Enjoy this sourdough pancakes recipe with cranberry-thyme compote and a dollop of the homemade creme fraiche for the ideal holiday breakfast. Photo by Andrew Maxwell.

It seems this time of year there is no shortage of pumpkin recipes, pecan pie variations, and tips on how to maintain moist poultry— even if it is stuffed with a smaller, aquatic poultry. One thing is missing from all of these holiday dinner recipes… breakfast. I look back on Thanksgiving throughout my life and I don’t necessarily remember the big meal as much as I do my mom’s breakfast. Always an important breakfast, it kept us full until dinner and Mom always seemed to find so much joy in showing off her skills, sourdough pancakes being one of them.

Sourdough has a long standing tradition in Alaska. The original homesteaders and gold prospectors often carried a sourdough starter on their person to keep it warm, as yeast was hard to come by in those days. This earned these early pilgrims the nickname “Sourdoughs” and so an Alaskan tradition was born. Sourdough has become increasingly popular over the last year, many people who are staying home in self-isolation have begun a sourdough starter as a hobby and maintain it for breads, biscuits, and cakes. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, ask around. Chances are you know someone who does have one and we’re almost always willing to share.

This recipe is a holiday take on an Alaskan classic, pairing cranberries with fresh thyme gives this breakfast a warm autumn flavor. The homemade creme fraiche will not only wow your family and friends, it adds a creamy element that gives the dish balance; and it’s so easy to prepare. Don’t just take it from me, try it yourself and see why my favorite holiday meal is eaten in my pajamas. Happy Holidays!

Sourdough Pancakes with Cranberry-Thyme Compote and Homemade Creme Fraiche

For the creme fraiche

  • ½ cup cultured buttermilk
  • 2 cups heavy cream

Simply mix the buttermilk and cream together in a glass jar with a wooden spoon (be sure not to touch metal to the mixture as it will cause separation.) Once thoroughly mixed, cover and let sit at room temperature for 24-36 hours. You will notice that the mixture gets thick and silky. You can store your creme fraiche in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. It’s so easy and tasty, you may never buy sour cream again.

Cranberry-thyme compote and creme fraiche
Cranberry-thyme compote and creme fraiche. Photo by Andrew Maxwell.

For the cranberry sauce and syrup

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen whole cranberries
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme

Add all ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat and slowly bring to a simmer. Remove the thyme when it becomes aromatic and the stems lose their rigidity. Continue stirring and breaking up the berries until the mixture comes to a full boil. You will notice the liquid take on a rich wine color and the berries will be soft and sweet. Strain the mixture through a sieve reserving the syrup. Keep this syrup in the fridge for up to two weeks. Return berries to the saucepan with ¼ cup of the syrup, continue cooking and stirring about two minutes until the syrup thickens.

Sourdough pancakes recipe

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup active sourdough starter
  • 3 Tbsp cold butter (for frying)
A jar of active sourdough starter with visible bubble activity.
Active sourdough starter with visible bubble activity. Photo by Andrew Maxwell.

The key to great sourdough pancakes is to use an active sourdough starter, which means a starter that has been fed 10-15 hours ahead of time and has visible bubble activity (see photo). For this I feed my starter the night before I want to make pancakes. The next morning, combine sugar, eggs, milk, oil, and the sourdough starter. The starter will likely need to be broken up into bits depending on the viscosity. Allow mixture to sit for 20-30 minutes.

flipping sourdough pancake with perfect golden crust

In the meantime combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, stirring as you pour to avoid large clumps, once the liquid is fully combined let it rest for 15 minutes and prepare your griddle or skillet over medium heat. Dice cold butter into 12 cubes. Drop a cube in each spot you intend to fry a pancake and when the butter is melted pour the batter into the middle. An ice cream scoop works great; I used three soup spoon scoops and it worked just as well.

After about 3-4 minutes the pancake will begin to bubble toward the center. This is the perfect time to flip and reveal the golden crust. Continue cooking on the other side for another 3-4 minutes or until cooked through. If you are cooking for a crowd, set your oven to 150 and keep finished pancakes warm by covering them in foil on a cookie sheet.

Dig in

completed sourdough pancakes recipe with compote and creme fraiche
Enjoy the pancakes with the cranberry-thyme compote, syrup, or both on top. Photo by Andrew Maxwell.

There are lots of ways to enjoy these pancakes, you can try them with the cranberry-thyme syrup or the cranberry-thyme compote or even both. Add a dollop of the homemade creme fraiche for a creamy accent that cuts right through the tartness of the cranberries and garnish with fresh thyme. If you are more of a classic pancake connoisseur, this recipe is just as good with maple syrup, peanut butter, strawberry jam and even in a waffle iron.

You can also experiment with the different sauces. Try using the syrup in homemade sodas and artisan cocktail recipes. The compote is great on leftover turkey sandwiches, on baked brie, and even as a substitute for canned cranberry sauce on your holiday dinner table, for which I would add a pinch of fresh cracked black pepper. Creme fraiche can be used in a number of recipes including as a substitute for sour cream. It’s the perfect way to top a bowl of oatmeal and it’s fantastic on pumpkin pie.


Andrew Maxwell is the chef at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. Email Andrew at [email protected]

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