Weeknight Cooking

How to Make Pancakes Without a Recipe

June 23, 2014

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Dads have monopolized pancakes long enough. Reclaim pancakes as your own, and then customize them however you want.

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Wily fathers, as Nicholas Day once revealed, have managed to mark weekend breakfasts as their personal territory. Just say the word "pancakes" and watch as the eyes of those around you glaze over: They're picturing a dad, undoubtedly wearing Tevas and high-waisted cargo shorts, standing at the stove at 11 AM on a Sunday morning, watching batter frying to a golden-brown in hot butter. Maybe Seinfeld is playing on the TV. Maybe NPR is on the radio. (Or maybe this is only our imagination.)

But Dads have plenty of other things: They have baseball, they have math homework, they have terrible jokes. Father's Day is over, so we don't feel bad about saying that it's enough with the Dad monopolies, already. (Sorry, Nicholas). It's time for the mothers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, and childless people of the world to reclaim pancakes as their own.

More: 2 breakfast classics we're reclaiming over at Provisions? Iced coffee & donuts.

Let's face it: There will come a time when you want to eat pancakes and you can't locate a dad willing to make them for you. But there's no need: It's not that hard to make pancakes yourself. You don't even need a recipe and you can add as many chocolate chips as you'd like.

While we can tell you how to make any pancakes you want, we can't exactly tell you how to flip them. (Maybe you should call your dad for that.) 

How to Make Pancakes Without a Recipe

First, commit your master ratio to memory: 1 cup flour : 1 cup milk : 1 egg. This should be easy to remember, even before your morning coffee. Once you have that down pat, you're ready to get started.

1. Start by whisking together your dry ingredients. For every cup of flour you add, you can expect to feed 3 to 4 people. Use either entirely all-purpose flour or half all-purpose and half whole wheat. If you want multigrain pancakes, replace 1/4 of every cup of flour with rye or barley flour.

2. Add between 2 teaspoons and 2 tablespoons of sugar, depending on how sweet you want the pancakes. Next, throw in a 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. (You can even scale up this formula and keep homemade pancake mix in your pantry for faster pancake creation.)

3. Add some spice -- cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, whatever -- to the dry mix and stir to combine.

4. Now it’s time to gather your wet ingredients. You’ll need 1 egg and1  cup of milk for every cup of flour in your dry mix. If you’re vying for tangier pancakes that are still light and fluffy, consider a mixture of 3/4 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup milk, or use 1 cup of plain yogurt along with a couple of tablespoons of milk.

5. Pour in about 2 tablespoons of melted butter or oil, then add some energy to your batter with flavorings like vanilla extract or lemon zest.


6. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined -- this is one of those rare times in life when you want lumps.

7. Now's your chance to stir in ingredients for even distribution throughout the batter, such as sliced almonds, chopped walnuts, coconut flakes, or mashed banana.

8. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a pat of butter or a teaspoon of oil and let heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Scoop about 1/4 cup of batter onto the skillet.

9. Let the pancakes be, or adorn them with banana slices, chocolate chips, sliced strawberries, blueberries, or additional nuts. Cook the pancakes until they’re dry around the edges and you can see bubbles forming on the top. You will be impatient and the first one will be undercooked, but don't fret -- there are plenty more to come.

10. Flip with a spatula and cook until golden underneath.

Keep the pancakes warm in a 200° F oven until you’re ready to serve with butter, syrup, and/or whipped cream.

More: What does the perfect pancake mean to you and what are your tips for making them? Tell us in the comments! 

