5 Pancake Fails and How to Fix Them
Dense, flat, flavorless, fall-apart pancakes can go flip off
I love pancakes because they're so easy to make. Get a pan hot while you make the batter, barely measuring, maybe just using a mug as the unit: equal parts flour and liquid, an egg, a little spoonful of baking powder, a pinch of salt, maybe one of sugar too. Melt a little butter in the pan, pour it off into the batter, and you’re ready to fry. That’s really all there is to it. Of course, pancakes aren’t without their challenges. We’ve all had bleh pancakes, metallic or dense or flavorless—or undercooked or burnt or practically scrambled when you went to flip them. Inadequate pancakes, begone!
So I devised a quick troubleshooting guide for better, fluffier pancakes. It’ll be here for your consultation on every Saturday morning henceforth.
These pancakes taste good, but they’re dense and chewy—the opposite of fluffy.
There could be a couple of issues at play here, but let’s start with the ingredients. How many eggs did you add? Plan for one egg per cup of flour—more than that, and your pancakes will take a turn for the denser because of the custardy yolks; add less, and your pancakes may not rise to their fullest, fluffiest potential.
But there could be a few other issues at play: You didn’t over-mix, did you? You actually want some lumps in your pancake batter. I mean, it should be combined, and there shouldn’t be any flour lingering on the bottom of the bowl, but too much mixing will overdevelop the gluten in the flour, and that will make for tougher pancakes.
One last thing: Do not press on the pancakes in the pan. Do not! They are not hamburgers, and pressing down will not give you crispier edges. It will give you dense-as-heck pancakes, since you’re pressing all the air out. Quick reminder on flipping here: Medium-hot pan (cast iron is best), a little oil or butter, spoonful of batter goes in, then you wait for small bubbles to appear around the pancake’s edges, signifying doneness—don’t flip before that. Let it cook a minute or two on the opposite side before removing to a plate.
And these pancakes are flat. I mean, really flat.
How much liquid did you add? A flat pancake could be the result of an overly-wet batter. Add a little extra flour and see if that makes a difference. The batter should be thick enough that it drips rather than runs off the spoon—and remember, it should have some lumps still in it.
If a little flour doesn’t fix the issue, there could be an issue with your baking powder. Baking powder goes “bad” eventually, growing stale if it’s been in your pantry for a long time (ahem, years). Test its freshness by splashing a little warm water on a spoonful of baking powder; it should bubble or fizz gently. If it doesn’t, add baking powder to your grocery list and have eggs for breakfast instead.
These pancakes don’t taste like… anything.
It’s time to mix things up. But first: Did you add some salt to the batter? Not a lot, just a pinch—salt makes things taste more like themselves, and if your pancake’s lacking, it might be because it needs a hit of salt.
After salt, it’s time to start experimenting. Substitute a different kind of flour—like whole wheat, rye, oat, or almond flours or cornmeal—for half of the all-purpose flour in the recipe. Add a spoonful of sugar (or honey or maple syrup) to the batter. Give it some richness with a few tablespoons of melted butter (or melted brown butter!) or olive oil or coconut oil. Use buttermilk instead of regular milk. Substitute half a mashed banana per egg. Add lemon zest or a shake of cinnamon. Make smiley faces out of blueberries or chocolate chips. Fry your pancakes in butter instead of oil.
I can’t stop burning pancakes!
Sounds like you have a heat problem. You want your pan to be hot but not too hot—aim for medium heat. You may need to adjust up or down over the course of frying up the batch.
One thing that could help is using a cast iron griddle or skillet—cast iron holds heat well and evenly, which means that your pan will get hot, stay hot, and give your pancakes a good crisp crust (and will reduce the chances of your pancakes cooking unevenly). And if you have an electric griddle or frying pan, use it! An electric frying pan is my favorite tool for making pancakes, since it holds heat really evenly, right where you set it. (I find 350°F just right for pancakes.)
I can barely flip a pancake without it falling apart on me.
Your batter could be too loose—add a little flour. Or you might be turning too soon. Wait for those bubbles to appear on the surface of the pancakes, since they show that not only have the pancakes cooked on the bottom layer, but that the uncooked side is beginning to firm up too, which means that it won’t fall apart when you flip.
This could be a heat problem, too. Not hot enough and the pancake won’t have had a chance to develop a “foot”—that is, it won’t have cooked enough to stand up to a flip. Too hot and the pancake’s bottom will have cooked too fast, with a “foot” on the brink of burning and a top that’s barely warm.