It's All in the Mix
First, combine dry ingredients thoroughly, breaking up lumps either by sifting them together or by stirring them well with a whisk.
Next, combine all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Don't skip this step.
Then pour the two wet ingredients into the dry. Stir gently, just enough to moisten the dry ingredients. Over-mixing leads to tough pancakes because the gluten in the flour begins to develop as soon as liquid touches it, and the more you mix, the tougher the gluten becomes. Don't worry about lumps in the batter.
VIDEO: How to Make Pancakes>
Three Tricks for Tender, Airy Pancakes
1. Give your pancakes the airy texture of soufflés and meringues by borrowing the technique that gives them their cloudlike consistency: beaten egg whites:
Using the number of eggs called for in the recipe, separate the yolks from the whites. Mix the egg yolks with the rest of the wet ingredients, following recipe instructions. Combine with the dry ingredients to make the batter. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then gently fold the beaten whites into the batter and cook the pancakes immediately.
2. Or try replacing some or all of the liquid in your recipe with a carbonated beverage (plain or flavored seltzer water, beer, cider, ginger ale) to make your pancakes very light and tender. Add the carbonation just before you're ready to pour the pancake batter on the griddle.
3. This next trick works with any batter that includes double-acting baking powder: Mix the batter and let it rest in the refrigerator for several minutes, or even overnight. This allows the gluten to relax so the pancakes will be tender, and lets the baking powder form bubbles in the batter. After the batter rests, do not stir it or the bubbles will deflate.
How to Cook a Pancake
Preheat your griddle, heavy-bottomed nonstick pan or well-seasoned cast iron skillet to 375 degrees F (185 degrees C) or until a drop of water skitters across the pan.
Lightly coat the hot pan with vegetable oil, cooking spray, or clarified butter (regular butter burns too quickly).
Do a test run with one sacrificial pancake and adjust the temperature up or down as needed. If your pancake is scorched on the outside and raw on the inside, turn down the heat.
When you're satisfied that you've reached the perfect pan temperature, ladle in as many pools of batter as your pan will comfortably hold, leaving a little room between pancakes for comfortable flipping.
Don’t Press Your Pancake
A pancake is ready to be turned over when it's dry around the edges and bubbles have formed over the top. You are allowed to peek to see if the bottom is golden brown before you flip it. While you're waiting impatiently for the second side to cook, resist the impulse to press down the pancake with your spatula. Pressing will not cook it any faster, but will undo all the effort you've made to achieve fluffy, light, perfect pancakes.
Waiting is the Hardest Part
Pancakes are best eaten fresh from the griddle so you can enjoy their crispy, fluffy goodness. This may mean serving them a few at a time. If you absolutely must keep the pancakes waiting, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place them, uncovered, in a warm oven. Never stack or cover them--the steam makes them soggy.
Fun with Pancakes
To add some fun to the breakfast table, use a turkey baster to squeeze batter into designs, initials and other fun shapes. Pour batter into nonstick pancake molds or oiled metal cookie cutters for extra fancy forms. Butter and syrup are classic toppings, but try jam, honey, nut butter, lemon juice, powdered sugar, whipped cream or fresh fruit. Better yet, set up a pancake condiment buffet and let everyone build their own.