Tips for making pancakes

Published on August 21, 2014
Updated on January 4, 2019

~ Pancakes are even more fun with these easy tips for making perfect numbers, letters and shapes! So great for birthdays, back-to-school and holidays! Or, make any day special with your kids’ initials or names! Guaranteed … they’ll love it! ~

So, did you read our post on The Secrets to Perfect Whole Wheat Pancakes?

And did you accept our challenge … our challenge of making perfect pancakes even perfecter (you know what we mean!)?

If so, then you’ve most definitely come to the right place!

This is where pancake nirvana happens. Where we take our deliciously light and fluffy, fully kid-approved, yet amazingly 100% whole grain pancakes … and we make them even better!

We make them … SHAPES!

And numbers, and letters …

It’s so easy!

And so perfect for special birthday mornings, or back-to-school, or helping kiddos have fun learning their numbers, or even for holidays like Valentine’s Day!

Shelley’s been making pancakes shaped like numbers for her kiddos’ birthdays for years.

And every year Gretchen’s sweet friend, Steph, posts pics of her gorgeous, smiling kids at breakfast on the first day of school … always holding up a plate with a number-shaped pancake on it, showing what grade they’re starting! Seriously, is that not the most adorable idea??

So we got to thinking about an easy way to make shapes …

Shelley (who typically just drizzles her pancake shapes with a spoon … with limited success) did a major face-palm when Gretchen suggested this (much easier!!!) idea to her. We don’t want you to hurt yourself or anything, but you may need to do a face-palm, too. Sorry. But this totally rocks, and your kids are gonna think it’s seriously the most fun idea!

No more drizzling with a spoon (which tends to produce bloppy shapes) or trying to use snipped-corner plastic bags or Wilton decorating bags (messssss-y!).


We’re recycling today! An old (but cleaned out and washed!) ketchup bottle is the ideal solution!

Years ago, Gretchen saw an idea on Pinterest to make perfectly round pancakes using a ketchup bottle. Brilliant! Works like a charm.

But we don’t always want perfectly round pancakes. Sometimes (like for back-to-school or birthdays!) we want perfectly shaped!

Turns out that ’ol ketchup bottle trick is the secret to making pancake shapes, too! Simply pour the batter into the bottle, place the lid back on, and make some super-fun pancakes!

Here’s what you need to know:

The easiest way to get the pancake batter into the squeeze bottle is to mix up your batter in a bowl that has a pouring spout. That handy spout makes the transfer process simple and practically mess-free. Just don’t pour too fast, or you’ll sort of loose that mess-free benefit!

These work great, too! These squeeze bottles are available at many craft and dollar stores. You may need to snip the tip slightly to allow the batter to flow through easily, as we did with the bottle on the right.

You don’t have to use a ketchup bottle specifically – try any similar “squeezy” bottles that have larger caps (for loading up the batter) but small squeezy openings (for making thin, neat lines of batter). If you happen to be a food photographer (ummmm … you should see our shelves full of props!) or a picnic caterer with random empty condiment bottles in your basement (like the ones pictured above), those work well, too. Just snip the tops a little, if needed, to enlarge the hole.

For bigger pancakes, it’s sometimes easier to use two spatulas to flip them, since the shapes tend to be a little delicate and floppy (and a giant pancake “3” on your third birthday just isn’t as cool if it’s broken apart into pieces!).

One other important tip … remember that some letters and numbers don’t look the same backwards and forwards. So, you’ll either need to serve the pancakes flipped onto the second side you cooked (the first side cooked is typically the “serving” side that faces up) … or use your very best spatial relations skills to squeeze the letters and numbers onto the griddle backwards (so they’re forwards once flipped and served).

And there you have it!

Hearts, stars, numbers, letters, entire kids’ names … it’s kinda like art class meets cooking school! Have fun, friends! We can’t wait to hear about the pancake adventures you and your own kiddos have!

