Recipe Review

I Tried 6 Famous Pancake Recipes and the Winner Has Changed My Saturday Mornings Forever

published Jan 20, 2024
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Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe; Food Styling Ben Weiner

Pancakes are the quintessential breakfast food. Easy enough to make regularly, endlessly customizable, and delicious enough to be the star at a special-occasion or holiday breakfast. While you can buy prepared shelf-stable mixes or frozen pancakes, nothing beats a fresh, warm, crispy-edged pancake just flipped out of the pan.

With so many pancake recipes to choose from, the huge volume can be tricky to navigate. So, we selected a variety of basic pancakes from well-known food personalities to compare side by side. 

Will a ricotta-based pancake top an iconic buttermilk one? Which yielded the fluffiest texture? Grab a bottle of maple syrup and check out how the competition stacked up.

Quick Overview

So, What’s the Best Pancake Recipe?

Alison Roman’s buttermilk pancake recipe makes deliciously fluffy pancakes you’ll want to make over and over again.

Meet Our 6 Pancake Contenders

For this showdown, we gathered six celebrity recipes to taste against each other. They were all cooked on the stovetop as individual-sized pancakes – no giant skillet or silver dollar-sized for this one.  I made the pancakes plain and skipped any add-ins or toppings.

  • Martha Stewart: The title of “Easy Basic Pancakes” rings true with this recipe. With just seven ingredients, plus oil for cooking, the batter comes together quickly and relies on pantry staples like all-purpose flour, sugar, and milk. There is no added vanilla or other flavorings, making these a blank canvas for customization. 
  • Ina Garten: This recipe uses a combination of milk and sour cream for the dairy and has vanilla extract and lemon zest for flavor. Besides extra-large eggs (an Ina signature size), the ingredients are all standard. While many recipes add melted butter or oil to the batter, this recipe omits that step, although the pancakes are cooked in a generous amount of butter.
  • Marcus Samuelsson: These pancakes are pretty different from the others. There is no baking powder or sugar, there is a hefty amount of melted butter whisked into the batter, and the dairy is a combination of whole-milk ricotta cheese and milk.
  • Gordon Ramsay: This recipe is in metric so you will need a scale. It has a slightly different way of mixing the batter. After separating the eggs, everything except the egg whites is combined in a bowl and mixed at once. Then, the egg whites are whipped and folded in. The batter has oil in it, although the pancakes are cooked in butter. The recipe calls for cooking the pancakes for about five minutes on the first side over medium heat, which is much longer than other recipes.
  • Jocelyn Delk Adams: This recipe is the only one to not use all-purpose flour, opting for finer cake flour instead. It has the most sugar of the bunch at a full 1/3 cup and uses half-and-half and sour cream in place of more traditional milk or buttermilk. This is also the only recipe to include in the method a specific amount of time for resting the finished batter before cooking.
  • Alison Roman: These pancakes have a straightforward ingredient list and rely only on buttermilk as the liquid — a lot of buttermilk. To make the batter, first stir beaten eggs and buttermilk into the dry mixture and then stir in melted butter. It’s a small difference from the other recipes, but one I quickly noted. The recipe lists coconut oil for cooking the pancakes, with the option of swapping in vegetable or canola oil. You heat the skillet over medium heat, but reduce it to medium-low when it is time to cook the pancakes.

How I Tested the Pancake Recipes

I had an epic pancake plan and made all six recipes on the same day. I followed the instructions for mixing the batters and only rested it for a specific amount of time if it was listed. Otherwise the batters rested while preparing and heating the skillets. 

I did adjust the heat as needed while cooking through the recipes, as all stovetops are going to be a little different from each other. 

If any recipes were inconsistent in thickness or browning as I cooked through the batter, I tasted a few different pancakes to judge the differences and accurately come to the rating. If I burned a pancake (hey, it happens to the best of us!) I discarded it from the tasting.  

