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Why can't I make pancakes?

I am a reasonably good cook, and a reasonably good baker, yet I cannot make a decent pancake to save my life. Invariably, the outside cooks faster than the inside, so I either end up with a cooked-through pancake that is a bit burnt, or a beautifully golden pancake that is mushy in the middle.

What am I doing wrong?

I've tried with many recipes that others find reliable-to-excellent, so I don't think that the problem is, e.g. a mistaken ratio of wet to dry ingredients, or a lack of leavening. I know what I'm supposed to see before I flip: dry edges, bubbles on top. I know I'm not supposed to overmix the batter, and that I may want to let it rest. But adhering to all these guidelines isn't helping.

Is my pan too hot? Too cold? Are my pancakes too big? Tips, tricks, and surefire pancake cooking methodologies badly wanted.

(Note: I am currently saddled with an electric stove, so techniques which don't rely on super-refined temperature control would be most helpful.)

TIA!

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  1. have you tried a pancake mix ? not sure fm what you write whether you use a mix or from scratch. experiment with mixes first. easier to get good results then you can move on to the fm scratch stuff. i use a berndes crepe pan for my pancakes with pretty uniform good results.

    1. I always use buttermilk in my batter, in addition to extra baking powder; but if it's in the cooking itself, a hot cast iron skillet is key, with no grease (I put melted butter in the batter instead). I like mine a lot but who's to say.

      2 Replies
      1. re: coll

        Geez - I was just starting to praise myself for turning the heat down on my skillet and getting better results on my flapjacks... We've been using a nonstick pan and found that setting it on a medium heat let the cakes rise and cook a little more thoroughly... But I'll give the cast-iron a whirl when we get it out of our storage boxes - we're coming towards the end of our "beloved" remodel...

        1. re: bulavinaka

          I'm into the rise quickly, with a nice crust, kind of pancake. As long as I have real maple syrup, all is well.

      2. I put an iron griddle over two eyes on my (electric) stove. I put a small amount of oil on and then wipe almost all of it off with a paper towel. When the pancakes seem done I stack them on one side of the griddle while the others cooks, reversing the order of the stack periodically so each spends some time on top or on the griddle. Hope that helps!

        1. Chloe -- from your description of pancakes that are either burnt or mushy, it sounds like you need to adjust your temperature. Probably the easiest way is to get an electric griddle with a thermostat. I don't have one (and like you, I have an electric stove), so I experiment with burner settings until I find the set point for making the best pancakes, then I remember that set point. I use all 4 burners when I make pancakes. Not only does each burner have a different set point, but each pan also cooks differently, so I use the same pan on the same burner each time.

          4 Replies
          1. re: JepJonson

            Yes, it's all about temperature with pancakes. Try medium heat, about 350. The best method is to use an electric griddle where you can set the temp to that bullseye, otherwise you have to guess. It sounds like from your description that your pan is too hot. I think the mistake most people make with pancakes is temp, usually too hot because we feel like they should cook faster. But slow down, lower your temp and let them cook. You can pop them in a warm oven to keep them warm while you make the batch. Gas or electric makes no difference once you know the nuances of your stove. Good luck!

            1. re: sgwood415

              I agree with the suggestion to use an electric griddle. I just got one and not only can I control the temperature (350-375) much easier than on the stovetop, but I can make lots of pancakes at one time, which ultimately means I don't spend all morning at the stove while the rest of my family eats breakfast.

              On the recipe front, I actually have found that thinner/pourable batters don't work for me. I use plain yogurt thinned with a little milk in place of the buttermilk found in most recipes. I also separate the eggs and fold in the beaten egg whites at the end. My batter is definately thick and it produces some very fine pancakes-IMHO.

              By the by, I love Bette's Diner's "The Pancake Handbook." Great recipes and pancake cooking tips.

            2. re: JepJonson

              I agree with the suggestion to use an electric skillet. I have tried making pancakes in my cast iron skillet and in a non-stick pan on the stove and can never get consistently good pancakes the way I do with my electric skillet. I usually cook mine at somewhere between 350 and 375.

              1. re: flourgirl

                I just posted a thread on this same topic yesterday. I have a stove with a built-in griddle. I set the temp to 350 but the pancakes stuck to the surface of the griddle. I tried lowering the temp to 325 and while that helped with the sticking a little bit, none of the pancakes got any color. I'm at a total loss. Oh and I was using butter on the griddle as well.

            3. Thank goodness it's not just me. I have a terrible time with pancakes.

              One thing I've found that seems to make a big difference is using batter that calls for buttermilk.

              Usually, I just make fritatta.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mamaciita

                I'm in the same boat. My problem: they're beautiful and fluffy in the pan, but they collapse and become soggy the minute I plate them.

