If you've always just used all-purpose flour to make your pancakes, you're not alone, but Alton Brown swears by using part cake flour in addition to your AP flour. The result is a lighter, fluffier batter.
But that's not all. It's time to retire your measuring cups, at least where dry ingredients are concerned. The problem with measuring flour by volume is that many people accidentally compact the flour, meaning you could end up with as much as a full ounce more of flour than you really need for each cup you use. The way around this is to measure by weight. A cup of AP flour should weigh 4.25 ounces. A cup of cake flour, which is a little lighter, should weigh 4 ounces. See the King Arthur Flour master weight chart for more.
If you don't have a scale, make sure you're at least using the most effective method for measuring flour.
Buy the most expensive baking powder or baking soda (whichever your recipe calls for) you can afford, and replace it every six months. Old leaveners don't work well, and your results won't be as fluffy. For baking soda, once it's more than 6 months old, you can put it in the fridge to absorb odors. Both can be used for making natural cleaners as long as they aren't completely dead.
If your recipe calls for baking soda, you should have an acidic ingredient. The most popular one for pancakes is buttermilk. Don't substitute with regular milk! The combination of baking soda and acid produces a chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide, which contributes to the rise, and can neutralize the flavor (baking soda can have slightly soapy notes).
It's OK to make several batches of the dry mixture and store it in an airtight container for homemade pancake mix, but you shouldn't store the batter once the wet ingredients are combined. Once those leaveners come into contact with wet ingredients, they get to work, and if you save the mix for even an hour, that work will be done by the time you cook, meaning your pancakes won't be light and fluffy.
Pancake batter should be folded (not beaten) until it just comes together. If you overmix it, you'll work up the gluten, which leads to tough, chewy pancakes.
A cast-iron griddle (electric or pan) is the best choice for cooking pancakes because of the heavy material and heat-retention properties — oh, and the fact that it doesn't have sides to get in the way of flipping. But if you don't have one, use a heavy-bottomed pan with enough room to work (and don't overcrowd, which will lead to flipping issues). Remember: Well-seasoned cast-iron is almost as nonstick as nonstick, but if something bad happens, you can clean it more easily.
While butter does add great flavor, it's likely to burn while you're making the pancakes, as will vegetable oil. The key is clarified butter. When you remove the milk solids from the butter, you also reduce the burning potential because you increase the smoke point of the butter. Clarifying butter is easy and only takes about 15 minutes, and since you can store it in the fridge for about a month, make as much as you want. It's good for pan-frying fish too.
Not only should you wait until a few of the bubbles pop and the surface of the pancake starts to look lunar in places, you should learn proper flip form. This isn't a burger, people. Slide the spatula under the pancake, pick it up about 3 inches off the pan, and then it's all about a quick flip motion of the wrist. Keep that elbow anchored, and flip only the wrist… and quickly. That will reduce the batter-smear you so often see.
Even if you've made a recipe before, you should consider your first couple of pancakes a test. How's the heat on the pan? Are their any hot spots? Practice your flipping skills if you need to. The first three pancakes are the cook's to experiment with (then munch on while you cook). It's a rule. Look it up.
If you want traditional pancakes, 100 percent pure maple is the way to go, but that doesn't mean you have to stick to syrup. Berries, nuts and whipped cream are another go-to. You can even make your own homemade fruit purees. My personal favorite? Spread it with natural butter, schmear it with peanut butter, and top it with honey or agave nectar.
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