Homemade Pancake Syrup Recipe

Out of syrup? No problem with this luxuriously thick and rich DIY version.

A bottle of homemade pancake syrup next to a stack of waffles.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik. Photograph: Vicky Wasik

Why This Recipe Works

  • A tiny amount of brown sugar is all you need for a rich and complex flavor.
  • Cream of tartar acts as a catalyst for acid hydrolysis, breaking a portion of the sucrose into fructose and glucose and making this syrup wonderfully smooth and thick.
  • Baking soda neutralizes the cream of tartar's acidity, so the syrup tastes deep and rich rather than tart or tangy.

I'd like to tell you I'm the sort of person who's tasted her way through every sugar shack in Vermont, that I know a guy who knows a guy across the border, that I skip past lesser grades in pursuit of the elusive "Canadian No. 3." I want to say those things because they're so much more romantic than the truth of my childhood in Kentucky, where Aunt Jemima was the norm.

To my picky, picky, much-put-upon palate, that sweet and simple supermarket syrup was bliss. Not so much because of its flavor, but because of the utter lack thereof—sticky, uncomplicated perfection that transformed my Eggos into a saccharine delight. While I've cultivated somewhat more discerning tastes through the years, I've never quite outgrown my nostalgia for the glorious neutrality of "Original Syrup" (as all such products are properly styled).

Which is why I've invested an obscene amount of time and sugar in perfecting the replacement you see here. Because, no, that isn't maple syrup in the photo above. It's a warm, made-from-scratch syrup of my own. Not brown sugar simple syrup. Not caramel. Not treacle, corn syrup, or molasses, just a quick combination of pantry staples assembled on the fly.

It's easy and cheap enough to make you think twice about ever settling for mass-market syrup again, and unbelievably handy in a pinch. Even if you're the sort of die-hard who smuggles maple syrup into your favorite diner, there are surely times you've found yourself between bottles of BLiS.

To make emergency pancake syrup, I start out by assembling what beekeepers would call a heavy syrup—one part water and two parts sugar by weight. A half ounce of that comes from brown sugar, adding a whisper of malty color and complexity without any domineering notes of caramel or molasses. There's plenty of salt for balance, and a little cream of tartar, too.

A collage of photos showing adding water to pot with sugars, bringing to a boil and wiping the sides down with a pastry brush, adding baking soda, and stirring.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik.

It's simmered until it's incredibly thick, during which time the cream of tartar serves as a catalyst for acid hydrolysis, a process that breaks down a portion of the sugar (pure sucrose) into molecules of glucose and fructose. These highly soluble monosaccharides help the super-saturated syrup resist crystallization, keeping it silky-smooth. Without cream of tartar, the syrup would recrystallize in a matter of minutes.

The downside is that cream of tartar has an acidic flavor, sharp and bright in a way that seems totally weird. So, in the final stages of cooking, when the acid has done its job, I throw in a pinch of baking soda (an alkali). It foams up furiously in response, neutralizing the acidic flavor in a steamy burst of carbon dioxide.

Technically speaking, that should be that. I've made up a syrup that's deliciously rich and thick. Trouble is, it's so thick, all that carbon dioxide can't actually escape, clouding the amber syrup with a million tiny bubbles.

The problem may be strictly cosmetic, but it's easily cleared away with a splash of water.

A collage of photos adding water, stirring, and watching the syrup become deep brown.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik.

That loosens the syrup enough for the gas to escape, and then, a moment later, the extra water is cooked away. With its luscious consistency restored, I season the syrup with a touch of butter and a few drops of vanilla, giving it a subtle but rich aroma perfect for everything from pancakes to French toast.

After it cools to an edible temperature, the syrup's ready to be served...or bottled up!

Pouring golden-brown syrup into a flip top glass bottle.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik.

From there, you could slip a cinnamon stick or an empty vanilla pod into the jar, or even a bourbon barrel chip if you're feeling fancy. But for me, the syrup's charm lies within its childlike simplicity—a clean yet earthy sweetness that brings out the best in my favorite waffles, letting their inherent flavor shine.

Since the syrup isn't fully inverted (which would require an industrial setting), it may show some crystallization if refrigerated over a period of time, much like an old jar of honey forgotten on the shelf. In my experience, this is a very subtle thing, no more than a thin layer of sugar along the bottom of the glass. It's easily avoided because it sticks to the bottle, but, should any crystals happen to slip through, they'll be quickly warmed away.

A plate of waffles with a pat of butter with syrup being poured over the top.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik. Vicky Wasik

So, whether your heart belongs to maple or Mrs. Butterworth, don't let a lack of syrup derail the breakfast of your dreams! With this recipe in your repertoire, sweet salvation is at hand.

April 2016

Recipe Details

Homemade Pancake Syrup Recipe

Active 15 mins
Total 20 mins
Serves 6 to 8 servings
Makes 12 ounces

Out of syrup? No problem with this luxuriously thick and rich DIY version.


  • 5 ounces water (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons; 140g)

  • 9 ounces granulated sugar (1 1/4 cups; 250g)

  • 1 3/4 ounces light brown sugar (3 tablespoons; 50g) or 1/2 ounce dark brown sugar (1 tablespoon; 14g) (see notes)

  • 3/4 teaspoon (3g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight

  • 1/4 teaspoon (1g) cream of tartar

  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • 2 ounces water (1/4 cup; 55g)

  • 1/4 ounce unsalted butter (1/2 tablespoon; 7g)

  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Combine water, sugar, brown sugar, salt, and cream of tartar in a 1-quart stainless steel pot. Place over medium heat and stir with a fork until bubbling hard around the edges, about 5 minutes. With a damp pastry brush, wipe all around the sides of the pot to wash down any visible sugar crystals. Clip a digital thermometer to the pot and cook the amber syrup until it registers 234°F (112°C), about 8 minutes.

  2. Immediately stir in the baking soda with a heat-resistant spatula (the syrup will bubble vigorously), followed by the remaining portion of water. Continue cooking until the syrup returns to 234°F (112°C), about 2 minutes longer. Pour into a Pyrex measuring cup to halt cooking, then stir in butter and vanilla. Cool to a safe eating temperature, about 100°F (38°C), and serve. Cover leftovers as soon as possible to prevent syrup from forming a skin and refrigerate up to 3 months in an airtight container.

Special Equipment

1-quart stainless steel pot, pastry brush, digital thermometer, heat-resistant spatula


You'll be surprised at how intense a touch of dark brown sugar can be, so don’t add more than a half ounce until you’ve made a batch for yourself. For light brown sugar, you’ll need about three times as much to get the same malty flavor.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
154 Calories
1g Fat
38g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 154
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 1%
Saturated Fat 0g 2%
Cholesterol 2mg 1%
Sodium 188mg 8%
Total Carbohydrate 38g 14%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 38g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 7mg 1%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 25mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)