I was invited to sit in on a "Social Committee Meeting" at work [Solace Systems - ze cool message routing company that allows me to pay the bills]. I provided some constructive criticism of last year's pancake breakfast by pointing out that although a delightful time was had by all, surely the quality of the food would have been even better if instead of thick store-bought pancake mix, we had prepared homemade batter for all the crêpes [if I recall correctly, it ended up being a mix of store / homemade, or perhaps it was all-store, I'm not 100% sure, but the dimensions of the final pancakes indicated the batter was likely a bit thick].
I was subsequently assigned the task of making the pancakes for all the engineering staff this year. Yay me and my big mouth.
After I expressed the opinion that the batter should be made fresh and cooked on the spot (just-in-time cooking), concerns were raised that it would be impossible to produce pancakes at an acceptable rate to feed all 30 or so expected attendees. Two options present themselves:
- Find a way to make pancakes fast enough with the single heating element available (let's say we are shooting for 60 pancakes in 20 minutes or so). This is hard because there is no possible parallelism.
- Find an acceptable way to preserve pre-cooked pancakes and reheat them in situ once at the office, without destroying their texture or flavour.
jpdaigle@vitis:~$ make pancakes
make: *** No rule to make target `pancakes'. Stop.
This weekend, I endeavoured to measure the rate at which I could cook pancakes (evaluating the feasibility of option 1), and, should an acceptable rate prove unattainable, I would experiment with pancake reheating.
I used my usual batter recipe and a single well-seasoned pan at medium-high heat, starting to cook the first pancake at 13:15 EST on Sunday. I logged the time at which each pancake was completed and transferred to a holding plate.
I completed seven (7) pancakes in 13 minutes, for an average of 111 seconds per pancake. The graph above demonstrates that the output rate remained mostly constant over the course of the experiment, which I interpret to mean the pan had attained its nominal temperature before I started cooking the first pancake, and there were no noticeable speed gains to be had as time wore on.
At this rate, it would take nearly two hours to feed 30 engineers, assuming each desired two pancakes. Clearly, we had to consider Option 2.
I decided to eat three (3) pancakes on Sunday to establish the "fresh pancake" baseline, and refrigerate the other four (4) for consumption on Monday, to determine what they'd taste like after 24 hours, and a chill / reheat cycle. [Note: I am well aware that a better approach would have been to bake a fresh batch on the second day, so that it may be compared directly to the 24-hour-old batch instead of relying on memory, but I ran out of flour and could not purchase any more on Monday, as it was a holiday in Ontario and all the shops were closed. Even if this had worked, we'd still be comparing different batches of batter, with possible variations in the egg/milk/flour ratios that are hard to control for.]
Results and Conclusion
Day 2: Of the four (4) remaining pancakes, I reheated the first two (2) in a microwave to test the naive approach. The result, however, was disappointing: the pancakes came out warm, but too damp and mushy. They did not meet the high standards for what I'd feel comfortable serving to my coworkers.
The remaining two (2) pancakes were reheated in a very hot seasoned pan, about 15 seconds per side. I am pleased to report that although the final result is a pancake that is a bit drier than the original, it retained its taste and texture acceptably, and this method cuts the 111 seconds needed to cook a pancake down to 30 seconds to simply reheat it. It would allow us to feed 30 people in about a half hour, which points to a possible approach for the Solace pancake breakfast.
Find how to accompany the food with good espresso; I don't have any proposals here.