Published July 1, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.
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. The result was a pancake recipe for light, fluffy pancakes with the trademark buttermilk tang.
The pancakes can be cooked on an electric griddle. Set the griddle temperature to 350 degrees and cook as directed. The test kitchen prefers a lower-protein all-purpose flour like Gold Medal or Pillsbury. If you use an all-purpose flour with a higher protein content, like King Arthur, you will need to add an extra tablespoon or two of buttermilk.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Spray wire rack set inside baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; place in oven. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in medium bowl. In second medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, sour cream, eggs, and melted butter. Make well in center of dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients; gently stir until just combined (batter should remain lumpy with few streaks of flour). Do not overmix. Allow batter to sit 10 minutes before cooking.
2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Using paper towels, carefully wipe out oil, leaving thin film of oil on bottom and sides of pan. Using ¼ cup measure, portion batter into pan in 4 places. Cook until edges are set, first side is golden brown, and bubbles on surface are just beginning to break, 2 to 3 minutes. Using thin, wide spatula, flip pancakes and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Serve pancakes immediately, or transfer to wire rack in preheated oven. Repeat with remaining batter, using remaining oil as necessary.
Ensuring Tender Texture
Too much gluten development in pancake batter is the enemy of tender texture. Here’s how to keep it in check.
KEEP IT LUMPY, THEN LET IT REST
Mixing encourages gluten to form. For best results, whisk the batter briefly and don’t smooth out the lumps. Then, let the batter rest for 10 minutes—this allows the gluten to relax, yielding more tender pancakes.
Baking Soda's Browning Boost
We’ve always heard that baking soda boosts browning. For this reason, even when we found the high concentration of acid in our pancake batter (from both buttermilk and sour cream) was over-reacting with the baking soda, causing our pancakes to rise too high and then deflate, we still left this leavener in. But would taking baking soda out really be so bad if it led to fluffier pancakes?
We mixed two batches of pancake batter—one leavened with baking powder and baking soda; the second leavened with baking powder alone—and cooked pancakes from each batter side by side.
Pancakes made without baking soda not only lacked color, they lacked flavor, tasting unacceptably bland. The pancakes leavened with both baking powder and baking soda cooked up deeply golden with rich, nutty flavor.
When baking soda (an alkali) meets up with buttermilk and sour cream (acids), two things happen. The baking soda reacts immediately to produce tiny carbon dioxide bubbles that leaven the batter, but can go into overdrive the more acid that’s present. At the same time, it neutralizes the batter’s acidity to create a more alkaline environment that promotes browning and the creation of hundreds of new flavor compounds. These new flavor compounds are what make pancakes taste far more complex and interesting.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For better flavor, the baking soda would have to stay in. To ensure fluffy pancakes from batch to batch, we'd have to adjust both its amount and the amount of baking powder.
BROWN AND FLAVORFUL
PALE AND BLAND
Is the Pan Ready?
Here's a test to make sure your griddle is hot enough: Drop a tablespoon of batter in its center. If, after one minute, the pancake is golden brown on the bottom, the pan is ready. If it remains blond—or is close to burning—adjust the heat accordingly.