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Pancakes

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Pancakes are a test of any home chef's ability and a cornerstone of American cuisine. What is the best way to make pancakes?

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  1. Sift your dry ingredients, don't overmix the wet and dry ingredients, let the batter rest at least an hour (if not overnight) before cooking.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Letting the batter sit is fine for either crepes (without leavening), or pancakes using double acting baking powder. It is not a good idea for baking soda recipes.

      Sitting has two potential advantages - allowing full hydration of the flour, and relaxing any gluten developed during mixing.

      A resting period is common in crepe recipes. However CI claims that it isn't needed, or even desirable, in the case of sauced crepes (crepes suzette) since they should be sturdy enough to stand up to the sauce.

      1. re: paulj

        When I started cooking, I used Bisquick and other pancake mixes. They always came out tough and rather flat, until someone told me to let the batter sit for at least 20 minutes, until there are a lot of bubbles on the surface. That solved the problem.

        I also think it's important, in the case of typical hotcake/flapjack type pancakes, no to use much oil in the pan, and to keep the heat no higher than medium, depending on your stove.
        Flip when the edges are visibly dry and the surface evenly covered with bubbles. Take a peek at the underside before flipping and make a note of what the uncooked top looks like when the underside is the right color and ready to flip.

        When cooking for a friend who needed to minimize fat and dairy while getting over an illness,
        I made flapjacks subbing applesauce for half the milk, and omitted egg yolks. These came out very tender and moist so though I use whole eggs when making pancakes for general consumption, I still like to use some applesauce as part of the liquid.

    2. Follow a recipe in a good cookbook. Joy of Cooking for starters.

      In my experience, the need for skill and experience is in the cooking, not in mixing the batter. For a beginner, a pancake mix makes a perfectly good batter. Where you need practice and knowledge is in selecting a good pan, right heat, judging when to turn them, flipping them, etc. Burnt pancakes, uneven cooking, splatters during turning, etc are all the result of wrong choices during the cooking process, not a matter of the wrong batter.

      1. "Pancakes are a test of any home chef's ability"

        You're kidding right? Children make pancakes, it is one of the simplest and earliest dishes a child makes in learning to cook..

        I disagree that making pancakes is a test of a home chef's capabilities.

        10 Replies
        1. re: FrankJBN

          I agree, an omelette is a better indicator of cooking skill than pancakes.

          1. re: Chi_Guy

            Or caneles.

            ;0)

            1. re: tim irvine

              yikes Caneles, I consider myself an excellent cook, but I don't even dare to try Caneles.
              \

          2. re: FrankJBN

            Not everyone makes good pancakes. Good technique is required. Omelets are indeed more complex.

            1. re: Ruthie789

              Can you talk about complexity of omelets without specifying the type? Even if talking about quick French ones, Jaques Pepin demonstrates two versions, the more refined one, and a more rustic one that his mother made. And ignoring the filling for the moment, the 'batter' for omelets is simpler - just eggs.

              1. re: paulj

                Heat management, technique and texture make for complexity with cooking eggs IMO. The perfect mix of cooked and set but still soft and creamy, the perfect level of incorporation of yolks into whites and of air (or not) whipped into the mix, the perfect thickness of the egg layer, the perfect roll, or with scrambled, the perfect curd size. I agree that suberb eggs are much more difficult than superb pancakes. Egg cookery is a common test of skill in a professional kitchen with good reason.
                It's all about the minutiae. A lot like bread. Bread made with decent technique can be very good. Outstanding bread is a whole nuther level.
                Often the simpler something is, the more difficult it is to get perfect. OTOH, most people probably wouldn't notice or care. You're either a detail person or you're not.

                It seems like pancakes have vastly different versions of perfection depending on the eater. Perhaps because they aren't burdened by the mandates of French technique. Less wiggle room with eggs, no pun intended.

                1. re: splatgirl

                  Perhaps because they aren't burdened by the mandates of French technique. Less wiggle room with eggs, no pun intended.

                  _____________________________________

                  What does French techniques have to do with making eggs well?

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    'they' demand that scrambled eggs be insubstantial soft curds, and omelets be perfect pale footballs ... :)

                2. re: paulj

                  "Can you talk about complexity of omelets without specifying the type?"

                  Yes.

              2. re: FrankJBN

                Did you know you can make a pancake in the microwave? You know, with batter.

              3. My guy makes the most outstanding pancakes I've ever had. He is not even sort of a cook--this, egg sandwiches and popcorn are about the extent of his (mad) skills. I'm not sure if that means I agree or disagree with your statement about ability :)
                Anyway

                Cast iron skillet and bacon grease. The recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. A crispy and dark bordering on burnt welt around the edges. Blueberries if I ask nice, and extra bacon for the cook.
                Those texturally blah nonstick skillet-cooked pancakes can suck it.

                1. It depends on the kind you want but the lightest fluffliest ones are when you whip the whites and gently fold into batter, eg Cake Bible. My favorite is Cook Ilustrated's Best Recipe one w/ buttermilk. It's denser than the Cake Bible one.

                  1. As is demonstrated by the comments in this thread, there is no "best way to make pancakes". That's because there are so many varieties of "pancakes" used for so many different culinary purposes. While I would not degree entirely with the statement "pancakes are a test of any home chef's ability" they are not child's play either. They do provide a good tool for teaching kids to cook but a well prepared batter and a perfect pancake is not something that is learned in one session at the cook top. I routinely go for the light, fluffy variety and I disagree with resting the batter. Crepe batter needs to rest, pancake batter does not. The grill (griddle) needs to be free of oil (no butter in the pan - there's enough oil in the batter) with medium/low heat and the batter poured gently onto the cooking surface. The pancake is left to cook until a majority of the small bubbles burst and the edges begin to appear somewhat dry, the pancake is gently turned over, not flipped (that's the most difficult skill to develop in making pancakes) Flipping and dropping the pancake deflates it and reduces its lightness. The edges of the pancake should never be lifted to check on how brown it might be. If the heat is correct, the browning will be correct. Under or over browning while waiting for the burst bubbles and drying edges simply means you need to adjust the heat.

