How to make pancakes like a flipping pro

A definitive rundown of fluffiness, flip timing and batter secrets for a superior stack

By Pete Scherer

Published January 2, 2021 1:30PM (EST)

Blueberry pancakes on a white holiday party table. (Getty Images)
Blueberry pancakes on a white holiday party table. (Getty Images)

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There's nothing like a tall stack of toasty, hot, fluffy pancakes to bring many mouthfuls of satisfaction to your morning, noon, or even night. Fast, fun and endlessly customizable, pancakes are an essential element of every cook's repertoire. From batter to belly, we break down the basics of this beloved breakfast classic so you can start flipping flapjacks with one hand tied behind your back.

What is batter?

All pancakes start out as batter, a mixture of flour, protein, fat, and liquid, plus a dash of bubble-creating chemicals in the form of baking powder and/or baking soda. Upon mixing, tons of tiny bubbles form throughout the batter, which, when poured onto a suitably hot surface, solidifies around these microscopic air pockets, resulting in the texture affectionately referred to as "fluffiness."

Typically, the batter's flour, protein, fat and liquid take the form of all-purpose wheat flour, egg, oil or melted butter, and milk, but alternative recipes calling for nut and seed flours, plant-based milk like almond or soy, and egg substitutes abound. In addition to the aforementioned baking powder/soda, many recipes for pancake batter also call for a little salt and sugar to round out the flavor. Find a recipe that looks good to you — or start with this one.

How to mix pancake batter

While mixing pancake batter is simple, there are a few important points to bear in mind. The first best practice is to combine all the liquid ingredients together before adding any dry ingredients. Use a whisk to incorporate the eggs, milk, and fat into a homogeneous blend.

Many recipes call for a similar treatment of the dry ingredients, but this isn't strictly necessary, particularly for smaller batches. To avoid using multiple bowls, it's perfectly acceptable to mix the liquids together, then add the dry ingredients one by one before combining everything together. If you like to do things by the book, however, whisk the dry ingredients before they meet up with their wet counterparts.

When combining the wet and dry ingredients, keep it short and quick. Pancakes don't benefit from vigorous mixing. On the contrary, excessive mechanical maneuvers can burst air bubbles and decrease fluffiness via the over-formation of gluten. The moment everything comes together, put down the whisk.

Before moving on to the cooking stage, assess the batter's consistency. Imagine it flowing across the surface of the pan. The batter's consistency should be easily spreadable, but not too runny. Even if your recipe is trustworthy, different brands of flour (especially when venturing into gluten-free blends), buttermilk, and so forth can vary substantially. If your batter seems too thin, add an extra spoonful of flour. If it feels too thick or gloppy, add a splash of milk or water. Make small adjustments, and trust your gut.

Finally, let the batter rest for up to thirty minutes before cooking the pancakes. The starches need time to absorb liquid, and the chemicals require a few minutes to fully react and produce those precious bubbles that will fluff up your flapjacks.

How to cook pancakes

To give batter the most lift, pancakes should cook quickly. Make sure the pan is saturated with heat before committing your batter to its surface, best accomplished with a heavy skillet, such as a cast-iron pan or a steel griddle, set over medium-high heat.

To prevent sticking, apply a small amount of grease to your cooking surface. A high-heat oil, like peanut, grape seed, or avocado is best, and a thin coat is all it takes. Use a paper towel to spread the oil around and soak up any excess.

Test the pan with a small spoonful of batter. If it sizzles immediately when it hits the pan, use a ladle, measuring cup, or ice cream scoop to apply batter to the pan. Alternatively, mix the batter in a spouted bowl, and simply pour it straight from bowl to pan. Pancake size is limited only by the pan's diameter, but pancakes still need to be flipped before they're fully cooked, so unless you're a flippin' wizard, it's wise to avoid splattered batter by matching the flapjacks to roughly the size of the spatula you're using.

Flipping and holding

When bubbles form in the center of the pancake, pop, and leave tiny craters, it's time to flip. Keep in mind that the second side won't need as much time to cook as the first. Once the underside is golden, the pancake is done.

Unless you've got substantial griddle real estate, there may only have space for cooking two or three pancakes at a time. When making pancakes for others, the time between the first batch and the last can quickly multiply. To avoid serving cold pancakes, simply put the finished pancakes in a single layer on a sheet pan in a 200 degree oven until all are ready to serve.

Other tips

  • Use fresh double-acting baking powder. The double-acting stuff makes bubbles when it gets wet and when it gets hot, resulting in extra fluffiness. Freshness is important because time degrades the chemical's efficacy.
  • For add-ins like blueberries, nuts, or chocolate chips, sprinkle them on after the batter is in the pan. This ensures even distribution, helps cut down on mixing time, and can also prevent burning.

* * *

A Stack Of Pancake Recipes

Lemony Cream Cheese Pancakes with Blueberries

Caramelized Peach Pancakes

Orange Cannoli Pancakes

Lavender-Chocolate Chunk Pancakes with Crème Frâiche

Yogurt Pancakes with Pomegranate

Pete Scherer

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