Want More Handy Kitchen Tips? Check Out:

  • The Secret to Perfect Shish Kabobs
  • Is It Safe to Use Frozen Meat In Your Crock-Pot?
  • How to Cook Quinoa (and Why You Should!)
  • How to Make Fruit Bouquets and Fruit Kabobs
  • How to Hard-Cook Eggs

Every time I take a bite of a really good buttermilk pancake, one that is fluffy, light, and perfectly flavored with a little sweetness and vanilla, I feel like I could write a poem about how it comforts my soul. It makes me SO happy!

What I’m saying is, if I made a list of the “little things” that make me happy in life, pancakes would definitely be on it.

Pancakes come in all sorts of varieties, from classic buttermilk, to healthier 100% whole wheat pancakes and apple spiced pancakes, still-fairly-healthy hot chocolate pancakes, to completely unhealthy concoctions like cinnamon roll pancakes or carrot cake pancakes. This is because pancakes take so well to swapping in different types of milks, flours, fruits, and flavors.

All variations aside, here are some general tips that I find are great for making pancakes.

Use real buttermilk, not a milk + vinegar substitute.

When I see recipes calling for buttermilk on the internet, I often see comments from people saying they made the recipe substituting milk and vinegar for the buttermilk. My stance on this is that you should only use milk + vinegar when you’re in a pinch, need to make something in a spur of the moment situation, and don’t have buttermilk on hand.

Milk mixed with vinegar (or lemon juice) is just not the same as purchased buttermilk from the store. It doesn’t have the same flavor or the same consistency, and true buttermilk is the way to go if you want the best pancakes.

Many people’s objection to buying buttermilk is difficulty using it all up. I have found that buttermilk oftens comes in a quart size (4 cups), and my recipe for Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes at the bottom of this post uses 2 cups, which is a substantial use. If you want to use a quart of buttermilk all at once, make a double batch and freeze the leftover pancakes. Pancakes freeze SO well and then you can have pancakes whenever you want!

Add sugar to the pancake batter.

Sometimes I come across pancake batter recipes with absolutely no sugar in them. While it’s likely that the pancake will be served with maple syrup, I think it’s important to sweeten the actual pancake as well. Otherwise, the disparity between no sugar in the pancake and basically sugar syrup on top is a bit too great.

I mix the sugar right into the dry ingredients, which are flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and the sugar.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, then pour in the wet ingredients.

If there’s one overarching thing you want to accomplish when making pancakes, it’s making sure you don’t over-stir the batter. Excess stirring will develop gluten in the batter and make the pancakes tough, instead of light and fluffy.

When combining the dry and wet ingredients, making a well and tossing the dry into the wet can assist in this process of making dry and wet come together gently, instead of working the batter.

Let the batter be lumpy.

Lumps in pancake batter are a good thing, because it means you haven’t stirred the batter excessively. The perfect time to stop stirring is when you don’t see any more flour streaks, but there are still lumps in the batter.

Grease a nonstick skillet or griddle with a cold stick of butter.

Before the pancakes hit the hot pan, run a cold stick of butter on the surface of the pan to grease it. This gives the pancakes a very thin, evenly distributed layer of fat to cook in, without overloading the pan with oil. If you can’t have dairy, cooking spray is a good substitution.

Use a cookie scoop or a pancake dispenser.

There are two benefits to using a cookie scoop or dispenser. First, it is easier to make uniform and evenly-portioned pancakes. Second, using these tools gives the pancakes a rounder shape.

Because of my small NYC kitchen, I don’t have a dedicated pancake dispenser. But the cookie scoop works very well, especially for thick batters like the one in this post.

Flip when the bubbles just begin to pop.

This is usually when the bottom is golden and the sides have also set a little bit.

Flip, and you’ll only need another minute or two on the other side.

If you make a lot of pancakes regularly, invest in a griddle.

