Made with a tweaked recipe from James Beard’s American Cookery that basically just swaps out milk for sour cream, the Beard-inspired pancakes that headline the breakfast offerings at Bubby’s in Tribeca in New York City are some of the hottest-selling hotcakes in NYC.
The James Beard pancakes, which can now be made at home thanks to an-easy-to-master mix that’s available for shipping nationwide, the light and fluffy flapjacks aren’t the only item on Bubby’s menu with sour roots.
Ron Silver, who has owned and handled chef duties at the brunch hotspot for more than three decades, also offers stacks of griddle-to-table pancakes that begin their journey thanks to a sourdough starter from the 19th century.
Sweet, sour and a little savory, Bubby’s 1890 Sourdough Pancakes are named for the year their starter was created and are noticeably thinner and chewier than their Beard-inspired breakfast buddies.
Speaking with InsideHook, Silver explains that the inspiration for having above-average pancakes on the menu at Bubby’s comes from his experience eating different varieties at pancake breakfasts to raise money for the local little league while growing up in Salt Lake City.
“My mom cooked different kinds of pancakes every weekend. If it was spring and we had raspberries outside, we would have raspberry pancakes,” he says. “I guess I had lots of opportunities to judge what was going on. At Bubby’s, I felt somewhat of a responsibility to deliver what I felt was going to be actually good pancakes so people didn’t have to constantly be fucked over by bad pancakes. It’s a terrible way to start your day. I think it’s an easy, subtle thing. Plus you really have a lot of leeway for excellent pancakes.”
Growing up in Utah, Silver had relatives in the Bay Area and became familiar with sourdough pancakes during visits to San Francisco as they are more common in that region than they are in other locales in the U.S. “Sourdough pancakes are my favorite pancakes. They are chewy little delightful things that will surprise your mouth every single time,” he says. “They’re thin and sort of bubbly, but they also really carry butter nicely. I look for a really golden color on one side and a nice bubble formation on the other side. They’re thicker than crepes, but about one-third as thick as a regular pancake.”
Of course, what really separates Silver’s sourdough pancakes from the norm is their signature starting ingredient.
“If you are going to work with sourdough, it’s like having a pet. You have to keep it alive by feeding it, so it’s a commitment,” Silver says. “It sort of becomes part of your day-to-day life and I find it to be a super-spiritual thing to have that. You heard about how popular sourdough was during the pandemic. There’s a reason for that and I think it’s a really nice reason. There’s a reward in working with a thing like that. I think that sourdough pancakes are a really nice way to start playing with sourdough. The sourdough community is really a nice community of people that talk about weird things. I think it’s a nice entryway into a world of weirdos and some excellent pancakes.”
Here’s your ticket into that world (1890’s sourdough starter recipe not included).
Bubby’s 1890 Sourdough Pancakes
Ingredients for the primary batter
- Live sourdough starter
- 2 ½ cups lukewarm water (90° to 100°F)
- 3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
Ingredients for the pancakes
- 3 1/2 cups Primary Batter
- 2 1/2 cups sour cream
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 5 extra-large eggs
- ½ cup sugar
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- Start by making the primary batter. Warm a large bowl by filling it with hot water. Empty it out. Plan to make this 8 to 12 hours ahead of time. Allow the batter to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before you make the pancakes, and give it a good stir before using. The primary batter will yield 3 ¾ cups, which you will use for the pancakes, and 2 ½ cups to return for the starter container.
- Remove sourdough starter from the refrigerator and stir it well. Measure out 2 ½ cups. Return the remaining starter to the refrigerator.
- Combine the warm water and starter in the warm bowl. Mix on medium-low speed, slowly adding in the flour. Beat for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm area.
- Let sit for 8-12 hours before making pancakes.
- Heat the griddle to medium-high (don’t let it smoke).
- Combine all ingredients until smooth and keep chilled until use. (It is better if you let the batter rest for at least 4 hours before using.)
- Dollop ¼ cup of batter onto the skillet. Wait until little bubbles start to pop (cue chocolate chips!). Use a spatula to take a peek under the pancake. If it’s a golden color, flip it.
- Once the second side is golden brown, flip the pancake onto a plate. Spread butter and pour warm maple syrup on top.
- Taste the pancake and make more. Recipe makes 16 pancakes.
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