Kitchen Hacks

A Genius Trick for Fluffier Buttermilk Pancakes (No Whipping Egg Whites!)

January 27, 2016

It's Sunday morning and you're out there on the internet again, looking for the fluffiest buttermilk pancakes. A lot of fancy recipes will tell you to separate your eggs, whip the whites, and fold them in gently at the end. This one isn't going to.

It's a move that makes sense—if you were to add more baking powder or soda, up to a point, you'd get more whiz-bang-pow puffiness in return, but also a chemical aftertaste that lays in wait under your maple syrup. I once tried a pancake recipe with a tablespoon of baking soda. It was super fluffy, and tasted like the inside of a locker.

This is why smart recipe developers have you add in a mechanical leavener instead of more chemical ones. That is: you, with your hands and your egg beaters, manually frothing up airy egg whites and carefully trapping them in your pancakes.

But I've often found that when I commit to whipping egg whites, they'll start strong, but by the end of a big batch of batter, they've deflated like a melted milkshake. Melted milkshakes do not make fluffy pancakes.

So you better believe I was intrigued when Food52 contributor Ali Stafford sent me this recipe for Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes, made famous on the Kitchn by longtime contributor Dana Velden. It promises fluff—but to get it, you stir in the egg whites at the very end. No whipping.

"My theory is that the original maker of this recipe was supposed to beat the egg white but either forgot or decided to skip the step. And, to be honest, laziness was the reason I thought I would try it, too," Dana, who's been making this recipe for over 15 years, told me. "I was more than willing to not beat egg whites at 7am."

I wanted to know what the Food Lab's J. Kenji López-Alt thought about this whipless egg white revelation, and he set me straight. "Have you actually tried side-by-side mixing the white in at the end vs. just mixing it in with the other ingredients to confirm whether it really ends up making the pancakes lighter or not?"

No, Kenji, because I'm not you! This time, I didn't cook the recipe to and fro. I just kept making pancakes and liking them. Is that so wrong?

Well, yes. So I tested and re-tested these in a few side-by-side-by-side sessions, adding in egg white at various stages: a. along with the yolk and the other wet ingredients (as nature intended), b. at the end (as this recipe intended), and c. whipped up to stiff peaks, folded in at the end (as many recipe developers intend).

I hoped that the Kitchn's lazy, lofty method would make noticeably fluffier and better pancakes than doing nothing. Otherwise, why should I tell you to separate an egg? In my wildest dreams, it would also dethrone whipped egg whites. Here's what I learned:

  1. Following this recipe, each of these egg white moments makes very good pancakes. They're tangy and pudgy and delicious, and have just a skosh more butter in them than other buttermilk pancakes out there. (Actually there's easily double the typical amount of butter—so ... just put less on top.)
  2. You want extra fluffy-good pancakes? Buy thick, local whole-milk buttermilk when you see it. You often won't have a choice, but when you do, take it.
  3. Whichever kind of buttermilk you use, thick or thin, stirring in the egg white at the end does give a noticeable puff and bounce to the cakes.
  4. In this case, whipping the egg whites did not make the pancakes any fluffier.

To understand what that relaxed egg white was up to, I turned next to Rose Levy Beranbaum, the author of the Baking Bible, and many more cake and pie bibles. "Adding the white at the end gives more support—this is a technique used in soufflés—adding a little of the white unwhipped at the end so that the soufflé doesn't deflate as quickly," she wrote back. "Whipping egg whites to soft or stiff peaks adds more air but also as the egg white cells enlarge, the membrane gets thinner and thinner and is more fragile."

So not only does a little egg white au naturel puff up the pancakes, it will do so consistently, from the beginning of the batter to the end.

Sunday morning, we have our fluffy, lazy buttermilk pancakes. And they don't even taste like a locker.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Food52 contributor Ali Stafford for this one!

Photos 8 and 9 (the obsessive ones with the blue tape) by James Ransom, all other photos by Bobbi Lin

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39 Comments

Julian September 7, 2017
How about no egg whites? I use no egg whites in my pancakes and only egg yolks. Using whole eggs implies that whole eggs are inherently the perfect proportion of fat to protein for baking when of course they aren't. Sure the extra protein from egg whites can add integrity to the batter and create larger holes in the crumb (similar to what gluten does to bread), but this also implies tougher, more rubbery (rubbery like cooked egg whites), and less tender pancakes. Aesthetically larger holes might mean "fluffier" but it doesn't necessarily equate with light and airy. My ideal pancake is light, airy, and hits the fat/salt/sugar trifecta.<br /><br />I use no egg whites, but appropriate levels of fat, baking powder, baking soda, and an acid in my pancakes and they turn out perfect every time. Because the pancakes will be more tender due to them having less protein, you should use slightly less butter/oil in your recipe since fat makes pancakes more tender. You should still use butter in the pan obviously for your buttery flavor on the outside.<br /><br /><br />I consistently use only egg whites when cooking bread products and if I want a truly bubbly crumb, I'll employ the kneading + bread flour method to get a light and airy crumb without the denseness that egg whites add.
 
