100 Techniques

Technique #35: Go Lumpy for Fluffy Pancakes and Muffins

Under-mixing your batter has more benefits than you might think.

Published Sept. 27, 2023.

This is Technique #35 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

Each technique is broken into three sections: why it works, key steps, and recipes that use it. Learn these recipe building blocks and you'll be set up for a lifetime of cooking success.

Jump to a Section

Tender, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth pancakes and light-as-air muffins just about always sound like the perfect weekend breakfast. Boxed mixes always lead to buyer’s remorse since they turn out flat, spongy, bland pancakes and dry, artificial-tasting muffins.

It’s almost just as easy, and far more delicious, to make from-scratch pancakes and quick breads using one simple technique: leaving the batter lumpy.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

Benefits of Lumpy Batter

It works for a different reason than you might think. You may have read that overmixing quick-bread batters causes gluten to develop, resulting in dense, rubbery pancakes and quick breads. However, we’ve found over years of testing that such batters are thin enough that thorough mixing doesn’t actually contribute to toughness.

Rather, creating light, fluffy pancakes and muffins has to do with batter texture and hydration. A batter is more viscous when it’s lumpy than when it’s smooth, since the lumps prevent water from flowing and the mixture from spreading. 

Lumpy batter is also better able to hold onto air pockets during cooking, further contributing to height. So, gently stir batter so that lumpy pockets of flour remain, ensuring height in your baked goods. For pancakes, let the batter rest briefly after mixing to allow the unmixed flour pockets to hydrate slightly (a step that is not necessary with, for example, blueberry muffins, which have additional hydration from fruit).

600+ Sweet Recipes!

Desserts Illustrated

Part cookbook, part handbook, Desserts Illustrated is the last word on the last (but definitely not the least) course. We far exceed previous explorations of the world of sweets, teaching all types of candies, custards, frozen treats, and fruit desserts in addition to a bounty of baked goods.

Benefits of Two Leaveners

Leavener plays an important role as well. Quick breads may call for baking powder only. But baking soda is another fast-acting leavener that is a key to success in baked goods: Pancakes, for example, rely on its saline tang and can be noticeably flat-tasting without it. It also helps food brown more deeply and quickly (baking soda increases the pH of the batter, which speeds browning reactions). 

Our pancakes take advantage of both leaveners.

Benefits of Oil

As for the choice of fat, butter lends richness and flavor, but also moisture because of its water content. Oil, on the other hand, contains no water and is able to completely coat flour proteins and restrict them from absorbing unwanted liquid. 

For muffins and quick breads, we might use a combination, but for our pancakes, we save the butter for topping our sky-high, golden breakfast treats.

Step by Step: How to Make Fluffy Pancakes

Follow these simple steps for perfectly fluffy pancakes every time.

Step 1: Whisk Dry Ingredients

Whisk dry ingredients together in bowl.

Step 2: Whisk Eggs and Fat

Whisk eggs and fat together in another bowl.

Step 3: Whisk Dairy into Egg Mixture

Whisk liquid components into egg mixture.

Step 4: Fold Wet Ingredients into Dry Ingredients

Gently stir or fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients so that lumpy pockets of flour remain.

Step 5: Let Batter Rest

For pancakes, let batter rest before cooking so that unmixed pockets hydrate slightly; batter will fall from spoon in clumps rather than streaming off in thin ribbons.

Step 6: Make Your Pancakes

Cook up pancakes to sky-high perfection.

Watch Cook's Illustrated's Andrea Geary demonstrate how to make Deluxe Blueberry Pancakes.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Ready to give lumpy batter a try? Use it one of these five recipes.


Easy Pancakes

Put down the box mix. You've got everything you need to make tall, fluffy pancakes in minutes. No special ingredients or equipment required.
Get the Recipe

Banana-Walnut Muffins

Want to use up those overripe bananas? In less than an hour, you can turn that dark-speckled bunch into impressively tall, fluffy, fruit-packed muffins.
Get the Recipe

Deluxe Blueberry Pancakes

Fresh fruit and a diner trick take the most beloved of flapjacks to the next level.
Get the Recipe

Apple-Cinnamon Muffins

It’s a simple idea—muffins with bright apple flavor—so why was it so hard to get right?
Get the Recipe

Strawberry-Vanilla Pancakes

No box. No premade mix. Just as easy.
Get the Recipe

Ready to learn another technique? Choose from our list of 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

This is a members' feature.