I love pancakes. They’re such a cozy way to start the weekend, and having extras on hand to heat in the toaster makes the work week easier to manage. The problem is that I prefer pancakes covered in butter and syrup, which is not the most nutritious way to start the day, especially given that pancakes are typically not what you could call nutritionally dense to begin with.
I’ve been learning a lot about improving the nutrition of my favorite recipes while working with Guiding Stars, so I decided to try modifying the buttermilk pancake recipe in my favorite cookbook. The result was completely delicious (without syrup!) and earns 3 Guiding Stars…this is the process I used to get there:
What ingredients would be debited by Guiding Stars?
Eggs, for all the nutrients they offer, are still very high in saturated fat, so I knew they would hurt the rating. Pancakes don’t have a lot of sugar, but they do have some. The answer to both of these problems was a banana: bananas can replace eggs as a binder in some baked goods, and they’re high in natural sugars. I replaced 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of sugar with 1 banana and the texture and sweetness were both excellent.
I wasn’t as worried about the oil–the vegetable oil I use for baking already earns 3 Guiding Stars. I was more concerned about the butter I use to cook pancakes in. You can technically cook pancakes dry on a non-stick skillet, but they don’t have the salty, crisp edges that, for me, define what makes a pancake delicious. I substituted Olivio, an olive-oil based butter replacement that earns 3 Guiding Stars. It’s not real butter, but the flavor is still pretty good, so I used it (sparingly) to get the crispy edge I crave.
Lastly, I wasn’t sure about the milk. Buttermilk can be high in fat, and while some partial-fat milks do earn stars, I was concerned that with the cooking oil and Olivio, this recipe didn’t need much more in the way of fat. Fortunately, adding lemon juice to skim milk gave me the nutrition of skim milk and the acid needed to work with the rising agents without adding more fat.
What else could I do to improve the nutrition?
One tip that Alli, Kit and Erin have all recommended at various times is to swap in whole grains for flour. I had plain whole wheat flour in my cupboard, and I thought the nutty flavor was great. If you have pickier eaters at the table, white whole wheat flour has the same whole grain nutrition as regular whole wheat flour and tastes a little more like all-purpose flour.
Alli and Kit have also frequently recommended making sure that a meal has a little bit of protein to start the day, so I added a few walnuts to make sure I wouldn’t be hungry again in an hour. It doesn’t take many of these filling little beauties to satisfy my appetite.
What about flavor?
Bananas have a very distinct flavor, which isn’t quite what you might want in a pancake, so I decided to compensate by playing to their strengths. I took inspiration from my favorite banana bread recipe, using cinnamon and nutmeg to invoke this other favorite treat of mine. My secret spice weapon for banana bread has been cardamom for a few years and I would strongly recommend picking some up. It adds a dimension to this spice mix that you won’t realize you were missing until you taste it. A robust combination of spices also let me cut the salt in the recipe by half.
My last challenge was to eliminate the need for syrup. This is where the second banana comes into play: By layering slices of super ripe banana onto the hot, faux-buttered pan, I caramelized the natural sugars a bit while the pancake was cooking. This put them on top of the pancake when it was flipped, making them the first thing my tastebuds encountered. I think this trick will work best with the ripest bananas, which have converted more starch into sugar.
The result was so tasty that I sent the recipe over to Guiding Stars for rating. It’s nice to sit down to a delicious plate of pancakes knowing that they earn 3 Guiding Stars. I hope you all enjoy the recipe as much as I do!
Pancakes are a perfect candidate for practicing your healthier cooking skills. Using all whole wheat imparts a lovely, nutty flavor, and a simple ripe banana contributes all the sugar you need while replacing the egg nicely. A few spices for pizzazz and a handful of nuts for protein, fiber and omega-3s give you a simple dish that’s easy to whip up and eat with no added sugar from syrup. Make a big batch on the weekend and reheat the extras in the toaster for a fast breakfast during the week.
Servings: 4 (171 g )
Prep Time: 15 min.
Cook Time: 15 min.
- 1 cup skim milk
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- ⅛ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. nutmeg
- ¼ tsp. cardamom (optional)
- 2 medium bananas, very ripe, divided
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 4 tsp. Olivio Original spread, divided
- ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
- Combine the milk and lemon juice. Let sit for 5 minutes. Heat a large skillet on medium heat.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.
- Mash one banana, reserving the second. Stir mashed banana into sour milk. Stir in olive oil.
- Add wet mixture to dry mixture, combining well. For best rising, allow to sit for 2-3 minutes. Slice second banana thinly.
- Add 1 teaspoon of Olivio to hot skillet. Place 1/4 of the banana slices into the skillet and pour 1/4 of the batter over the slices. Sprinkle tops of uncooked pancakes with 1/4 of the walnuts. When edges of pancake are dry and the top is just beginning to bubble, flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes until pancake is cooked through.
- Repeat step 5 three times. You should be able to get 12 3-inch pancakes worked in 4 batches. Serve hot–you won’t need to top these with syrup!