Genius Recipes

Better Buttermilk Pancakes With One Genius Ingredient Swap

The old switcheroo.

February 20, 2019

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Photo by Ty Mecham

These pancakes will taste richer, fuller, and more buttermilk-y in any side-by-side taste test—all thanks to one little ingredient switcheroo. And that might not even be my favorite part. My favorite part is how wrong I was.

When I saw the name “Buttermilk Mochi Pancakes” (1) in Cynthia Chen McTernan’s stunning new cookbook A Common Table, my brain jumped straight to mochi, and to chew (2): the pastel cushioning on the ice cream balls at my favorite Japanese restaurant, the sweet gummy bits on top of my frozen yogurt. And, while I love that classic mochi chew, I wasn’t sure how it would mesh with my bubbly-tender-fluffy buttermilk pancake ideal (3).

Photo by Ty Mecham

It turns out, it doesn’t. As Cynthia points out in the recipe’s headnote, even though her recipe swaps out half of the all-purpose flour for sweet rice flour, the point (and the effect) is not to mochi-fy the texture. “Interestingly, a bit of sweet rice flour mixed with all-purpose flour results in pancakes that aren’t dense and chewy like pure mochi is,” she writes. “Instead, they’re just the slightest bit softer and more tender, with a faint milkiness I like.

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I’ve done a side-by-side taste test here: The rice flour version does read subtly but definitively better (and disappears faster). By comparison, straight all-purpose just tastes a bit flat, so switching to rice flour is a little like leaving black and white Kansas and landing in Oz. Like listening to Queen perform at Live Aid, then remembering to take out your earplugs. Like learning how to salt your food to taste for the first time.

Photo by Ty Mecham

I was delighted to learn how wrong my assumptions had been, and what sweet rice flour could sneak in and do for my pancakes (and who knows what else!). And because the effect is working in the background and not entirely texture-redefining, it’s also quite flexible. When I haven’t been able to find sweet rice flour, I’ve grabbed other types of rice flour and seen very similar improvements.

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Top Comment:
“I used buttermilk. Poured hot ghee and maple syrup over top of pancakes.. what can I say? Heaven! Thanks, Kristen. You always feature great chefs and recipes. Keep it up!”
— Kim A.

This felt like discovering a secret superpower. My mom’s pancakes are the best, I could hear my daughter say, about five years from now. Except I won’t keep it a secret—I’ll tell her exactly where it comes from.

(1) You might notice that the ingredient list doesn’t even actually have buttermilk in it. That’s because Cynthia is working a brilliant hack—equal parts yogurt and milk behave just like buttermilk, for all those times when you don’t have a quart sitting in the fridge. (Of course you could just use buttermilk, if you’re better at planning ahead.)

(2) As Cynthia herself described mochi on Food52 in 2015: “A gentler incarnation of a marshmallow, it is subtly sweet and powdery pastel, with a hint of coconut and a pillowy-soft chew.“

(3) When I reached out to Cynthia, I was extra excited to hear that she’d learned this recipe’s trick for pancake-fluffing (separating, but not whipping the egg white) in this 2016 Genius Recipe for The Kitchn’s Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • arlene
  • NYMomette
  • Kim Alexander
    Kim Alexander
  • Joe Ambrosino
    Joe Ambrosino
  • Caroline R Bain
    Caroline R Bain
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


arlene April 5, 2020
Made these today and followed the recipe to a T - very easy and came out delish! I plan to make these again and again.
NYMomette February 25, 2019
Made these yesterday. They were definitely light and fluffy, but I'm not sure they're worth the effort of finding and buying the sweet rice flour.
Kim A. February 25, 2019
Its not any effort to get the rice flour. Its on Amazon, or its cheaper through Tokyo Market online. They are in California.
Kim A. February 24, 2019
Also, does everyone know they can freeze buttermilk? I do often and use whenever it's needed. This is an option if you don't want powder or to use yogurt.😁
Ocracoke I. February 24, 2019
Just buy this stuff
Ocracoke I. February 24, 2019
Oops, hit return, we use use this all the time in pancakes, breads, we can’t tell the difference.
MomInMaine December 21, 2020
Thanks...the powdered buttermilk was my first though...glad it works! Way easier than having to buy greek yogurt!
Kim A. February 24, 2019
Made these this am and ate til I was sick! These pancakes were awesome! Fluffy and light with great flavor. I used buttermilk. Poured hot ghee and maple syrup over top of pancakes.. what can I say? Heaven! Thanks, Kristen. You always feature great chefs and recipes. Keep it up!
Kristen M. February 25, 2019
Thanks so much, Kim—and wow, hot ghee and maple sounds incredible here.
Joe A. February 24, 2019
How about using “double zero” flour instead of rice flour? I’m guessing that the soft flour preferred by Italians for making pasta would achieve a similar result.
Kristen M. February 25, 2019
Hi Joe, I haven't tried it but it sounds fun to experiment with—the rice flour does bring a richer flavor as well as some softness, so that part might be missing.
Caroline R. February 23, 2019
I buy powdered Buttermilk and keep it in the refrigerator, never have spoiled in a carton. I find it works well.
Tashie February 23, 2019
I just made these. You can definitely taste the sweet rice flavor if you are familiar with eating mochis. Separating the eggs and adding the egg whites without whipping them is a game changer. We ate them with some sliced strawberries sprinkled with sugar, maple syrup and butter. Yes!!!
Heather B. February 21, 2019
If you do decide to use buttermilk, do you use 1 cup and leave out the 1/2 cup Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup milk? Thanks!
Ocracoke I. February 21, 2019
Ocracoke I. February 21, 2019
“Yogurt may be substituted for buttermilk, volume for volume, meaning 1 cup of yogurt may be substituted for 1 cup of buttermilk. In the reverse, you can usually substitute buttermilk for yogurt or sour milk on a one-to-one basis. Another option is "clabbered milk," a blend of milk and lemon juice or vinegar.“
Kristen M. February 22, 2019
Thanks, Ocracoke! Heather, in this recipe, Cynthia says to sub the milk and yogurt for 1 cup buttermilk, if you prefer that. But I bet straight yogurt would work fine here, too, and might make them even fluffier (now I need to find out!).
Eloisa M. February 20, 2019
Can you use white rice flour I was unable to find sweet?
Kristen M. February 22, 2019
Yes, in step 3 of the recipe there are a couple notes about substitutions, and other kinds of rice flour is one of them!
Cyndee R. February 23, 2019
You can find it on Amazon. 😊
Roger D. February 20, 2019
There's no buttermilk at all here. Don't call it buttermilk pancakes and then list "milk of your choice" as the ingredient. Why not just list "flour of your choice" too. Hard pass.
I'll continue to use the Alton Brown recipe which works, is specific, and contains (surprise) buttermilk.
Shannon L. February 20, 2019
Wow. You sir are a grouch. Why not try it? You might like it?
Ocracoke I. February 20, 2019
Ah, look at the original recipe, it does have buttermilk, buttermilk milk is a pain to buy, you never use it up before having to throw it away. The cup of Greek yogurt provides the acid for the baking soda to react, it also helps baking powder somewhat although heat is the main catalyst here. It’s a common practice for people not to use buttermilk and substitute a faux buttermilk with a little vinegar mixture, or yogurt. Both provide the chemical reaction and the sour taste.

