Buttermilk pancakes. Is there any phrase in the world that sounds quite as beautiful on a weekend morning? Fluffy, light, and full of flavor, well-made buttermilk pancakes are the ideal vessel for melting butter and gooey maple syrup, and make a perfect accompaniment to eggs, bacon, or whatever breakfast fixings you prefer.
Sadly, buttermilk pancakes don’t always make for such an idyllic a breakfast scene. When not made with the proper ingredients, tools, or techniques, the potential pitfalls are many: they can come out flavorless and bland, leaden and heavy, over-crisp or under-done in the middle.
However, once you take a little time to refine your pancake-making method, you’ll see a marked improvement in your results. Let’s discuss some of the ways to get buttermilk pancakes right, every time!
10 Secrets to Making the Best Buttermilk Pancakes. These tips will help ensure success when making buttermilk pancakes. Easy to master, these simple tips and techniques will help you refine your technique and become a pancake making whiz kid.
- Use good quality ingredients. This tip can’t be stressed enough. To make great buttermilk pancakes, you have to start with great ingredients. This means good quality flour and sugar, fresh, good quality eggs, and real buttermilk. In addition, make sure that your leavenings (baking soda and baking powder) are active and fresh–here are some tips for how to test leavenings for freshness.
And while we’re talking about ingredients, be sure to use good ingredients to top your pancakes, too. Why bother making great pancakes if you’re going to top them with faux syrup or faux butter “spread”?
- Use real buttermilk. Don’t get me wrong, DIY buttermilk substitutes are great in a pinch while baking or cooking. But in a recipe like buttermilk pancakes, where the buttermilk is a key component of both flavor and structure, it’s far better to use the real thing. For best results, use a buttermilk that is organic and locally sourced if possible.
- Don’t omit the sugar. Do you think it won’t make a difference if you omit the sugar from your recipe? You might be surprised.
Sugar’s role in pancakes isn’t just to offer a subtle sweetness (although yes, it does that, too). The sugar helps in attaining the perfect texture in your pancakes. Since sugar cooks relatively quickly, it helps to form a crave-worthy, crisp crust on the edges of the pancakes, while maintaining a tender, flavorful interior.
That being said, you don’t need to go overboard with sugar–two to three tablespoons is typically sufficient in a single batch buttermilk pancake recipe.
- Don’t overmix the batter. Even though the word “pancake” includes “cake”, the batter shouldn’t be treated the same. With a cake batter, you want a smooth, silky finish with no visible lumps. However, this is not the case with pancake batter.
Pancake batter is more like muffin or quick bread batter: you just want to combine until everything is evenly moistened. While part of you may want to force all those lumps into submission, resist the urge. Overworking the batter will just make the finished pancakes rubbery as you’ve over-activated the gluten contained in the flour.
- Heat the skillet before you add the batter. Just as you’d preheat an oven before baking a cake, you need to preheat your skillet before adding the batter. If you were to add the batter to the pan as it was heating up, your pancakes would not form a crust, would require too long to cook, and as a result would become heavy and dense. A hot skillet will help the batter start to form a crust right away when it hits the pan, giving the pancakes the crisp edges and tender interior you crave.
For best results, preheat your skillet. To test if it’s hot enough, scatter a few drops of water on the pan. If they dance, you’re ready to make some pancakes.
- Monitor the skillet during cooking. While making pancakes, you’re like the pilot, and you’ve got to keep an eye on all of the controls. This means carefully monitoring the skillet during cooking. There will be some heat fluctuations as you cook: by being at the ready, you can raise or lower the temperature of the skillet as needed so that you ensure even quality.
Even if you get into a good groove with your pancakes, do not walk away from the skillet at any time.
- Give the pancakes space. Even if you could crowd six pancakes into your pan, don’t. For one thing, you want to leave room for the spreading that will happen when the batter hits the pan. For another, you want room to navigate with your spatula, so that you can cleanly reach in and flip individual pancakes.
Finally, too much batter in the pan can affect the temperature, making it fall quickly. This means the pancakes won’t cook as rapidly, and may become heavy. Work on just a few pancakes at a time for best results.
- Carefully consider flavorings and fillings. Want to make creative pancakes? I’m all for it. But consider your fillings before you cook, and prepare accordingly.
For instance, is it something that needs to be cooked first, like bacon? Be sure the bacon is cooked, cooled, and drained before adding it to your pancake batter. Fruits should be pre-sliced before adding to the batter. Gooey ingredients, like cheese or chocolate chips, are best added once the batter is already in the pan, as it will keep things from getting too gooey. A little prep work goes a long way.
- Don’t fear the flip. While it might seem flippant (pun intended) at first, I think that the best way to approach the dreaded flip is simple: just do it. Reach under with the spatula, and flip quickly, not raising the pancake too high into the air.
It’s like the pancakes can smell your fear; if you hesitate while flipping, the weight of the pancake can cause breakage. Fearless flipping may seem scary at first, but with a little practice, the technique will come.
- Don’t stack the pancakes before serving. Many people start placing pancakes in a stack, ostensibly to keep them warm while the rest are cooked, before serving. Resist the urge! This can actually make the pancakes soggy because it traps in so much moisture.
For best results, place the pancakes on a wire rack so that they can “breathe” and won’t become soggy. Typically, making pancakes won’t take so long that they’ll get cold, but if they do, they can be reheated for a few minutes in the oven.
Conclusion: Delicious, perfect buttermilk pancakes are within every chef’s reach–really. Even if you’ve never made pancakes before, these tips will help streamline you through the “trial and error” phase. No, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be a whiz right from the get-go, but it does mean that you’ll have a leg up on the process. Armed with these tips and a little practice, you’ll be a buttermilk pancake prodigy in no time!
What is your favorite pancake topping?