for breakfast the ancient Greeks commonly consumed tagenias (meaning “frying pan”). Tagenias were prepared from wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and curdled milk, somewhat like modern pancakes. Ancient Romans also enjoyed pancakes, calling their fried creations alia dulcia (Latin for “other sweets”). A Roman cookbook of that era, Apicius, contains perhaps the first recipe for a pancake. Made from egg, flour, and milk, it was served with a drizzle of honey.

By the fifteenth century, all of Europe were enthralled with pancakes, although they were more crepe-like than today’s version due to the absence of modern leavening. The good Huswifes Handmaids for the Kitchen, a London cookbook printed in 1594, contained what is thought to be the first pancake recipe written in English.

To make Pancakes.
TAke new thicke Creame a pinte, foure or fiue yolks of Egs, a good handfull of flower, and two or three spoonfuls of ale, strain them altogether into a faire platter, and season it with a good handfull of Sugar, a spooneful of Synamon, and a litle Ginger: then take a frying pan, and put in a litle peece of Butter, as big as your thombe, and when it is molten browne, cast it out of your pan, and with a ladle put to the further side of your pan some of your stuffe, and hold your pan aslope, so that your stuffe may run abroad ouer all the pan, as thin as may be: then set it to the fyre, and let the fyre be verie soft, and when the one side is baked, then turne the other, and bake them as dry as ye can without burning.

By the eighteeth century pancake recipes began appearing in virtually every reputable European cookbook, including Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife and The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse. Both of these popular British cookbooks were among the “must-haves” brought to America by early colonial homemakers. So popular were these works that the first cookbook printed in the New World was a reprint of The Compleat Housewife in Williamsburg, Virginia. The first totally American cookbook, American Cookery written by Amelia Simmons and published in 1796, included two different pancake recipes.

Johny Cake, or Hoe Cake
Scald 1 pint of milk and put to 3 pints of Indian meal, and half pint
of flower–bake before the fire. Or scald with milk two thirds of the
Indian meal, or wet two thirds with boiling water, add salt, molasses
and shortening, work up with cold water pretty stiff, and bake as
above.

Indian Slapjack
One quart of milk, 1 pint of indian meal, 4 eggs 4 spoons of flour,
little salt, beat together, baked on gridles, or fry in a dry pan, or
baked in a pan which has been rub’d with suet, lard or butter.

The earliest evidence of the term Johnny cake (sometimes spelled Johny) was in South Carolina in 1739, where it was said to have been the name given by American Negros to cakes made of Indian corn (maise). The term Hoe Cake is thought to have been first used in 1745 by American writers Joel Barlow and Washington Irving in describing corn cakes cooked on the blade of a hoe over an open fire.

Dutch Baby Pancakes Make a Comeback

Sometimes referred to as a Bismarck, Dutch puff, or the David Eyre pancake, the first thing one should know about Dutch Babies is they are not Dutch. Actually this puffy cross between a pancake and a sweet popover is said to have been derived from a German pancake known as a Pfannkuchen. Made from eggs, flour, sugar, and milk, the Dutch Baby is baked in a scalding hot iron skillet and usually enjoyed with apples and a healthy amount of powdered sugar. The dish was introduced in the early 1900s at the family-run Manca’s Café in Seattle, Washington.

As the story goes the Dutch Baby was developed and introduced by Victor Manca in the early 1900s at his family-run Manca’s Café in Seattle, Washington. The secret recipe soon became one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. One of Victor’s daughters could not as a young child pronounce “Deutsch” (German for “German”), calling it Dutch instead, and the name Dutch Babies was born.

Soon Sunset Magazine heard the story and featured the restaurant and pancake creator in their magazine, introducing Manca’s Café and Dutch Babies to the entire country. It wasn’t long before restaurants all across America were trying to duplicate Victor’s pancake.

Manca’s Café was originally located on the corner of Second and Cherry streets in Seattle, where it stood until 1942 when it was relocated to 108 Columbia Street. The restaurant closed on March 25, 2018, and, according to legend, so with it went Manca’s secret recipe.

Of late, these plate sized puffy pancakes have been featured on Food Network, The Chew, Martha Stewart, and other cooking shows, as well as in several magazines. It looks like the Dutch Baby is making a comeback.

Actually Native Americans were cooking cornmeal cakes long before the arrival of the Europeans. The Algonquian tribes of the Atlantic seaboard are credited with teaching the colonists how to make Johnny cakes, a mainstay of the Southeastern tribes.

Over the years, these American flatbreads, made of corn meal, wheat flour, or a combination thereof, have been known by a variety of terms–Johnny cakes, journey cakes, hoe cakes, corn dodgers, griddle cakes, batter cakes or batty-cakes, flannel cakes, hot-cakes, and flapjacks to name just a few. It would be the late nineteenth century before the word “pancake” became the norm.

With few exceptions, pancakes in the U.S. are generally served in “stacks”–two are known as a short stack; three or more are called a stack–served with lots of butter and maple (or another flavor) syrup. American pancakes sometimes come with additional ingredients such as bananas, blueberries, apples, chocolate chips, or nuts mixed into the batter. Or sometimes they come topped with strawberries, peaches, whipped cream, even ice cream.

