Apologies to all the pancake and waffle cooks out there, but your hard work is just the blank canvas. The real star of the breakfast plate is the luscious, syrupy goodness that oozes down the hot cakes, seeps into the waffle indentations and transforms flapjacks into ethereally sweet confections.
When it comes to syrup options, maple and imitation maple are top picks. But there are plenty of sweet, pourable, non-maple options to be found. A good pancake syrup needs to pour like warm honey, add a touch of sweetness and deliver a serious wallop of flavor, whether it's nutty, fruity or just plain buttery.
Gourmet syrup options abound at upscale markets, but I was surprised by the dearth of options in mainstream supermarkets. Undaunted, I picked up all bottles of interest, ordered a few online, then sat down to a massive stack of pancakes. Here's the lowdown on the most delicious, the merely OK and the truly, abysmally awful.
Blackberry Patch Apple Butter Syrup
Buttery apples and a touch of cinnamon combine to make this ultra-thick syrup irresistibly delicious -- pass-me-the-bottle-and-hide-it-under-the-table delicious. The small, tender chunks of real apple literally melt in your mouth. $6.99 for 12 ounces at gourmet markets and gift stores, or online at www.blackberrypatch.com. (4 stars)
Hawaii Coconut Syrup
This velvety, aromatic coconut nectar delivers a serious punch of buttery coconut flavor that melts into the pancake. $6.99 for 10 ounces at Cost Plus World Market. (4 stars)
Woods Cider Mill Cinnamon Cider Syrup
There is nothing small or understated about this big, juicy, cinnamon- and apple-infused syrup. It tastes like the best baked apple you've ever had, with extra cinnamon on top, but texture wise, it's a bit thin. $8.50 for 8 ounces from www.kaufmann-mercantile.com; $11.50 for a quart at www.woodscidermill.com. (3-1/2 stars)
Blackberry Patch Strawberry Fig Syrup
Honeyed figs combine with strawberries' bright, acidic punch to give this chunky, nearly all-fruit syrup an old fashioned, homemade flavor. It's perfect for those who like their syrup more sweet than tart. $6.99 for 12 ounces at www.blackberrypatch.com. (3-1/2 stars)
Stonewall Kitchen Wild Maine Blueberry Syrup
Fresh blueberries and a generous drizzle of this super dark blueberry syrup over a hot stack of pancakes would be a perfect breakfast. The syrup is a bit too sweet for my taste, but it has chunks of blueberry and authentic flavor. Find it in specialty stores or online at www.stonewallkitchen.com. $8.99 for 8.5 ounces. (3 stars)
Blackberry Patch Raspberry Syrup
This fresh, bright syrup tastes so much like fresh raspberries, it will make your mouth water. It's a bit tart on plain pancakes, perfect for waffles a la mode. $6.99 for 8.5 ounces at www.blackberrypatch.com. (3 stars)
Mystic Hickory Shagbark Syrup
A mild, woodsy flavor and a touch of pine make this a fine pick for those who enjoy understated flavors and have an appreciation for the new and unusual. It's sweet, but not cloying; complex, but not bitter. $12.99 for 8 ounces; $16.99 for a quart at www.fooducopia.com. (2-1/2 stars)
Lyle's Squeezy Golden Syrup
It's hard to believe that the only ingredient in this British import is cane syrup, but it's cooked to perfection, resulting in a thick, golden syrup with a pleasant buttery flavor. $4.99 for 11.46 ounces at Cost Plus World Market. (2 stars)
Smuckers Boysenberry Syrup
Double the berries and cut the sugar and this would be one perfect syrup. As is, it's more sweet than fruity. Around $3.29 for 12 ounces at your local supermarket. (1-1/2 stars)
Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Nectar
There isn't so much as a hint of coconut flavor in this low-glycemic syrup from the Philippines. It pours like honey and tastes like light molasses. It would be a tough sell for kids, but it's a nice alternative to sticky sweet syrups. Around $7.99 for 12 ounces at your local supermarket. (1-1/2 stars)
Trader Joe's Short Stack Pancake Syrup
Looking for a Log Cabin stand-in? This is it: thick, sweet, ordinary and predictable. $2.49 for 12 ounces. (1-1/2 stars)
Wholesome Organic Blue Agave Vanilla Flavored Syrup
This sounds so delicious, but it's sorely missing the flavor of authentic vanilla bean. Around $4.69 for 11.75 ounces at your local supermarket. (1 star)
IHop At Home Rooty Tooty Fresh 'n Fruity Strawberry Syrup
Say it three times fast and maybe it will taste better. This syrup is basically glorified sugar, dressed up in pink. It gets half a star, solely because the name is fun. Around $3.99 for 12 ounces at your local supermarket. (1/2 star)
Michele's Honey CrÃ¨me Syrup
Why anyone would think this syrup worthy of putting on a store shelf is a mystery. Both this and the Butter Pecan Syrup version are watery, with overpowering imitation flavors. If they were the only syrups on the table, I'd eat my pancakes plain. Around $4.29 for 13 ounces at your local supermarket. (No stars)
Reviews are based on product samples purchased by the Contra Costa Times or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at firstname.lastname@example.org.