This allows you to make tons of pancakes at once and reduces the cooking time quite a bit. Otherwise, you can use a nonstick sauté pan.

Are you hungry for pancakes yet? I will leave you with my absolute favorite recipe for fluffy buttermilk pancakes, which are very eggy, almost a little spongy, and very light. Enjoy!

Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes

May 9, 2017 0

Prep Time: 10 Minutes Difficulty: Easy Cook Time: 10 Minutes Servings: 4 Servings

  • 10 ounces, weight All-purpose Flour- 2 Cups
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 2 cups Buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • Butter (for Greasing The Pan)
  • Maple Syrup For Serving

In a large bowl, whisk to combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk to combine eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla extract.
Make a well in the dry ingredients, then add the wet ingredients to the well. Use the spatula to toss the dry ingredients into the wet, then stir until no flour streaks remain but there are still plenty of lumps. Take care not to over-mix.
Heat up a griddle or nonstick skillet over medium heat and lightly butter the surface. Scoop or dispense the pancake batter onto the pan, and cook for a couple minutes until you see bubbles form at the top and just begin to pop. This is your indication to flip! Cook for another one to two minutes on the other side.
Finish cooking the remaining pancake batter. Serve with maple syrup, and enjoy!


Joanne is the creator of the Fifteen Spatulas food blog and Youtube channel, where she shares her passion for from-scratch cooking through recipes and videos. With an interest in food that started at a very young age, Joanne has committed herself and her blog to helping people realize that cooking real food from scratch doesn’t have to be intimidating or time-consuming. She tries to focus on explaining the hows and whys of cooking: for example, why patting a steak dry before searing can be the difference between a good and bad steak, or how to cream butter and sugar properly, and why it can directly determine how light or heavy your cake turns out. She believes when you truly understand what’s happening on the stovetop, that’s when you become a great cook. Joanne and Fifteen Spatulas have been featured in numerous media outlets, including the TODAY show, Cooking Channel TV, Fine Cooking, Glamour, Redbook, Better Homes & Gardens, and more. At home, she’s in charge of all the food but her husband is in charge of all the drinks. He doesn’t cook, but he roasts his own coffee, brews his own beer, and can make the darn best cappuccino on the planet.

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For many Americans, pancakes evoke a certain kind of nostalgia. People make pancakes because they’re delicious, crowd-pleasing, and easy. Well, sort of easy. There are a few crucial mistakes that home chefs commonly make when cooking this classic morning dish. We chatted with senior associate food editor Claire Saffitz and test kitchen contributor Alfia Muzio about pancakes woes, and how to avoid them.

1. Using Crappy/Old Flour, Butter, Etc.

For something as subtle as pancakes, the quality of your ingredients is extremely important—even the baking soda, which is responsible for making pancakes fluffy. Your baking soda should be less than 6 months old—or else it won’t do its job, which is to increase the volume of the pancake when it hits the hot pan. For wet ingredients, we love buttermilk. Its acids react with the baking soda, giving your pancakes even more lift and imparting a subtle tang. If you only have milk at your disposal, add a squeeze of lemon to it before mixing into your dry ingredients—the acidity is important in balancing your pancakes’ flavors.

2. Trying to Get Out Every Last Lump from Your Batter

Lumps are actually okay! Stir your batter until the dry and wet ingredients are just incorporated. That means mixing until the flour streaks have disappeared, but leaving the pesky lumps. If you over-mix, the gluten will develop from the flour in your batter, making your pancakes chewy instead of fluffy.

3. Making the Batter in Advance

No! You can’t make your batter the night before, or even an hour before you make your pancakes. It all goes back to those leavening agents: They start doing their job as soon as they come into contact with the wet ingredients, and will get less and less effective the longer you wait to ladle the batter into the pan. Griddling your pancakes right away will yield much lighter, fluffier pancakes.