Lea July 4, 2018
Please share your recipe!!!!
 
Julian September 7, 2017
How about no egg whites? I use no egg whites in my pancakes and only egg yolks. Using whole eggs implies that whole eggs are inherently the perfect proportion of fat to protein for baking when of course they aren't. Sure the extra protein from egg whites can add integrity to the batter and create larger holes in the crumb (similar to what gluten does to bread), but this also implies tougher, more rubbery (rubbery like cooked egg whites), and less tender pancakes. Aesthetically larger holes might mean "fluffier" but it doesn't necessarily equate with light and airy. My ideal pancake is light, airy, and hits the fat/salt/sugar trifecta.<br /><br />I use no egg whites, but appropriate levels of fat, baking powder, baking soda, and an acid in my pancakes and they turn out perfect every time. Because the pancakes will be more tender due to them having less protein, you should use slightly less butter/oil in your recipe since fat makes pancakes more tender. You should still use butter in the pan obviously for your buttery flavor on the outside.<br /><br /><br />I consistently use only egg whites when cooking bread products and if I want a truly bubbly crumb, I'll employ the kneading + bread flour method to get a light and airy crumb without the denseness that egg whites add.
 
Jude May 7, 2016
This seems overly complicated and they don't look that tasty tbh. No thanks. Buzzfeed brought me here and once again they missed.
 
booglix February 15, 2016
This was interesting; to incorporate the whites I had to stir the batter much more than I typically do for pancakes (since a raw, unwhipped white stubbornly clings to itself and tends to slide around in gobs). The pancakes that resulted were indeed super fluffy - almost too fluffy, in fact, as some puffed up so much that a layer of batter in the middle didn't cook properly! It also tasted a smidge like baking soda to me. So I made it again, cutting the baking soda and baking powder in half, and it was even better: still incredibly light and fluffy, with no aftertaste, and no raw layer. <br /><br />Secondly: you don't need this much butter. It's better with half the amount, and you'll feel less sick afterwards.
 
Jill February 3, 2016
Once for a cub scout breakfast --this is no joke-- no one brought milk but the scoutmaster happened to have a case of beer in the trunk of his car. We substituted beer for the milk in the recipe... you couldn't taste that it was beer but they were tangy and rich and UBERFLUFFY!!! Best seat-of-the-pants pancakes EVER. And no silly separate egg white whipping.
 
Margaret S. February 2, 2016
I never have buttermilk and if I bought it, it would go bad before I used it all. To compensate, I add a teaspoon or two of lemon juice to the milk to curdle it and imitate buttermilk. It works very well.
 
I_Fortuna February 2, 2016
There is a big difference between soured milk and cultured buttermilk which, by the way, is already "curdled". Buttermilk lasts a very long time in the fridge. I have had it last for months. I usually use it within a couple of months if I am in baking mode. I comes it quart size and can easily be used in a short time. Since it is cultured, it has a long shelf life and it provides this shelf life to the baked goods that it is added to unlike soured milk. <br />It is also good to drink. My sister in law used to drink it when she was pregnant. <br />Cultured foods are a whole other ball game. : )<br />
 
Karin B. January 15, 2017
I never have buttermilk because I drink it as soon as I get home if it is thick and rich and tangy.I will try those pancakes, they look good, the next time I buy buttermilk.
 
Carolyn B. February 2, 2016
I made these today and they were great. Light and fluffy just as promised. The only thing I changed was brushing the pan with bacon drippings instead of the oil it called for - I know it isn't the best thing for you but I love the flavor. Seems like this will be an easy recipe to cut in half too.
 
I_Fortuna February 1, 2016
My pancakes always come out fluffy because I add extra baking soda after the batter has set for awhile. Baking soda loses its punch if let to sit. Also, beer or club soda (seltzer water) can add a lot of fluff to your pancakes. <br />My advice"<br />Stop sweatin' the eggs. : )
 
Meredith M. February 1, 2016
If the whites are added as is (no beating at all to make them evenly liquid), don't you end up with globs of whites, especially if the eggs are very fresh?
 
