I know a guy who goes to restaurants with his own bottle of maple syrup. That's because so many places undermine their pancakes with artificially flavored substitutes for the real deal. The terms "table syrup" and "pancake syrup" are tipoffs that what you're getting is a cheap product whose main ingredient is high fructose corn syrup. Genuine maple syrup (costing at least twice the price of the imitation) is made from the sap of maple trees. Most of it comes from either Canada or Vermont. In the United States, the grades suitable for table use are categorized by color. Grade A, lighter in color and flavor, comes in light, medium and dark amber. Grade B is darker in hue and much stronger-tasting but no lower in quality.
Pancake success at home
Making your own pancakes at home? Here are five tips from a pro, Marie Simmons, author of "Pancakes A to Z" (Houghton Mifflin, 1997.)
1. Heat a griddle or skillet until a drop of water bubbles (not spatters) and evaporates. Then brush the cooking surface with clarified butter or olive oil. If using a skillet, choose one with gently sloping sides, to make turning easier.
2. Keep pancakes uniform by using a ladle or measuring cup to pour the batter. Don't crowd the pan.
5. Heat syrup, adding fresh chopped fruit, if desired.
Recipe: Heavenly cloud cakes
Adapted from "Pancakes A to Z," by Marie Simmons (Houghton Mifflin, 1997)
4 large eggs
2 cups sour cream
2/3 cup unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2. Heat a large, nonstick griddle or skillet over medium heat until hot enough to sizzle a drop of water. Brush with a thin film of oil. For each pancake, pour a scant 1/3 cup batter onto the griddle, or into the skillet. Adjust the heat to medium low and cook until the tops are covered with small bubbles and the bottoms are lightly browned. Carefully turn and cook the other side until golden brown. Repeat with the remaining batter.
3. Serve with warm syrup or berry sauce. Makes about 16 pancakes.