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What makes pancakes light/fluffy?

Sorry, I am a pretty inexperienced cook when it comes to anything besides grilling, but I have become obsessed with pancakes over the last week, and want to know how to make mine lighter and fluffier. Most my responses have been "try this recipe, best pancakes ever!," but I am actually wondering what it is that makes the difference. Ingredient? Cooking time/heat? Magical Powers? Thanks for the help

p.s. Besides whipping my egg whites, which I already do :p

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  1. I've heard not over-mixing the batter is important.

    1 Reply
    1. I never beat the egg whites -- my light, fluffy 'cakes come from the buttermilk and baking powder in the recipe.

      1 Reply
      1. You don't need to whip egg whites separately to make pancakes, although that is a good practice for making waffles. Generally, allowing the batter to sit for a few minutes before pouring on the griddle, should make the pancakes fluffier, than if you mix and pour. Once you do this a couple of times, and observe how the batter looks, you'll get it. However, there are many recipes for pancakes and frankly some make thinner pancakes than others

        Your griddle or skillet surface should also be sufficiently hot, but not too hot. A drop of cold water should bead on the heated surface when it is ready for the pancakes. You can oil lightly then too, and then pour about 1/4 C of batter on the prepared griddle. When you see bubbles come up on the pancake, then turn it--not before. And, the first pancake in the batch is always the worst.

        4 Replies
        1. re: sueatmo

          More than "a few minutes". At least 20 minutes is needed - you'll see some bubbling. I usually let the batter rest at room temp for an hour. This also takes the chill off, which may also be a factor.

          1. re: greygarious

            You know, I never let my batter sit for that long before pouring it. I do look at it for bubbling, so I know what you mean. I think I let my batter sit for 5 minutes tops. I do think it improves the pancakes.

            1. re: sueatmo

              Sitting is recommended for crepe batters to improve hydration (wetting the flour), but they don't have any leavening. When using baking soda, CO2 production begins right away, so those batters shouldn't be held too long. Ones with baking powder can be held longer, since some CO2 is produced during cooking (that is, for double acting bp).

              1. re: paulj

                Double acting baking powder does make a big difference.

          1. re: paulj

            2 beaten egg whites

            1/2c oats

            1/2c whole wheat flour

            dash of salt

            dash of baking powder

            eyeball the water untill it seems to be the right consistency.

            I'm a bodybuilder and need to get some more whole grains in my diet, so I make these with some berries for a quick fix. I know its not great cooking but they taste fine, just come out a little bit denser than necessary.

            1. re: NateStraus

              The lightest pancakes are made with white flour. Whole wheat flour and oats (rolled?) will make them heavier.

              How much baking powder (or buttermilk and baking soda)?

              1. re: paulj

                I think they are steel cut...I honestly don't pay attention when I buy them, whatever big container of oats is cheap is the one I grab. Would a certain cut make them lighter?

                and I use about..1/2 teaspoon of baking soda per 1/2c oats+1/2c flour. Am I supposed to be using baking powder? I don't use any buttermilk

                1. re: NateStraus

                  Baking soda is used when the liquid is buttermilk. Otherwise, stick with baking powder.

                  You are using rolled oats (ie. small flakes). Steel cut are oat grains cuts into pieces, so have the texture of fine gravel. Steel cut takes too long to cook to use in pancakes.

                  Try the 1 tsp baking powder per cup of flour (or other grains).

                  See if you can find oat flour, most likely in the bulk bins or natural foods sections. This should give you a lighter pancake than using rolled oats.

                  Ultimately there will be a trade off. Straight white flour will give the lightest pancakes. Whole grain flours will make them heavier. Oat flour will have less effect on the texture than rolled oats.

                2. re: paulj

                  Kodiak Kakes flapjack mix is entirely whole wheat and makes light pancakes. Not only are they delicious, but all you add is water. Trader Joe's multigrain pancake and baking mix also yields light pancakes.

                  I once made food for a friend recovering from a serious gut infection. Dairy was not permitted, so I thinned out some homemade applesauce instead of using milk. These came out wonderfully fluffy. They were sweet but not identifiably apple-y.

                  Steel-cut oats are like raw barley and would mean your pancakes seem like they contain ground nuts. Grinding rolled oats in a blender or food processor would allow the oats to blend with the flour, and absorb more moisture. In the Cook's Illustrated recipe for oatmeal snack cake, they tested various forms and claimed only quick-cook oatmeal created the right consistency. Old-fashioned was too chewy. I forgot why instant failed. Also, they soaked the qc oats in warm liquid for 10 minutes first, allowing for more even hydr

                  1. re: paulj

                    paulj, yep about the ww flour and the oats, was thinking the same thing.

