10 Common Pancake-Making Mistakes—and How to Avoid Them
For many Americans, pancakes evoke a certain kind of nostalgia: dad flipping stacks of steaming, golden-brown disks for Sunday breakfast; gluttonous brunches at the local IHOP; mom’s breakfast-for-dinner night. People make pancakes because they’re delicious, crowd-pleasing, and easy. Well, sort of easy. There are a few crucial mistakes that home chefs commonly make when cooking this classic morning dish. We chatted with assistant food editor Claire Saffitz and test kitchen contributor Alfia Muzio about pancakes woes, and how to avoid them.
1. The Sum Is Greater Than the Parts
For something as subtle as pancakes, the quality of your ingredients is extremely important—even the baking soda, which is responsible for making pancakes fluffy. Your baking soda should be less than 6 months old—or else it won’t do its job, which is to increase the volume of the pancake when it hits the hot pan. For wet ingredients, we love buttermilk. Its acids react with the baking soda, giving your pancakes even more lift and imparting a subtle tang. If you only have milk at your disposal, add a squeeze of lemon to it before mixing into your dry ingredients—the acidity is important in balancing your pancakes’ flavors.
2. Stir Until Every Last Lump DisappearsLumps are actually okay! Stir your batter until the dry and wet ingredients are just incorporated. That means mixing until the flour streaks have disappeared, but leaving the pesky lumps. If you over-mix, the gluten will develop from the flour in your batter, making your pancakes chewy instead of fluffy.
SEE MORE: 6 Ways You’re Messing Up Your Salad
3. I Can Make the Batter Ahead of Time, Right?
No! You can’t make your batter the night before, or even an hour before you make your pancakes. It all goes back to those leavening agents: They start doing their job as soon as they come into contact with the wet ingredients, and will get less and less effective the longer you wait to ladle the batter into the pan. Griddling your pancakes right away will yield much lighter, fluffier pancakes.
4. Use Your Trusty Sauté Pan
In pancake making, the sloped sides of a pan are not your friends. If you have a griddle, definitely use it. Otherwise, use a wide heavy-bottomed pan—if your pan is too thin, your pancakes will burn. The width is pretty important, too. You want there to be enough room to flip your pancakes without any messy business. (More on flipping later!)
5. Butter Is Always Better
Here’s the thing about butter: It’s really easy to burn. Especially when your pan is on medium heat for an extended period of time. The milk solids are what causes butter to burn, so when you’re cooking your pancakes, use clarified butter (in which the milk solids have already been separated). Otherwise, use vegetable oil (really!) or regular butter, and wipe your pan off after every two batches or so.
6. Berries, Chocolate Chips, Bananas—Mix ‘em Right In!
This is all based on personal preference, but here’s our take: Chocolate and berries will burn against the heat of the pan in the time it takes to cook your pancakes.If you absolutely MUST add mix-ins, first pour your batter into the pan, then add berries or chocolate chips. Bananas, however, will caramelize as the pancakes cook—so adding them is definitely a “do.”