The Ultimate Guide to Pancakes

The word pancake appeared in print as early as 1430. It is believed that the Romans, in the 1st century AD, ate sweet and savory dishes resembling the pancake made out of milk, flour, eggs, and spices. Around the 15th century is when people started adding ingredients such as wheat, buckwheat, or cornmeal.

Pancakes, mainly known back then as johnnycakes, flapjacks, or hoecakes, were mentioned in Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, which is a cookbook that many consider as the first all-American cookbook. It was published in 1796 and featured a recipe that calls for milk, “Indian meal,” and molasses. Even Thomas Jefferson was known to be a huge pancake fan and sent a recipe home from the President’s house in Washington DC. It is thought that what Jefferson was referring to was probably what we would consider a crepe in this day and age and what we consider a pancake was called a griddle cake back then.

Today, pancakes can be found everywhere in our culture. From dive diners in tiny towns to upscale restaurants in metropolitan cities making unusual twists to the patties, the life of a pancake is thriving. Current pancake trends in the U.S. consist of savory pancakes, which made the cover of Bon Appétit magazine in the form of "Savory Dutch Babies" earlier this year. Another example of this trend is the widely popular State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, which currently features three pancake dishes every night. The house signature cake is a sourdough batter flavored with sauerkraut, topped with whipped ricotta and Romano cheese. Across the country is Chez Sardine in New York City that serves stacks of pancakes layered with fish tartare, garnished with salmon and spicy yogurt.

Pancakes aren’t just popular in America either. Thin, translucent pancakes called crepes originated in France but are also known in Hungary as palacsinta and in Italy as crespelle. The batter tends to be much thinner than the American version we are used to and you’ll find both sweet and savory fillings in them.

Blintz (also known as blinchiki or blini) is derived from Eastern Europe. Although its characteristics fluctuate between regions, it is a yeasted batter usually made out of buckwheat, wheat, or millet flour that then gets mixed with milk or water after it’s left to rise.

Dosa is the savory crepe-like pancake found in South Asia and is made from a fermented batter of soaked rice and urad dal (similar to lentils). Arepas are traditional Venezuelan and Colombian cornmeal patties that are often stuffed with cheese. Hotteok is a Korean street food version made from sweetened yeast dough that is left out to rise and then stuffed with syrups, caramels, and spiced nuts. Roti is found across South and Southeast Asia and are similar to what we may think of as flatbread.

  • Q: What does buttermilk do to pancake batter?

A: Many pancakes from around the world are left to ferment for a slightly sour tang. Here in America, our version of that is including buttermilk in the recipe. This acidic ingredient helps keep baked goods moist and tender by breaking down long, tough strands of gluten. Buttermilk also works with baking soda to act as a leavening agent to produce carbon dioxide gas, which helps the batter rise.

  • Q: What's the difference between pancakes and crepes?

A: The main difference between pancakes and crepes is that pancakes have a leavening agent (baking soda or baking powder) in the batter to help it rise while crepes do not. The result is thick, fluffy pancakes while crepes remain thin and will spread very thin when transferred to a skillet for cooking. There are more differences than that, of course, so find out out what those details are in our full Nagging Question article.

  • Q: How long can you save pancake batter in your fridge?

A: Pancake batter can last in the fridge, sealed in an airtight container, for up to two days or in the freezer for up to three months.

  • Q: What makes pancakes fluffy?

A: The leavening agent found in pancakes is what is going to help it rise into thick patties. To make sure your pancakes end up fluffy instead of overly chewy, make sure you aren’t over-mixing the batter. If you over-mix the batter then the gluten from the flour will react and give you a chewy result.

Cooking Pancakes At Home

If you are planning to make pancakes, you’ll need to make sure you have these basic ingredients on hand: flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, eggs, buttermilk, and butter. The flour is the main component of the pancake and it’s what reacts with the liquid ingredients to form a batter. The sugar will help sweeten the batter slightly so you don’t end up with bland pancakes and salt will help bring out the flavors. Baking powder is essential because it’s the main leavening agent so you end up with thick and fluffy patties. Buttermilk will moisten the mixture to turn it into a liquid batter and butter is going to help it brown.

For best cooking results, use a pan or griddle on a stovetop. Make sure the pan is heated up before adding butter or oil so the pancakes don’t spread too thin when poured.

To store leftover pancakes, wrap in foil or plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out, and refrigerate within two hours of making them. These leftover pancakes should be eaten within a day. To freeze, place sheets of wax paper between each pancake and place in a sealable freezer bag. These pancakes can be stored in the freezer for up to two months.

And finally, here are a few key tricks and tips to keep in mind when cooking up your next batch of flapjacks:

It’s important to make sure your baking powder is no more than six months old, or else they may not rise correctly.

As mentioned earlier in the article, be careful not to over-mix, so you end up with fluffy pancakes instead of chewy.

It’s time to flip your pancake when the bubbles that appear on top of the batter pop.

Avoid making the batter ahead of time as the leavening agent starts interacting with the ingredients right away and you will end up with less fluffy pancakes.

For more, check out 23 Pancake Hacks and Tricks That Will Change Breakfast Forever. Now that you are ready to whip up a batch of your own, here are seven essential pancake recipes (plus one bonus recipe!):

1. Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Chowhound

Here is a traditional buttermilk pancake recipe for you to try out with all the new techniques you learned in this article. The batter is studded with blueberries and the cooked patties are drizzled with maple syrup. Bookmark this staple recipe for your next lazy morning around the house. Get our Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes recipe.

2. Boxty (Irish Potato Pancakes)

Chowhound

Boxty is an Irish pancake that is made up of a mixture of mashed and grated potatoes, which results in an unusual texture. The ingredients are fairly basic, which allows it to pair nicely with almost any dish. Its simple ingredients also make it suitable for breakfast or dinner. Get our Boxty recipe.

3. Dutch Baby Pancake

Chowhound

Dutch Baby pancakes can seem intimidating at first, but if you have a cast iron skillet and know how to make pancakes, you can make this recipe! This recipe is flavored with citrus zest and topped with caramelized pears. Don’t forget the powdered sugar to sprinkle on top! Get our Dutch Baby Pancake recipe.

4. Potato Latkes

Chowhound

These savory potato latkes stray from the traditional pancakes we are used to, as the main ingredient is potato instead of flour. These hearty fried cakes are for more than just Hanukkah and will warm you on any chilly evening. Serve them warm, topped with sour cream or applesauce. Get our Potato Latkes recipe.

5. Buckwheat Pancakes with Fresh Blueberries and Maple Syrup

Chowhound

The secret trick in this recipe is to fold the egg whites in for an extra fluffy batter that yields lighter pancakes. The buckwheat flour in this recipe gives the cakes a nutty flavor while the blueberries bring sweetness to the cakes. Get our Buckwheat Pancakes recipe.

6. Sweet Potato Pancakes

Chowhound

These slightly sweet pancakes are perfectly flavored with sweet potatoes and nutmeg. The flavors work particularly well with maple syrup and they are the perfect fall treat. Get our Sweet Potato Pancakes recipe.

7. Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Chowhound

This recipe is not to be missed! Swap out buttermilk with fresh ricotta for an extra airy pancake. Lemon zest brings a bright flavor to these cakes. Get our Lemon Ricotta Pancakes recipe.

BONUS! Apricot Pancake Syrup

Chowhound

The perfect pancake is not worth making if you don’t have the right toppings to accompany it! We have you covered with this simple apricot syrup that’s meant to be enjoyed on a stack of pancakes (or waffles). The syrup has a slight bite from the ginger that is irresistible. Get our Apricot Pancake Syrup recipe.

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