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Josey Baker loves whole grains. His son, Cassidy, does not.
At Josey Baker Bread, the San Francisco whole-grain sourdough bakery that opened in 2010 and now operates out of The Mill, Josey and his team mill flours for crusty sourdough loaves every day. Their griddle cake mix is pebbled with at least eight different types of crushed-up grains and seeds, from rye chops to millet. Even their Wonder Bread starts with whole wheat.
But try as Josey might, he couldn’t warm Cassidy up to the legendary nine-grain pancake recipe from Big Sur Bakery or his own griddle cake blend. The baker who uses little refined flour in his baked goods had a kid who wanted only traditional pancakes that were made with nothing but.
“My sweet son, Cassidy, with his discerning palate, did not appreciate the graininess,” Josey told me.
In the early days of sheltering in place in 2020, while cooking for his family at home, Josey started experimenting with the ratios of his son’s favorite buttermilk pancakes. “Slowly and surely, I started incorporating whole wheat into it, until eventually it was all whole wheat,” Josey told me. “And he still liked them.”
Here’s his secret: Whole-wheat flour, which still has the fibrous heft of the bran and germ in play, benefits from extra time to hydrate that refined flours, like all-purpose, don’t need. (1) While Josey’s pancake recipe was designed to be flexible—and will work straight away after mixing the batter if needed — the difference when soaking the whole-wheat flour in milk overnight is profound.
Try the two versions side by side, like I did, and you’ll see. The batter griddled immediately will be good, though a bit drier and more noticeably whole-grain, the crags of wheat still pronounced. (Don’t worry — butter and maple syrup level the playing field.) But the batter made with grains soaked overnight will be astoundingly tender, light, and creamy-smooth. (2)
“Also, due to some enzymatic activity, you make more of the sugars available, which leads to more caramelization in the cooking process,” Josey explained. “What it yields is a pancake that is actually a little bit sweeter,” without leaning on more sugar.
Because I knew you’d ask, I kept testing. I tried swapping in buttermilk — the pancakes were great, their thick batter needing just a little more nudging into place. (Josey even called for buttermilk in an earlier version of this recipe, but switched to milk to make it more accessible.) I tried mixing the whole batter the night before — the pancakes, while slightly thinner, were again great, and I was able to scoop and flip them on a Wednesday morning with my two-year-old daughter at my side. Miraculously, she was pancake-fed and dressed within half an hour of getting up.
I’ve found that for every need, this pancake recipe will bend, and one thing will remain constant: The overnight soak will bridge the gap between people like Josey who love whole grains, and people like Cassidy who do not.
Serves: 2 to 4
- 1 cup (113 grams) whole-wheat flour
- 3/4 cup milk (whatever kind you have)
- 1 tablespoon sourdough starter (optional)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for buttering the pan and serving
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Chocolate chips, peanut butter, fresh fruit, or maple syrup, for serving
- In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, milk, and sourdough starter, if using. Cover and refrigerate overnight for a smoother, more tender texture. In the morning, stir in the sugar, butter, egg, baking soda, salt, and vanilla and mix until combined; don’t worry about overmixing.
- Melt some butter on a griddle or in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Ladle on some batter, making pancakes of any size you’d like; the batter will be very thick, so you may need to use the back of a spoon to help spread the dollops. If you’re planning to add chocolate chips or berries, do it now. Flip the pancakes after bubbles rise to the surface and the bottoms brown, 2 to 4 minutes.
- Cook on the second side until lightly browned and cooked through, about 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and top as you like.
(1) Some whole-grain flours are friendlier to swapping in for all-purpose, without the soak, like brown rice flour and buckwheat — see Alice Medrich’s full list here.
(2) Cooks who soak grains for health reasons often do so in an acidic liquid like buttermilk or acidulated water (you can read more about it here). While milk is slightly acidic, I’m more focused on this recipe for its flavor and texture benefits and can’t speak to the nutrition side, other than that it got me eating (a lot) more whole grains.