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Letting pancake batter sit (baking powder vs baking soda vs double-acting baking powder)

Q1 Why let pancake batter sit? I heard it creates gluten, thus making it easier to trap air in. But beating the batter also creates gluten.

Q2 When should I let pancake batter sit? The reaction which creates air bubbles starts right away with buttermilk + BS or milk + BP (both types). But with double-acting BP, you get a second kick on heat. So it seems like you oughta only do it with the double-acting BP.

I am on the quest for perfect pancakes and would love to know!

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  1. I've cooked pancakes with the batter freshly made and I've cooked them with the batter made the day before. And I can't detect a difference.

    Standard recipe of 4oz/100g flour, 2 eggs, 7 fl oz/200mil milk, 3 fl oz/75ml water.

    1. I'm not one of those people who can tell you much about the science if it all, but I will say this: the Joy of Cooking states that you either whip your egg white, fold them delicately into your pancake batter, and then make your pancakes right away, OR you let your pancake batter sit. I have always done the former since I love whipped egg whites as a leavening agent, and my buttermilk pancakes have drawn rave reviews from all who taste them, if I do say so myself! So I would try that and see how you like it. And definitely use buttermilk, and resign yourself to the fact that the pancakes from the top of the bowl will be the fluffiest (or else you over-mixed the batter). Good luck and please report back.

      1. In the case of noknead yeast bread, a long resting period develops gluten, but I haven't seen such a claim for pancake batter. I have seen crepe recipes that call for letting the batter sit, but not pancake recipes. I have seen instructions to let doughs like tortillas or biscuits sit - in order to let the gluten relax.

        Crepe batters don't have baking soda or powder. The purpose of the sitting, supposedly, is to let the flour hydrate, absorb as much liquid as it can. Same might go for other egg batters like popovers and dutch baby. But I've seen both sit and use right away directions, so it may not really matter.

        As you say, baking powder has that 2nd kick, and should, in theory, be the better choice if you need to let the batter sit. For example if you have to mix it the night before. But that does not mean that the baking powder pancakes will be better (greater rise) if you let the batter sit.

        Complicating things is the question of whether the bubbles in pancakes are formed exclusively by the co2, or whether the co2 bubbles are just the starting point, or seed, and most of the lift comes from steam. If the seed theory is correct, a baking soda batter might still rise, provided you don't stir it a lot.

        Thought experiments will only get you so far. You may need to experiment.

        6 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          I don't think my BP is double-acting, unless ALL BP in the UK is double-acting. Certainly doesn't say so on the container.

          What does letting gluten "relax" mean?

          I hadn't heard of steam giving rise! That's interesting.

          Today I let the batter sit for 15 minutes (milk+BP) and it was thicker than I've ever seen pancake batter. Good rise, too.

          1. re: ninestraycats

            It's steam that lifts your Yorkshire pudding - the eggs give the structure that contains it.

            Some baking powders get the double action by using two acid components, but apparently, the single acid used in Rumford brand, Monocalcium Phosphate, has a double action as well (though maybe not as strong).

            The thicker batter with rest is because more of the liquid has been absorbed by the flour.

            I often add more liquid to a batter after the first cake or two, if the initial ones are too thick for my taste.

            1. re: paulj

              I always wondered why there was egg in pancakes! But in pancakes the structure comes from the wet flour. Perhaps the egg ads extra structure.

              Anyways, could you explain what you mean by "relaxing" gluten?

            2. re: ninestraycats

              Noting your location, are you trying for the perfect British style pancake or the perfect American pancake? If the former, I work to this recipe which has worked perfectly for more years than I care to remember.

              http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/cu...

              1. re: Harters

                I'm looking for American pancakes. The British ones look like flat American pancakes (no rising agents). I'll try them out. Also, they break the egg into the flour and slowly add milk, whereas I thoroughly beat the wet & dry ingredients, then mix them together with ~10 forceful whisks.

                1. re: Harters

                  Your British ideal is what most Americans would call a crepe (or if egg rich, a Swedish pancake). But since ninestaycats is talking about baking soda/powder I thing the target is American style. Though I have a HH Irish Cookbook that has a buttermilk pancake recipe. But the HH Scottish book has a similar 'drop scones' recipe.

