Every man should be able to make great pancakes, whether for a quick dinner for himself, Saturday morning breakfast for the kids, or as part of a brunch for out-of-town guests staying over his house.
When it comes to the skill of great pancake-making, the crucial thing isn’t actually the ingredients used.
Made from scratch, pancakes can take longer than necessary to whip up. Instant cakes — “Just add water!” — may not be quite as good, but they aren’t that far off either. You may think that those mixes you buy from the store are full of nefarious, unpronounceable ingredients, but they’re actually pretty innocuous. Generally containing just flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar, it’s about the same as you’d make from scratch at home. The only yucky stuff in instant mix is a little bit of trans fat in the form of hydrogenated oil, but it’s not much. Given that there’s only a marginal difference in the actual ingredients used, the convenience of instant pancakes is certainly worth the slight tradeoff in taste.
So feel free to use a box of Bisquick. The real key to next-level, restaurant-quality pancake-making is 1) knowing how to get the most out of that humble mix, and 2) knowing how to cook ‘em to perfection. You’ll find tips for #2 here. We cover five ways to ace #1 below.
1. Let the Batter Rest for 15-20 Minutes (And Don’t Overmix It!)
If you do one incredibly easy thing to up your instant pancake game, simply let the mixed batter rest for 15-20 minutes before cooking it.
This has a couple benefits: First, it allows the flour to hydrate and dissolve any clumps. When it comes to batter — whether for pancakes, muffins, or other baked goods — your instinct is likely to whisk the heck out of it and get rid of any clumps. You don’t actually want to do that though. Without getting into the science here, know that overmixing stimulates too much gluten formation and results in a denser, chewier end product. Personally, that’s not what I’m going for in a pancake. Stop mixing the batter while there are still some clumps and then let it rest; the liquid will dissolve those clumps and make your batter perfectly even.
The second benefit to the resting period is that it allows the starchy flour molecules to absorb more liquid before being cooked. More absorption means more fluff. To get a sense of what this is like, just visualize uncooked rice vs. cooked rice — the cooked grains have absorbed the water and gotten bigger/fluffier.
You can rest the batter longer, but it might get too thick and make for more of a leathery texture. (If that happens, you can just add more liquid, as long as you don’t overmix it.)
2. Use the Waffle Directions!
Every package of pancake mix you buy will also include directions for making waffles. Rather than just adding water, as is the case for the pancake directions, you’ll also add milk (for higher fat content), eggs (for even more fluffiness), and oil (for crispy edges). I don’t know about you, but fluffy, crispy pancakes are right up my alley. Just follow the directions for making waffle mix and slap that batter on your griddle for a higher quality flapjack.
3. Add Vanilla Extract
Vanilla extract (the pure stuff!) is the secret ingredient that makes nearly any sweet baked good really pop. All my favorite recipes utilize it — from French toast to cookies to muffins to cakes. So there’s no reason not to use it in your pancakes too. Add 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract to the mix for every dozen pancakes.
4. Use Mix-Ins
When it comes to pancakes, their real power is in the various other things you can add to the batter and also atop the cakes once they’re served. If you want a restaurant-style pancake at home, go ahead and use instant pancake mix, but then jazz it up by mixing in and substituting other fun ingredients.
To the batter, you can add chocolate chips, nuts, berries, Reese’s Pieces, nutella, coffee grounds (1 tsp per dozen), etc.
When it comes to liquid, instead of water or milk you can use buttermilk, eggnog, or even orange juice (use a 1:1 of OJ to other liquid) for a unique zest.
The possibilities are endless, and pancake mix is so cheap that it doesn’t hurt to do some weird experiments and see what happens.
5. Make Crepes
If you want to really fancy up your instant pancakes, make crepes instead! They aren’t all that different — crepes are just really thin pancakes that don’t traditionally use any leavening. Pancake mix does contain baking powder, but for our at-home Saturday morning purposes, that’s no problem.
So, you’re going to make a thin batter and then add savory or sweet fillings as you desire.
For the batter, use this recipe:
- 1 cup pancake mix
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
Mix it up, and go ahead and whisk until there are no lumps. We’re not going for fluff here, so it’s no problem to overmix a little. It will be much thinner than you’re used to.
You’ll want to use a skillet instead of a griddle. Heat the pan over medium-high heat and spray/grease it. Pour about ¼ cup batter onto the skillet and tilt it around so it covers the entire surface in a thin layer.
Since the crepe is so thin and delicate, it’ll be nearly impossible to flip the entire thing. Instead, let it cook 2-3 minutes, fold it in half and let it continue cooking another minute, then flip the whole thing and finish with another minute or so.
Remove from the pan, unfold (it will stick some, but it’s easy enough to sort of peel it apart), add your fillings, and serve.
You can go the savory route with fillings like ham and cheese or chicken and bacon, or you can choose a sweet combo like peaches/strawberries and cream. Google “crepe fillings” and you’ll find dozens of fun and tasty options.