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Pancakes are part of the original group of flat, quick-breads. For thousands of years people made flat ground wheat, nut or non-wheat cakes without leavening. The origin of the American pancakes and waffles can be traced back to 17th century Dutch settlers, and were called pannekoeken and stroopwafels. So popular in Colonial days, pancakes were often flavored with pumpkin or spices and, waffles were popular at holidays.
Both pancakes and waffles are made from pour batters, with waffles containing more fat. A variety and differing amounts of ingredients are used, but the following are the primary ones: dry ingredients are flour, leavening, some sugar, salt, with wet ones, such as milk or buttermilk, eggs, and some melted butter or oil. Sometimes flavorings, chocolate chips, fruit purees, berries, etc. are added to pancake and waffle batters for a wide multitude of variations.
Both the pancake and waffle recipes are generally mixed in a similar manner as muffins, called the Muffin Method, used with chemical leaveners, such as baking powder and /or baking soda, but it can vary depending on the leavening used. Some pancakes and waffles are leavened with yeast, commercial or with pre-ferments. The Muffin Method is where the wet ingredients are mixed until frothy and then quickly added to dry ones. Just as muffins are, the batters should not be overmixed; rather they should be left slightly lumpy with wisps of flour showing. A light hand in mixing the batter means a light pancake or waffle. Lighter versions of pancakes and waffles can be made by separating the egg yolks and whites, beating the whites until a soft peak forms, and then folding them into the batter at the end of mixing.
Pancakes are cooked in a preheated skillet or griddle, which makes them flat or can be baked, which makes them puff in the oven. Waffles are cooked in a special iron which makes crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, with airy traps for butter and maple syrup.
SARAH SAYS: Raising pancakes and waffles with yeast or by beating air into eggs or separated eggs is an old American tradition that predates the invention of baking powder. Yeast ensures lightness especially when using heavier grains and requires an overnight proofing, which develops flavor. In the late 1700's pearl ash, a form of potassium carbonate (K2CO3) was used to leaven baked goods. It leached from wood ashes, was purified by partial crystallization and dried by evaporation. In the early 1800s baking soda was used, and by 1859, Americans had the benefit of using baking powder to leaven pancakes and waffles and a whole host of recipes.