MIT's Kitchen Chemistry class #3: Pancakes


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Welcome to the third week of MIT's Kitchen Chemistry class, in which we learn about pancakes. After reading the seven pages of assigned reading in On Food and Cooking, I now know all about batters, flours, baking ingredients and maple syrup.

Here's what I learned:

If you are looking for a tender pancake, look for a recipe that includes soured dairy products (ie. buttermilk or yogurt). Due to these ingredients' thick consistency, it will take less flour to make the batter properly thick. With less flour, there will be less starch and gluten, which will result in a more delicate structure.

Another tip to take away: don't over mix your batter. Excessive beating causes early formation and escape of carbon dioxide gas. You want this gas because the little air bubbles it creates are what makes the pancakes fluffy. Another reason to avoid over mixing is to prevent too much gluten from forming, which will make your pancakes rubbery.

Wanna know why real maple syrup is so expensive at stores? The process to extract the sap from trees takes six weeks, and it takes 40 parts sap to boil down to make 1 part syrup. Dang.

The recipe assignment for the class this week is buttermilk pancakes, which comes from Bon Appétit. I'll make these and post pics in a few days, but here's the recipe if you want to make these this weekend.

Buttermilk Pancakes

Makes about 18 pancakes


2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons backing powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups sour cream

2 large eggs

4 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Additional butter or cooking spray


Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl (the dry ingredients). Whisk buttermilk, sour cream, eggs and vanilla in another large bowl. Add to dry ingredients. Stir until batter is just blended but still lumpy (do not overmix).

Melt 1/2 tablespoon butter on griddle over medium heat. Pour batter by 1/3 cupfuls onto griddle, spacing 2 inches apart. Cook until bubbles break on surface, about 3 minutes. Turn pancakes over. Cook until bottoms are golden, 3 minutes. Transfer to plates. Repeat with remaining batter, adding butter to skillet as needed.

Serve pancakes immediately with butter and syrup.