For some people, a stack of pancakes is all about purity: just the delicate crispy edges and tender center of each carefully-cooked round, showcasing a simple homemade batter and the flavor of butter. Real maple syrup is the only acceptable topping.
And then there are those of us who like to play with our food, who want to change up our pancake routine and experiment with unusual toppings and additions. I had a coworker once who would smear his morning pancakes with peanut butter, sprinkle them with trail mix, and stack them, sandwich style. Who needs a fork?
Looking for ideas to mix up your pancake routine? Read on.
Pour Some Sugar on Me
Ok, maybe don't dump the granulated stuff straight on your plate, but it's worth keeping in mind that are there are sweet options beyond good ol' maple. Try different types of honey, or explore the woodsy flavor of birch syrup.
You can buy coconut syrup for a tropical-themed breakfast—especially tasty if your pancakes have bananas or nuts in them—or easily make your own with a can of coconut milk plus about a half cup of sugar and a few teaspoons cornstarch to thicken (plus a dash of vanilla or rum if desired.)
If you're looking for a little DIY project, boiling down some apple cider with spices like cinnamon, cloves, and pepper will give you a concentrate that's awesome dribbled on top of pancakes, especially these oatmeal ones. Just want to add a touch of unusual flavor? Warm some maple syrup or honey in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add cinnamon sticks, cardamom, cloves, star anise, dried orange peel, fresh ginger, or a split-and-scraped vanilla bean, let infuse until flavorful, then strain before using. Or try fresh herbs like thyme, lemongrass, or mint.
And of course, a shower of powdered sugar always looks pretty.
What's Your Jam?
We don't have to tell you that you can put fresh fruit on your pancakes, or that you can sauté or roast your fruit before piling it on. But it's also a great time to use the best jam you've got on hand—one of these favorites or something homemade.
We highly recommend these recipes for rustic apricot jam, rich red plum jam, or tangy blueberry jam. No summer fruit yet where you are? Try this concoction, made with pineapple and dried apricot.
While we're talking fruity toppings, consider a dollop of simple applesauce (or this fancy brown butter and cinnamon version.) Or go richer with a little lemon curd (or this strawberry-lemon curd.)
Rich and Creamy
I love the tartness that a little plain yogurt adds to pancakes; pair any of the fruity options above with a dollop of yogurt (sweetened with a spoonful of maple syrup if you choose) to complete the dish. I like Fage and Nancy's, but if I were in NYC, I'd be eager to check out one of these small-batch yogurt brands.
Pancakes are also wonderful with some good ricotta—choose a brand without gums and stabilizers, such as Calabro, or make your own.
If you like a little butter on your pancakes, you can add a little extra interest by making a compound butter. Start with room temperature butter and blend in flavor additions like herbs, citrus zest, or ground spices, either by hand or with an electric mixer. Prep it in advance, wrap it tightly, and you can keep it in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for several weeks.
Want something a little sweeter? Whip up some cream or try your hand at white chocolate whipped cream.
Add Some Crunch
If you're looking for a little textural variation, chopped nuts are a good place to start. Toast your pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, or even pine nuts to amplify their flavors a bit. Or go with your favorite granola. Or cocoa nibs. Toasted unsweetened coconut shavings (often labeled coconut flakes) have a wonderful fragrance and surprisingly rich flavor.
When it comes to these additions, the beauty is often in the combinations: Try toasted pistachios with ricotta that you've flavored with a touch of orange flower water. Pair your pecans with bourbon-laced whipped cream. Or flavor your whipped cream with almond extract and shower the whole thing with hazelnuts and raspberries. Coconut shavings and macadamia nuts call out for a little fresh pineapple and maybe some coconut syrup.
Just Admit It's a Sundae
Let's just be honest: when you start putting ice cream on your pancakes, it's really a sundae for breakfast. So you might as well go all out. Start with a scoop of superlative vanilla ice cream (or homemade frozen custard) or go wild with crazy-dark chocolate ice cream. Load on the marshmallow fluff, the Nutella (warmed a bit, perhaps), hot fudge, or homemade 'Hershey's Syrup'. Go carb-on-carb with speculoos spread, and sweeten the deal with dulce de leche.