Genius Recipes

The Secret to the Lightest Pancakes I’ve Ever Tasted

Thanks to a Genius ingredient switcheroo.

September 18, 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.

If I whispered to you that the secret to the lightest pancakes ever was—shhhh—cottage cheese, you might be inclined to toss a 1980s diet book in my general direction.

But it’s true! Although it’s not quite that simple. The secret has to do not just with the squeaky, protein-rich cheese you choose, but with how much, as well.

Photo by Bobbi Lin. Food Stylist: Olivia Mack McCool. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

There are plenty of cottage cheese pancake recipes out there—give or take 25 million, in fact. There are three-ingredient and keto versions, and perfect cottage cheese pancakes for one. I even included an excellent recipe from Deborah Madison featuring sweet, winey pops of currant in the Genius Recipes cookbook.

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Top Comment:
“I made cottage cheese pancakes when I was in high school, and that was in the 60s. Delicious!”
— jpriddy

In all of these places, the mini curds of cheese bring tons of moisture and almost imperceptible blips of creaminess. And sometimes, when the curds skew large, a few sink down and kiss the pan, browning and sticking just a little.

But it’s this particular Genius Recipe, from the legends behind Cowgirl Creamery and Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Northern California, that makes the lightest pancakes I’ve ever tasted. It puts all its money on the cottage cheese and scales most everything else back—especially the flour, which would be a nonnegotiable pillar of most other recipes. There is five times as much cottage cheese as there is flour here, by weight.

Photo by Rocky Luten.

There’s also no standard chemical leavener, in the form of baking soda or powder, as a crutch. Instead, you will definitely have to whip egg whites (unlike in other Genius pancakes past (1)), but you’ll be rewarded when they meld with the cottage cheese to suspend the batter in air as if by magic.

The pancakes came from a decades-long collaboration between friends and iconic Northern California food destinations, starting when Bette Kroening and Sue Conley founded the Berkeley institution Bette’s Oceanview Diner in 1982. They would later write The Pancake Handbook with their friend Steve Siegelman in 1994.

“When I left to start Cowgirl Creamery in 1993, the first cheese we developed was Clabbered Cottage Cheese, and Bette used our cheese at the diner for the Cottage Cheese Pancakes, which became a popular Tuesday Special,” Conley wrote to me, saying that their extra-luscious cottage cheese was key (so aim for theirs if you can, or the richest cottage cheese you can find). “Seriously, it made a huge difference.”

Photo by Rocky Luten.

I will note that this is where light pancakes and fluffy pancakes part ways. Do not make this recipe expecting these pancakes to have any semblance of chew, as in the cakey, butter-soaked layers of a standard stack of buttermilk pancakes. Instead, you should expect almost-weightless tufts, self-contained mini soufflés, or, as I inarticulately describe in the video above, “like eating nothing.”

They will pouf in the pan and then deflate a little on the plate, but, as Conley explained, this is as it should be: “Even though they present as thin, flat pancakes on the plate,” she said, “they should be lighter than air.”

(1) See also these pancakes (where you don't have to whip!): The Kitchn's Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes and Cynthia Chen McTernan’s Buttermilk Mochi 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.

  • mary beth B durkin
    mary beth B durkin
  • Lisa
  • Ruth
  • witloof
  • Liz
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."


mary B. March 22, 2020
No sugar needed to draw out juice in your berries. Their loaded with sugar and moisture and if you heat them up and wait a bit they will be sauce before long.
Lisa September 27, 2019
Could I sub full fat for low-fat or nonfat cottage cheese?
Kristen M. October 1, 2019
Yes! Or ricotta. It will just be less creamy. Let us know what you think.
Lisa September 27, 2019
Could I sub full fat cottage cheese with low-fat or nonfat milk?
Ruth September 19, 2019
Would love to serve these during the holidays w/family, but it’s such a busy time, not sure if I can accomplish all steps and clean up, so I’m wondering if you can freeze these fluffy gems? Thank you!
Kristen M. September 19, 2019
I haven't tried it but it might work! Once they've cooled and deflated a bit out of the pan, they're pretty resilient. I'd give it a test run before the holidays though, to feel really confident.
witloof September 19, 2019
I've been making cottage cheese pancakes ever since I was a little girl. Mix two eggs with enough matzo meal to make thick batter, and then add about a quarter of a cup of cottage cheese, and a little vanilla and sugar if you like. Drop by rounded tablespoons into the pan. I have never bothered with conventional pancakes because these are so easy and delicious.
Kristen M. September 19, 2019
Love these instructions, witloof—definitely trying the next time I have extra matzo meal.
Liz September 18, 2019
I wonder what would happen if you cross this recipe with the mochi pancake recipe...
Kristen M. September 19, 2019
Very intriguing—it would be fun to try these with some rice flour swapped in...
susan H. September 18, 2019
My mom made these when I was a kiddo and her mother made them before her, and I still make them. The only thing that my mom (and I do too) does differently is that we put the cottage cheese through a sieve to make it smooth.
Kristen M. September 19, 2019
Great tip for those who aren't into the mini pockets of cheese—thanks!
jpriddy September 18, 2019
I made cottage cheese pancakes when I was in high school, and that was in the 60s. Delicious!
Kristen M. September 19, 2019
Love that these are such a cult favorite!