Holly February 1, 2016
No, the instruction said to stir into the battery until smooth which I did. So no globs.
 
slothrop February 1, 2016
This recipe is very similar to "Half Inch High Buttermilk Pancakes" from David Waltuck's "Staff Meals", which uses the same technique of separating, but not whipping, the egg whites. I've been using it constantly since that book came out.
 
Mas J. February 1, 2016
I really enjoyed the recipe analysis. Thanks for all your hard work! I live in the UK where buttermilk is hard to find. What do you think about a straight swap for whole milk yogurt? When I lived in France, I discovered that every French mother has a recipe for yogurt cake (like a less fatty pound cake). Now that I have been abroad for so many years, I use yogurt so much more in baking. I have always wondered why buttermilk is the "go to" in the US? Why is it preferred, especially for pancakes??
 
I_Fortuna February 1, 2016
No buttermilk in the UK?!!!!!! I am shocked. I love the UK.<br />I use buttermilk for all my baked goods in the U.S. I makes for fluffier and more long lasting baked goods. It seriously improves the texture.<br />I think in the UK, you might just try soured milk. Add vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk and let sit for 5 minutes. It is a good substitute but not as good. <br />Maybe you can find St. Ivel cultured buttermilk that comes in a tube or Lowicz brand in a carton. There is also Sainsbury that comes in what looks like a yogurt tub. There is also Tesco in the milk aisle also in a tub not a carton.<br />It is best to buy cultured, it lasts longer in the fridge. Stay away from powdered, it just does work well.<br />You may not have found it because of looking in the wrong place or wrong container type. I bet you find it. It is much better than any substitute. : )
 
Lea July 4, 2018
I know this is old, but I use kefir or a 2/3 yougurt to 1/3 milk as an awesome swap for buttermilk and works perfect every time.
 
Holly January 31, 2016
After reading the article, I decided I needed to try it for myself. And it is WORKING!!! Even when they are cold and they stay fluffy!! Winnnnnerrr!!
 
El H. January 31, 2016
Can extra buttermilk be frozen? Living alone means milk based products often go bad before I am able to use them.
 
Laura415 January 31, 2016
Yes! You can freeze it in ice cube trays. Just measure how much each cube (2-3 tablespoons) is and use the number of cubes you need. You can also buy dried buttermilk which can be reconstituted. I sometimes sub in yogurt or the whey from drained yogurt. It is acidic (like buttermilk) and helps activate the baking soda which makes the pancakes rise more.
 
Liz W. January 31, 2016
I learned pancake art from my Gramma Gracie. She taught me to gently fold in my whipped whites. I end up with some blobs of fluffy white in the sizzling batter on my griddle. These blobs translate to sky high pancakes - don't even try to smash them all and create a "uniform batter" you aren't making a cake here. I can't wait to try this recipe though - not whipping? oh yeah!
 
Emily January 31, 2016
I can't stop wondering how anyone would know what the inside of a locker tastes like :)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2016
I used my imagination :) That metallic baking soda taste just doesn't belong.
 
erica T. January 31, 2016
So glad you posted this! I've been singing the praises of this recipe and swear by it! This is my go-to Sunday pancake recipe for a few years now. I've tried many recipes and this is my absolute favorite. My one tip to others...make sure to use the exact amount of liquid that the recipe ask for. Just a slight amount more of buttermilk and milk, makes a difference in texture of the pancakes. Spongier vs cake-like consistency.
 
FRANK January 31, 2016
I like this. Too bad a video couldn't be made.
 
Margaret S. January 31, 2016
I tried to send a quick fix about canned biscuits to the email address in the article and got the message that it was not a valid address. Sorry. Instead of spraying the pan, I buttered the bottoms. Came out browned and crispy buttery. Was just too lazy to make from scratch and forgot to spray the pan first. Make them this way all the time now.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 31, 2016
Thank you Margaret! I'll try that that next time I make my favorite super-easy 2-ingredient biscuits (though that would bring the total to 3 ingredients!): https://food52.com/recipes/34357-king-arthur-flour-s-never-fail-biscuits
 
decofoodie January 31, 2016
I forgot to add that letting the batter sit 20-30 minutes will help also.
 
decofoodie January 31, 2016
I have a reliable buttermilk pancake recipe, and I've never whipped white separately. Buttermilk is the key. Also, I add a tablespoon of corn meal and an additional tablespoon of melted butter. Gives a little bit of dimension that the usual pancake doesn't have. Manga!