I tasted the pancakes fresh after cooking while they were still warm without additional toppings like butter or syrup. 

  • Ingredients: To ensure the ingredients didn’t add any unexpected factors, I used the same brand-new bag of unbleached all-purpose flour and granulated sugar and the same package of unsalted butter sticks. I used low-fat buttermilk for the two buttermilk-based recipes, as that is the most common variety sold (although I encourage anyone to try whole-milk buttermilk if you see it). I also bought a new can of baking powder to ensure it was fresh and potent.
  • Measuring methods: For consistent measuring, I spooned the flour into measuring cups and leveled the top, except for Gordon Ramsey’s, which was weighed. I scooped and leveled the sugar, baking powder, and baking soda and used a liquid measuring cup for the milk, buttermilk, or half-and-half. 
  • Kitchen tools and pans: I mixed in metal and glass bowls and stirred with a whisk or spatula, depending on the recipe. I used the same large nonstick skillet or cast iron pan for all the recipes, depending on what was called for, and prioritized visual cues over time cues for doneness and adjusted the heat under those pans accordingly.
Credit: Photo: Ryan Leibe; Food Styling Ben Weiner

Why You Should Trust Me as a Tester 

As a recipe developer and food editor, I have tested and developed recipes for magazines, cookbooks, and websites for over 20 years. 

I have developed countless pancake recipes, exploring different styles, including classic fluffy pancakes, hearty whole-grain pancakes, and even sheet-pan pancakes. Developing and testing all these recipes has given me deep insight into how each ingredient impacts the final result and how to troubleshoot when needed. 

Personally, I’ve been eating pancakes my whole life. Breakfast-for-dinner night is still a happy, vivid memory from my youth. I’ve eaten or made pancakes from scratch, from mixes, and even grabbed frozen prepared pancakes, so it’s fair to say I’m familiar with a wide range of pancake tastes and textures.

Credit: Photo: Ryan Leibe; Food Styling Ben Weiner

1. The Least Breakfast-y Pancake: Marcus Samuelsson’s Ricotta Pancakes 

Overall rating: 4/10
Get the recipe: Marcus Samuelsson’s Ricotta Pancakes

As mentioned above, this recipe took a sharp turn from the others in the bunch by omitting both baking powder and sugar from the batter. The recipe calls for 1 cup of flour, 1 cup each of milk and ricotta, 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 eggs, and 6 tablespoons of melted butter. On paper, these ratios seemed off to me (most other recipes had around a 1:1 ratio of flour and dairy), and I wondered how they were going to cook without any baking powder to help lift the dense ricotta cheese. 

My concerns proved to be valid. The batter was very loose and runny, making it difficult to cook more than one at a time, as you use 1/3 cup of batter per pancake, which spreads even more in the pan. They were large and thin, and the outsides felt a little greasy from all the butter in the batter, plus cooking them in more butter. 

The texture was dense yet wet, and the combination made them a little fragile. Transferring the pancakes from one plate to another while warm caused a few to tear, so you had to be careful handling them. Flavor-wise, the pancakes are extremely savory, boarding on salty. Between the texture and flavor, they just didn’t taste like pancakes – or at least a classic breakfast pancake. 

Credit: Photo: Ryan Leibe; Food Styling Ben Weiner

2. The Custardy Pancake: Jocelyn Delk Adams’ Fluffy Old Fashioned Pancakes

Overall rating: 5/10
Get the recipe: Jocelyn Delk Adams’ Fluffy Old Fashioned Pancakes

Jocelyn Delk Adams (aka Grandbaby Cakes) has some unique twists in this recipe that I was excited to try. The recipe calls for cake flour instead of all-purpose flour and half-and-half and sour cream for the dairy. 

The method was very straightforward in theory. You whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in one bowl; the dairy plus eggs, vanilla, and melted butter in a second; and then you combine the two. Then the batter sits for 10 to 15 minutes to hydrate. 