                    1. With respect, pancakes are dead easy if you follow the standard instructions and not much of a test of a cook's ability. We're not talking haute cuisine here.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: John Francis

                        In a general sense I tend to agree with you John .... I'm just obsessive about preparing everything to the very best of my ability.
                        Speaking of haute cuisine:
                        http://newyork.cbslocal.com/top-lists...

                        1. re: todao

                          Pancakes, omelets, scrambled eggs, etc.

                          Anyone can make them, but not everyone can make them well.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I'd go as far as saying few people make those things well, hence so many bad versions. People settle for "acceptable" for some things and then think that's just how they're supposed to be.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Just like everyone thinks they can paint a room. Yes they can but, was it done properly.

                        2. Thanks to everyone who provided a substantive response!

                          To those who did not, for shame. I agree with those posters above who observed that it's easy to make edible pancakes, but hard to make excellent pancakes. Many factors determine the quality of a pancake, including but not limited to the heat of the griddle, thickness of the pancake, diameter of the pancake, viscosity of the batter, ingredients in the batter, the manner in which the batter was created, the pre-cooking rest, the humidity of the kitchen, the time that the pancake is cooked on the first side, the time that the pancake is cooked on the second side, the way in which the pancake is turned over, and the post-cooking rest. And amazingly, nobody has mentioned the quality of the flour, butter, bananas, eggs, milk, vanilla, and sea salt--the most important factors of all.

                          To be sure, children can cook pancakes, paint rustic landscapes, and do many other adult things. Unfortunately, their cooking, like their artwork, is generally terrible. (See, e.g., http://www.artsz.org/wp-content/uploa... (What is this curious animal that manages to stay upright even though half its weight is cantilevered from its front legs?)) I encourage my two girls to cook, and no doubt they'll one day be great cooks for their husbands and children, but I'm honest with my girls about what's good and what's not.

                          Please keep your pancake ideas coming! My own advice is to use the very best unpasteurized butter; high-quality organic flour, eggs, and buttermilk; the best vanilla you can secure (I recommend Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon); good fleur de sel, and excellent bananas (Thai bananas, when immaculate, work very well).

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: CheeseEnvy

                            Thanks for initiating the discussion. I always learn something from these types of posts. Incidentally, when I said "I disagree with resting the batter" I suppose I should have admitted to the fact that I prepare the batter and then spend some time getting all the other items ready so I do (unwittingly perhaps) rest the batter to some degree.

                            1. re: CheeseEnvy

                              Don't leave out those who noted that it is easy to make excellent pancakes.

                              Such requirements as 'They have to be turned at the right time.' is not going to ensure the awarding of 'degree of difficulty' points.

                              If some insist that making a batch of pancakes is a test of true culinary skill, so be it. Some people find fractions difficult too.

                              1. re: FrankJBN

                                Thanks for your post, Frank. I understand your position. The most important thing is that you enjoy what you eat. I suppose I'm pickier about pancakes.

                                1. re: FrankJBN

                                  Sometimes you have to get what some consider the simple things right. We just have to go out and eat pancakes to understand that there are degrees of rightness to pancake making. I would think that if one has culinary greatness, he or she must be able to get even the simple things right.

                              2. This a recipe that I developed over a number of years. My son likes these and cannot stand white PCs.

                                2 cups Whole wheat flour
                                4.5 tablespoons Baking powder
                                ½ teaspoons Salt
                                4.5 tablespoons sugar
                                2 eggs
                                2 cups Milk
                                4.5 tablespoons Melted butter or vegetable oil
                                ½ teaspoon Vanilla extract


                                Mix the dry and wet ingredients separately, holding back about ¼ cup of the milk. Give the wet ingredients a good beating. Add the wet slowly until just combined and the batter still has some lumps.
                                The batter should fall in broken ribbons off the end of a serving spoon, if not add a little more milk. This will depend on the flour and may require more than the reserved amount.

                                To test the heat of the pan, shake some water off your fingers, if the droplets dance before disappearing the pan is at the correct temp., if they disappear it is too hot and if they hang around it is too cold.

                                Cook until bubbles cover the surface, and then flip – only once. They are done when the center springs back like a cake.

                                These freeze well coming back to about 90% in the microwave.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: dapperdon

                                  That '4.5 tablespoons Baking powder' is a far cry from the '1 tsp bp per cup of flour' rule of thumb.

                                  1. re: paulj

                                    OOPS
                                    You are correct It should be teaspoons

                                  2. re: dapperdon

                                    OOPS the Baking Powder should be TEASPOONS

                                    1. re: dapperdon

                                      Thanks, dapperdon. No bananas?

                                      1. re: CheeseEnvy

                                        bananas in pancakes? what a crazy idea. :)

                                        But each his own. It's this kind of diversity that keeps the 'pancake houses' in business.

                                        Off the top of my head some of the types include:
                                        buttermilk (regular fluffy)
                                        ones with addins like blueberries, bananas, chocolate chips, etc
                                        ones with specialty topings
                                        sourdough (a variation on yeast)
                                        crepes (and variations like Swedish)
                                        Dutch baby, apple, etc (crepe/popover batter in a large skillet)
                                        49ers (OPH) - cross between crepe and sourdough
                                        waffles - 2nd cousins

                                    2. Try folding whipped egg whites into your batter.