Usually I'm adept with all things invovling a skillet. I'd say there is no finer hand at frying and sauteing.
but pancakes give me the pip. I know the rules wait for a crisp edge and bubbles in the center. However most of the time I cannot for the life of me lift the damn things without them falling to pieces. So I get an assortment of burnt mush not pancakes. I'm having lots of trouble with the Moosewood cookbook's apple pancakes, since they do not bubble and fry in butter. What am I doing wrong?
It sounds like you might let the pan get too hot so the bottom burns and the rest is uncooked. It should be hot enough that water just dances across the surface, for lack of a better description. You don't want the water to sizzle and disappear. They should slowly cook, not fry.
You really need to cook pancakes on a medium heat setting. Allow the pan to fully heat up, then add your butter, allow it to melt and then add the pancake batter. I find if you cook the pancakes on a higher heat, the middle never sets and you end up with burnt edges and mushy insides. I find when I have more patience to allow the pan to heat up, the middle sets enough that the flip is easy and the edges don't burn. Also, make sure that the pancake is smaller than the size of your pan so that you can fully get the spatula under the pancake with enough wiggle room to flip it.
Yes! It is so important to heat the pan fully BEFORE adding any fat, and then allow the fat to get hot before adding the batter. Also, medium, medium, medium heat....and patience!
(And shhhh, but I like crisp edges, too, even though pancakes aren't supposed to be crisp. The secret is lots of oil.)
I agree that you are using too high a temperature. Flapjacks style pancakes should not be "crisp" on the edges. The surface should have bubbles throughout and appear to be getting dry, while the edges definitely look dry.
It is also important to let batter rest at room temp for at least 20 minutes before starting to cook.
This allows the flour to hydrate evenly, and the leavening to start working. The batter will bubble and should be briefly stirred again just before using.
Lots of good pointers here. But be careful not to overmix the batter. Over mixing makes pancakes tough. Where greygarious says "stir", I'd prefer to use the word "fold".
Making good pancakes requires, as previously pointed out, a well prepared batter at room temperature, a well heated but not over heated cooking surface (whether you oil it or not is a matter of choice - my pans and griddles are seasoned well enough not to require oiling) and a good understanding of how to read the edges and top surfaces. Bubbles on the top surface should be breaking before you turn the pancake. They should break evenly throughout the surface; about 50% of them broken and 50% still holding air is a good place to start. Don't worry about "crisp" edges. Pancakes aren't supposed to have crisp edges. They should be tender throughout.
Once you've mastered making plain pancakes, it's natural to want to try adding things to the mix. That's when it gets very tricky. Fresh fruits and other things included with the raw batter tend to prevent the batter in their immediate area from cooking as thoroughly as the rest of the pancake. Fruits that contain a lot of moisture (and most do) are especially difficult to work with. Cut your fruit pieces small and dry them between paper towels before adding them to the pan. Frankly, it's easier to cook the pancake and roll them up with the fruit inside than putting fruit in the batter.
Keep working at it. Once you get the hang of it you'll be in seventh heaven.