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!
- Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl or, as I frequently do, a large glass measuring cup.
- Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla extract just until combined. Some small lumps are okay.
- Let pancake batter rest for 10 minutes.
- Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium-high heat.
- Spray with non-stick cooking spray OR brush with butter or oil.
- Ladle 1/3 - 1/2 cup batter onto the griddle for each pancake
- Flip the pancakes over when small bubbles appear on the surface and continue cooking on the opposite side until golden brown.
- Serve with butter and syrup.
- Source: 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.