It’s very common for a buttermilk recipe to not have buttermilk just because of the inconvenience.

I’m not sure what the rant is all about?

As I say I would substitute back in the buttermilk as we buy this stuff in dry form, keeps forever.

I would advise always to mix the dry separate, them the wet, then combine and leave the dough lumpy, don’t hesitate to then use the dough as soon as possible. You will be amazed at the thickness achieved.

As soon as the acid and the baking soda hit each other they start to produce CO2 gas, if you beat the dough smooth, you just beat out the gas. Don’t worry about the lumps, trust me, they will bake right out.

With recipes that call for water we substitute unflavored CO2 water.
Eric K. February 20, 2019
Hi Roger, thanks for the feedback. Did you read the whole piece? Kristen addresses this directly in the first footnote.
Roger D. February 21, 2019
If you live in the South, you're using that buttermilk in biscuits and chicken brine and not throwing it away. That's a lot of reach around to find a substitute for buttermilk.
Roger D. February 21, 2019
I'm glad buttermilk made the footnotes in the Buttermilk pancake recipe. I'll use a more authentic recipe that features the named ingredient instead of trying to replace or hide it.
Roger D. February 21, 2019
If you are going to insult me at least use proper punctuation.
Shannon L. February 21, 2019
Roger, I hope you find happiness in your standard Alton Brown recipe. Have a wonderful day.
MomInMaine December 21, 2020
Roger: if you don't like the recipe, just keep scrolling. It's a shame you have lived a life that leads you to think it is OK to be rude when someone is offering you something, for free no less. Everyone's tastes are different, and some of us are more willing to try something new.
Roger D. December 21, 2020
It’s always funny that those who recommend that others “just keep scrolling” never follow their own advice. What’s the word for that “Hippocrates”, “hippopotamus”, “hippocampus”?
Aw, it’s something like that.
Shannon L. February 20, 2019
Oooh, very cool. Can’t wait to try these! Also, do you have a good marshmallow recipe?
Kristen M. February 22, 2019
Thanks, Shannon! Here is an amazing DIY marshmallow tutorial from Erin McDowell, with a classic vanilla mallow recipe at the end:
Eric K. February 20, 2019
I love your mochi top. Where'd you get it?
Ocracoke I. February 20, 2019
You can get dried buttermilk in a can, WallyMart sell it, you have to hunt for it, lots of times on bottom shelf.
Sharon February 20, 2019
I've been using part oat flour in quick bread, muffin, and coffee cake recipes and enjoy the texture and taste benefits. An amazing little flavor trick for pancakes is to add a T or 2 of non-diastatic malt powder (made from roasted barley). Nice touch in cornbread, too. End flavor result is rather like you've added caramel.
Kristen M. February 20, 2019
Love these tips—thank you, Sharon!
Celia R. February 20, 2019
Is the egg white not beaten before folding in??
Celia R. February 20, 2019
Sorry! Just watched the video. Nice!
Kristen M. February 20, 2019
Yes, and here's more on why that works so well!
Celia R. February 20, 2019
fascinating! thx
Karen February 20, 2019
Pancakes sound wonderful. I’m wondering with the pancakes if you could use almond milk or oat milk? I can only take so much dairy.
Kristen M. February 20, 2019
Sure thing—if you need to seriously cut the dairy, you could try the vegan buttermilk substitute of plant-based milk + acid (e.g. a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar in a measuring cup, then fill up to the 1 cup line with the milk & let sit for 5-10 minutes to get 1 cup vegan buttermilk sub). You might lose out on some richness, but could compensate with a little more melted butter (or coconut oil).