A fluffy consistency, a caramelized and brown exterior, and a light mouthfeel are the hallmarks of pancake greatness, what distinguishes them from crepes, flapjacks and any other variety of pan-cooked quickbread. The ingredients are simple and the technique easy, but it's what you do after cooking pancakes that makes or breaks them. Stacking hot pancakes on top of each other on a plate compresses them and creates steam, which causes overcooking and a compacted product. To preserve texture and fluffiness, hold just-cooked pancakes warm on a wire rack in the oven.
Two parts milk, 2 parts flour, 1 part egg and 1/2 part fat make a basic pancake with average fluffiness, so-so coloring and an OK flavor -- by no means stellar, but workable. Although ratios make quickbreads easy, they don't always do them justice. For a pancake with maximum lift, superb browning and complex flavor, you need to fine-tune the ingredients. The following recipe for classic American pancakes yields about 14 4-inch pancakes.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- Vegetable oil, for pan
In this rendition, the buttermilk serves two purposes: activate the baking soda and arouse the flavor. Butter -- not oil -- is a must for superior browning. If you want to create your own personal pancake recipe, tweak the basic pancake-ingredients ratio and until the batter develops the desired flavor, color and consistency.
Pancakes use the standard dry ingredient/wet ingredient mixing method. Place a sheet pan with a wire rack on it in the oven and set the oven to Warm before you start.
Whisk the dry ingredients -- flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt -- in a mixing bowl.
Mix the wet ingredients -- buttermilk, butter and egg -- in a second mixing bowl.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients in the well while mixing with a fork until just incorporated.
Cooking Tip: It's better to leave a few small lumps in the batter than to overmix it. Overmixed batter doesn't rise much and produces a dense, rubbery pancake.
Garnishes -- chopped chocolate or dried fruit, for example -- affect pancakes' rise, but only minimally if you fold them in gently, using the same technique you would use when folding whipped cream or egg whites into a batter. Add no more than 1/2 cup of garnishes for every 2 cups of flour.
Heat a nonstick skillet on the stove for 3 minutes. Brush or wipe the skillet with a thin layer of vegetable oil.
Pour 1/4 cup of pancake batter onto the skillet. Use a measuring cup or a 2-ounce ladle to add the batter.
Cook the pancakes until bubbles start to form on top, about 2 minutes. Flip the pancakes with a spatula and cook another 1 1/2 minutes.
Transfer cooked pancakes to the sheet pan in the oven as you finish the remaining batter.