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Homemade syrups elevate the breakfast routine

Scratch Pancakes.
Scratch Pancakes.

"Pancakes or waffles?” That’s what my father asked me almost every Saturday morning of my childhood.

I usually voted for the pancakes. They weren’t fancy: Dad simply added water, and sometimes an egg, to a few cups of Hansmann’s Mills buckwheat mix. If he was feeling particularly inspired, he would dot the griddled rounds with fresh blueberries or slivered strawberries. But I didn’t care what he put in or on them. His pancakes were just an excuse for me to drown my plate in maple syrup (the real deal, not the fake stuff in the aunt-shaped bottle).

It’s been a long time since my father manned the stove and cooked me breakfast. The spatula has been passed, and I’m now cooking for my 1-year-old son, Zephyr. I wanted to share my family’s pancake tradition with him, but I didn’t want my flapjacks to come out of a box.

I didn’t want just any from-scratch pancake. I wanted a jacked-up version of the pancakes I had as a kid. So I looked at recipes to get a general idea of ingredients and ratios and then set to work playing around with types of flour. Ultimately, whole-wheat pastry flour came out on top of the stack by creating fluffy pancakes with a slight touch of grainy richness.

When it comes to the drizzling options, I wanted to take my pancakes to the next level with some house-made toppings.

The first of those was inspired by a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, where I tasted piloncillo, unrefined dark cane sugar that boasts a deep caramel flavor. For the second, I wanted the taste of coffee, and after some experimentation, I settled on instant coffee, which gave the syrup a jolt as robust as that of my favorite cup. For the third, I lightly reduced golden agave syrup with a bounty of fresh blueberries, then pureed the result with a little vanilla.

Soon it was time to test the recipes on more than my own palate. I griddled up a few silver-dollar pancakes for my son, drizzling each with a small spoonful of syrup. He gobbled and smashed each of them with equal enthusiasm: A family tradition was reborn.

Scratch Pancakes

2 to 4 servings (makes eight 6-inch pancakes)

These fluffy pancakes possess some heft, courtesy of whole-wheat pastry flour. Serve them on their own or with any of the related syrup recipes.

The flour is available at Whole Foods Markets, Walmart and some natural foods stores.

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (see headnote)

2 tablespoons baking powder

2 tablespoons cane sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

1 3/4 cups whole milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Vegetable oil, for the griddle

Place a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet on the middle oven rack; preheat to 200 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a medium bowl.

Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then whisk in the milk, vanilla extract and melted butter.

Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until thoroughly incorporated.

Heat the oil on a griddle over medium-high heat, being careful not to let it come to a smoking point; it’s ready when a few drops of water sizzle when flicked onto the griddle.

Pour 1/2 cup of batter onto the center of the griddle. Cook, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes, until bubbles and air pockets form on the top of the pancake, then turn it over. Cook for 2 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to the baking sheet in the oven. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Serve warm.

Nutrition Per serving (based on 4): 450 calories, 13 g protein, 57 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 145 mg cholesterol, 1,290 mg sodium, 8 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar.

Coffee Maple Syrup

4 to 8 servings (makes 1 cup)

Here’s a way to supplement your morning coffee fix – or enjoy coffee flavor without a hint of bitterness.

The author recommends a medium-amber maple syrup, to keep strong flavors from competing against each other. But dark amber may be substituted.

1 1/4 cups maple syrup, preferably medium amber (see headnote)

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon instant coffee (do not use instant espresso)

Combine the syrup and coffee in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; cook, whisking vigorously, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook for 10 minutes, stirring a few times.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer; skim/discard any foam on the top. Serve warm.

Nutrition Per serving (based on 8): 130 calories, 0 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 30 g sugar.

Blueberry Agave Syrup

10 to 14 servings (makes 1 3/4 cups)

Add a splash of summer to your stack of flapjacks. Agave syrup acts as a mild canvas for the blueberries to take center stage.

1 1/4 cups agave syrup

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the agave syrup and fruit in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low (barely bubbling) and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring often, until all of the blueberries have popped.

Remove from the heat; cool until lukewarm, then stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.

Strain, if desired. Return the saucepan to the stove over low heat to rewarm, or cool the syrup completely before storing.

Nutrition Per serving (based on 14): 90 calories, 0 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 24 g sugar.

Spiced Piloncillo Syrup

6 to 12 servings (makes about 1 1/2 cups)

Here, the rich, burnt-caramel flavor of the dark sugar spiced with cloves, star anise and cinnamon makes a sophisticated pancake topper.

Piloncillo is sold in firm blocks. It is available at Latin markets and in the international aisle of large grocery stores.

1-pound block piloncillo sugar (see headnote)

2 sticks cinnamon (3-inch)

2 whole star anise

6 to 8 whole cloves

2 cups just-boiled water

Combine the block of sugar, cinnamon sticks, star anise and cloves (to taste) in a small saucepan. Pour the just-boiled water over them, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, to create the consistency of a good-quality maple syrup. It should coat the back of a spoon, but be careful not to reduce the syrup too much or it will not pour easily once it has cooled.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the solids. Serve warm, or cool completely before storing.

Nutrition Per serving (based on 12): 140 calories, 0 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 38 g sugar.

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