Today, some form of pancake is enjoyed throughout the world, although not always as a breakfast staple as is done here. In other countries pancakes may be sweet or savory, thin or thick, leavened or unleavened. They may be eaten as a snack or as the main meal itself or they may be used as an ingredient to a dish or simply as an accompaniment. But one thing is for sure, pancakes are so popular, countries have created holidays around them.

Pancake Day, also known as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”), is the last day of pre-Lenten feasting, a tradition that dates back to the 16th century. Since butter, eggs, and fats are generally prohibited during Lenten fasting, these ingredients were used to make pancakes and other rich dishes on which to gorge before Lent began. This food holiday falls in either February or March and immediately precedes Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent).

There is also a second National Pancake Day that has been observed September 26 every year since 2005. Not to be confused with Shrove Tuesday, this food holiday began as Lumberjack Day and in my mind it is just an excuse to eat stacks and stacks of pancakes. As for myself, I really don’t need an excuse to enjoy pancakes. But in an effort to be fair, unbiased, and a team player, let me go on record right now and pledge my total support and participation to both of these great food days.

Make ‘Em: Buttermilk Griddle Cakes, Double Chocolate Pancakes, Dutch Baby Pancake

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A St. Louis Original: Ooey-Gooey Butter Cake.

A few weeks back, I was watching Martha Stewart Bakes during which she made something I had never heard of in my forty-plus years as a chef–a Gooey Butter Cake.

gooey-butter-cakeIt seems this cake was invented during the Great Depression in the 1930s by a German-style bakery located on the St. Louis South Side. And like a number of foods we enjoy today, the gooey butter cake came about quite by accident. While making a batch of standard coffee cake, the baker transposed the ratio of flour to butter, or maybe it was butter to sugar, but whichever it was resulted in a gooey, sticky mess. And times dictated the bakery try to sell the resulting mistake rather than let the product go to waste.

Oddly enough the new cake sold so well that the bakery continued making them. Soon other St. Louis bakers began producing their own versions of gooey butter cake, and what began as one baker’s accident became area icon.

As with most new foods that become popular, multiple claims of its origin begin to appear. The gooey butter cake is no exception. Two groups in particular lay claim to this iconic dish: the Danzer family and the Koppe family.

According to Richard Danzer, one Saturday morning in late 1942 or early 1943, St. Louis baker Johnny Hoffman messed up one of his recipes. Upon discovering the results were surprisingly tasty, he called his friend and fellow baker Herman Danzer, Richard’s father, and told him what had happened. The two bakers spent the rest of the day at Danzer’s shop trying to recreate Hoffman’s blunder. Just as they were finishing their final and successful effort, Melba Danzer came in to see what the two friends were up to. Upon tasting their creation, she exclaimed “this sure is gooey” and thus the name.

Herman Danzer died in 1997. Unfortunately, neither his son, Richard, nor his wife, Melba, had retained any of his recipes and therefore have no way of proving the accuracy of the story.

paula-deens-gooey-butter-cakeAnd then there is the Koppe side of the story as told by the daughter of Master Baker John Koppe who owned a bakery throughout the 1940s during WWII. It was during these years that John was to have developed the gooey butter cake. Following the war, Koppe sold his business and went to work for St. Louis Pastry Shop, giving them his recipe for this classic St. Louis specialty.

Again, there is no concrete evidence that shows John Koppe to be gooey butter cake’s inventor. Also, I find it intriguing that he gave his recipe to the same bakery owned by Johnny Hoffman.

If these two claims were not confusing enough, there is the distinct possibility that this St. Louis treat was actually created in Philadelphia. It seems that the Philadelphia Butter Cakes have been sold by the area’s German bakeries since the 1930s, although I find nothing to suggest that any particular bakery there makes claim to its origin.

There are two things upon which everyone seems to agree. The original gooey butter cake had a sweet yeast dough base with a topping made from corn syrup, sugar, vanilla, and of course butter. It was certainly not the modern version made today by some using cake mix base with a cream cheese topping. And while gooey butter cake is a type of coffee cake rather than a dessert cake, it can definitely be eaten at any time of the day.

Today you can find the gooey butter cake in bakeries all over the St. Louis area. There are also versions available nationwide, including a variety called the Paula Deen Baked Goods Original Gooey Butter Cake sold in Walmart stores throughout the country.
Another bakery, Ann & Allen Baking Company, sells a whopping 76 varieties of gooey butter cake marketed online in all 50 states. The company’s original version even won top prize in Food Network’s Food Feuds.

There seems to be a revival today of classic Americana sweets, and the gooey butter cake is just one example. I’ve added instructions for both the original and modern versions of this delicious yet unusual treat to the Recipe Index of this website for your convenience. I hope you’ll try baking one soon, and let your family find out what folks in St. Louis have known for more than eighty years–regardless of who the originator was, the Ooey-Gooey Butter Cake is one mistake worth making.

Make Em: Killeen’s St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake, Paula Deen’s Gooey Butter Cake