              2. I use a quarter-cup measure, exactly, every time, and they seem to come out all right. My mother-in-law can make them whatever size she wants, but she has a lovely gas stove and I just have a crappy thirty year old apartment stove. I find that if the first test pancake is dry and bubbling on top in about four minutes, the temperature is right, if that helps any!

                1. I've found that with an electric stove, the runniness of the batter matters a lot more. It needs to be pourable. If you have to spread it around, it is too thick. If you use a measuring cup to pour batter in the pan and it doesn't spread readily, it is too thick. Experiment with adding more milk and see if that helps. Runnier batter also makes the bubbles that are helpful for showing leavening action happen (and that wee bit of dryness at the border) a lot faster.

                  Another thought is that the pan needs to be evenly and thoroughly heated, which is tough with an electric stove. Your problems sound similar to mine when I was learning to make pancakes on my family's electric stove. I am good at pancakes and still I usually toss the first pancake since I think of it as a tester to see where the pan is at temp wise (if I'm not at my house and using gas, and sometimes just the same). There's no shame in a tester. That pan needs to be on the stove for a couple of minutes before it is of any use. Since electric stoves are notorious for being slow to adjust, you need to get the pan to a temp that works and leave it there. There will be casualties getting there.

                  Age old tip: when you think the pan is hot enough, drip a couple of drops of water off your fingers into the pan. They should sizzle and perhaps bounce before evaporating. If they sit there like beads, the pan is far too cold. If they evaporate before you can even blink, the pan is too hot. Good luck.

                  1. My hypothesis: Your flour is packed too tight--meaning too much flour to liquid. The pancakes when poured can't spread and so are too thick and cook as you describe. Less flour, keep the temperatures up.

                    1. C

                      It's not you, it's the equipment. jfood ruined many pancakes with electric stoves. finanlly bought a propane tank and converted.

                      it's all in the heat and temperature. many good suggestions here but keep on plugging.

                      major suggestion from jfood is let the batter rest for 5 minutes before cooking

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: jfood

                        Resting the batter is a great suggestion. At least 5 minutes. A half hour rest in the fridge would be ideal in my opinion.

                      2. Slowfoodgrrl is right about how to test for temperature. You want a sizzling hot start but I lower the heat before I pour so the batter cools the griddle to a moderate temperature and they cook slowly enough that they cook through. Cast iron is so right for this.

                        You can learn to compensate for batter a bit too thick with pouring technique. Batter thin enough will spread itself out if you pour into one middle spot. You can pour thicker batter with a circular motion around the edge of the cake so it does not lay too thick. Adding liquid to already mixed batter is a last resort because I think it spoils some of the bubbliness that you want.

                        1. I agree that heat is an issue, but the stove isn't the only factor in how much heat you're getting. How thin or thick the pan is can also be a factor. Are you using a very thin pan?

                          When I make pancakes at my boyfriend's house, where the stove is electric, I have to use a thicker pan. With his thinnest pan, the pancakes are a disaster at any temperature.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: seattledebs

                            Oh, yeah, this is so right on. Bad pans have ruined many a pancake when I've cooked in college, at rented cabins, and so on. I have also tried to make pancakes at my sister's house, where she's got very shoddy stainless steel pans. No matter how much oil I used (in the past tense, since I've given up), everything I tried to cook stuck and was either under- or overcooked. The crappola cookware factor might explain why electric griddles are so popular. A fine electric griddle is often cheaper than a good pan.

                          2. Alton Brown is making pancakes tomorrow night (Monday, June 4) on Good Eats, if you get the Food Network.

                            1. Mom used to make real good pancakes.... then one saturday morning they were awful, and she hasn't been able to make a good one since....

                              Anyhow... you mentioned the bubbles on top. I was taught to wait till the bubbles on top popped and left little holes, but others told me that is overdone and will result in dry pancakes. To me better dry than mooshy (after all that is what the butter and syrup are for)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                I was taught to wait until the edges get dry, if you see bubbles OK but you don't have to wait until they pop!

                              2. Wow - pancakes are one thing I've had really good luck with when making them in a very slapdash fashion. I've even just thrown together random, unmeasured ingredients and they've turned out great. In case it's any help, the three consistent themes in my pancake-making are (and others can feel free to shoot these down if you want to):

                                - I'm impatient so the temperature's always fairly high - at least med-high
                                - I use probably a lot of baking powder
                                - I make smaller, flippable - rather than big and unwieldy - pancakes

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Cinnamon

                                  Temp is the most important thing. You're clearly cooking them too hot. Use 375 on electric or med/med high on gas.

                                  Make small cakes. It's the same principle as burgers--bigger is not better (and smaller ones are easier to flip).

                                  Batter should be thinner rather than fatter, but only by a little. I dont think buttermilk helps the cooking, altho it does help the flavor.