The following was produced in partnership with our friends at the Blueberry Council.
In this age of selfies and foodies and food selfies, simply cooking up your famous pancakes doesn’t carry the caché it used to. To truly impress the kids, breakfast now has to be Insta-worthy. Pancake art is totally a thing, and one of the masters is Dan Drake, better known as Dr. Dan The Pancake Man, or Dancakes. Drake discovered pancake art as a greasy spoon line cook when he realized customers would drop $15 tips for breakfast cakes shaped like Super Mario mushrooms. And now he doesn’t work at a diner anymore.
Your kid doesn’t have enough cash to help you flip your day job for flapjacks, but they’ll love your breakfast even more after you follow Drake’s simple tips to become a Pancake Picasso, which you should totally call yourself when your first attempt comes out looking like a cubist disasterpiece. Plus, if you toss some blueberries into the mix (and who doesn’t love blueberry pancakes?) you can pat yourself on the back for sneaking some major nutrition into their diet. Blueberries add nutrients like fiber and Vitamin C (25 percent of the daily value), and other super good things you can’t properly pronounce, like antioxidants, polyphenols, and anthocyanins.
Get Your Gear
Dr. Dan prefers a griddle for the added surface area (more canvas, if you will), and you’ll get there, but start with a pan. One, because it delivers even heating, and 2, because nobody actually calls them griddlecakes. One thing you’ll need that you might not have, however, are squeeze bottles, like you’d expect to find containing ketchup at Drake’s old greasy spoon.
Whip Up Your Batter
Your batter should be slightly runnier than usual to pass through the squeeze bottle tip — about the consistency of (you guessed it) ketchup. Take care to mix out all the clumps. You’ll know it’s right if a little drips out after the first squeeze. As for a type of batter, Drake says use your favorite just-add-water variety. “If it works, don’t fix it,” he says. Spoken like a true doctor.
Mix 3 shades of batter using varying amounts of cocoa: brown for outlines, tan for shading, and generic batter beige for filling. You can achieve the same effect through heat-toning — letting certain areas cook longer than others to get darker — but you wouldn’t take calculus without taking algebra, so start with the cocoa.
Draw (And Yes, Cook) Your Cakes
Set up your pan over low heat. This will allow you to add layer after layer of detail without burning SpongeBob’s face off. Now you’re ready to start drawing that incredible pancake … smiley face? Yes, simple shapes first. “Don’t psyche yourself out,” says Drake. “Be confident in your smiley face before you try that Death Star.”
Lay down outlines and the most prominent details with your darkest batter. That’d be your circle, eyes, and mouth, Guy Smiley. Shade if you want with your medium batter, then fill the sucker with your plain batter. Here’s where Junior can help. “You don’t have to be a good artist to fill in,” says Drake. “And if it overflows, ‘Hey look, more pancake.’” Are there any 2 more delicious words than “More pancake?”
Pro tip for ultimate squeeze control: Start by holding your batter bottle upright, squeeze out some excess air, then flip the bottle while still squeezing. Slowly release to draw, using the suction to keep batter from spilling out and give you straight, even, controlled lines. Stop a line any time you want by letting go a little to suck the batter back in. Suction, it’s what’s for breakfast!
“You’ve drawn the pancake,” Dr. Dan says. “Now, you must cook the pancake.” Kick up the heat and watch those tasty bubbles form. When they stop popping, it’s go time. Nail the flip, and you’re staring back at the greatest breakfast your kid has ever seen. Screw it up, and you’re staring at a mess and a bunch of tears — and an upset kid, too, probably.
Keep At It
Once you’ve mastered the basics, elevate your art to museum quality by adding some color. Dump a box of blueberries into a blender, puree them, add a bit of water to smooth it out, collect the juice, and add it to a fourth squeeze bottle of batter. Turns out the same stuff that makes blueberries so nutritious also make them so blue, and it also turns out that blue is the perfect color for, like, all your kid’s favorite characters. Grover? Blue. Smurfs? Blue. R2D2? Blue highlights, and a super simple shape to draw, too!
As you practice, remember, pancakes aren’t the most forgiving medium. Different griddles, batter consistencies, and recipes will work differently, and the more detail you lay in, the less you’ll be able to predict how it’ll look when you nail that terrifying flip. That’s part of the fun, so enjoy the journey — it isn’t often you can completely screw up and still delight your kids. And, remember the good doctor’s credo: “Mistakes are delicious!”