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I've never been shy about my obsession with waffles (I have recipes for both overnight yeast-raised waffles and ultra-fast buttermilk waffles here on Serious Eats), but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the beauty of a perfect pancake.
There are lots of different ways to make them, from delicate crepes to outrageously thick Japanese pancakes, and every style in between (and there are a lot of pancake styles around the world). But even with classic American pancakes, there are so many different routes to the same destination: a stack of tender, fluffy pancakes that are golden brown on the outside and wonderfully light on the inside.
Thanks to Kenji, we already have a great recipe for buttermilk pancakes made with whipped meringue, so I wanted to develop a completely different sort of recipe. Not to be a contrarian, but because different occasions merit different recipes, ingredients, and techniques.
Some folks may not have buttermilk on hand. Others may not want to deal with whipping up a meringue on a quiet morning. Some might even wake up a touch hungover and struggle to delicately fold the batter and meringue together in the wee hours. And some of us may just want the laziest possible, Bisquick-style route to pancakes: Splash some milk into a bowl, crack in an egg, add the mix, and you're done.
Like Kenji, I start things off with a homemade pancake mix, but instead of combining the dry ingredients alone, my mix contains oil as well. Not liquid oil, mind you, but refined coconut oil—an odorless, flavorless, solid fat. This simplifies the process overall, leaving you with one less ingredient to measure out on a sleepy Sunday morning. More importantly, it coats the flour in fat.
Think of the coconut oil as a sort of rain jacket for the flour, slowing the hydration process. This, in turn, limits the mingling of the two key proteins—glutenin and gliadin—needed to form gluten. In and of itself, gluten formation isn't something we want to avoid; that network of gluten strands is what gives structure to baked goods. If allowing it to form was inherently bad, bakers would have switched to gluten-free formulas long ago.
The problem (in this or any other quick bread) is excessive gluten formation. When the gluten network is too strong, it can tighten a batter up and restrict its rise, leading to a texture that's gummy and dense, or even tough. Adding a solid fat up-front reduces that risk, keeping the pancakes tender and light even when they're outrageously thick.
But don't worry, you can make them as thin as you like, and they'll still be fluffy, soft, and pleasantly crisp around the edges.
Whatever style of pancake you prefer, the basic mix remains the same: a combination of all-purpose flour, with a touch of sugar, malted milk powder, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and the aforementioned coconut oil. The amount of sugar and malted milk powder is slight, so please don't think these pancakes will be sweet or malty.
Rather, these ingredients amp up the rich and toasty flavor development, helping the pancakes to brown via caramelization and Maillard browning, respectively.
Baking soda also works to improve Maillard browning, resulting in a deeper sense of savory flavor and a multitude of aromatic compounds that improve the flavor of the pancakes. Here, it's baking powder that helps the pancakes to rise, expanding the air cells naturally present in the low-density batter. (If you can't keep them straight, check out Kenji's explanation of the difference between baking powder and baking soda.)
I initially combine the dry mix in a food processor, where it takes about 30 seconds to fully combine. Don't rush this step! Finishing the mix and, later, the batter, will involve minimal processing, so if the dry ingredients aren't well-combined at this stage, they'll make for mottled, poorly risen pancakes.
When the dry ingredients are well-combined, I add the solid coconut oil and pulse until it just disappears into a powdery mix—a few seconds at best. Don't overwork the mix! Success in this recipe absolutely hinges on keeping the coconut oil cool, solid, and dry, as powdery and fine as the sort of pancake mix you buy at the store.
That's why it's important to use a food processor; its sharp blade and ultra-fast rotations can rapidly transform the solid coconut oil and flour into a fine powder, keeping it light and dry. If you don't yet own one, check out our food processor review.
Blenders, stand mixers, and hand-mixers (or even our own bare hands) simply don't have this ability; other approaches will inevitably soften and warm the coconut oil, producing a damp mix that's dense and clumpy, rather than light and fine. A heavy mix makes for heavy pancakes, so if you don't have a food processor, a recipe like Kenji's Light and Fluffy Pancakes would be a better choice.
Again, different recipes and techniques for different occasions and different kitchens. The best recipe is the one that suits the ingredients and equipment you have on hand.
This is a recipe that takes advantage of a food processor's unique capabilities, plain and simple. It lets me whip up a jar of pancake mix that's better than anything I could buy at the store, and with it, I'm never more than five minutes away from a fluffy stack of pancakes.
In fact, it takes longer to preheat my electric griddle to 350°F than it does to make the pancake batter itself.
On that note, when it comes to making pancakes for a crowd, I am all about the ease and convenience of an electric griddle. My favorite model costs less than 40 bucks and is large enough to handle eight to 12 pancakes at a time, but slim enough to be stored away with my sheet pans. For me, it was a worthwhile investment for simplifying all my family brunches and holiday gatherings, but I won't begrudge anyone who's mastered the art of stovetop griddling! For more on their pros and cons, check out our review of the best electric griddles.
Whether you're old-school or electric, when pancake time rolls around, all that's needed is to crack an egg into a bowl of milk, add a splash of vanilla, and then whisk to combine before adding the prepared mix.
Keep whisking until the batter is smooth, although you'll notice a few flecks of coconut oil here and there. These won't be a problem at all; like flakes of butter in a biscuit, they'll melt out as the pancakes cook, creating little pockets of empty space.
The batter may seem alarmingly thick, especially if you're used to a runnier style, but that's what keeps the pancakes thick in turn. If you'd prefer a thinner style, that's okay, too—just add a bit of extra milk. This will change the yield of the recipe and some other small details—namely the batter consistency and how much it spreads—but the process remains almost identical overall.
The thick batter can be portioned out in whatever size or shape you prefer, but with a 1/3-cup measure or a #12 scoop, it will make about eight large, ultra-thick pancakes. The thin pancake batter works better in 1/4-cup portions and is easier to pour from a large measuring cup.
Alternatively, the thick batter can be portioned out with a disposable pastry bag, a handy way to pipe out fun, kid-friendly shapes, like hearts and stars, or uniform rounds.
The time needed to griddle each pancake will vary depending on their size and whether you opt to keep the pancakes thick or thin, as well as factors related to the size and heat of the griddle itself. But expect about 90 seconds per side for thick, 1/3-cup portions on a 350°F griddle.
Truth be told, there's no better way to judge a pancake than with your eyes, so don't hesitate to peek under the hood from time to time to monitor its progress. Whether thick or thin, look for an even, golden brown color from edge to edge.
Don't forget that the griddle's heat may need to be adjusted along the way. The idea is to get the pancakes evenly browned on each side at a rate that allows the middles to cook through. If the pancakes scorch before they can cook through, the griddle is too hot. If the pancakes remain stubbornly pale, the griddle is too cool.
It takes practice to get the hang of it (especially when it comes to self-regulating the heat of a stovetop griddle), but it's the most delicious sort of practice in the world.
I like to make and serve pancakes right away, but if you need to hold some in advance, slide them onto a wire rack. This can be placed in a low oven (around 170°F) or, in some cases, the rack will be slim enough to slip under the griddle itself, where the radiant heat will keep the pancakes warm.
Whatever style you prefer, slather those freshly griddled pancakes with loads of good butter and maple syrup, then kick back and relax. Without any noisy whisking for a meringue or the drone of a stand mixer, this simple pancake mix is just the trick for a quiet weekend morning.
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