                  2. re: NateStraus

                    This is the answer--whole wheat flour and the steel cut oats will lead the heavy, dense pancakes. You can try using whole wheat pastry flour instead of the whole wheat flour. But, if you're grabbing the cheapest large container of oatmeal, I'd guess that it's instant and not steel cut.

                    1. re: NateStraus

                      I love whole grains, but I think for pancakes, you might want to start with a standard recipe, make those a few times, and then sub 1/2 whole wheat flour to see how the product differs. Do I understand that you are using only egg whites and that you beat them first? Perhaps your recipe has you do this because of the heaviness of the oats and whole wheat flour.

                      Also, I suspect your dash of baking powder is not enough to give lift to your oat and whole wheat flour.

                      I've checked my Joy of Cooking. Its recipe for Four-Grain Flapjacks calls for 1 C whole wheat flour, 3/4 C all-purpose flour, 1/3 C cornmeal and 1/4 C rolled oats. For leavening the recipe calls for 2 t. baking powder and 1/2 t. baking soda. From this, I'd say you might use at least 1/2 t. of baking powder and perhaps a pinch of baking soda.

                      Whole grain pancakes will never be as fluffy as those made with white flour though.

                      1. re: sueatmo

                        BTW- I made a batch of the JoC four grain flapjacks this morning and they were quite tasty. I subbed buttermilk in because I had it and added an extra 1/2 tsp of baking soda to hopefully balance it. Delicious whole grain flavor and sweet enough that both kids ate them plain with a little butter.

                        The plain version was my favorite but both kids really liked the addition of ripe banana and a few chocolate chips. The raspberry were fine but better for regular pancakes.

                      2. re: NateStraus

                        Wow. These sound like punishment.

                        They are heavy because they are entirely whole grain, have no fat from whole eggs and no added butter and oil which most recipes include, and have no dairy which make them tender..

                        I suggest starting from scratch with a new recipe (like the J of C) version below or the corn griddle cakes which are half cornmeal and half white flour. And make sure whatever recipe you use has some fat in it.

                        If you have a specific dietary restriction like no dairy specify that.

                        1. re: JudiAU

                          "Wow. These sound like punishment."

                          Thanks for the laugh because I thought the same thing. There's only so much you can do w/ those ingredients and it will never be light and fluffy!

                    2. Leavening (usually baking soda or baking powder) make pancakes rise making them fluffy. Other things influence how well the baking powder or soda or both work. As Paulj says white flour gives a lighter result than whole wheat, rye, corn, buckwheat, etc. -that is why white is added for most the other whole grains).

                      I usually soak my oats in buttermilk for 15 min before adding the other ingredients when using rolled oats in pancakes.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: mscoffee1

                        I'm a little embarrassed to ask, but what exactly is buttermilk composed of? I hear about it all the time, but don't know what it actually is

                        1. re: NateStraus

                          Real buttermilk is the liquid left after cream is churned into butter. But most of what's sold today is "cultured buttermilk", which is lowfat or nonfat milk to which a culture (think yogurt) has been added. Diluting plain yogurt to a milky consistency is a good substitute.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            or you can add a little lemon juice or vinegar to regular milk to 'sour' it -- I do this all the time.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              Or you can thin a little yogurt with regular milk. That works too.

                      2. Higher ratio of baking powder to flour

                        Beat egg whites separately and fold gently into batter

                        Make sure all ingredients are room temp before combining

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          A rule of thumb is 1tsp of baking powder per cup of flour. However some of the recipes in the 97 Joy of Cooking are higher than that. But I think it is possible to go too high.

                          I wonder if there are visual clues. For example, if there is too much baking powder, the bubbles might form and burst before the pancake (based on color) is ready to turn. Or if too little, not enough bubbles will form. I'm just speculating. Of course heat level affects turning time.

                          Batter thickness also matters. I lean toward thinner cakes, so make a wetter batter. But I've also tried an Irish recipe that made rather thick cakes, almost English muffin in proportion. Fluffy restaurant pancakes tend to be on the thick side.

                          1. re: paulj

                            I was surprised to see baking soda in the pancake recipe I cited above. I scanned the ingredients for buttermilk, but I didn't see any. Can't make standard pancakes for myself anymore. I am eating low carb. But I found some King Arthur white whole grain wheat flour which seems to be acceptable for baking if I use half flour/half golden flaxseed meal. I need to find out if I can get good pancakes out of that mixture.

                            1. re: sueatmo

                              In another thread I learned that some source (Americas Test Kitchen?) thinks some extra baking soda improves the browning of some baked goods. I don't know if that was intention in your Joy recipe.

                              Another possibility is that there is a typo, and the milk should have been buttermilk. Look for example at the buttermilk pancake recipe on the same page, which modifies their basic recipe.

                        2. I always use buttermilk and I find that beating the egg whites separately and the folding them into batter helps tremendously.

                          I know you're not asking for recipes but I've tried them all and am in love with Clinton St. Bakery's pancake recipe.

                          1. You can either make light pancakes or make pancakes with oats and whole grains. Not both.

                            To make truly light pancakes, as others have said, have all ingredients at room temperature, use white flour, whip the egg whites and fold them in separately at the end (do not let the batter sit if you whip the egg whites), and use a recipe that calls for buttermilk. This will produce an amazingly delicious and light pancake and you may well forget all about whole grains and all that... :)

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: visciole

                              I only make whole grain pancakes and they are very light. I beat the whites stiffly and use buttermilk. I use half white whole wheat flour and half oat flour and they are marvelous!

                              1. re: magiesmom

                                Interesting. When you say "white whole wheat flour" do you mean whole wheat pastry flour? I've never tried oat flour, maybe I'll give it a whirl. I do use whole grain flours in much of my baking, but for pancakes I have always found they weigh down the batter too much. Guess I'll have to keep experimenting!

                                1. re: visciole

                                  White whole wheat is a whole wheat grain but less bitter and is lighter than what is normally used for whole grain. Whole wheat pastry flour isn't the same thing but I think it's a good substitute for whole wheat, if I want a lighter product.

                                  Magiesmom, can you share your recipe?

                                2. re: magiesmom

                                  Maggiesmom, can you share us your recipe? It sounds interesting.

                              2. For me, pancakes made w/o buttermilk are worthless. When using buttermilk (or plain whole-milk yogurt+milk in a pinch), you have to use baking soda in addition to baking powder to balance out the acid. When you have that perfect balance, the bubbles will rise and the pancake will be fluffy. I've tried the vinegar substitution thing but that just doesn't do it for me - I like the heady fresh cream flavor of buttermilk or yogurt - and since I almost always have plain yogurt in my fridge, that's what I typically use. Getting the right balance is a bit trickier w/ yogurt, though...
                                I dont like the airiness that results w/ whipped egg whites - and there is a difference between light/fluffy vs. airy. I like my souffle & omelet airy but I like my pancakes fluffy yet with some substance to it. I'm really, really obsessive about subtle textural differences...
                                And yes, let the batter sit - I find 5-10 minutes usually does the trick.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: soniabegonia

                                  My grandmother's pancakes nearly flew off the plate they were so light! The whites were always beaten stiff.

                                2. not a big pancake fan, but I've heard using soda water instead of regular water makes batters lighter. I do this with tempura but I'm not sure how it might translate for pancakes.

                                  1. The only recipe I really liked from "The Joy of Cooking" was it's pancake recipe that called for whipped egg whites.

                                    Edit... I just read that you use oats (steel cut?) and whole wheat flour. Those two ingredients make for dense pancakes.

                                    For the oats, what I would do is pulverize the oats in a blender to make a flour or something that's finer. That should lighten up the pancakes quite a bit.

                                    For the egg whites, I'd beat those to stiff peaks before blending into the batter.

                                    1. Any of the following help: everything at room temperature (especially the eggs), a bit extra baking powder, beat up egg whites seperately, and, yes, buttermilk.

                                      1. Something I do that to me makes my pancakes thicker and puffier is to use a small skillet the size you want your pancakes to be. The pancake will rise up the side. Only downside is you can only do one at a time.

                                        1. i would never ever ever ever ever suggest someone watch tv shows posted by people without permission from the owners. if i would ever do such a thing, i would probably tell you that all the good eats with alton brown episodes are on youtube, and he has one episode all about pancakes. but alas, i would never send you there to watch them.

                                          1. A lot of good advice here.

                                            To summarize:

                                            Use at least SOME white flour.

                                            Use the egg yolks - they are NOT unhealthy, despite rumors to that effect!

                                            Whip the whites separately and then fold them in lightly at the end.

                                            Use yogurt or buttermilk and baking soda instead of water. (Yes, leave in the baking powder, too.)

                                            A bit of butter or coconut oil will make a difference, as well.

                                            Stir minimally.

                                            Let stand before cooking.

                                            Whiz your oats in the blender or food processor first.

                                            Hm-mm...anything else?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: sandylc

                                              you forgot "once in a while just make a batch of light, fluffy homemade buttermilk pancakes with white flour, and enjoy them"

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                How true!! An occasional treat is a very good thing....!

                                            2. You must not over-mix. The Joy of Cooking adds melted butter to the batter, it certainly makes the pancake tender.

                                              1. These are not light or fluffy, but they are delicious! And healthy....