Perfecting Pancakes (and waffles)

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Sour cream waffles and strawberries at Nothing To It! Culinary Center in Reno

Local chefs dish out tips for making these breakfast staples.

Looking to whip up a decadent stack of fluffy pancakes, or a perfectly coiffed batch of Belgian waffles, all golden brown on the outside and fluffy on the inside? We found two local chefs who are not only willing to share their secrets for perfecting these breakfast staples, but they also teach classes that could help novice bakers learn the tricks of the breakfast/brunch trade.

Lara Ritchie grew up on pancakes.

“My maternal grandfather made my sister and me sourdough pancakes when we would have a sleep over,” recalls Ritchie, the culinary director of Nothing to It! Culinary Center in Reno.

She explains that on Saturdays, her mom whipped up pancakes with baked-in chocolate chips and topped with powdered sugar, as well as chocolate-free mini pancakes for the family dog.

“We really enjoyed that ritual,” she says.

Ritchie has taken her favorite foods outside the box with creative combinations taught at Nothing To It! in brunch and appetizer classes (the latter include instructions for savory options).

At Sierra Chef, owner/chef Cynthia Ferris-Bennett offers a similar course. Called Brunch is Back, the class teaches students how to perfect pancakes and waffles as well as other breakfast indulgences, such as Monte Cristo sandwiches, eggs, and soufflés.

Ferris-Bennett says the trick to a fluffy pancake is in the ingredients.

“I add a little bit of cream to mine,” she shares.

Ferris-Bennett also avoids pre-made mixes, insisting that a quality from-scratch recipe makes all the difference.

“Done right, it’s the most amazing thing you can eat for breakfast,” she says.

Ritchie adds that utensils are of the utmost priority, especially a waffle maker that has been cleaned and seasoned.

“For the pancake, a good but flexible spatula is key, along with a non-stick pan,” she says.

Both chefs, however, agree that a little experimentation goes a long way.

“Be fearless and always make extra,” Ritchie says.

Ferris-Bennett likes to treat guests to honey-lavender pancakes served with lavender syrup, or vanilla bean waffles with an array of toppings. But plan ahead, Ferris-Bennett warns. Go through every recipe before starting, make sure you understand each step, have all ingredients and tools at hand, and don’t forget that the order of steps matters.

See this infographic for more pancake tips!

Illustration by Bambi Edlund

Recipes courtesy of Lara Ritchie, culinary director, Nothing To It! Culinary Center in Reno

Buttermilk Waffles
(Makes 12 waffles)

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
¾ cup milk
⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and milk. Add liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and whisk until blended. Stir in melted butter. Preheat and oil Belgian-style waffle iron. Cook batter, in batches, until golden. Cooking times will vary depending on waffle iron. Keep warm in a preheated oven at 200 degrees F on a sheet pan until ready to eat.

Sour Cream Waffles
(Serves 6 to 8)

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted twice
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
6 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
4 cups sour cream
½ cup unsalted butter, melted

Brush waffle iron with vegetable oil and preheat. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and baking soda. In a large bowl, beat egg yolks. Add sour cream and melted butter. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture. With an electric mixer, beat egg whites at medium speed until frothy.  Increase speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form. Stir ⅓ of the egg whites into the batter until it is lightened. Add ⅓ of the remaining egg whites and fold in carefully. Finally, add the last of the egg whites, folding slowly to create a light batter. Spoon the batter onto the hot waffle iron and bake for 2½ minutes or until steaming stops.

Alternative: These can be made without the sugar for a savory waffle. Top with sour cream, chives, and caviar.

Savory Vegetable Pancakes
(Serves 6 to 8)

1 cup white onion, finely chopped
¼ cup green bell pepper, seeded, de-ribbed, and finely chopped
1½ cups grated carrots
½ cup celery, finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 package chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and patted dry
3 large eggs, at room temperature and beaten
¾ cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for sautéing
Garnishes: sour cream, chopped tomato, fresh cilantro

In medium sauté pan, sauté onion, green pepper, celery, and carrots in butter. Add spinach. Set aside to cool. Combine eggs with breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Add to spinach mixture. Place batter in a medium bowl and refrigerate 15 minutes. Preheat ¼ cup oil in a sauté pan. With a ¼ cup measuring cup, form cakes in the sauté pan, pressing down on mixture if necessary to create a ¼-inch cake. Sauté until golden on one side, turn, and sauté other side. Drain on paper towels and serve with sour cream, chopped tomato, and cilantro. Add cooked bacon if desired.

Vanilla Ebelskivers
(Makes 21 pancakes)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, separated
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In small bowl, lightly whisk egg yolks, then whisk in milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Add yolk mixture to flour mixture and, with a wooden spoon, stir until well blended. Batter will be lumpy. In a clean bowl, use an electric hand mixer on high speed to beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry, and peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold ⅓ of egg whites into batter to lighten it, then fold in the rest just until no white streaks remain. Use batter right away.

Nothing To It! Culinary Center
225 Crummer Lane, Reno
775-826-2628 •

Sierra Chef
2292 Main St., Stes. 3 & 4, Genoa
775-392-4417 •

Nora Heston Tarte is a longtime Reno resident living on the south side of town. In addition to searching out the best food spots in Reno, her interests include wine, hiking, yoga, and travel. She graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and is pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism. Follow her local exploits and travel adventures on Instagram.


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