It’s as much a science as it is an art.
Credit: Victor Protasio

If you generally rely on a box of Bisquick when you (or your kiddos) get a Saturday morning hankering for pancakes, you are so not alone. And while there’s no denying a box-based pancake can be good, you’re closer than you think to great. Making this breakfast staple from scratch doesn’t require much more effort than mixing up the box mix, and mastering just a few simple techniques will forever change your pancake game. We looked to our resident pancake expert, Time Inc. Food Studios recipe developer Pam Lolley, on her tips to making the fluffiest, most Instagram-worthy stack of pancakes possible. Her “Original "Pam-Cakes" recipe has garnered a cult following among fellow test kitchen staffers and editors (seriously, the public professions of adoration for these flapjacks’ sheer amazingness are countless). According to Lolley, that best pancakes start with the batter. Forget everything you know about mixing a batter until it’s smooth and lump-free. “It’s all in the wrist, you don’t want to overmix the batter,” Lolley says. You want to gently mix the batter to just combine, leaving “lumps” present. Let me reiterate: This is one of the few times that lumps are welcome and beneficial in a batter, so override your OCD tendency create smooth uniformity, and leave. it. lumpy.

Now, let’s backtrack a second and talk a bit about what’s in that lumpy batter. Lolley’s recipe calls for buttermilk and melted butter. Your best bet is to use full-fat buttermilk— you want that beautiful, rich thickness. While you can substitute regular milk for the buttermilk, it’s not recommended. The buttermilk gives your pancakes richness and flavor that you cannot achieve with milk. So if you are committed to the quest for making a better pancake, let’s go full-force and grab the best quality buttermilk you can get your hands on. When it comes time to add the melted butter, try slowing drizzling it in and folding the butter into the batter, rather than dumping it all in at once and stirring vigorously to incorporate it. Remember, the primary goal is to avoid overworking the batter.

As you finish the batter, set it aside and grab a griddle, cast iron skillet, or a non-stick frying pan. Any of these cooking surfaces work well to make your pancakes. You want to warm your cookware to a medium to medium-high heat, and maintain this temperature throughout the process. The non-stick surface makes for easy and stress-free flipping. When it comes to the fat for greasing your surface, opt for butter over oil. Butter gives you a deeper flavor, and aids in achieving a crispy exterior on each cake. When you melt the butter in your pan, you want it to get bubbly, but not burnt. If the butter quickly burns soon after it hits the pan, your heat is too high. As soon as the pan is lightly covered with a thin layer of butter, spoon out your batter with a ¼-cup measuring cup. This ensures that you consistently achieve the same 4-inch round pancake each time. The medium-sized pancake fits perfectly under a spatula for an anxiety-free flip. Speaking of, once you come to understand the exact moment to flip your flapjack is when you become a true pancake whisperer. As bubbles and holes start to form in the batter, that’s the visual indicator that it’s time to flip. Most of the batter will be cooked through and you will avoid having a runny center. Once the pancake is flipped, it takes only half the time to cook on the second side. Lolley likes to keep her own pancakes simple with a drizzle of warm maple syrup or honey, but she is not opposed to a few extra additions. She suggests that instead of adding your favorite mix-ins, like chopped pecans or blueberries to the batter in the bowl, sprinkle them on top of the individual pancake after you pour the batter in the skillet. This makes for even distribution of your extras (rather than a bunch of berries at the bottom of your mixing bowl).

Now that you have the sacred keys to making ultra moist, rich, light, and fluffy pancakes with confidence, you likely won’t return to simply adding water to the box mix. But as they say, every ending is a new beginning. Follow these tried-and-tips and they will serve you well every breakfast and brunch going forward.

By Briana Riddock and Briana Riddock