The Secret Trick to Making the Puffiest Pancakes

Pancakes are not cakes. But wouldn't they be better if they were?
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Would you like a piece of cake right now? For Goodness Cake is here for you. Every week, we'll be sharing recipes that prove why cake should be its own food group.

Today: A way to put the "cake" back in pancake, along with a very good reason to invest in egg rings.

French toast is not toast, tuna salad is not salad, and no one gasps when pancakes arrive at the table, shocked to find that what they ordered is not a tower of buttercream and devil's food. Pancakes are not cakes.

But wouldn't they be better if they were?

Accuse me of blasphemy, you may, but pancakes are, for the most part, disappointing. Excellent pancakes do exist (see here and here for proof)--mostly the homemade variety. The hot griddle, the quick failure (premature, poorly-aimed flips of young sacrifical pancakes), the subsequent desire to persevere, and the 11 A.M. hunger pangs make homemade pancakes satisfying. At their best, pancakes are well-earned, with burnished edges and leavened centers. But in dining halls and dim brunch places, you'll likely find smushed and anemic pancakes and just fine ones, respectively.

Pancakes--even the best pancakes, even the pancakes I woke up at 8 A.M. to wait in line for three hours to order (never again!)--are never the simultaneously crispy, creamy, and airy pancakes of my dreams.

That all changed with this recipe, adapted from the restaurant Smoke in Dallas, Texas. These pancakes are so tall, you'll realize the pancakes you once thought were fluffy were just standing on their tippy toes. They're so pillowy that I not only dream of them but I dream of dreaming on them. They're so crispy that you'll actually use that knife on your table. The entire top and bottom of these pancakes is what the edges of the standard sort might look like--if you're lucky (and it's your birthday, and you're having a good hair day).

How is this possible, you wonder? Unfortunately, the answer is--as with a traditional cakes--hard work, patience (ugh, patience), and some annoying tools you probably don't have. Egg rings are what give the pancakes their soaring height. (Borrow them from a fancy friend or a hoarder friend.) They corset the batter, holding it close while the cakes bake in the oven (yes, just like real cakes!). You'll return the skillet to the stovetop, remove the egg rings (here's where the patience comes in--if you're too eager to lift the ring, the raw pancake top will mushroom over the sides), flip each one very, very carefully, and then brown the top side.


A couple of notes on the recipe before you go it on your own:

  • I tried to use cookie cutters, the common man's egg rings--no success. Whimsically-shaped cutters don't allow the batter to cook evenly; round cutters could work in theory, but you'll have to figure out a way to nudge the hot metal off the pancake pre-flip. Egg rings have handy handles that make it easy.
  • The original recipe calls for making the pancakes entirely on the stove, but our tack-sharp test kitchen manager Allison realized that heating them in the oven guaranteed more even cooking and a higher success rate. Try it on the stove, if you dare, but know that we found the oven method less risky.
  • You can experiment with flavors and add-ins. I love the combination of fig jam, chopped dried figs, and orange zest, but the original recipe calls for lemon zest and blueberries. Try cinnamon and banana, cardamom and pistachio, or cranberry and walnut.
  • Grease the egg rings very well and resist the temptation to fill them more than halfway. If you overfill the rings, your pancakes will explode. If they do, just let the waterfalling parts cook and proceed like nothing went wrong.

Serves 6 to 8

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted, plus more for the griddle
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1/2 cup full-fat ricotta
Zest of 1/2 an orange
4 tablespoons fig jam
1/2 cup roughly chopped dried figs

Photos by Mark Weinberg

Brought to you by the spirited home cooks' community at Food52.