When I was at primary school there was no such thing as a school cafeteria and our mothers all made us sensible lunches - little plastic boxes containing sandwiches (which usually got binned), some fresh and dried fruit and a couple of pieces of home baking.

One girl's parents owned a bakery and each lunchtime, as we sat down to eat our dull lunchbox offerings, her mother would sail in the door, laden with cream buns and pies for her daughter's lunch. We were in awe, as much of the lunch as the mother - who, with her stilettos, super-short skirt, peroxide blond hair piled high atop her head, Bridget Bardot cat-eye eyeliner (and cleavage to match) did not look like a mother, or at least any of the mothers we knew.

We were never going to get our hands on any of that bakery food, so my friend Alice and I started to cook together each day after school. We enjoyed the sense of being in charge and making something we wanted to eat - and what we usually wanted to eat was pancakes.

They were the simplest thing to make - just flour, baking powder, eggs and milk whisked up together and cooked in big spoonfuls in a hot, buttery pan. The best part was the topping - a 50-50 mix of butter and golden syrup, beaten together with a wooden spoon to form a fluffy, dark golden cream.

Advertisement

We tried biscuits and cakes as well but it was the pancakes we kept coming back to - they were so quick and so easy. We worked out that if we left out the baking powder and added more milk we got super-thin crepes, but if we added too much milk the crepes would not hold together. Every day it was an experiment to see what we could change or how we could make them better. I don't even know if we had a recipe.

Later I learned that if I let the batter rest for 10-15 minutes before I cooked it, the pancakes would be more tender (the gluten relaxes) and that adding a little butter into the batter makes the mixture super-smooth (the fat molecules coat the flour and break up any lumps). But even without knowing this useful chemistry, Alice and I were in gustatory heaven.

This week I'm sharing three variations on a simple batter of flour, egg and milk: pancakes, pikelets and waffles. Pikelet batter is a little thicker than pancake batter, which means they rise more than pancakes and take a little longer to cook. Waffles also require a thick batter so it rises as it cooks.

Buttermilk Pancakes

Ready in 30 mins
Makes 10

2 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups buttermilk
50g butter, melted, plus extra to cook

To serve
Blueberries or seasonal fruit
Maple syrup

Combine flour, baking powder and sugar in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre, add eggs, vanilla, buttermilk and melted butter and whisk until smooth. Melt a little extra butter in a heavy-based frying pan. When it is hot and bubbling, drop in a large tablespoon of batter from the end of a spoon. Cook over medium heat until bubbles form (2-3 minutes) then flip to cook the other side. Transfer to a baking rack. Repeat until all batter is used. Serve in a stack topped with fruit and maple syrup.

Annabel says: The acidity of buttermilk is what makes batters (and cakes and muffins) so light and tender. When combined with a leavening agent, such as baking powder or baking soda, it releases carbon dioxide bubbles that lighten whatever you're making. If you don't have buttermilk, stir 1Tbsp of lemon juice or white vinegar into a cup of milk and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes (it will curdle but that's fine). You can also use yoghurt or sour cream thinned with water, or even kefir.

Old-Fashioned Waffles

Old-fashioned waffles. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Old-fashioned waffles. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

Ready in 30 mins + standing time
Makes 8-10

2 cups milk
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, separated
2¼ cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
100g butter, melted, plus extra to cook

To serve
Crispy bacon
Maple syrup

Beat together milk, salt and egg yolks, then whisk in flour and baking powder until smooth. Add the melted butter and beat until smooth. Leave to stand for about 2 hours. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted from the bowl. Pour about ¾ cup of mixture into hot, buttered waffle iron and close. Cook until golden brown. Repeat, buttering waffle iron lightly before cooking each waffle. So they don't go soggy, cool in a toast rack or in a single layer on a cake rack.

Annabel says: Is there anything more delicious for a weekend brunch or supper than homemade waffles, fresh from the waffle iron, crispish on the outside and tender in the middle? My nan was the master of the waffle iron, and this recipe is hers. Waffle batter is best made several hours ahead, or better still, the night before, with beaten egg whites added just before cooking. They'll be eaten faster than you can make them, so aim to have a few ready before everyone arrives at the table. If you don't have a waffle iron, cook spoonfuls of the mixture in a hot, buttered pan, as for pancakes.

Light-As-Air Pikelets

Light-as-air pikelets with cream and jam. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Light-as-air pikelets with cream and jam. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

Ready in 30 mins
Makes 24

2 eggs
¼ cup sugar
1½ cups milk
2 tsp golden syrup
2 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
50g butter, melted, plus extra to cook

To serve

Softly whipped cream
Strawberry jam

Beat the eggs and sugar until thick and creamy. Beat in the milk and golden syrup. Sift in the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Add melted butter and stir until smooth. Melt a little butter in a frying pan. Working in batches and adding a little more butter between batches if required, drop tablespoonfuls of batter into the pan and cook over a medium heat. As bubbles form, turn and cook the other side until golden brown and fully cooked through. So they don't go soggy, cool in a single layer on a rack before stacking on a plate to serve. Serve topped with whipped cream and jam.

Annabel says: For blueberry pikelets, fold 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries into the batter. For lemon pikelets, finely grate the rind of a lemon into the batter.

Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65) is a beautiful compendium of Annabel's best-ever savoury recipes and cooking tips and it's on sale now at Paper Plus, Whitcoulls, The Warehouse and all good bookstores. Find out more at annabel-langbein.com or follow Annabel on Facebook or Instagram.