Listen to Your Pancakes.

Last Tuesday I finished my career as a part-time graduate student.  I sat around my professor’s dining room table for six with nine other people in sticky, humid air and listened to ethnobotanical presentations and ate wild green pie, filled with lamb’s-quarters and wood sorrel from the lawn outback.

At one point someone’s homemade kombucha exploded and my professor used white linen napkins that were once Julia Child’s to clean up the fermented tea.  Then we ate peanut cake with salted chocolate icing made using a family heirloom recipe born from life on a Mississippi legume farm.  I talked about the cultural thorniness of the black raspberry and of Dr. Oz and scientific hubris.

It was a very odd, very appropriate, ending to the past five years.  A time that has deeply tested the limits of my sanity, has limited my social capacities and back account, and has forever broadened my view of food and society.

I am grateful to have this perspective and am looking forward to reacquainting with my kitchen.  Most recently this has included pancakes.  The past few years have left me perpetually searching for recipes that incorporate spent sourdough starter and also for pancakes that puff up like the kind served by someone who calls everyone honey. 

My Life in Sourdough has that version.  The ingredient list is admittedly a bit limiting, as it requires you know someone who regularly maintains a starter.  My brother has killed at least three.  And I’m hoping these pancakes might motivate him to put an end to his microbial massacres once and for all.

If you regularly feed a starter, you are in luck.  This will aid in creating thick, fluffy saucer-sized shapes that take to maple syrup far better than any other breakfast food.  (Even better than the waffles of insane greatness.) I have made the recipe at least three times in the past month.  That alone should come through loud and clear.

Because if I have learned anything over the past five years, it’s that it is sometimes better to let the food do the talking.  As Mel Brooks once joked, listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.  Something tells me that pancakes can speak even louder.

Sourdough Blueberry Brown Butter Pancakes
Adapted from My Life in Sourdough


½ to ¾ cup sourdough starter (not fed)
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter
1 scant cup frozen or fresh blueberries
zest of one lemon (optional)


The night before

In a large bowl, mix the starter, flours, milk, and sugar until well combined; cover and place in the fridge overnight (ideally 10 to 20 hours ahead, see note below).

The day of

In a medium or large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat; continue to cook until it turns a light caramel and starts to smell nutty; set aside to cool slightly.  To the starter mixture, add the egg, salt, baking soda, and vanilla extract.  Slowly add in the melted butter and then fold in the blueberries and lemon zest (if using).

Wipe out the sauté pan to remove any dark bits and butter the pan again; set the heat to medium.  Scoop about 1/3 cup heaping batter into the pan and then cook until it starts to bubble and turn golden on the underside.  Flip and cook about 1 minute more or until cooked throughout.  Repeat with remaining batter, buttering the pan after every pancake.

Makes about six to eight 4 to 5-inch diameter pancakes

-The whole wheat adds a nice nuttiness and I’d definitely encourage it.  The milk can be swapped depending on your preference.

-If the starter mixture rests in the fridge about 10 hours, it benefits from being left on the countertop an hour or two to let the microbes warm up; this helps the pancakes rise better.  The longer it is left in the fridge the less time it needs on the countertop.  (But this is a living product and may need some individual tweaking.)