Cake flour is very fine and often used when you want to avoid developing too much gluten, like a light cake recipe. The fine texture clumps easily, making combining the wet and dry ingredients difficult. The recipe cautions against over mixing and directs you to gently combine and allow for some lumps, which I had. However, even after resting, the batter didn’t thicken much, and the lumps were still present.

When cooking the pancakes, the batter consistency resulted in a wide assortment of thicknesses ranging from nicely thick to thin and flat. The pancakes had a lovely, sweet aroma when cooking and turned a pretty golden-brown color. But the pancakes were not fluffy. They were very custardy. They reminded me of a pancake after it has been doused in syrup when they are starting to fall apart from the extra liquid. Truthfully, I love the texture of an over-soaked, saturated pancake, but ideally, that is not how it should be fresh out of the skillet.  

Credit: Photo: Ryan Leibe; Food Styling Ben Weiner

3. The Most Similar to Box Mix Pancakes: Martha Stewart’s Easy Basic Pancakes 

Overall rating: 7/10
Get the recipe: Martha Stewart’s Easy Basic Pancakes

These pancakes were indeed easy and basic. Cup to cup, there is an equal amount of flour and milk in this recipe, along with the usual suspects of baking powder, salt, sugar, egg, and melted butter or oil. And that’s it! 

The dry gets whisked, the wet gets whisked, and the two are whisked together. Whisking versus stirring makes it easier to blend the batter together. The recipe has you cook 2 to 3 tablespoons of batter per pancake, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but because the batter isn’t super thick, it spreads enough to form a standard-sized pancake. 

The recipe also suggests you use the back of a spoon to spread the batter into a circle, but I found this step unnecessary, as they did this on their own. These were the quickest-cooking of the bunch, at just 1 to 2 minutes per side, and they took on a pretty brown color that was neither too dark nor too pale.

These pancakes tasted totally fine. They had a nice mix of salt and sugar and were neither dry nor wet inside. There was nothing overly remarkable about them, but nothing inherently bad either. They are very much a blank canvas for a variety of toppings. For someone who is used to a box mix and wants to make their own, this recipe would be the perfect bridge between the two.

Credit: Photo: Ryan Leibe; Food Styling Ben Weiner

4. The Fluffiest Pancakes: Gordon Ramsay’s Buttermilk Pancakes  

Overall rating: 7/10
Get the recipe: Gordon Ramsay’s Buttermilk Pancakes  

The directions in this recipe were brief and succinct, but even so, it was an easy recipe to make. Although you have to separate the eggs and whip the whites in one bowl, everything else goes in a second bowl at once. The recipe sticks to basic ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, oil, eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk. Because it’s in metric, adding the ingredients by weight made measuring quick work.

The one head-scratching moment was when the recipe said to whip the egg whites until foamy and then fold into the batter. This had me replaying the classic “fold in the cheese” dialogue from Schitt’s Creek. How can you fold foam into a batter? Whipped egg whites need a certain amount of thickness and stability before you can work with them. So, I chalked this up to a cultural difference (this is on a U.K. site), relied on my experience, and whipped the whites to very soft peaks. These folded in like a dream and created a lovely, light, thick batter. The recipe didn’t say how much batter to cook for each pancake, so I used 1/4 cup, which let me cook about 3 at a time in a large skillet and was on par with other recipes.

The two main reasons these didn’t get a higher rating were the cooking instructions and the overall flavor. The recipe directs you to cook the pancakes on the first side for 5 to 6 minutes over medium heat. Perhaps medium heat in the U.K. is more moderate than on U.S. appliances, but on my range this was too high of a heat for too long, causing the first few to burn on the outside and be gummy on the inside. I reduced the heat and cooking time to hit the right golden-brown visual cues, and the results were drastically better. 

