Cooking Tips

What’s the Secret to Fluffy Pancakes? Ask Matthew

The one thing you’re probably doing wrong with your pancake batter.   

Published Sept. 9, 2022.

How do I make fluffy pancakes? Mine always tend to fall flat.

—Rachel E. Dando

Dear Rachel, 

Congratulations. You’re asking one of life’s great questions. And I’ve always felt that the best place to look for answers to life’s great questions is . . . you guessed it, poetry. After all, I did begin my career as an English teacher. 

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So allow me to start answering your question by (mis)quoting a famous Robert Frost poem that he wrote about fixing walls on his farm (clearly a metaphor for making fluffy pancakes). It goes a little like this: “something there is that doesn’t love a lumpy batter.” 

Or to be a bit more direct, someone there is (you) that needs to learn to love a lumpy batter. 

I know, I know. It’s just so tempting to keep stirring until that batter is smooth. But as aesthetically pleasing as that smoothness is, it is the enemy of tender, fluffy pancakes. All that stirring has flattened your once light and airy batter and overdeveloped the gluten, leading you once again to thin, tough flapjacks. 

Leave your pancake batter lumpy

So take it from Robert Frost: “good fences make good neighbors” and good lumps make good pancakes. 

How Do I Make Fluffy Pancakes? Let Me Count the Ways.

  1. Swap out the milk for buttermilk. Compared to milk, buttermilk makes for loftier, fluffier pancakes. The acid it contains interacts with the alkaline baking soda to inflate the batter with extra carbon dioxide, and its viscous body produces a thicker batter that’s better at retaining those air bubbles throughout the cooking process.
  2. Leave the batter lumpy. Overstirring the batter deflates it and overdevelops gluten, in turn leading to thin, dense, tough pancakes. 
  3. Give the batter a rest. Letting the batter rest for at least 10 minutes allows time for the flour to fully hydrate (dissolving all those lovely lumps) and for the leavener to evenly aerate the batter.

In step number three above, rather than setting a timer, I suggest spending your 10 minutes listening to Tom Hiddleston read “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot. Out loud of course. It’s just the thing to evoke tenderness, both in your soul and in those pancakes. 

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And if you’re making my recipe for Malted Milk Pancakes (which you should be), you could also spend a few of those minutes stirring together the Nutella Maple Syrup that goes with it. Bathe yourself in poetry and work out all that pent up desire to stir until smooth. The syrup can take it. 

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