In the Great Deposit of Food Phobias post, a few of you said that you were afraid of making pancakes and my instant un-asked-for retort is that you all clearly didn’t grow up in my house, where I am pretty sure that knowing when to flip a pancake was one of the first cooking tricks I ever learned.
Mom made pancakes at least a couple weekends a month, and was loyal to the Joy of Cooking recipe, a page so batter-stained and grimy, I am pretty sure the book falls open to it even when the red ribbon isn’t at that page, which is never. And though I promise not to judge you, please, whatever you do, don’t say that Schmisquick word to my mother. It upsets her. I still remember sleeping over my friend’s house and coming over and saying that her mom made pancakes for breakfast, and that they were okay.
“Pfft,” my mother said. “She uses [that word that rhymes with Schmisquick].”
Mom was ruthless, and apparently I wasn’t much better. In college, my friends and I took to driving out to the 24-hour IHOP in Arlington whenever it struck our fancy, but I never ordered pancakes. At IHOP. Because they tasted like they were from a mix. And my mother, rather than discouraging the “Pancake Snob” label my friends were giving me, beamed with pride.
But that’s enough about all the ways my mother poisoned me against anything but homemade things. I’d much rather take you on a tour of how easy pancakes can be.
10 Pancake Tips
- First things first, the recipe: Though I have nostalgia for the Joy of Cooking everyday pancakes, I particularly like Martha Stewart’s Best Buttermilk Pancakes from her Original Classics book, so that’s what I used today. If you read between the lines, you’ll probably figure out that this just means I had a lot of buttermilk to use up, but honestly, I do think that tang goes a long way to making pancakes better and brighter. It is an almost one-bowl recipe, too; utterly perfect for the simultaneous demands for homemade pancakes and having them “now”. In a pinch, you can substitute yogurt.
- I mix the dry ingredients in a big bowl, melt the butter in a little ramekin in the microwave, beat an egg into the buttermilk and mix it all together–just barely. Winker said that she’s “horrible” at pancakes… “…even when I mix them from the box. Too dense, under cooked, burntâ€¦Never Light and fluffy.” This is where the “just barely” mixing comes in: you want small to medium-sized lumps in the batter. No lumps means a dense pancake.
- If you want your pancakes even lighter, the best way to get that is to separate the eggs, mix the yolks in the with the batter and whip the egg whites until stiff. If you fold them gently back into the batter–this should be your very last step–your pancakes will be unbelievably light, with an extra-crisp edge.
- Once you’ve got your batter all ready, the next tip that I cannot underline enough is to keep the pan on the low side of medium. Cat’s pajamas says that her pancakes always burn or not cook at all. “Isn’t there a happy medium… like perfect?” I find that too-hot pans can both burn the edges and keep the insides of a pancake runny. Low-to-medium is the answer. Your patience will be rewarded.
- Once the pan is heated, I like to brush it with a very thin coat of melted butter, which is my tip for Celeste, who says that she struggles with the amount of oil when making pancakes. “I’ve gone with too little and scraped them off the pan, and I’ve gone with too much and been accused of making funnel cakes.” The brush–or even a spray of Pam, though you’ll get less awesome flavor–gives just the right amount of oil, without them tasting fried. They’re not fritters; they’re breakfast, right?
- It’s time to flip the pancake when bubbles appear on the surface. You’ll see tiny ones quite soon. Once you see a whole bunch, go ahead and flip it. If some batter oozes out–this always happens to me, lacking a griddle, I find it hard to get a clean flip because the sides of my frying pan gets in the way–just push it back into the pancake with your spatula. I had more than one blueberry roll out, and simply pushed them back under.
- Once you’ve flipped your pancake, it cooks much faster on the other side, just a minute or two. Because your pan won’t be too hot, though, it won’t be too brown before the insides are cooked.
- Sometimes when I flip a pancake–ahem, often–it tears or oozes so much that a bit of batter comes through on the cooked side. If so,once the second side is done, I’ll flip it back for 10 seconds or so, until that excess batter gets cooked.
- Pancakes can absolutely be made ahead. Keep your oven at 175°F, have a baking sheet or oven-proof plate ready, and store the pancakes in there until you’ve got them all cooked. I wouldn’t do this for more than 30 to 45 minutes–they can dry out–but for a short period, they’ll be as good as just-fried.
- If you want to make blueberry pancakes–and you really, really should, especially now that they’re in season, though I’ve used frozen and they were almost as good–the best trick I’ve learned is from Molly, of the dry-rubbed ribs fame, who was kind enough to make us blueberry pancakes a couple times when I lived with her back in 1999: Keep the blueberries separate, and plop them onto the batter once you’ve poured the pancake into the pan. This keeps the whole thing neater, as they only touch really the pan directly on the other side. Mostly.
And that’s it! Now I shall go scavenge the extra pancake in the fridge, because writing this post has made me hungry for seconds.
Pancakes, elsewhere: You can see all of the Smitten Kitchen Pancake recipes listed here.
New blues! A newer, thicker blueberry pancake recipe was created with yogurt and whole grains in the summer of 2011. You can see it here.
One year ago: Zucchini Bread
Best Buttermilk Pancakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Original Classics Cookbook
Yield: Martha says this makes 9 6-inch pancakes; I got about 16 4-inch ones, which are closer to the size I like
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or slightly less table salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 1 tablespoon extra for brushing griddle (I’ve made these pancakes with and without the butter mixed in, and can say with confidence they work either way. They’re just richer with it, of course.)
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen and thawed (optional)
1. Preheat an electric griddle to 375°F, or place a griddle pan or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and 4 tablespoons melted butter, and whisk to combine. The batter should have small to medium lumps.
2. Test the griddle by sprinkling a few drops of water on it. If the water bounces and spatters, the griddle is hot enough. Using a pastry brush, brush the remaining 1/2 teaspoon butter onto the griddle. Wipe off the excess with a folded paper towel.
3. Using a 4-oz. ladle, about 1/2 cup (for a 6-inch pancake), pour the batter in pools 2 inches apart. If you wish to make blueberry pancakes, arrange a handful over the cooking pancake, pressing them in slightly. When the pancakes have bubbles on top and are slightly dry around the edges, about 2 1/2 minutes, flip over. If any batter oozes or blueberries roll out, push them back under with your spatula. Cook until golden on bottom, about 1 minute.
4. Repeat with the remaining batter. You can keep the finished pancakes on a heat-proof plate in the oven at 175°F. Serve warm.