One of the best things about living in New Jersey are the diners. Usually open 24 hours, usually down to serve breakfast all day (among a million other things on the menu, a menu that's typically about five pounds heavy and six inches thick), it's hard to go wrong with a stack of diner pancakes, especially once a craving sets in to stay. Trust me: if you're ever knee-deep in diner pancake craving and you find yourself far away from the East Coast NJ eatery scene, I wish you tons and tons of luck. It's often a satisfaction even the cutest café in the world couldn't replicate.
The only downside is, well, obvious. Sugary, buttery, and often sprinkled with even more sugar of the powdered variety, pancakes from a diner or probably anywhere aren't exactly masquerading as a health food. It's cake, cooked in a pan, first thing in the morning. While I have a tough time disputing why that's not an amazing fact, I had some hope that I could create a tasty version with a little more substance.
With the Internet as my guide and a few tweaks to recipes here and there, I concluded with the following:
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1/2 cup of oatmeal or multigrain hot cereal (I used this combination of rye, barley, oats and wheat)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup of sugar (after my first run I'd suggest cutting back the sugar to about 1/4 cup. While 1/2 isn't bad, these were sweet enough to not need maple syrup. But who wants to skip maple syrup? I have a feeling slashing that amount in half would do the trick.)
2/3 canned pumpkin purée
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup almond milk
Pinch of salt
Whisk together your dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Add your sugar, pumpkin, eggs, canola oil and almond milk and whisk together until evenly mixed and generally lump-free. Your batter should be runny enough that it drips freely from the spoon. This ensures that your pancakes won't be too thick to cook through to the center. If you find your batter gets thicker as it stands (while you frantically flip), add more almond milk as you go.
Heat a large pan or a skillet over low heat. Trust me on this one: whenever I start out with medium heat I always end up with black, burnt pancakes. The one things diners will always do better than me (or maybe anyone) is achieving that perfectly golden color on both sides. I'm telling you, there's something they know that we don't. The secret to ALL LIFE AND THE UNIVERSE, maybe.
Add a little butter or cooking spray to prevent your pancakes from sticking. I went with smallish pancakes, about 3-4 inches across, but make whatever you prefer. Add a few chopped nuts or chocolate chips (what the hell) to a few if you're looking to mix it up. Whole wheat, oats and other healthy grains, the vitamin A and beta-carotene from the pumpkin, you're looking at a generally beneficial (how's that?) version of a standard breakfast treat. And a damn good one at that.