Stacks of golden pancakes, topped with pats of butter and drizzled with maple syrup, are synonymous with lazy weekend mornings. But getting your flapjacks to look (and taste) like the fluffy ones on restaurant breakfast menus can be a bit of a challenge. You'll be reminded of this struggle every time you toss out a "test batch" of pancakes that are burnt on the outside and gooey in the middle or are as dense as a hockey puck. Fortunately, we have all the tips you need to avoid some of the most common pancake mistakes.
To help you perfect pancakes, we asked breakfast chefs to share the 13 pancake mistakes that happen on the griddle and what to do instead. Here's how to make homemade pancakes stack up with the best of 'em.
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Mistake: Overmixing the batter.
The biggest rookie mistake chefs see when it comes to making pancakes is overmixing the batter. "Pancakes most commonly contain flour, which means gluten," says Chef Suzanne Vizethann, owner of Buttermilk Kitchen in Atlanta. "When the batter becomes overmixed, the gluten expands and turns the pancakes gummy."
How to fix it: "Gently fold ingredients when mixing the batter together. It makes for a lighter, fluffier pancake," Vizethann says.
Mistake: Getting rid of all the lumps.
So you've restrained from overmixing your pancake batter, but you're zeroing in on the lumps you see in the mix. Seriously, you don't need to worry about your batter being super-smooth, promises Cesar Garcia, the corporate chef for San Diego's Rise and Shine Restaurant Group.
How to fix it: Don't try to get rid of every group of crumbs. "It's totally fine to have some flour crumbs in the mix, especially if you want your pancakes to be fluffy," Garcia says. "The batter needs to be fresh and a little thicker to achieve that fluffy consistency."
Mistake: Not letting the batter rest.
It's understandable that you'd want to get cooking as soon as the mix settles, but in this case, it doesn't pay to work quickly.
How to fix it: Before you start flipping your flapjacks, you should let the batter rest for at least 20 minutes, covered and at room temperature, says food blogger Jim Mumford, a former nuclear engineer who runs the site Jim Cooks Good Food. Gluten gets tougher as the batter gets cold, so you don't want it chilling in the fridge.
Mistake: Cooking at the wrong temperature.
Too high of heat, and your pancakes will end up burnt on the outside with a doughy center. Too low of heat, and brunch will segue into lunch as you're waiting for the pancakes to finish cooking.
How to fix it: To make sure your pancakes are cooked evenly, go with medium heat, Garcia suggests. Uneven cooking is one of the most common pancake mistakes, so this is a simple but important tip.
Mistake: Crowding your pan.
Not only do you risk the batter merging to form one big mega pancake, but putting too many pancakes on a pan can make also it tough for them to cook evenly.
How to fix it: Don't overload the pan, even if it means you have to spend more time cooking.
Mistake: Using leftover batter.
So you made pancakes on Saturday and have enough batter left over to make some more on Sunday. Unfortunately, the day-old batter won't yield fluffy pancakes, explains Steve Gonzalez, executive chef of Baro in Toronto.
How to fix it: Mix up only as much batter as you'll need. You can always make more batter later on if it's not enough.
Mistake: Flattening your pancakes.
You don't want to be constantly moving and pressing down on your pancakes, says Nikki Cervone, an associate editor of Foodal.com who holds an associate of arts in baking/pastry. Pancakes have a delicate structure, she explains, and they can turn out flat when you press down on them with the spatula.
How to fix it: Just leave them alone and let the heat do its magic. "The trick is to touch the pancakes as little as possible as they cook," Cervone says.
Mistake: Flipping them more than once.
Think you need to flip your flapjacks a few times? Think again! Overeager flipping doesn't make for better pancakes.
How to fix it: Let the batter cook for a couple of minutes, Cervone says, then lightly lift up one edge of the pancake to check for doneness. Give your pancake a flip, she says. If you're tempted to see if the pancake is done on the underside, lightly lift up the edge. One flip should do the trick.
Mistake: Cooking pancakes with butter.
Save the butter for the top of your pancakes, and you'll avoid one of the most common pancake mistakes. Cooking pancakes with butter can be difficult because the butter burns so quickly, Cervone explains.
How to fix it: Cervone suggests using vegetable or canola oil, because they can withstand high heat for a longer period of time. If you insist on using butter, she suggests going with clarified butter, because it's easier to cook with.
Mistake: Simply dropping oil on the pan.
Even if you're using oil instead of butter, it needs to be evenly distributed across your cooking pan.
How to fix it: After you've poured about one to two teaspoons of oil on your pan, wipe it with a paper towel to spread it evenly over the surface, suggests Cervone. "Depending on how many batches of pancakes you're making, you may need to re-apply if the pan is looking dry," she says.
Mistake: Cooking with the wrong equipment.
An overused or warped skillet, or a scratched pan, will cause your pancakes to cook unevenly, and the batter may stick to the ban, Cervone cautions. To perfect your pancakes, you'll want a high-quality electric pancake griddle or skillet.
How to fix it: If you're going with a skillet, use one that has a flat, non-stick surface that's close to the size of your burner so you get even heat distribution, Cervone suggests.
Mistake: Focusing only on toppings.
"Many people spend all their time thinking about what to put on top of their pancakes and forget to think about what to put into their pancakes," says Tanner Agar, owner of Rye restaurant in downtown McKinney, Texas.
How to fix it: Try adding spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to your batter. "You can even add savory spices, like thyme and oregano, and make savory pancakes," Agar says.
Mistake: Using toppings that lack creativity.
Fresh berries, whipped cream, chocolate chips, and banana slices are all frequent pancake toppings. But they're far from the only things that taste delicious on top of a short stack.
How to fix it: Agar suggests trying a sweet-and-savory twist, like Nutella and bacon. Hey, if it works for donuts, it can work with pancakes.
Now that you know how to step up your pancake game, your weekend breakfasts just got a lot more exciting. Stick to these tips, and you'll get the perfect batch every time. No more pancake mistakes here!
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