Introduction: How to Make Buttermilk Pancakes

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Golden, fluffy buttermilk pancakes make the perfect Saturday morning breakfast.  But this simple recipe makes perfect pancakes easy enough to whip up any day of the week!  A quick look inside the science of pancakes reveals the secrets to light-as-air, featherweight cakes with the perfect depth of buttermilk flavor.

The Science

There are two factors that contribute to fluffiness in pancakes - the gluten (in the flour), and how the baking soda reacts to the acid (in the milk).  

Gluten is made up of long proteins.  The proteins in dry gluten are all crazy and tangled - think of the strands of your hair after you wake up from a night of restless tossing and turning.   Adding a liquid to the gluten makes it easier for the proteins to arrange themselves.  Kneading or mixing the gluten then makes the proteins longer and easier to arrange, much like combing your crazy bed hair.  So the trick to keeping the gluten in the pancakes from getting too flat and elastic is not to over-comb your hair.  What?  Don't overmix the batter and the proteins won't get flat and chewy. 

Baking soda (in this case mixed with baking powder) makes the bubbles in the batter that makes the pancakes rise.  When the soda meets an acid, it creates carbon dioxide!  But when the carbon dioxide bubbles are stirred up too much, they pop and release their gas, leaving you with a flat mess.  So again, don't overmix your batter, or you'll release all the gas before it has a chance to fluff up your pancakes.  

Science is clearly telling us: for the fluffiest pancakes, don't overmix your batter.  
Stir just until the ingredients are incorporated.  The final batter should be lumpy with small streaks of flour visible.

makes 12 4" pancakes
  • 2 cups (250g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 (360mL) cups buttermilk - if you don't have buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon vinegar to a measuring cup, fill to 1 1/2 cups with milk
  • 1/2 cup milk (120 mL) (plus an extra tablespoon or so if batter is too thick)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons (60g) unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil (for brushing griddle)
  • Pure maple syrup (opt)

UPDATE: Thanks to comments by Instructablers Kojak and AmyLuthien, I have updated this recipe to remove the sugar (making it slightly healthier), and suggesting the use of an un-oiled cast iron skillet for cooking (even healthier still!).  Thanks for the great comments!

  1. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in medium bowl. In second bowl, whisk together buttermilk, milk, eggs, and melted butter. Make a well in center of the dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredient. Gently fold together with a spatula or wooden spoon until just combined (batter should remain lumpy with few streaks of flour). Do not overmix or science will make you sad Allow batter to sit 10 minutes before cooking for the soda + acid to work up some good gas bubbles.  
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Using paper towels, carefully wipe out oil, leaving thin film of oil on bottom and sides of pan to ensure even heat distribution. Keep the paper towels to re-oil the surface for the next batches. 
  3. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, pour batter onto griddle, making sure not to overcrowd. When pancake bottoms are brown and top surface starts to bubble, 2 to 3 minutes, flip cakes and cook until remaining side has browned, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Re-oil the skillet and repeat for the next batch of pancakes.
  4. To keep pancakes warm while cooking up the next batch, transfer cakes to a baking rack on a cookie sheet and keep in an oven set to 200F.  If you put them directly on the cookie sheet, or on a plate wrapped in foil, the pancakes will get soggy as the steam is released from them. Give them air, keep them warm, and they'll taste as good as the batch fresh off the griddle!

Use the batter within one hour of mixing, or the baking soda/powder mixture will expend its gas-making powers and leave you with flat, dense pancakes.   If you can't eat them all in one sitting, fry them up, let them cool, and freeze them for later!  

Top with fresh butter and maple syrup.  Enjoy!

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