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Making Buttermilk Pancakes with Emma Hamstra

To Emma Hamstra, pancakes are a childhood food, rooted in family and experimenting in the kitchen.
It’s simple, really: a cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of baking soda, a teaspoon of baking powder, a cup of buttermilk and one egg, all mixed in a bowl before carefully being poured into circles on a hot pan, filling the kitchen with a wafting buttery aroma.

At eight years old, Emma Hamstra learned how to make her grandmother’s buttermilk pancakes. Now ingrained in her brain, it was once on a notecard written by her father, placed onto the counter. These pancakes are simple to Hamstra, yet she finds solace among them.

“Pancakes are a great comfort food,” Hamstra said. “You can be upset, have a stomach ache, have a bad day at school, get broken up with by somebody, fail your math test, but pancakes, they never fail you.”

The breakfast food is a family tradition for Hamstra. As a child, Saturday morning and her family’s pancakes were synonymous.

“My parents were quite young when they had my brother and I, and Saturday mornings were the only time we were really all home,” Hamstra said.

With Hamstra’s dad constantly at the hospital during med school, internship, and residency, and her mom on call as a trauma social worker, sitting together and enjoying a meal was a rarity. But when her family could all have pancakes together, it became a tradition — every Saturday morning, the Hamstra family had the delicious pancakes, no matter what.

“If we had friends over for a sleepover, they got pancakes too,” Hamstra said. “All of my friends and extended family have had my family’s pancakes and fallen in love with them.” Over the years, Hamstra’s family has played around with the recipe, adjusting measurements and the form of certain ingredients.

“I’m from a family of scientists, so when we cook, my family wants to know why certain things are happening,” Hamstra said. “‘Why are the onions caramelizing?’ and ‘Why is the baked good rising?’”

From fiddling the ratios of baking soda and baking powder to see the pancakes rise or flatten, adjusting for certain preferences, to adding popular add-ins like chocolate chips or blueberries (Hamstra’s personal favorite), she has discovered complex spins on the pancake recipe and enjoys sharing pancakes with those around her.

“I’ve gotten quite good at making Bananas Foster where I flambé the bananas, people always like that,” Hamstra said. “Over the years, I’ve gotten my own CO2 cartridges to make homemade whipped cream at home.”

As blueberry pancakes are Hamstra’s favorite and insists “you got to have real maple syrup, none of that high fructose corn syrup stuff,”, she enjoys going outside of her comfort zone, despite certain challenges being more labor intensive.

“I’ve recently started making those really tall, jiggly Japanese pancakes,” Hamstra said. “You have to whip the egg whites to get the lift for them, and then you have to get these metal circular molds that you heat up, spray them, and they take forever to cook because it’s almost like a custard in the middle.”

To Hamstra, those are not her favorite. Presentation is not the most important thing to her when it comes to cooking, preferring the ease of cleaning up, taste and getting food on the plate as quickly as possible. And Hamstra whole-heartedly choses pancakes over waffles, feeling like there is more control and less uncertainty on a pancake griddle than there was in a waffle iron.

“Put the batter in the waffle iron, you close it up, and you hope that the waffle worked, and if it didn’t, you open it up and you find that out,” Hamstra said.“Pancakes do take a steady hand and you have to almost baby them to get them the way you want.”

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About the Contributor
Ruth Shikanov, Print Editor-in-Chief
This is Ruth's seventh semester on staff and first year as one of the Print Editors-in-Chief. You can typically find her commuting between her classes or doing homework, but in her free time, Ruth enjoys being outside, walking her dog, Juno, reading, going on runs near Bandemer and trying new recipes. She cannot wait for all of the amazing work that will be created in Room 300!

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