A common complaint about making pancakes is you have to cook them one at a time, and by the time the last one is cooked, the first ones are cold and tough. And though every recipe says you can keep pancakes warm in a low oven while making them as an optional step, I make it an essential part of my recipe. Some people just eat pancakes when out at a diner to avoid the whole production, but well, we can't really do that now, can we? In any case, my secret is: Just make fewer pancakes.
Unless you're feeding a crowd — which I bet many of us aren't right now — pancakes are the perfect breakfast for two. I mix up a batter that makes only seven pancakes — one for a first-test pancake and then six to eat; that's three per person — with a little extra to account for all the batter that clings to your scooping cup and the bowl. That way, from the first pancake to the last, only about 12 minutes goes by and the first pancakes I made are perfectly warm and tender in the oven, not getting too dried out or tough.
I start by making a batter with built-in texture insurance. Just like with my blueberry muffins, I add a little cornstarch to the batter to both cut the percentage of protein in the flour, thus making the pancakes more tender, and give them a finer crumb. Using powdered sugar also helps with the latter, but if all you have is granulated sugar, that works fine too. I whisk the liquid ingredients — full-fat milk and butter, please; these are pan-cakes, not pan-granola bars — into the dry ingredients very gingerly. You want some lumps in your batter because by the time you whisk it completely smooth, you've developed too much gluten and the pancakes will be tougher for it.
This may be the best pastry you will ever haveRead more
Now, let's talk about that "first pancake." There's no mystery around why it comes out wonky and pale. The wonkiness comes from you not pouring batter into a hot pan regularly so you have get used to the movement. The paleness comes from your pan not being hot enough yet — hey, we're all impatient so it's OK. Let pancake nature take its course, then toss that first cake to the dog or a toddler, if you have one of those pulling on your leg.
With the first pancake out of the way, get to work. I made this batter to have the ideal viscosity to spread slowly on its own into a perfect round, but if yours comes out a little thick, use the bottom of the measuring cup to smooth its top after you pour it in the skillet. What you're looking for is for the edges to lose their shine and for bubbles to appear on the top of the pancake. The bubbles will pop, and the loose batter will fill in the gaps. Once this stops happening, they're ready to flip.
Flip with confidence: Tilt the skillet toward the pancake at the same time that you flip so the disk lands against the pan on an angle like a pro swimmer dives into a pool, not inelegantly like a belly flop.
Once the pancake is flipped, it will take about half or one-quarter of the time less than the first side to cook through. The first side will take around 1 minute, so start checking the second side at 30 seconds and don't let it cook further than 45 seconds. It should be the same color as the top. Remove the whole skillet from the burner — this keeps it from overheating and throwing off your expert timing, burning the remaining pancakes — and slide the pancake between two kitchen towels on a baking sheet in a low oven (don't worry; you've already set this up). There the pancake will stay warm and the towels will protect it from losing moisture.
Return the skillet to the burner and immediately add another scoop of batter. You stick to this exact routine and each pancake will be as perfect as the last.
Once they're all cooked, stack three to a plate — or more, or less; I don't know your life! — swipe with a large knob of butter and cascade down several glugs of syrup. Smile smugly, knowing that everyone's pancakes are hot and fluffy at the same time, no diner required.
HOT AND FLUFFY PANCAKES
While it would be great if your milk and eggs were room temperature for this batter, I'm no fool — this batter is made to work with cold milk and eggs just as easily as with room-temperature ones. Multiply the dry ingredients here as much as you want and keep the mix in an airtight container for a homemade "instant" pancake mix — when ready to make pancakes, scoop out a heaping 2 cups of the mix and proceed with the recipe, combining it with the liquid ingredients in Step 1.
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar (or 2 tablespoons granulated sugar)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Maple syrup, for serving
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a large liquid measuring cup or bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, vanilla and eggs until smooth. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir just until combined, leaving all the lumps in the batter. Let the batter rest for 5 minutes.
2. While the batter rests, line a large baking sheet with two kitchen towels stacked on top of each other. Place the sheet in the oven and heat the oven to 180 degrees or its lowest temperature setting.
3. Place a large nonstick skillet or griddle on the stove and heat over medium heat or heat a nonstick electric griddle. Scoop a level 1/3 cup of the batter and pour into the center of the skillet, allowing it to spread out naturally into a 6- to 7-inch round. Cook until the pancake is golden on the bottom and bubbly on top, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip the pancake and cook until the underside is golden and the batter is just cooked through, 1 minute more. Toss the pancake to the dog or a hangry toddler.
4. Pour another 1/3 cup batter into the skillet and cook until golden on the bottom and the bubbles on top just start to set, 45 to 60 seconds. Using a large spatula, flip the pancake and cook until the underside is golden and the batter is just cooked through, 30 to 45 seconds more. The decreased times here are because your skillet is now warmer than it was when you cooked that first pancake.
5. As each pancake is cooked, remove the skillet fully from the burner (to prevent it overheating) and slide the pancake between the towels on the baking sheet in the oven. Return the skillet to the burner and repeat, making five more pancakes with the remaining batter. The pancakes will stay hot in the oven for at least 20 minutes with no loss of quality.
6. When ready to serve, stack three to a plate and serve immediately with butter and syrup.
Add 1 teaspoon unsalted butter to the skillet and let it melt, swirling to coat the bottom, before adding the batter for each pancake.
Premix the dry and liquid ingredients and store them separately in the refrigerator until ready to use.