It’s Sunday and that can only mean one thing: pancakes for breakfast! These Buttermilk Pancakes are stunningly beautiful and gorgeous, the best pancakes I’ve ever tried – and I’ve tried many!!
There’s nothing worse than cakey or rubbery pancakes, so before we jump to the recipe I thought it’d be interesting to go into the science of making a perfect pancake.
The Science Behind Perfect Pancakes
Pancake batter is composed of two very important parts: dry ingredients (usually flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt) and wet ingredients (usually milk, eggs and butter). Flour contains starch and protein. Gluten, a protein that is crucial for the structure of baked goods, provides the chewy texture in pancakes and breads.
A protein is a long, chainlike molecule made up of smaller molecules called amino acids. When the flour is dry, the gluten molecules don’t move much. But when the flour is moistened with water (or with milk and eggs, which are composed mainly of water), the gluten molecules become active. Wet gluten molecules are elastic and springlike (which means that they can change shape under pressure) and plastic (meaning they can maintain their shapes after being stretched and moved around).
When flour is mixed with water, gluten proteins loosen from one another, stretch out and begin to rearrange. As the gluten proteins come in contact with one another, they continue to bond. With additional mixing, the proteins create a tighter and tighter weblike network of proteins that are able to trap air bubbles. When chemical leaveners, such as baking powder, create bubbles in a cooked pancake, the gluten network traps these bubbles and allows a pancake to rise and stay fluffy yet still keep its shape.
Okay, that’s enough science. And if you want to learn more about it, baking is a science experiment after all, you can find much information here.
So pancakes are basically a chemical reaction made up of starch, protein, water, fats, binders, chemical leaveners, and heat.
So now we know flour and liquid create the structure in any dough. Mixing the two together develops gluten, the protein that gives elasticity to dough. When making bread, gluten is a good thing because it helps the bread to hold its structure and without gluten bread would not be able to rise.
However, you don’t want that in pie crusts, cakes, and pancakes. You want them to be soft and tender with a delicate crumb, which means developing as little gluten as possible. Over-mixing pancake batter develops the gluten that will make the pancakes rubbery and tough. For light, fluffy pancakes, you want to mix just until the batter comes together—it’s okay if there are still some lumps of flour.
Fat makes the pancakes rich and moist. Adding too much fat will make them seem more like pound cake, but too little fat will make them dry and crispy—almost cracker-like.
Since we don’t want to develop gluten, pancakes rely on eggs to provide the additional structure necessary to hold the bubbles and allow pancakes to rise. The fat in the yolk also provides richness and flavor. Too much egg, however, will make them dense; not enough will make them drier.
For fluffy pancakes, we need bubbles. The formation of bubbles is caused by the release of gas, which is caused by the addition of baking powder to the batter. Baking powder and baking soda are the chemical leaveners typically used in pancakes. They are responsible for the bubbles in the batter, and for making the cakes light and fluffy. Baking powder provides two rises: The first occurs when the baking powder comes into contact with a liquid, the second when it’s exposed to heat. Too much baking powder will create a very puffy pancake with a chalky taste, while too little will make it flat.
Baking soda rises only once when exposed to an acid (like buttermilk). Baking soda also controls the browning of the batter in the pan. Not enough soda will result in a blonde, flat pancake. Too much will result in a dark, soapy-tasting pancake.
When cooking the pancakes, always make the first one as your test cake to make sure that you have the heat just right – it should be on medium.
Add a little bit of oil to a skillet before pouring the batter. Cook the pancakes until golden brown and bubbles start forming in the center, about three minutes. Flip and cook until cooked through and other side of pancakes are golden brown, about two minutes longer.
Now we’re ready to make pancakes!
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp melted butter
- 2 tbsp sugar
- vegetable oil (for griddle or skillet)
- maple syrup (for serving)
- In a medium bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk eggs, buttermilk, and butter in a separate medium bowl.
- Gently whisk buttermilk mixture into your dry ingredients. It’s okay if some lumps remain.
- Heat a large nonstick griddle or skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until the skillet is hot. Add 1-2 tablespoons oil to the skillet and scoop about 1/3 cup of batter into the skillet (depending on how large you like your pancakes).
- Cook until few bubbles begin rising on the surface and the bottoms are browned, about 4 minutes, then flip the pancakes. Cook until the other sides are golden brown, another 2 minutes.
- Serve pancakes with maple syrup.
If you make these Buttermilk Pancakes please be sure to leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you and I love responding to every comment. And don’t forget to also tag me on Instagram. I’d love to see your photos!