We saw last week how to make crepes. Now let’s thicken the batter, and add a leavening agent. What do we get? American pancakes! And unlike the bread recipes we saw when doing the easy bread baking calendar, we won’t be using yeast for leavening. Pancakes are quick breads: they are leavened by chemical leaveners (baking powder/soda) so you don’t need to wait for them to rise!
All you need to do is mix a few ingredients and start cooking! That simple! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the different ingredients used and one of the most crucial points when making pancakes: mixing the batter.
To make homemade pancakes you will need just a few basic ingredients:
- Flour: The flour will give structure to your pancakes.
- Liquid: For hydration. Most recipes call for either milk or buttermilk which will impart flavor, richness and a nice golden color to the pancakes.
- Eggs: The eggs, along with the flour, will contribute to the structure of the pancakes. Eggs also provide hydration. The fat from the egg yolks adds richness and flavor to the pancakes.
- Fat: Butter is generally used, for richness, tenderness and flavor. It is first melted and left to cool down before adding it to the batter. Adding hot butter to the batter could cook the eggs prematurely.
- Chemical leavener: For the light and fluffy texture, you will need chemical leaveners. Baking powder is most often used, although you might also see baking soda in recipes. Especially those that call for buttermilk. We will discuss the difference between the two in the chemical leaveners section.
- Sugar: The sugar will add sweetness and color to the pancakes. It will also lead to moist and tender pancakes.
- Flavorings: Salt is added for flavor. You could add vanilla extract, fruit zests such as lemon or orange zest, cinnamon etc.
Mixing The Batter: Muffin Method
Pancakes are mixed using the muffin method, or the two bowl method. As the name implies, you’ll be using two bowls: one for the dry ingredients, and one for the wet ingredients.
- You first need to sift all the dry ingredients together (flour, salt, sugar, baking powder/soda) so that the leavener is evenly distributed. Sifting will also aerate the flour, leading to fluffier pancakes.
- In the second bowl, you’ll combine all the wet ingredients (milk/buttermilk, eggs, melted butter).
- And finally, you’ll add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix just until there are no dry streaks of flour. The batter will, and should, be lumpy. If it’s completely smooth, you have overmixed it and you’ll end up with dense pancakes.
Pancake Batter Consistency
Pancake batter should be lumpy and thick, yet pourable (not runny). A tall and fluffy pancake is the result of trapped gas bubbles that expand when heated. The bubbles formed won’t be able to escape easily if the batter is thick. Thick batter could be obtained by reducing the liquids, or increasing the flour amount. But you would end up with a dry pancake. To get a thick batter, without compromising the texture, the key lies in undermixing it.
Chemical Leaveners In Pancakes
You might be wondering where the gas bubbles are coming from. If you compare a crepe (thin pancake) recipe with a fluffy pancake recipe, you’ll notice an additional ingredient for pancakes: a chemical leavener.
The gases released by the chemical leaveners (through chemical reactions) will serve to lift the product, yielding a lighter and more tender product. But the gas bubbles formed have to be trapped somehow, or they will escape, leaving you with a dense product. This is where heat comes in. When you cook the pancakes, the structure will start to set around the gas bubbles.
Pancake recipes will usually call for baking powder. You will find some, however, that also list baking soda as an ingredient.
Also known as sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda, baking soda needs moisture, but also an acid to react. In pancakes, the most common acid used is buttermilk. But other examples of acids are honey, chocolate and cream of tartar.
Baking soda will react as soon as you combine all the ingredients. It does not need heat to react. So if you decide to include it in your pancake recipe, you shouldn’t let the batter rest too long before cooking the pancakes. Or else, the bubbles created will start to escape and there won’t be much leavening effect when needed.
Baking powder consists of baking soda, an acid (or several) and starch, which is used as a filler. When dissolved in the water present in the batter (or dough), the acid will react with the baking soda and produce carbon dioxide gas. The baking powder sold nowadays is double-acting baking powder. It works twice: at room temperature, when the wet and dry ingredients are combined. And again when exposed to heat, giving you some time before you need to bake your good.
While crepe batter can easily be made ahead, pancakes are best made and cooked immediately. You can prepare the two bowls (dry versus wet ingredients) ahead of time but once you combine them, the chemical leaveners will start to work. The longer you wait, the less effective they’ll become. Your pancakes won’t be as light and fluffy.
Making Pancakes, Step-by-Step
Okay, we know what the role of the ingredients are. And why we shouldn’t overmix the pancake batter. Now, let’s actually make them so we can eat!
Mixing the batter
- Melt the butter in the microwave or on the stove. Set aside to cool down while you prepare the ingredients.
- Dry ingredients: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
- Wet ingredients: In another large bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs. Then mix in the melted butter and vanilla extract.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Using a spatula, briefly stir until there are no dry streaks of flour. The batter should still have small flour lumps. Don’t overmix or your pancakes won’t rise as much and will be dense.
- If possible, let the batter rest for 15-30 minutes (at room temperature).
Cooking the pancakes
What heat setting should you use for pancakes? I would say medium-low. You will have to experiment a little to find the perfect setting. It should be hot enough to cook the pancakes properly. But not so hot that the outside of the pancake burns, before the inside has cooked fully. You might also need to decrease the setting after the 3rd or 4th pancake. The ideal setting on my stove is 4 out of 9, which I keep constant for all the pancakes.
- Heat a non stick pan or griddle on medium-low heat. To know when the pan is hot enough, sprinkle a few drops of water on it. If they sizzle a little, the pan is at the right temperature. Using a paper towel (or pastry brush), wipe the surface with vegetable oil. Careful not to burn your fingers! If using a non stick pan, you probably won’t need to grease it in between each pancake.
- Scoop out about 1/4 cup of batter and pour onto the pan. I use an ice cream scoop but you could use a ladle, measuring cup etc. Spread the batter a little into a nice round shape. My pancakes were about 9 cm (3 1/2 inches) wide. Note: If your pan is wide enough, you can make several pancakes at the same time. Just make sure to leave some space in between them.
The pancake looks flat before flipping: Don’t worry if it looks a bit flat at this point, it will puff up once you flip it. The cooked side won’t allow the bubbles to escape and your pancakes will rise. Thick pancake: If you pour a lot of batter to try to get a thick pancake, you’ll probably end up with a raw interior and an overcooked surface.
Flipping the pancakes
- Gently flip the pancake to avoid bursting the bubbles formed. Start by flipping the first pancake you made, if you are making multiple ones at the same time.
When should you flip the pancakes? After about 2 minutes of cooking the pancake, you will notice little bubbles popping on the surface of the pancake. The edges of the pancake will also be set. To check for doneness, you can try sliding your spatula under the pancake. If you end up with batter on the spatula, the pancake is not ready to be turned. The next thing to consider is the color of the pancake (underneath). You can take a peak every now and then, by slightly lifting it, to determine if it needs to be cooked more or not.
- Cook the other side of the pancake until golden brown, 1 to 2 more minutes. If you wish to keep them warm while you finish up, transfer the cooked pancakes to a baking sheet and keep them in a preheated oven (93°C/200°F). Just a side note: I cooled my pancakes on a wire rack but it left marks on the pancake. So if that bothers you, either use a flat surface or try with one pancake first.
And that’s it! I was so happy making crepes, that I hadn’t really considered making pancakes before. But now that I know how it’s done, I think I’m going to be making them very often! It’s a good thing they still taste great when frozen! I’ve already made a large supply for breakfast “emergencies”!!
1Gisslen, W. (2005). Professional Baking (4th ed.). Wiley.
2Figoni, P. (2011). How Baking Works (3rd ed.). Wiley.