Some people think that pancakes are strictly a breakfast food, meant for a morning sunrise with glasses full to the brim with freshly squeezed orange juice and the rush of expectation that comes with every new day. I completely agree--pancakes are perfect in the morning. What better thing to start the day with than a mouthful (or several) of spongy, light cakes dripping with sweet maple syrup? But the thing is--all of my best pancake memories have happened in the dead of night.
When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco, my mom would sometimes make me a batch of her signature pancakes for a late-night snack. These occasions were rare and when they happened, I would sit at the kitchen table waiting impatiently for her to present the plate stacked high with still-steaming, toasty cakes and drink in the comforting smell before she drizzled them lightly with syrup, no butter ("It's important to keep a healthy diet," she would tell me, even back then).
Some of my favorite pancake memories happened a little over a year ago. I was seeing a certain gentleman who loved food as much as I did. We would stay out late sometimes, running around this city together, always drinking a little too much and smoking a few too many illicit cigarettes (neither one of us were "real" smokers). I would collapse into his West Village apartment after one of those nights, ravenously hungry and demanding food like a cranky child. More often than not, pancakes were on the carte du soir. I remember tip-toeing into his kitchen, voices hushed even though it was just the two of us. Mixing batter barefoot wearing nothing but his soft plaid flannel shirt in the quiet of 2 AM. Taking greedy bites, sitting right on the cool tile floor, laughing at nothing but our own delirium. Those were some of the best pancakes I've ever had in my life.
I recently found a recipe for Shopsin's famous pumpkin pancakes in a back issue of Saveur. Chef Kenny Shopsin serves these at his super-popular namesake Essex Street Market restaurant here in NYC. It's as good as gold. And when they're as good as that, why not eat them all day long and into the night?
Shopsin's Pumpkin Pancakes
1 3⁄4 cups flour
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄4 tsp. ground allspice
1 cup canned pumpkin purée
1 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tbsp. canola oil
Butter and maple syrup, for serving
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, cloves, ginger, salt, and allspice. Add pumpkin, cream, milk, and eggs; whisk until smooth.
Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Using a 1⁄4-cup measuring cup, pour batter into skillet to make three 3" pancakes. Cook until bubbles begin to form on the edges, 1–2 minutes. Flip and cook until done, 1–2 minutes more. Repeat with remaining oil and pancake batter. Serve pancakes hot with butter and syrup.