4. Frying In a Sauté Pan

In pancake making, the sloped sides of a pan are not your friends. If you have a griddle, definitely use it. Otherwise, use a wide heavy-bottomed pan—if your pan is too thin, your pancakes will burn. The width is pretty important, too. You want there to be enough room to flip your pancakes without any messy business. (More on flipping later!)

5. Cooking with Butter, Not Oil

Here’s the thing about butter: It’s really easy to burn. Especially when your pan is on medium heat for an extended period of time. The milk solids are what causes butter to burn, so when you’re cooking your pancakes, use clarified butter (in which the milk solids have already been separated). Otherwise, use vegetable oil (really!) or regular butter, and wipe your pan off after every two batches or so.

6. Adding Too Many Berries, Chocolate, and What-Not

This is all based on personal preference, but here’s our take: Chocolate and berries will burn against the heat of the pan in the time it takes to cook your pancakes. If you absolutely MUST add mix-ins, first pour your batter into the pan, then add berries or chocolate chips. Bananas, however, will caramelize as the pancakes cook—so adding them is definitely a “do.”

7. Flipping Too Early

This common mistake is a tip that almost every home pancake-maker knows—but it’s not true. You should not flip when you see bubbles, but you should flip when those bubbles pop and form holes that stay open on the surface of the pancake. If a bubble comes to the surface, pops, but is filled in by more pancake batter, hold off on flipping. Make sure your pancakes are hole-y!

8. Being a Sloppy Flipper

Chances are, you’ve probably smeared pancake batter because of a sloppy flip. That’s because you were probably using your whole arm for what should be a quick, subtle motion. Here’s how to do it: Slide a thin spatula (we like to use fish spatulas) under your pancake, lift about three inches, and then briskly turn your wrist. Your pancake will land right where you picked it up, no smear in sight.

9. Skipping the “Test Run” Batch

Treat your first few pancakes as a test batch. Use them to gauge the heat, practice your flipping method, and become aware of any hot or cold spots on the pan. If there are hot spots, don’t be afraid to rotate the pan while you cook your ‘cakes to get them all a gorgeous golden brown.

10. Using Fake Syrup

Okay, you’ve put a lot of thought into making these perfectly fluffy pancakes. Please, respect the cakes by drizzling 100% maple syrup over them, not that translucent brown-colored “pancake syrup” that comes in a plastic bottle. We’re begging you. Oh, and a pat of butter to melt on top is not a bad idea, either. Just remember to invite us over to test it out.

You are now ready for BA’s Best Buttermilk Pancakes

Want to see our Restaurant and Drinks Editor flip pancakes for 24 hours (well, kind of)? Right this way…

The Secrets to Making Great Pancakes

While good pancakes are easy to make, flawless flapjacks require some attention to the critical steps: mixing the batter, getting the heat right, cooking, and flipping. Although the techniques I cover below are appropriate for all pancakes, I do have a favorite kind—buttermilk. Deliciously airy, tender yet filling, their flavor has more personality thanks to the slight tang of the buttermilk.

Mix lightly and give the batter a rest

While that other great breakfast food, bread, is kneaded to develop the gluten in the flour, pancakes are mixed minimally to avoid forming toughening gluten. There are a few ways to ensure that you mix pancake batter well without overmixing it.

Have all your ingredients at room temperature. Mix cold buttermilk and eggs with melted butter and you get clumps of butter—not the end of the world, but not optimal for even distribution. Conversely, butter that’s piping hot can cook the eggs.

If you don’t want to get up early to take the ingredients out of the fridge, here are a couple of shortcuts: Place cold eggs in a bowl of warm (not boiling) water for a minute or so. Microwave cold milk for 30 seconds or heat it in a double boiler for a few minutes. You’ll also want to let the melted butter cool a bit.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and the wet in a medium bowl. Combine each set of ingredients thoroughly now to avoid overmixing later.Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, as opposed to dry into wet. This way gives you more control, and less flour flies about.

