Pancakes - what am I doing wrong?

Why is this simple breakfast food so difficult? Either the pan is too hot or too cold or too much butter (or should I use oil) or not enough. No idea, but I really struggle with the simple pancake. Oh and if using fruit like berries - should they be frozen or defrosted? CooksIllustrated must have tackled this at some point - right?

Summer of Eggplant


creamtea March 7, 2016
Here goes. Make sure the pan is hot enough by dipping your hand in cold water (or holding it under the faucet) and then flicking it over the pan. If the water drops scatter and sizzle, it's hot enough. Measure a little less batter per cake than you think you need--they spread. You can use a large metal spoon, but empty it onto the pan with the "point" down. Don't overcrowd the pan. You may find you can only make 2 cakes at a time (depends on size of your pan). Make fewer cakes at a time than you think can fit in the pan. If using blueberries, add them just after you've poured the batter into the pan (don't mix into the batter). When the bubbles pop and stay open and the edges of the cake look dry, that's when you flip--get your flexible spatula underneath and flip decisively to avoid smearing the batter. The second side cooks a much shorter time, and you can left an edge with the corner of your spatula to check for doneness. DO NOT DEFROST if you're using frozen blueberries. They'll turn watery. Adjust heat as necessary to avoid burning.
monkeymom March 7, 2016
I also had problems with pancakes but then I found the kitchn's pancake recipe:
I don't separate the eggs and they are plenty lofty as long as you don't overmix the batter. The real key to this recipe for me is that the butter is melted and stirred into the batter. When you fry the pancakes, you do it in vegetable oil (I use canola). The pancakes still taste tender and wonderfully buttery but using the oil helps the pancakes not burn as quickly. I like fresh fruit in my pancakes (my kids like chocolate chips) and think you could use either frozen or defrosted.
Sue March 7, 2016
In my experience you really can't go wrong with the Fannie Farmer recipe (and all of its variations), but agree it is important not to over mix the batter. Pan should have a thin coating of butter, but not more and I wouldn't use oil. As for temperature, keep playing with it. Medium on my stove works best. As for fruit, I say fresh if possible. If frozen, let them defrost first. Otherwise, I think you risk pockets of rawer butter around the cold fruit, or an overcooked pancake.
Ben M. March 7, 2016
I find with my griddle that I have a cold spot in the center so I am avoiding that area for pancakes. The moral is always use the same pan so you know how it cooks your pancakes. I also have a 2 oz ladle that I use for my pancakes that way they are always the same size.

I am curious are you using a pancake mix or all from scratch. I have noticed a HUGE (it really is that big) difference in my pancakes depending on which all purpose flour I buy. I tried a new brand when I last ran out and I don't like it. I even weigh my ingredients to be consistent.

My rule for pancakes is 1 T of fat per 1 cup (250 grams) of AP flour.
ktr March 7, 2016
In addition to all the great advice already listed here, I'll add that I've found it helpful not to crowd the pan. There is nothing worse than having a beautiful looking pancake and then discovering that you can't get the spatula between it and the side of the pan or another pancake easily. I normally get 2 pans going on the stovetop and cook 1 pancake at a time in each pan. A griddle works even better if you have one. Also you may want to pay attention to if you are getting hot spots on your pan. I try to keep my pancakes centered in the pans because otherwise they don't cook evenly.
LeBec F. March 7, 2016
soe, here's one i posted on 52:

LeBec F. March 6, 2016
i hope you feel better after reading these replies as I think they are correct and informative. Just a slight deviation from me- i use frozen raspberries with froen blueberries all the time. After your batter has spread out in the pan, you have a few minutes to distribute the frozen fruit(do NOT defrost it)on top. Wait for the bubbles and then flip them over to finish for a few minutes. Once you get comfortable with some basic ones, you can enjoy playing with them by adding different dry ingreds like oats or cornmeal, and yoghurt instead of buttermilk, etc. (lots of 52 recipes to inspire you to play!) My other counsel is to make them smaller than you want, because they will usually spread and get bigger. I confess that patience is not my strongpoint, so i often turn up the heat too high and get burnt bottoms, but no one complains and the maple syrup helps cover it up!

Voted the Best Reply!

CanadaDan March 6, 2016
I had a pancake problem for years before discovering I was overmixing... The key is to leave the batter slightly lumpy. Since I corrected that mine come out golden and puffy.
pierino March 6, 2016
Good pancakes aren't as easy as they sound. Measure your batter carefully. One rule of thumb is that the first one off the pan sucks. As the pan gets hotter, the more efficiently they cook. A helpful tool is a batter dispenser which allows you to measure out pancakes to just the right size. Better to use fresh fruit. Blueberries work best. Just drop them right into shaped cake and when bubbles form give them a flip. It's worth the effort to get the technique down pat.
702551 March 6, 2016
I assume Cooks Illustrated has covered this and I assume an Internet search would locate relevant articles.

For sure, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has covered this before for Serious Eats:

Since you only talk about the extremes of your failures (too hot, too cold, too much fat, not enough fat), one would assume you have not tried to do something in the middle.

For something very small like blueberries you can usually sprinkle the frozen ones immediately after you have put the batter into the pan or griddle. For larger pieces, you are better off defrosting them first and using them as a topping.

Good luck.
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