perfect plain old buttermilk pancakes - with a side of science
well. it’s been salad for dinner around here for far too long. even though i’m testing recipes at work and eating far too many baked goods concocted of brioche dough and extra butter, i’m still sick of salads when dinner rolls around.
[oh! dinner rolls! how i miss you!]
to combat all the greenery on the dinner table, i’ve made the one thing i know for certain isn’t a salad: breakfast for dinner. one of my favorite meals. of course i have trusted go-to pancake recipes, but this time i opted for a new recipe. for plain old buttermilk pancakes. no fruit, no flavorings - just buttermilk pancakes. (because adding fruit would be too salad-like. who’s with me?)
for these particular pancakes i remembered seeing an alton brown recipe in his great book i’m just here for more food - a very straightforward (yet somewhat scientific) approach to the simple buttermilk pancake. science + pancakes = something totally new! and exciting!
first up, the science:
alton calls for buttermilk to be room temperature. he also requests that you let the batter rest for a few minutes before pouring it on the griddle. and you’re probably wondering why, right? (wait. you mean you haven’t read my two previous posts on the subject? from over a year ago? some kind of superfan you are! - just kidding.)
really, it’s fine. and i love reviewing things, so let’s review. first, the room temperature buttermilk.
generally speaking, it’s best to have all of your ingredients at roughly the same temperature when preparing batters (for cakes, muffins, pancakes, whatever.) this especially applies to your more liquidy ingredients. for example, you can’t add hot, melted butter to a bowl of eggs or you will slightly scramble the eggs. the scrambled egg bits will be impossible to fully incorporate into the batter. yum.
additionally, you can’t add ice cold milk to melted butter or you are going to harden the butter. chunky bits of butter result in what we in the business call ‘butter explosions’ - yes, the butter is solid when you’re mixing the batter, but as soon as it hits the heat of the oven it most definitely isn’t going to magically mix itself into the batter - so, in the area of the baked good where you had the chunk of butter the butter will melt, spread out and cause the dreaded butter explosion. nobody wants that.
both of these mistakes don’t add up to a beautiful cake batter, of that you can be certain. but they can be avoided if you simply remember when assembling ingredients for baking (or pancaking) to be sure that everything (most importantly the liquids) are the same temperature. room temperature to be precise.
and now for the resting.
allowing a batter to rest encourages the flour in the batter to soak up more liquid. this is especially important when making pancake batter that is never FULLY mixed in the first place (you know that about pancake batter, right? you mix it almost completely, but you are sure to leave some lumps behind. right? right.) simply allowing the flour a bit of time to soak up liquid will result in a lighter, fluffier pancake.
additionally, resting time allows the gluten to relax. the small effort you put into mixing a batter builds up a gluten ‘network’ that gives a baked good structure. at the same time, you don’t want too much structure or you’ll feel like you’re eating a ball of twine for breakfast.
and one more thing resting does - especially in the case of these pancakes - it gives the leavening a head start. a pancake recipe doesn’t start out by having you cream together butter and sugar (which incorporates similarly sized air bubbles into your baked good - the air bubbles expand while baking and give your end product a uniform lift) - instead a pancake batter relies completely on leavening products - in this case baking powder and baking soda - which results in differently shaped air bubbles which in turn give pancakes their pancake-like nature. when the leaveners are mixed with liquids they create their first bubbling reaction. when they hit the heat of the oven they have their second reaction - both of these reactions result in air bubbles - air bubbles give you fluffy pancakes. simple, right?
ready to make pancakes? i think you are!
alton brown’s scientific buttermilk pancakes
from i’m just here for more food
- 270 g AP flour
- 5 g baking powder
- 3 g baking soda
- 6 g kosher salt
- 42 g granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 454 g buttermilk, room temperature
- 57 g butter, melted and cooled to temp of buttermilk
- heat your griddle or nonstick frying pan over medium-low heat. if your griddle has a thermostat, you’re looking at approximately 350 degrees.
- whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.
- whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and butter.
- add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix until it comes together - do not make the batter smooth!
- let the batter rest for a minimum of ten minutes.
- rub a bit of butter on your cooking surface and, using a food service disher, ladle a scoop of batter onto the hot surface and cook until the sides dry up and bubbles form. flip.
- repeat until you’ve used up all of your batter.
eat an enormous stack of pancakes. with real maple syrup. you’ll be so happy you did.
and, of course, the pancakes that somehow don’t get eaten can be frozen. that way you can enjoy a non-cereal breakfast any day of the week (like we do!)
here’s a photo of the irregular ‘holes’ in pancakes - a result of the leavening:
and this here’s a plate of ‘cakes. thick, fluffy and soft. with butter and real maple syrup: