What Makes Pancakes Fluffy?

What’s better than pancakes with maple syrup? Learn what makes pancakes fluffy and see how to make your favorite breakfast meals with Jow.

Think of your dream breakfast. You might imagine crispy bacon with perfectly-scrambled eggs and toast. If you prefer a more adventurous breakfast, you may picture plump eggs benedict with creamy hollandaise sauce. Or you might think of fluffy, buttery pancakes topped with delicious syrup and fruit.

When you make pancakes at home, how do they turn out? If you’ve been preparing this breakfast food for years, you might have the hang of flipping hotcakes on the griddle. On the other hand, you might feel that you’ve been trying for years to get the perfect consistency in your pancakes.

Getting a fluffy pancake isn’t as hard as you’d imagine! By learning what makes hotcakes fluffy or flat, you can start implementing your knowledge into your breakfast preparation. After some practice, we think you’ll be on your way to crafting the most delicious breakfast cakes topped with melted butter for Saturday mornings or any day you feel like making a morning meal that’s warm and sweet.

Let’s get into talking about the real reason pancakes have some fluff to their consistency. After that, we’ll show you ways to spice up your hotcakes and introduce you to breakfast recipes that make morning meals a breeze.

The Real Reason Pancakes Are Fluffy

If you want to know how to make fluffy homemade pancakes, you may want to start with understanding what makes pancakes fluffy. In just a moment, you’ll see a recipe for delicious pillowy pancakes, but first, let’s talk about the science behind the fluff.

Baking Powder

One of the primary reasons pancakes rise or remain flat is air pockets that form and solidify in the batter. What causes these bubbles to occur or not occur? As you mix your batter, you’ll notice many recipes call for the addition of baking powder.

Perhaps you’ve wondered why you’d need to add baking powder or baking soda to your pancake mix in the past. Baking powder functions as a leavening agent in your batter, and when it becomes activated, it produces gas, which forms bubbles.

How does the baking powder activate? There’s a more scientific answer than waving a magic wand. There are two primary steps for this reaction to occur:

  • When you whisk your dry ingredients (including baking powder) with liquid in a bowl, the chemicals in the baking powder begin to react. The powder releases an initial wave of gas that forms bubbles by interacting with liquid. It’s a slow and steady process as the bubbles form.
  • Next, as you pour your batter over the heat, this also causes a reaction, making the batter begin to rise and become fluffy. If you add your batter to high heat, it will produce a more significant reaction, and thus, a higher amount of bubbles.

The Chemical Side of Gluten

Want to get even deeper into why bubbles form in your pancakes? It has to do with the chemical makeup of the batter. When you make traditional pancakes, the batter includes gluten in the flour portion of the mix.

Glutens are long protein molecules that have an elastic quality. Just like dough expands when you allow it to rest before baking, the gluten in the pancake batter stretches and expands. As it stretches, pockets of air begin to form, making your pancakes airy and light.

Heating Your Hotcakes Adds to the Fluff

There is way more to appreciate about how pancakes become fluffy. In addition to bubbles forming in the mixing stage, your pancakes also become airy when they hit the skillet and begin to cook. That’s why cooking your pancakes in the microwave or on a baking sheet likely won’t give you the same results.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • First, as we already mentioned, the wet batter hitting the hot surface of the griddle causes air bubbles to form quickly.
  • As the batter heats, the liquid begins to cook away and becomes steam.
  • At the same time, the proteins in your eggs (part of your wet ingredients) start to coagulate, causing the mixture to solidify.
  • These three factors together cause CO2 bubbles to quickly form and solidify into multiple tiny air pockets throughout, making your pancakes fluffy.

A Tip To Remember When Making Pancakes

The heat of your griddle plays a significant part in the fluffiness of your hotcakes. When the surface is sufficiently hot, the bubbles in the batter can form and harden quickly enough to give the pancakes their full shape.

On the other hand, if your pan isn’t hot enough, the bubbles in the batter will form too slowly and pop before they can solidify. A solid temperature to aim for is 375 degrees.

A Few Other Factors Play a Part in Your Pancakes

Each time you eat pancakes, you’re probably not thinking about each of the individual factors playing a part in the structure of your meal. Still, as you enjoy each buttery bite, there are even more elements that contribute to the taste, texture, and appearance of your hotcake breakfast.

Let’s look at a few examples of how the ingredients in your pancakes help give them a fluffy texture.

Other Tips for Fluffy Pancakes

If you’re truly on a mission to create the fluffiest pancakes possible, you might want to consider adding whipped egg whites to the mix. Separate the egg yolks and whip the whites in a separate bowl until they form soft or stiff peaks. You’ll then fold the egg whites into the rest of your batter.

Another Tip for Flipping

Combining the right ingredients for tasty flavors is one of the essential elements for enjoying your pancakes. Still, as you cook your pancakes, you’ll also want to keep the appearance of your hotcakes in mind.

Do you want to savor the taste and look of beautiful, fluffy pancakes? You may want to keep an eye on how you flip each cake. When flipping with a spatula, don’t get ahead of yourself. Instead, try to be gentle as you flip the uncooked side of the batter onto the hot pan. By flipping your pancakes delicately, you’re more likely to end up with stunning hotcakes that look fluffy and delicious.

Pancakes are a long-standing breakfast (or dinner) tradition that you probably want to perfect, or you wouldn’t be here.

While they appear extremely simple, there is a science behind fluffy pancakes with golden-crispy edges. Even with the right pancake formula, they can turn out less than desirable due to incorrect cooking techniques.

The first step is to identify the issue and then provide a solution to fix it, which is exactly the contents and purpose of this post.

Common Pancake Problems & Their Solutions

Problem: flat pancakes result from expired baking powder or a too thin batter (runny). First, I’ll address the baking powder; an open tin of baking powder has a shelf life of 6 months. After that, the powder’s leavening abilities begin to diminish.

On the other hand, using too much liquid creates a runny batter which will easily spread onto the pan and make a thin, crepe-like pancake.

Solution: use fresh baking powder, and don’t prep the batter the night before. If it sits too long, the baking powder will be less effective in lifting. This same rule applies to baking soda for buttermilk pancakes.

Another way to avoid thin, lifeless pancakes is to use the recipe’s specified amount of milk. There should be 1 cup of liquid for every cup of flour.

Why are my pancakes rubbery or gummy?

Problem: overmixing the batter. Overmixing pancake batter causes the gluten to build up, making the cooked results rubbery discs instead of soft and fluffy pancakes.

Solution: Stir the batter until the wet and dry ingredients are just incorporated. A few lumps are okay! Pancake batter should be thick enough, so it drips off the back of a spoon.

Why are my pancakes gooey?

Problem: the pan isn’t hot enough. On a lukewarm cooking surface, pancake batter will soak up the oil as it cooks and give them a gooey, unpleasant texture.

Solution: make sure your non-stick pan or griddle is hot enough by adding a tiny amount of batter. If it lightly bubbles- you’re ready.

Why are my pancakes not cooked through?

Problem: you’re using too much batter for each pancake and not cooking them long enough. Or, your heat is too hot, and you’re flipping them too early because the first side cooked too much.

Too much batter results in overcooked edges with undercooked centers.

Solution: use about ¼ cup for each pancake. Don’t flip until the edges are set, and the bubbles forming in the batter begin to pop.

Watch and see the exact moment to flip those pancakes.


Why are my pancakes burning?

Problem: this is from cooking temperatures that are too high and using butter to grease the pan. Butter browns very quickly, especially in a pan that’s too hot.

Solution: use vegetable oil to grease your non-stick pan or pancake griddle; it has a higher smoke point and gives the pancakes a gorgeous old-fashioned glow. Also, your cooking surface is set to medium heat, about 350F.

Why are my pancakes dense?

Problem: too much egg can cause the centers to be thick and custard-like, not what we’re going for with pancakes.

Solution: a good rule of thumb is one egg for every cup of flour.

Why do my pancakes fall apart?

Problem: not using a non-stick cooking surface and overcrowding the pan.

Solution: A GREASED and non-stick pan or griddle makes it easier to slip the pancakes onto the spatula and flip. For this reason, I prefer pancake griddles. They’re inexpensive and large enough to cook many pancakes at once.

Why are my pancakes flavorless?

Problem: not using salt, butter, or sugar. These three elements give pancakes a balanced and delicious flavor.

Solution: butter adds richness, and sugar gives the cooked pancakes a subtle sweet taste- you don’t need much. Most importantly, don’t skip the salt; it enhances the other flavors.

How to Measure Flour for Pancakes

The correct way to measure flour for pancakes is to scoop the flour into a measuring cup with a spoon and scrape off the excess with the back of the spoon or knife. If you need a visual, watch the video below to see how to measure flour and other baking goods.


This small step makes the difference between a soft pancake texture and one that’s too thick and dried out.

And that, my friends, concludes this overview of all of your pancake-making problems. The solutions are easy to implement, and I know they will help you make incredible pancakes batch after batch.

Reader Interactions

This story is as old as the stalest bread, which is to say at least 14,000 years. The act of mixing flour with water, raising it with a leavener, and baking it goes back at least that far. The process is deeply familiar, yet most of us don’t know much about what is happening down in that mass of dough. Let me tell you, it’s complicated.

The science of doughs and batters can fill books upon books and still not cover all there is to know about how it works. So a relatively brief article like this one that’s focused on just one facet of a much larger story is guaranteed to have holes in it, which is fitting, because the subject here is exactly that—the bubbly spaces that inflate breads, cakes, and countless other leavened baked goods. Without the bubbles that aerate them, breads would be rock-hard lumps that we’d have to suck on in hopes of dissolving a bit with our saliva, and cakes would be dense and rubbery discs that might work best as drain stoppers.

Serious Eats Video Team

Ask people how air bubbles form in doughs and batters, and they’d likely say that yeast or a chemical leavener like baking soda produce gas bubbles that provide aeration. And they’d be partly correct, but the full story is more complicated—and more interesting. Why exactly do cakes have such fine, tiny bubbles while breads can have huge hollows in them? It’s not an easy question to answer, as doughs and batters are incredibly complex systems.

The importance of bubbles, though, isn’t just about the bubbles themselves, it’s about what they make possible. Only through an elaborate dance of a multitude of chemical and physical processes can a loaf of bread or moist cake exist. Understanding this science will not automatically make you a better baker (though it certainly can!), but it will help you understand why so many baking recipes work the way they do.

I want to take you on a journey to witness firsthand the lifecycle of bubbles in doughs and batters. To do it, we’re gonna fire up the miniaturization-laser of our imaginations and shrink ourselves down, Honey-I-Shrunk-the-Kids-style, to visualize the bizarro world of bubbles firsthand.

But First, What Are Batters and Doughs, Anyway?

Doughs, as you’ve probably noticed, are drier than batters. Doughs may be sticky, and they’re very much malleable, but batters are far more wet and flowing. This is because doughs have more flour than water, while batters have more water than flour. Doughs also tend to be simpler in terms of ingredients, often consisting of just flour, water, leavener, and salt. Many batters have several additional ingredients, including eggs, sugar, flavorings, and various sources of fat (butter or oil, milk, the egg yolks, etc.). Bread doughs, meanwhile, are more often leavened with yeast, while batters tend to be leavened by gas-producing chemicals like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).

Yet all of this is a generalization. There are doughs with eggs and fat (hello brioche!), and batters that are little more than flour and water. Similarly, there are doughs that are raised with baking soda (they don’t call it soda bread for nothing) and batters teeming with yeast.

To put it bluntly, there’s more complexity and nuance to these categories of food than I can account for here, and many recipes exist on a spectrum somewhere between the doughiest dough and the batteriest batter. So, in the interest of getting the basic points across, we’ll be looking at the most stereotypical versions of bread dough and cake batter.

The Beginning of Bubble Life

Close your eyes and picture this: You’re inside a mass of bread dough that has just had its ingredients of flour, water, yeast, and salt combined. Stretching off in all directions are chains of gluten proteins that seem to go on for miles, so long they fade into the murky distance. You can see that the gluten proteins are just starting to bond with each other to form a network that will be critical to all that happens next. They’re going to give this bread dough strength and elasticity—which will be essential for trapping the gas bubbles later on.

You can also see starch granules everywhere, suspended in the watery matrix of gluten proteins like boulders tangled in an underwater net. They will eventually swell with water and later, when heat is applied, they’ll gel and set, turning a soft dough into something much more solid.

You can also see yeast cells beginning to feed. They’re eating the starch granules, digesting the glucose inside to generate energy and producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the process. Despite imagining ourselves at such a tiny scale, the carbon dioxide is still much, much smaller, and therefore impossible to see. The CO2 molecules are diffusing across the yeast cell walls into the watery solution that surrounds them—not as bubbles of gas, but as molecules dissolved in the water. The yeast will continue to eat the glucose in the starch granules and produce more and more alcohol and CO2, but it will take a while; they work slowly and are just getting started. Good thing is, in a bread dough, time is on our side: The yeast have a massive supply of food and there’s a lot left for the baker to do before the dough is ready for the oven.

Speaking of the baker, they’re about to do something important: Knead the dough. If you get motion sick, you may not want to imagine you’re inside the dough at this point, but a lot happens here. First, the baker is mixing the ingredients more thoroughly, distributing the starch, proteins, salt, and yeast more evenly throughout the mass, which will ensure a more even crumb later. All that mixing is also working the gluten proteins round and round, helping them to bond to each other and building an even stronger network to trap air. But there’s a third thing that’s often overlooked in the explanation of why we knead dough: Air pockets and bubbles are being worked into it.

Doughs and batters (and the finished baked breads and cakes) are foams, just like in this fizzy drink.

Without mixing and kneading, it would take longer for a yeasted dough to aerate, and the size and distribution of the eventual air bubbles will be more uneven in both size and distribution (some breads are kneaded minimally precisely to encourage large, uneven bubbles). By working air into the dough mechanically, the baker gives a jump-start to the aeration process, offering sites for larger bubbles to form throughout the dough, while also evening out the bubbles in the crumb.

At the same time, the dissolved CO2 that’s being excreted by the yeast is diffusing through the water in the dough. Anywhere these dissolved CO2 molecules encounter an irregularity in the mass of dough—and there are irregularities everywhere, from the varied shapes of starch granules to impurities in the dough and bits of salt—they will gather and cluster to form the teensiest, tiniest bubbles. This is the same thing that happens in a glass of beer or soda, where microscopic irregularities on the surface of the glass provide nucleation sites, as they’re called, for bubbles to form, eventually break free, and float upwards.

The big thing to know here is that in a dough, there are two pathways for bubbles to form: Larger ones of atmospheric air (mostly nitrogen and oxygen) that are incorporated mechanically when the dough is mixed and kneaded, and miniscule ones of CO2 that are forming at nucleation sites throughout the dough. Additional dissolved CO2 will find its way as it travels through the watery phase of the dough to these bubbles, where it can then escape into them as a gas.

Let’s now move by power of imagination into a batter. Sploop. We’re now bobbing in a thick slurry that was stirred together just moments before. Here, you have a lot more water along with several other ingredients—dissolved sugar, eggs (including emulsifier-rich yolks), fats, flavorings (is this a chocolate cake? Let’s pretend it’s a chocolate cake—I can definitely see chocolate now!), and even more fats, sugar, and proteins from milk. Gluten proteins float through the swampy mix with us, but they seem to be struggling to form much of a network—the fats in the batter appear to be attracted to the gluten proteins, and they’re getting in the way of the kind of gluten-to-gluten bonding we saw in the dough.

In this swampy batter, we see no yeast. Instead, there’s a chemical fizzing away: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), which has wasted no time reacting with acids in the batter. The byproduct, once again: CO2. The whole pace of activity is different here. Unlike the snail-like pace of the yeast in the dough we were just in, the baking soda in this batter is just going absolutely nuts. One thing is clear: batters like this one are developing on a much shorter timescale than doughs—there’s no time to wait for yeast to slowly build up a supply of CO2, it’s being created in much greater quantities by the baking soda as soon as the batter is mixed.

Swimming through this slightly viscous batter, we can see the lingering effects of the mixing that the baker did right before we dropped in: the mixture is homogenous, thanks to all that mixing, and little bubbles of atmospheric air are suspended in the floury soup. In this way, the batter is very much like a dough. But, unlike a dough, gluten didn’t really have much of a chance to form here—there’s no elastic network of wheat proteins to trap air nearly as effectively as in a dough.

From the beginning, these batter bubbles tend to be smaller than what we saw in the dough. That’s because batters are rich with emulsifiers from egg yolks and other ingredients that work as surfactants to help form a stable shell around the bubbles—the more emulsifiers there are, the smaller the bubbles can be. If our baker were to reduce the amount of emulsifiers in the batter, we’d see larger bubbles because there simply wouldn’t be enough surfactants available to cover the increased surface area of smaller bubbles.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Aside from these differences, the processes we’re seeing in a batter are largely similar to a dough: the dissolved CO2 created by the baking soda diffuses through the water phase of the batter, nucleating on physical imperfections to form the tiniest bubbles, while mechanically-incorporated air provides a bubble-boost to further aerate the batter.

With the bubbles formed, it’s off to the races. For bread, this will be a long-distance run. For the batter, it’s more like the 100-meter dash. But there’s no need for a winner here, we’ll get our delicious and airy baked goods eventually.

Let’s stay in the batter for a moment, because some interesting things are happening here in the short time we have before baking. As I described above, we’re floating in a more liquidy medium, rich with egg and wheat proteins, emulsifiers, starches, sugars, baking soda, flavorings, and, at this point, lots and lots of tiny bubbles.

Because of the relatively lower viscosity of the batter compared to the dough, the bubbles are moving around much more easily, and they’re moving up due to their buoyancy. At the surface, bubbles pop and release their gas into the air, like sulphur burbling up through a muddy geothermal spring (thankfully, minus the sulphur part). The batter is degassing much faster than the dough—it has no good way to truly trap the air bubbles the way a stretchy dough can. It can slow them down, but they’ll eventually find their way to the surface and out into the air. Hence why we need to bake the batter sooner rather than later.

* Okay, okay, that’s a cop-out. Want to know why smaller bubbles have higher pressure than larger ones? Mostly, the answer has to do with the surface tension of the bubble’s shell: Smaller bubbles have a more extreme curvature than larger ones, and more curvature puts the bubble under more pressure, similar to how a tiny balloon is so much harder to blow up than a large one.

All of this coalescing and ripening drives the bubble structure towards an equilibrium in bubble size. At the same time, there’s an upper limit on bubble size in a batter. The reasons are many. Part of it is just time—a batter, being a shorter-lived foam compared to a dough, has less time to amass larger bubbles. Part of it is buoyancy: As bubbles become larger, they float to the surface more quickly, exiting at the surface of the batter. Bigger bubbles go bye-bye more quickly.

But another big part of it is the nature of the surrounding batter slurry, and once again we get to a fundamental difference between doughs and batters here. In a dough, the air is trapped in a strong but elastic gluten network that can swell and swell as the bubbles collect more gas. In a batter, though, there’s no significant gluten network to trap the air. Instead, the bubbles are held stable by the emulsifiers in the wetter batter, and there’s a threshold at which a bubble in a batter just can’t get any larger or it’ll pop due to instability. Plompfffffffff-blub, I think, would be the appropriate sound to imagine here.

The dough, meanwhile, is growing much more slowly, the gluten network expanding like a bunch of rubber balloons to contain a greater quantity of air as the yeast produces more and more of it. While coalescing and Ostwald ripening can happen in a dough, it’s much less frequent due to the lack of mobility of the bubbles in a lower-hydration mass of dough; on top of that, the gluten network acts like barriers for bubble crowd-control, making it more difficult for those bubbles to interact freely. So much of bread-making at this point involves the baker, who can influence bubble size and distribution with a variety of techniques, from a very hands-off no-knead approach for bigger, more uneven bubbles to methods that involve active folding, punching down, slapping, and more, to divide bigger air bubbles into smaller ones while improving the evenness of their distribution.

Immortality (-ish)

It’s time to bake. Thankfully, one of the benefits of imagining we’re inside bread dough or cake batter is we can stay “inside” during baking without actually being roasted to death. Our batter has now been transferred to cake pans, our bread loaf is formed, fully proofed, and ready to go into the oven.

For cake batter, the oven temperature is generally a cooler 325°F or so. Bread goes into hotter ovens of at least 400°F, sometimes much hotter (think: Neapolitan pizza in an 800°F oven). Why the difference? With bread, we tend to want a dramatic and rapid oven spring, the dramatic increase in volume mostly caused by steam as the water in the bread vaporizes in the heat—once the exterior dehydrates enough to begin forming a crust, it won’t allow much further expansion. This is also why breads are often baked with steam or spritzed with water in the beginning stages, to stave off crust development and allow more oven spring.

Cakes, on the other hand, do not require as dramatic of a rise, nor do we want them to form tough crusts, hence the lower oven temperature. Plus, cakes, with their finer bubble size, tend to be more dense than breads, so it takes heat longer to penetrate to the center; if the oven were too hot, the cake would harden on the exterior and still be raw in the middle. More moderate heat helps the cake cook through without over-baking on the outside.

Here, once again, we need to stop and appreciate one of the most important transformations that happens in the whole life story of the bubbles in these baked goods. Up until this point, the bubbles in both cases were forming what is called a closed foam, meaning each pocket of air is discrete and cut off from the rest. Think of the unbaked bread or cake like a huge house with tons of rooms (the bubbles) that each have an explosive device in them. Before baking, all the rooms have all their doors closed. If we were to light a fire in one room, it would eventually cause the explosive device to combust, blowing the door right off its hinges and opening the room up to the next. The heat would then rush into the next room, build, and blow the next device, and on and on until almost no rooms have doors anymore.

The same thing happens in a mass of batter or dough. As heat enters, starting from the outside and working its way to the center, water begins to vaporize and form steam, expanding a whopping 2000 times in volume compared to its liquid state. The bubbles expand, and then they burst into their neighbors’ spaces, in a chain reaction of ruptures and explosions that drive heat much more rapidly towards the center, speeding up cooking, and turning the baked goods into open foams.

Which is to say, by the time they’re baked, breads and cakes are no longer filled with thousands or millions of little bubbles, but rather one huge bubble that snakes and weaves its way through the crumb.

Up until baking, the bubbles in our batter and our dough had acted as a kind of internal support structure—in a sense, the bubbles were a solid framework holding up the liquid substance filled with starches and proteins. But as the bread and cakes cook, the starches gel and, in the case of egg-enriched batters, the egg proteins denature, firming up the crumb and setting the baked goods in their final solid form.

Once they’re cooled, as the accumulated gas and steam that provided so much expansion just minutes before drift off into the atmosphere, the loaves and cakes will not collapse. The bubbles that formed them have been immortalized in a final casting. Well, as final as any cake or bread will ever be, anyway, because I’m hungry. Can I interest you in a slice?


  • Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (Scribner, 2004)
  • F. Ronald Young, Fizzics: The Science of Bubbles, Droplets, and Foams (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011)
  • Sidney Perkowitz, Universal Foam: Exploring the Science of Nature’s Most Mysterious Substance (Anchor Books, 2000)

Disorganized gluten, carbon dioxide formation, and timing is everything for the fluffiest pancakes possible.

There’s nothing better than a piping hot stack of pancakes. They’re a weekend family crowd-pleaser, the perfect dish to serve a lucky breakfast-eater in bed, and the most delightful anytime snack. However, while there’s nothing better than these griddled cakes, there’s also nothing worse than messing them up. Here, we present our recipe for pancake success.

Mix the Batter Lightly

There are two factors that promote fluffiness in pancake batter, underdeveloped gluten and dissolved baking soda. Gluten is a mix of very long proteins that are disorganized in structure. Once gluten is dissolved in water, these proteins can more easily rearrange their structure. Kneading or mixing gluten elongates the proteins and somewhat organizes them, an action similar to combing the strands of your hair. As the proteins start to lie more or less parallel to each other, the dough becomes elastic and less tender. By reducing the mixing time of your batter, you give the gluten less opportunity to organize.

Baking soda (either on its own or as part of the baking powder formula) creates the bubbles that make pancakes rise. When baking soda encounters an acid, carbon dioxide is formed to produce the bubbles in the batter. The stirring of the pancake batter speeds bubble formation by moving the baking soda and acid together. Unfortunately, stirring also causes the release of carbon dioxide gas by bringing formed bubbles to the surface of the mixture. Just a little too much stirring and the bubble-forming capacity of the baking soda will be quickly exhausted. To make the fluffiest pancakes possible, then, you should stir the batter until the ingredients are just incorporated—and not one stir more!

Use the Batter Within an Hour

To determine how far in advance we could make pancake batter, we mixed up a few batches of basic pancake batter and held them for different lengths of time before cooking: one hour, two hours, and three hours. Holding the batter for one hour had no detrimental effect on the pancakes. After two and three hours, however, the batter spread out too easily, producing thin, floppy cakes that were much less appealing than the ones made from fresh batter. Here’s why: In fresh pancake batter, baking powder reacts quickly, releasing most of its gas in a short period of time. The longer the batter sits, the fewer bubbles there are left when it’s time to cook, increasing the likelihood of flat flapjacks.

At first we thought we could add a bit more baking powder to the batter to provide some extra lift, but this merely lent an unpleasant chemical taste to the pancakes. Next, we tried adding a stiffly beaten egg white to the batter. The resulting pancakes were not quite as fluffy as those from fresh batter, but the egg white added a good amount of height. So the next time you find yourself with pancake batter past its prime, simply add a stiffly beaten egg white.

Heat the Pan Properly

The best way to determine when the skillet is ready is to make a test pancake the size of a half-dollar (use 1 tablespoon of batter). If after one minute the pancake is golden brown, the pan is ready. If the bottom of the pancake remains blond—or is close to burning—adjust the heat accordingly.

Serve Them as Soon as Possible

We tried several methods to determine how to hold pancakes before serving, from stacking up the pancakes on a heated plate, to covering them with foil, or to placing the plate of stacked pancakes in a warm oven. All of these methods did the job as far as keeping the pancakes warm. Even by the last batch of pancakes, the temperature reading would hit somewhere between 145 and 150 degrees. But these pancakes were compressed from being stacked, and they steamed from the heat and became very rubbery.

We found the best method was to spread the pancakes on a large cooling rack placed on a sheet pan. (Be sure to spray the cooling rack with vegetable cooking spray to save yourself from sticking pancakes). Place the pan and the rack in a 200-degree oven and place your pancakes on the rack in a single layer, uncovered, for up to 20 minutes (or be warned-they will start to dry out.) The warm oven keeps the pancakes hot enough to melt a pat of butter, and leaving the pancakes uncovered keeps them from becoming soggy.

RECIPE FOR MEMBERS: Best Buttermilk Pancakes

To create a buttermilk pancake recipe with a tangy flavor and fluffy texture, we added sour cream for flavor and cut back on leaveners to keep the pancakes from rising too high and then collapsing.


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Making the perfect, fluffy, buttermilk pancakes involves much more chemistry than you might think! Here I will take a closer look at the science behind what makes these pancakes so yummy.

First, lets look at the role each ingredients plays in the recipe:

  • All-purpose flour is a starch. It helps to absorb the moisture from the eggs and buttermilk
  • Baking powder is an acid that when reacts creates air pockets. However, this will make the pancakes spongy if not used with baking soda.
  • Baking soda reacts with the buttermilk, which is an acid. The air pockets created from the reaction make the pancakes nice and fluffy.
  • Salt, sugar, and vanilla are all used for taste/flavoring and can be modified based on personal preference.
  • Buttermilk is the acid that gets the baking soda to react.
  • Eggs are proteins and turn from a liquid to a solid when they are cooked. This happens in the pancake batter when heat is added, turning the liquid batter into solid pancakes.

Now, lets take look at the importance of the process when combining these ingredients:

Initially, the dry ingredients and wet ingredients must be mixed separately. This separation allows for the batter to not become over-mixed when the wet ingredients are added to the dry ingredients. Too much mixing of the batter can lead to enzymes in the flour mixture breaking down the gluten (Potter, 249). The final pancake batter should not be completely smooth, but should contain lumps. This lumpy consistency allows less gluten to be formed by the flour, compared to batter that was smooth and over-mixed (Potter, 10).

Next, we’ll look at the cooking method used:

The pancakes are cooked on a griddle over heat.The heat transforms the liquid batter to pancakes. When heated, the proteins in eggs stiffen, changing them from a  liquid to a solid (Jeroen, 2015). This is why when the batter is added to the griddle, it begins to solidify.

Now, we’ll investigate what might happen if you substitute an ingredient in the recipe:

Lets say you are all ready to make this recipe, but realize you don’t have the buttermilk it calls for! You decide to use regular milk instead, without changing anything else. Buttermilk is more acidic than regular milk and reacts with the baking soda, which makes the pancakes fluffy. If regular milk was used instead, the final pancakes would be noticeable flatter (Perry, 2017). This could be fixed by adding an acid to the regular milk to react with the baking soda. Lemon juice is an option that is commonly found in many kitchens!


  • Step 1
    Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl or, as I frequently do, a large glass measuring cup.
  • Step 2
    Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla extract just until combined. Some small lumps are okay.
  • Step 3
    Let pancake batter rest for 10 minutes.
  • Step 4
    Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium-high heat.
  • Step 5
    Spray with non-stick cooking spray OR brush with butter or oil.
  • Step 6
    Ladle 1/3 – 1/2 cup batter onto the griddle for each pancake
  • Step 7
    Flip the pancakes over when small bubbles appear on the surface and continue cooking on the opposite side until golden brown.
  • Step 8
    Serve with butter and syrup.
  • Step 9
    The BEST Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes. (2016, April 16). Retrieved from https://www.momontimeout.com/best-fluffy-buttermilk-pancakes/


  • Alfaro, D. (2019, June 26). Make Pancakes From Scratch With This Simple Recipe. Retrieved from https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-make-pancakes-from-scratch-995800
  • Jeroen. (2015, December 25). What do the base ingredients in pancakes do? Retrieved from https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/64788/what-do-the-base-ingredients-in-pancakes-do
  • The BEST Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes. (2016, April 16). Retrieved from https://www.momontimeout.com/best-fluffy-buttermilk-pancakes/
  • Perry, D. (2017, May 30). How to Make Our Best Buttermilk Pancakes. Retrieved from https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/how-to/article/how-to-make-our-best-buttermilk-pancakes
  • Potter, J. (2015). Cooking for geeks: real science, great cooks, and good food. Sebastopol, CA: OReilly Media, Inc.

Here we will cover the reasons why your pancakes have holes in them. It has to do with the process of cooking pancakes, which is usually a good sign that they are being cooked correctly in a pan or on a griddle. These holes form from the moisture escaping inside the batter while it is cooking in the heat.

Over time the holes will form all over the top surface of the batter, which is an indication that the first side of the pancake is almost done cooking.

Pancake cooking with holes in it.

When a higher temperature is used to cook the batter that is placed on the heated surface, the bubbles on the surface of the cooking batter will form faster. Wherever the bubbles are forming and popping, is the same places below that area where the pancake is almost finished cooking. The bubbles will pop and leave holes on the surface. This is normal.

From the picture shown above, you can see that the holes on the surface of the batter have formed everywhere. If this all happens at the same time in a fairly short amount of time, then it is an indication that the pancake is cooking evenly.

The heat is being distributed evenly across the pancake batter. It also means that the bottom portion that is cooking first (the actual top of the pancake) will most likely have cooked evenly and will look golden brown.

The holes and the batter becoming doughy on the surface, is a clear sign that the pancake is ready to flip. Waiting until the pancake is like this, means that it can be flipped without spilling batter all over the pan, as long as the pancake is cooked at the correct temperature.

From the picture above, you can see that most of the batter is no longer wet and runny at this point. It has formed into cooked dough. It will look great when it is flipped.

Surface of the pancake with holes in it after it has been flipped.

From this picture of the same pancake, you can see that the top layer is a nice light golden brown color that is even on the surface after it is flipped. There are no holes in the top of the pancake. The bottom with the holes in it will also cook for a shorter period of time than the other side, after it is flipped, before it is finished, and ready to be taken out.

Usually when a pancake is made and set on a plate, the bottom isn’t showing, only the top is visible. They are usually stacked on top of each other with only the top and sides visible. Homemade pancakes are supposed to be like this if they are cooked properly.

However, if you look at other pancakes made by companies, some restaurants, or bought premade in a grocery store, they may not look like this on either side with the holes displayed. There are a few reasons why this may be the case:

Either way, the bubbles naturally will happen, just like they do in other liquids and suaces that are heated for awhile. The bubbles will form in the batter on the surface before it is flipped, then they will pop, leaving holes on the doughy surface. However, the other side will be flat, because it is cooked on the flat surface first in the pan.

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If you love pancakes, you are not alone. A poll found that 93% of people like pancakes, with 5% saying they are not fond of them and 2% truly hating them.

It’s an odd thing to hate, but that’s not the point of this article. Before we get to the remarkable science of the pancake, a little history.

Pancakes have been around a very long time. When a 5,300-year-old human was found in ice, they found pancakes in his stomach. (That’s a little creepy.) However, pancakes are far older than that. The first written reference to pancakes dates back to the year 600 B.C.

Since that time, the basic idea and science of pancakes has not changed all that much. More or less, they were made with the same types of ingredients that we have now. Those ingredients are just far easier to come by.

Magical ingredients

Flour is the main ingredient in any pancake recipe — and for good reason.

Flour contains two proteins that, when combined with water, string together to form a sticky substance called gluten. Without this sticky substance, the consistency of pancakes would be very hard to come by. However, pancakes of only gluten would not be pancakes at all.

In order to get a fluffy pancake, we need to have gas (carbon dioxide) bubble up through the gluten just as the mixture is heated. This reaction requires an acid and a base. Almost all pancake recipes use baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) for the base. Many pancake recipes use buttermilk for the acid.

When the acid and base are combined, carbon dioxide gas is formed and these bubbles rise through the batter. When cooked, these bubbles make the pancake fluffy.

Sometimes buttermilk is not available, and people use regular milk instead. However, regular milk is not an acid, so it will not react with the base to form gas bubbles. Therefore, when regular milk is used, the recipe will call for baking powder.

Baking powder contains baking soda (a base), cream of tartar (an acid), and cornstarch. The cornstarch is only used to keep the acid and base separated until a liquid is added.

There is just one more important note about fluffiness. If you stir your pancake batter too much, the gas bubbles that your acid and base just produced will be released. Over stirring causes tough, rubbery pancakes. You should barely stir your pancake batter.

Maillard reaction

Now that chemistry has given you the perfect pancake batter, you need to quickly cook the pancakes before all that gas escapes. This is where a very complex set of chemical reactions occurs between the amino acids (from the milk and eggs) and the carbon and oxygen in the sugar.

The reaction between the amino acids, carbon and oxygen creates the flavors and odors our brains crave. It also is responsible for the golden-brown color and just slightly crispy texture of the outside of our pancake.

The Maillard reaction completely changes the flavor of our batter. This chemical reaction is also responsible for many other flavors we love including caramel, bread crust, chocolate, coffee, maple syrup and cooked meat.

Pancake facts

If that was too much science, let’s end with some pancake facts:

  • The largest pancake ever made was 49 feet wide and weighed 6,614 pounds.
  • The most expensive pancake can be found in England at a cost of $200. It has Madagascar vanilla pods and gold leaf in the batter.
  • Mrs. Butterworth’s first name is Joy.
  • February 21 is National Pancake Day.
  • The highest pancake toss from a pan was 31 feet, 1 inch.

Why learn about pancakes today? Mr. Szydlowski’s Jefferson Middle School class will be cooking pancakes while reading this article and learning about these delicious chemical reactions today. Cook your own pancakes and learn with us!

Mike Szydlowski is a science teacher and zoo facilitator at Jefferson STEAM School.


What makes a pancake fluffy?

What does pancake batter need in order for gas bubbles to form?

Buttermilk provides the acid in pancake batter. What would happen if the same recipe was used but with regular milk instead?

What is a Maillard reaction?

If you eat two pancakes a week for a year, how much will the ingredients cost in a year?


Why were the seeds brought over from England not very successful?

The soil and climate in the new location was very different than their homeland.

What is an epidemic?

An epidemic is an outbreak of an illness or disease that affects many people.

Why were the Native Americans so much more weakened by disease than the Europeans?

The Native Americans were introduced to germs that their civilizations were not used to nor had resistance to.

How might things have been different if the epidemics did not hit the Native Americans?

If the Native Americans were not weakened by the epidemics, the different tribes may have banded together to stop the colonization by the settlers.

What is one similarity between the pilgrims’ celebration and our Thanksgiving?

Both celebrations are meant to give thanks for what you have.

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