What’s better than waking up to a tall stack of pancakes dripping with syrup and butter? Nothing, as long as they’re worth waking up for: evenly cooked, fluffy, and tangy.
But achieving the perfect pancake—especially early in the morning, when you’re half asleep and waiting for the coffee to kick in—takes a bit of finesse. To keep them as light as possible, the key is to not overmix the batter. If you strive for a completely smooth batter, you’ll overmix it and turn the pancakes tough and chewy.
Above: A Pale, Gummy Pancake (left) versus a Perfect, Fluffy Pancake (right)
The pan’s heat is just as important as the batter. A skillet that hasn’t been allowed to heat up properly will produce pale, gummy pancakes, while a pan too hot will result in ones that are dark and unevenly cooked. If you aren’t sure how hot your skillet is, test it by cooking a small pancake to get the lay of the land. What’s one sacrificial dollop of batter if it ensures a tray full of perfectly cooked pancakes?
1. Make a well: Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the buttermilk mixture into the well, and gently whisk together until just incorporated. We like using this “well” method when making liquidy batters, because it helps incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry without overmixing.
2. Leave some lumps: When whisking the batter, be careful not to overmix it—the batter should actually have a few lumps. Overmixed batter makes for dense pancakes.
3. Get the skillet hot but not scorching: Heat an empty 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. If the skillet is not hot enough before cooking the pancakes, the pancakes will be pale and dense. Knowing when the skillet is hot enough can take some practice; if you’re not sure if the skillet is ready, try cooking just one small pancake to check.
4. Brush lightly with oil: Before adding the batter, brush a thin layer of oil onto the pan. If you use too much oil, the delicate cakes will taste greasy and dense. If you don’t have a pastry brush with heatproof bristles, just use a small wad of paper towels dipped in oil.
5. Use a ¼-cup measure: Add the batter to the skillet in ¼-cup increments (2 or 3 pancakes will fit at a time). Using a measuring cup ensures that the pancakes are the same size and that they cook at the same rate. Don’t crowd the pan or the pancakes will run together and be difficult to flip.
6. Flip when you see bubbles: Cook the pancakes on the first side until large bubbles begin to appear, about 2 minutes. The bubbles indicate that the pancakes are ready to be flipped over. If the pancakes are not browned when flipped, the skillet needs to be hotter; alternatively, if the pancakes are overly browned, turn down the heat.