Mix the wet and the dry ingredients separately before combining. This separation allows you to thoroughly and evenly combine most of the ingredients with impunity because the gluten in the flour develops only after the flour is moistened. Your goal when combining the wet with the dry is to do so with as few strokes as possible. The batter’s consistency at this point should resemble a slightly thick, still-lumpy cake batter.

Give the batter a rest before cooking. A rest of at least five minutes allows for the even hydration of the batter and also allows the gluten you created—which will develop even with careful, minimal mixing—to relax. The lumps will smooth out somewhat during this rest.

Mix with just a few strokes until the batter is evenly moistened. Ignore the lumps.Let the batter rest for at least 5 minutes. You’ll see a difference in the batter after it rests. Oil the pan lightly and let it get hot. Water droplets that dance briefly before disappearing mean the heat is right.

Maybe “griddlecake” is more accurate

For a deliciously browned exterior and an even shape, pancakes need hot, even heat. You can use a pan, but a griddle will give you more room to maneuver and let you cook more pancakes at one time.

I often use a well-seasoned cast-iron griddle, one that straddles two burners. I recently tried an electric griddle, and—to my surprise—I liked it a lot. It let me cook ten pancakes at once, and the temperature remained steady.

Minimal greasing is best: pancakes aren’t supposed to be fried. Rub on a little vegetable oil with a paper towel. Butter is also good, but take care that it doesn’t burn.

Get the griddle nice and hot before you start. To test the temperature of the cooking surface, throw a few drops of cold water on it. The drops should sizzle immediately yet dance around before they disappear. If they evaporate immediately, the pan is too hot; if they just sit there without sizzling, the pan is too cool and your pancakes won’t get that lovely browned exterior.

Take a test run

How your batter spreads depends on its consistency, which can vary from batch to batch. A very thin batter will spread unevenly and result in flat pancakes, while a too-thick one won’t spread much at all. Until you can gauge how a batter will act, it’s a good idea make one test pancake. This test will also let you know how much space to leave between the pancakes.

I like mine on the thick side and large enough to make an impressive stack. For my batter, two tablespoons should yield a four-inch-wide pancake. To get a well-rounded shape, choose a spoon that will hold about that much batter. Hold the spoon just above the surface of the griddle and let the batter pour slowly from the tip of the spoon. With this rather thick batter, you may also need to spread the batter into a round with the spoon. If you need to thin the batter, add more buttermilk or water, a bit at a time; thicken it with a quick addition of more flour.

Pour the batter from the tip of a spoon. Use the spoon to gently spread this fairly thick batter.

Cook until bubbles cover the surface; flip before they all break. Before you flip, take a peek at the underside to be sure it’s nicely browned. Turn each pancake carefully with a spatula. Bake the second side about half as long as the first. Don’t flatten the pancakes with the spatula or they’ll become leaden.

Serve ’em as you make ’em. Pancakes taste best right off the griddle. This can be a drag if you want to eat with the crowd, but if you really love pancakes, it’s worth the sacrifice. Take turns playing short-order cook or have a couple of griddles going at once so you can cook a lot of pancakes simultaneously. If you must, you can keep pancakes in a 200°F oven, spread on a baking sheet lined with a kitchen towel. Don’t stack or even overlap them or the resulting steam will make them flabby.

Have everything else warm. Cold, rock-hard butter is a sad sight sitting on a pancake. For best eating, have the butter, the syrup, and even the plates at room temperature or, even better, slightly warm.

Although I like my pancakes best simply adorned with syrup and sweet butter, sliced fruit or homemade jam can tempt me. Fruit should be very ripe and also at room temperature. You can add nuts or very soft or cooked fruit right to the batter or sprinkle them onto the pancakes when they first hit the griddle—a good idea if you want a variety of flavors or if some folks like them plain.

Flip the pancakes when they’re covered in bubbles. Check the underside to be sure it’s nicely browned, flip, and cook the other side for about half as long.