                  Another important variable is the liquid/flour ratio. A wetter batter produces a thinner cake, with crepes being the extreme. While a stiffer batter produces a thicker cake, but can be harder to cook correctly (too high heat will burn the outside before the center is cooked through).

            3. I like to let whole grain batters sit for an hour. But I add the baking powder just before I cook the pancakes.

              1. to answer your question about "relaxing" the gluten, it means giving the tight bonds between the gluten molecules a chance to loosen so that whatever you're making doesn't turn out rubbery & tough. have you ever made pizza dough (or watched them toss/shape it in a pizzeria)? it's the same principle - if you don't let it rest for a while the elasticity makes it difficult to pull or roll it, and it snaps back into its original shape. that's because the chains of gluten protein are bound so tightly. the resting period allows the trapped gases from the leavening agents to expand and loosen things up.

                does that make sense?

                8 Replies
                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  Thanks, that helps a lot!

                  To be clear, can you relax gluten without an active leavening agent inside the batter?

                  So, beating wet flour creates the gluten, then letting it sit makes it less tough (but hopefully still tough enough that the trapped air doesn't escape!) Sounds like it's always a good idea to let pancake batter sit. However, I worry that without double-acting BP, the results will be a little flat. I'll have to experiment. If there is minimal air release, and steam contributes to the rise, then letting buttermilk+BS batter sit for 10-15 minutes might be very productive and produce light, fluffy, and thick pancakes. Yum!

                  1. re: ninestraycats

                    Pancake recipes usually call for mixing as little as possible, and not to worry about making it completely smooth - the idea is to minimize gluten development. I think this can be more of an issue with thick batters than wet ones. For example with a wet crepe batter, using a mechanical mixer, such as a blender or foodprocessor is ok.

                    When you knead chapatti dough (if you were American I'd say flour tortillas dough) till it is smooth and elastic, you are developing gluten, even though there is no yeast or baking powder in it. Letting the dough sit a while lets the gluten relax, making it easier to roll it out thin. Adding some fat to the dough also facilitates rolling.

                    Another variable is the protein content of the flour. Bread flour has higher protein content; pastry flour lower. Sometimes a pure starch (e.g. British corn flour) is added to a batter to reduce the protein/gluten level. Oat and barley flour, when used in moderation can also have a gluten lowering effect. But you don't want to lower the gluten level too much, unless you want the dense, hearty traditional oat and barley bread and bannock.

                    Actually I like hearty breads and cakes, so am quite happy to experiment with these grains (oat cakes, parkin, etc).

                    1. re: paulj

                      I am American. :) I'm taking an MSc in Edinburgh.

                    2. re: ninestraycats

                      To be clear, can you relax gluten without an active leavening agent inside the batter?
                      ~~~~~~~~
                      yes, thought the leavening agent will facilitate the process...and for the record, egg is a leavening agent too.

                      letting the batter sit also allows the flour to hydrate more completely, expanding the starch molecules and resulting in fluffier pancakes. (even without a leavening agent, the high proportion of moisture in pancake batter evaporates as it cooks, creating steam within the pancake and puffing it up a bit.)

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        How about mixing the batter without the baking soda/powder, and let it rest. Then right before cooking, dissolve the powder in a bit of water, and stir that into the batter?

                        1. re: paulj

                          Oooh, that sounds like a great idea. That means I can leave the batter to set over night.

                          My only worry is that stirring in the leavening solution, even with just one or two stirs, might ruin the relaxed batter.

                          1. re: ninestraycats

                            I stir the batter every so often when making the pancakes, especially if it includes some solids (like chocolate chips). Stirring the batter, and vigorously beating it are two different things.

                        2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Thanks for the info.

                          How long should a batter sit, considering I only do 10 good stirs so as to not over-develop the gluten? I did 15 minutes with milk+BP today and it didn't seem to make much of a difference.

                          I'll have to experiment with buttermilk+BS and see if letting it sit for a while won't cause all the air to escape.

                    3. I've made many pancakes. For pancakes I did not use separated egg whites, but simply mixed up batter including eggs, flour, baking powder, etc.. If you let the batter sit a few minutes before pouring onto your hot griddle, the pancakes puff up better. You only need to do this for 3 or 4 minutes, if memory serves.

                      I believe these same instructions are also on the back of one of the commercial pancake mix boxes.