Make Thick, Fluffy, Diner-Style Pancakes with This Simple Tip

published Apr 12, 2016
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(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

There are numerous ways to make a pancake. You just have to know what you’re after so you can pick the right recipe. Looking for fluffy and airy? Our lofty buttermilk pancakes are the model example of great lift. Craving something earthy and malty? Stone-ground flour delivers a nutty, sweet flavor.

But what about the dense and tender pancakes you find at your favorite diner? Yeah, we’re into those too. And finally we’ve figured out how to make them at home — no special ingredients required.

What Make Diner Pancakes Special?

All of us here love diner pancakes. You know the kind I’m talking about — they’re just a little bit thicker, and so soft and tender that they practically melt in your mouth.

But what makes them so thick and soft?

Prepare the Batter a Day Ahead…

It doesn’t take any special ingredients, or even any more work — it’s just a matter of time. The secret to diner-style pancakes is giving the batter a rest overnight on the counter.

We picked up this tip from Harold McGee in a New York Times piece. In it, he likens this process of resting the batter overnight to soaking beans, and his analogy is quite apt. Beans soak up liquid, which ultimately reduces their cook time. Something similar happens with the ingredients in pancake batter. As the batter rests, you’ll notice that the texture becomes thicker and thicker. This happens because the flour soaks up more liquid from the wet ingredients and allows the air bubbles to disperse, which ultimately leads to pancakes that are more fully and evenly cooked, with an incredibly tender texture. (If your batter gets too thick, a quick splash of milk can help loosen it up a bit.)

You don’t need a special recipe for this type of pancake; go ahead and use your favorite pancake recipe — any one will work.

…With One Caveat!

Prepare the pancake batter as you normally would, with one exception: Leave out the eggs and leavening agent, like baking powder or baking soda (if it’s included in your recipe). These ingredients will be added after the batter has rested and just before cooking.

Once the batter is prepared, cover it, and let it rest in a warm, dark place on the countertop overnight. This is when the magic takes place (you may even get a bit of added flavor from the yeast in the atmosphere in the form of air bubbles forming around the bowl — thanks, fermentation!). Though, it’s understandable if you’re not quite comfortable leaving the batter unrefrigerated for that long. If you prefer, store the covered batter in the fridge overnight. You’ll get a similar and equally delicious result, it just might not pick up that extra added flavor from the fermentation.

What you get in return is a batch of pancakes that are a bit different from the light, fluffy pancakes you’re used to getting when not rested. Instead, you’ll be rewarded with pancakes that spread a little less and have the soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture you get with diner pancakes.

What’s your favorite kind of pancakes? Thick and fluffy? Airy? Crispy? Tell us!