Photos by Mark Weinberg

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john August 15, 2023
sooooooooooooooooooo gooooooooooooooooood!!!!!!!
Thomerwald April 30, 2023
Ok, here's a dad to tell you how to flip your pancakes. Some variation occurs based on the thickness of the batter and the heat of the skillet. (Your results may vary).
Also, invariably the first one is the exception as the pan is still heating.
My secret? Watch the bubbles. What you watch for is when bubbles break and do not fill back in. Now you can use your experience with the previous pancake to gage, but generally wait until the bubbles stay open at least halfway to the edge. If you flip and it's on the light side, let more bubbles break on the next one. Another thing to do, on the first couple of 'cakes, you can gently lift the edge to see if it has started to brown. Two taboos to remember.
Only flip pancakes once! If you have to flip it twice you screwed up. Second, NEVER pat the top of the pancake with the spatula after flipping. Resist the temptation. After all, why would you want to make your pancakes less fluffy?
Finally, remember to set a good example and clean up your own mess when you're done.
SuzieQ May 20, 2022
Best pancake recipe ever. So versatile. Very tasty 😋
Richa C. May 17, 2021
can you please elaborate on which flour is to be used? https://vbucksinfo.com/arena-mode-fortnite
Janet C. August 25, 2015
Doesn't matter what your batter is. For light, tender, fluffy pancakes, separate the egg(s). Add the yolk(s) with the other wet ingredients. Beat the white(s) 'til stiff, then fold in last.
D June 1, 2015
It's still a recipe.... easiest way is with Bisquick or your own homemade biscuit mix
witloof September 9, 2014
Easiest, most delicious pancakes ever: Break two eggs in a bowl. Add a blob of cottage or farmer cheese, or just leave it out. Slowly beat in enough matzo meal to make a very thick batter, then thin it a bit with some milk. Salt if you like. A bit of sugar if you like. A bit of vanilla if you like, if not, not. Slowly fry them until golden brown in butter or oil.
Levent July 5, 2014
My recipe for "sunday morning fluffy pancakes" is below:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon powdered vanilla extract
2 tablespoon chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon dried raisins
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 eggs
Stir vigorously dry ingredients then add the rest. Stir for another 3-4 minutes until you see constant small air bubbles in the mixture. Only "wet" your pan with olive oil and begin to cook your pancakes in regular way. Bon appetit
Celia L. June 30, 2014
I have been using this same ratio too, it simplifies my life and the pancakes always come out well. I always use something acidic (buttermilk, kefir, lemon+milk, or yogurt) in the liquid portion and use baking soda for a fluffy result.
Florence J. June 30, 2014
Dads have baseball and math homework? Groan.
AntoniaJames July 4, 2014
I agree. Very disappointing. ;o)
Luvtocook June 30, 2014
I've been making pancakes for over 50 years with almost the same recipe as given here but add a few tablespoons of canola oil to the batter and none to my well-seasoned cast iron skillet or grill. I use buttermilk/baking soda for higher and fluffier pancakes. The pancakes pictured here (fried in butter) really look flat and greasy. We add butter when we serve them, not before.
Kekawaka June 30, 2014
You can use self-rising flour to simplify this even further. I sometimes use King Arthur SR flour, and find I can substitute up to about 20% whole grain flour without noticeably affecting the lightness of the finished product.

Speaking of which, I just realized that if I learn the ratio for self-rising flour, I'd be prepared to make many baking powder/soda leavened things without a recipe. I'm surprised Ruhlman didn't think of that. Maybe I'll drop him an email. ;-)
cookinalong June 29, 2014
This is an interesting article, but I really don't get the concept behind the "...Without a Recipe" series. The articles all contain recipes, they're just in text form instead of in the traditional format.
DragonFly June 29, 2014
I make my pancakes exactly the same as did my mum. I will add a banana or a handful of blueberries topped with nice organic maple syrup.
Steffanie June 29, 2014
To avoid both overmixing (=tough pancakes) and lumps, the french let their crepe mix wait an hour or so before using it. I just mix up my ingredients in reverse. 1 egg per person + 1, mixed with a tablespoon of suger + some vanilla, then enough flour so it looks a bit heavier than waffle batter, finally milk until is is runny. Makes a well-loved family recipe somewhere between crêpes and pancakes.
Greg July 19, 2014
Please go through your recipe again in more detail. I like the concept of a "crepes" like "pancake" I don't enjoy the usual light, thick type.
Jill June 24, 2014
My boyfriend has a mini-freakout anytime I cook without a recipe...I'm like, "DUDE, don't worry, I got this!" haha.
ATG117 June 23, 2014
Isn't this a recipe?
AntoniaJames June 24, 2014
It's a ratio. Makes me think that the not-recipe editorial staff could spin out Ruhlman's book for about a year. I'm curious if that was the inspiration for this post. ;o)
chantalemarie July 13, 2014
Maybe for the inspiration, but the ratio is quite different. His uses less liquid and twice the baking powder.
IsabelleG June 23, 2014
What's the science behind having lumps in the batter? Why are they a good thing?
Zim June 23, 2014
it means you did not overwork the flour in the mix thereby creating too much gluten and tough pancakes.
Ashley June 23, 2014
I think tonight I will have breakfast for dinner. My favorite add-in for pancakes is creamed corn. Some may think it odd, but I love it. :-)
AntoniaJames June 23, 2014
What's your trick for making the second and third batches, when you add chocolate chips, berries, etc. that leave stuff behind on the pan? Do you wash and dry the pan and add new butter for each batch? Thanks. ;o)
Sarah J. June 23, 2014
I tend to take the casual route and just add another pat of butter with each new round of pancake batter (and I've never encountered scorched chocolate or berries), but I'm really curious to know if you've had problems with this and to brainstorm a solution!
AntoniaJames June 24, 2014
Our blueberries tend to be quite juicy; when the pancake is flipped over, the heat of the pan and transferred during cooking causes the berries to release juice. That thick purple juice gets all over the pan and makes the next batch somewhat unsightly. Very interesting to hear that this doesn't happen to you. (The problem is not scorching so much as a very messy pan after each batch.) ;o) P.S. We generally don't drop the blueberries into the batter in the bowl because that makes the batter sort of greenish. We usually dot them on the pancakes as they are cooking on the first side.
David W. June 25, 2014
Why not go with the omelet cook's solution? When you need a clean pan, wipe the pan out, put some butter in it and go.
Sarah J. June 29, 2014
I also almost always add the blueberries as the pancakes are cooking rather than to the batter, also.