There were mixed opinions in my home on the flavor. The buttermilk is pronounced and tangy, which ventured into sour-tasting to some people. Ultimately, this is going to be a personal decision. I don’t mind tasting the buttermilk in a recipe called buttermilk pancakes, but it does make them less versatile.  

Credit: Photo: Ryan Leibe; Food Styling Ben Weiner

5. The Updated Classic Pancake: Ina Garten’s Sour Cream Pancakes

Overall rating: 8/10
Get the recipe: Ina Garten’s Sour Cream Pancakes

This recipe looked so classic Ina to me when I read through it. It is overall pretty traditional with a few special twists, and the amount of highly starred reviews left me optimistic. The dry ingredients are flour, sugar, baking powder, and kosher salt. It is 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, but it didn’t stick out to me on paper as too much — especially with the volume of other ingredients. I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt, so perhaps other brands yielded a different result, as some reviews did find them salty (a caution for anyone who uses a coarse kosher salt). 

The wet ingredients are milk, sour cream, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. There is no added melted butter or oil in the batter. Mixing milk and sour cream is a fun way to mimic the thick tang of buttermilk, but with a bit more richness and using ingredients that more people may have on hand.

This recipe has you sift the dry ingredients, whisk the wet, and then combine the two. The sifted dry ingredients combine very easily, making it a worthy extra step. Ratio-wise, there is more flour than dairy, so the batter is thicker than others. The pancakes are cooked in butter, and the skillet is wiped out between batches so no dark or burnt butter gets transferred between batches.

The pancakes were fluffy, cooked through, and well-seasoned. They didn’t spread much in the skillet, flipped easily, and were a lovely golden-brown. There is only one reason these didn’t take the top spot, and that is the lemon zest. When I first saw it in the ingredient list, I was unsure how strong it would be. While it isn’t enough to turn them into lemon pancakes, you can definitely taste it. These taste very classic, but with a twist. 

To be fair, we omitted the banana when testing this recipe, so all the pancakes were plain. Without the fruit, the lemon feels a little out of place, and makes them less versatile. Still, there are excellent pancakes that I could see making again — maybe without the lemon for an extra-classic result.

Credit: Photo: Ryan Leibe; Food Styling Ben Weiner

6. The Tastiest, Best-Overall Pancake: Alison Roman’s Perfect Crispy Pancakes

Overall rating: 9/10
Get the recipe: Alison Roman’s Perfect Crispy Pancakes

I must confess I am already familiar with this recipe, having made it personally more than a few times. While I have my favorite ways to tweak it to my taste, I cooked through the recipe as written for this showdown. 

This recipe makes delicious, classic-tasting pancakes. The ingredients are once again pretty standard, although it does include an equal amount of baking soda to baking powder (only one other recipe used baking soda), along with flour, sugar, and salt. The wet ingredients are buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter. It has the best ratio of sugar and salt to flour, and the mix of leavening creates a fluffy pancake with the ideal thickness. The addition of baking soda helps neutralize the acidity of the buttermilk, so even though there is a lot of buttermilk, the pancakes are tender and ever-so-slightly chewy but not sour.

One notable difference in the method that makes the batter smoother and easier to mix is that you first stir beaten eggs and buttermilk into the flour mixture to combine, and then you stir in melted butter. This added step helps prevent the butter from seizing in the cold dairy. The batter wasn’t completely smooth — it still had a few small lumps you expect in a pancake batter — but everything was well dispersed, and all the pancakes sampled tasted the same. 

Like many other recipes, you need to adjust the heat when cooking so they don’t burn, but even so, these pancakes cook up a shade or two darker than some others. The darker color enhances the rich flavor of the pancakes, though, so don’t worry that they look too dark. 

The recipe suggests cooking in coconut oil, which isn’t an ingredient common to cooking pancakes, but it is worth trying over the optional vegetable or canola oil. The pancakes do not taste like coconut, but it does add a different, pleasant taste and helps crisp the edges. Looks like this recipe is going to continue to be my go-to for now.