A stack of light, fluffy pancakes generously buttered and swimming in maple syrup is a weekend staple in my little New York City apartment. Among the city’s beeping car alarms, throngs of people, and incessant hustle, this old-fashioned breakfast staple offers a simple and nostalgic weekly reprieve from the grind of everyday life. An easy-to-make meal that uses just a few basic pantry ingredients, truly dreamy pancakes represent immediately attainable happiness. And this perfectly sweet and savory food is indeed a cinch to make if you can avoid the common mistakes. Take note of these pitfalls and you’ll always have the recipe for zen in your back pocket.
Using old baking soda, bleached flour, or cheap butter
For any food requiring few ingredients, you should assume that using high-quality ones will yield better results. This certainly holds true when you want to produce the pancakes you’ve been dreaming about all week. Since baking soda helps pancakes achieve their full fluffy potential when they are heated, it’s crucial to use a leavener that’s no more than six months old. Doing so helps you avoid cooking up flat ones that are no fun to look at or eat. Bleached flour sounds just as unsavory as you’d imagine. This type has been chemically whitened. Opt for the unbleached kind, which has retained most of its nutrients and vitamins. And what distinguishes high-quality butter from lesser varieties? In short, the taste. Butter is graded from AA to B, with AA being the best for a pleasing taste, creamy texture, and light flavor. You can’t go wrong with Grade AA unsalted butter for all your cake and pastry needs.
Over mixing the batter
It’s easy to overmix the pancake batter in an effort to smooth out all the lumps, but don’t do this! The more you stir, the more you work the gluten in the flour, resulting in tough and chewy pancakes instead of light and tender ones. Simply mix your ingredients together until everything is just incorporated and no streaks of flour are visible, leaving any remaining lumps. Don’t fret about weird lumpy pancakes since they magically disappear during cooking.
Preparing the batter ahead of time
Leaveners like baking soda or powder are activated as soon as they come into contact with wet ingredients. As such, you don’t want to make the batter too early. The leavener you’re using will not work as well if the batter’s been sitting around for a day or even an hour. Pancake batter takes about five minutes to make, so try to start prepping only when you’re ready to cook and eat.
Using a small frying pan
If you make pancakes frequently, I suggest investing in a griddle like this one, which conveniently sits on two stovetop burners. The flat, roomy surface makes it easy to transfer your batter and flip your pancakes. Using a regular pan with sloped sides doesn’t leave you quite enough room to cook multiple pancakes comfortably. Short of a griddle, you could try using a wide pan with a heavy bottom. The latter quality promotes even cooking.
Flipping too soon or too often
While you might get overly excited about the prospect of eating pancakes, exercise the utmost patience during cooking. You should cook the pancakes until you can see bubbles begin to form on the surface, signaling the big flip. Flip your pancakes exactly once.
Not testing the first pancake
Like crepes, pancakes require the perfect heat level and timing in order to maximize their glory. This inevitably means that the first pancake you make should be a test run — the time to gauge the heat level and notice if certain areas are cooking unevenly. Adjust so that your real official batch will be just right.
Using processed pancake syrups
While commercial pancake syrups come in familiar and comforting packaging, they should be a last resort. These fake syrups are made of processed sugars and contain artificial flavors and colorings. Your best bet is to stick with pure maple syrup even if it is a little more expensive. Your pancakes deserve the best.
If you love pancakes as much as I do, partake in a bit of self-care and make them as often as you can. With some basic know-how about ingredients, equipment, and technique, you’ll have no problem finding your own pocket of sweet, delicious peace within your busy schedule.
Adding too many fillings
As an overzealous cook myself, I fully understand the tendency to overdo add-ins. You should see the astronomical size of my omelettes.
That said, you want to exercise restraint when it comes to choosing what you fold into your pancake batter. While a small handful of yummy berries or chocolate chips lends sweetness and flair, resist the overwhelming urge to throw in everything and the kitchen sink. Doing so will make your batter heavy and uneven. An added risk of using too many fillings? They all sink to the bottom of the pancakes in the pan and burn.