Tender pancakes with a secret ingredient

As I mentioned, I've got breakfast on the brain now that summer break is here and we have more time on our hands.  One of my 8-year old's favorite breakfast requests is pancakes. Needless to say, I see myself flipping many batches throughout the summer.
Generally, if I have buttermilk, I make these irresistible buttermilk pancakes, which even the little one has grown to love (the tang, though subtle, took a little getting used to for him).  When I only have milk, I make a classic, which involves whipping egg whites and separately folding them in for a fluffy texture.  Those pancakes are terrific but I've been looking for a recipe for light, tender pancakes that don't require that extra step.  Not that it's a huge hassle but - given the option - why not do away with extra dishes and having to remember to separate the eggs when they're cold, whipping the whites when they're room temperature and all that, first thing in the morning.  And that's how we come to today's recipe.

I think I found what I've been looking for!  A recipe for tender plain pancakes without the need for folding in egg whites.  The secret ingredient in these pancakes is...potato starch!
I found the recipe in Gale Gand's Brunch! and it's credited to a woman named Ina Pickney, who apparently specializes in breakfasts.  She calls these pancakes "Heavenly Hots" and I understand why after tasting them.  The explanation behind adding potato starch (which is much like cornstarch) is that it helps soften the texture of the wheat flour, because it holds liquids differently, so that you end up with a finer, more tender pancake.  Supposedly, the use of potato starch is one of the secrets behind Krispy Kreme doughnuts!  

Though I haven't tried it, I've heard of including cornstarch to create a soft, fluffy, tender cookie so maybe this is much the same idea.  Another cookbook I read recently said that the use of cornstarch and cocoa powder was done way back in Victorian times to create a finer cake crumb. I wonder why the habit went out of style but these pancakes have convinced me that there's definitely something to it!  Some people say vinegar or lemon juice also helps make a tender pancake. I've made whole wheat pancakes using lemon juice but those were not as good as these.  I'd love to hear it if you have any insight!

I highly recommend giving these pancakes a try - they're easy to make and turn out light and tender.  I am officially inducting them into my family's pancake rotation.  It's hard to believe that not very long ago, I only made pancakes from a box!


Here's the most important thing you need for these pancakes: potato starch.  I bought a bag just for this pancake experiment and it paid off big time.  Luckily, potato starch is fairly inexpensive and I now have plenty to make many batches of pancakes.  You can also use it as a thickener, much like cornstarch, for soups and gravies.  I'll be experimenting!
The potato starch doesn't totally replace the wheat flour.  It's basically a ratio of 2 parts all-purpose flour to 1 part potato starch.  It does the trick nicely.  There's also a lot of baking powder in the batter to give it lift and I find it's best to use/cook the bubbling batter right away.  Don't let it sit around.
Next time I make these pancakes (and that would be very soon), I plan to try it with melted butter instead of the 2 tablespoons of canola oil that the recipe specifies.  I'm usually happy to use oil over butter but I think a little butter adds great flavor and richness to pancakes.  Particularly if you eat pancakes simply with maple syrup, I think some butter in the pancakes themselves work very nicely. With the canola oil, the pancakes have a mild flavor but that works nicely if you plan to cook the pancakes in butter (I use cooking spray) or serve them with some butter or other flavorful toppings. Texture wise, they are nice and tender.
While the pancake batter expands and puffs up thanks to the baking powder and might look like a lot, the recipe only makes about 8-10 three to four-inch pancakes so consider doubling the recipe in a great big bowl.

Update (July 11, 2013): Just following up to say that I've made these pancakes again and tried the recipe using melted butter instead of canola oil. The butter really added a lot of flavor and richness. You might be sitting there, thinking "duh!" but I had to try it and compare.  After doing so, I'd say that if you are not concerned about your butter consumption, we do prefer these (and other) pancakes with melted butter instead of oil.  I use between 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter in place of the 2 tablespoons of canola oil in the recipe.  You really get a lot of mileage with that in terms of added flavor. These tender, fluffy pancakes will make its way to our breakfast (and dinner) table often!

Recipe:

Tender Pancakes
From Ina Pickney of Chicago via Gale Gand's Brunch!

- Approximately 8-10 three to four-inch pancakes - 

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup potato starch (this is the "secret" ingredient that makes them so tender!)
1 tablespoon sugar
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 large egg
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons canola oil (I prefer to use about 2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter instead)
Unsalted butter or cooking spray, for cooking

Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat.  

Whisk flour, potato starch, sugar, salt, and baking powder together in a medium mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk with the egg and oil (or melted butter) using a whisk or fork.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir together with a wooden spoon.  Do not over-mix; you want plenty of lumps.  The batter will bubble up and look foamy as the baking powder becomes activated. Use the batter to cook pancakes immediately.

Grease griddle with a little butter or cooking spray.  Ladle about 3 tablespoons of pancake batter onto the griddle and cook until bubbles form on the surface and the underside is lightly golden brown.  Flip the pancake and cook for another minute or so.  

Serve immediately.  If necessary, place pancakes on a plate in a 200 degree oven to keep warm. These pancakes are great with maple syrup, butter, jam, or Nutella (why not!).    





28 comments:

  1. Yum! Those look like absolutely perfect pancakes, Monica! I would have never thought to use potato starch - thanks for sharing!

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    1. I'd have never thought it either but I figured it was worth a try and I can use the potato starch for other things if it didn't work out. Worked out pretty well! : )

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  2. Those pancakes look PERFECT, Monica! Just fluffy enough for me. Who would've guessed potato starch was the secret? Amazing!

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    1. Thank you, Georgia! I love learning something new like this. So many "secrets" hiding in plain sight. : )

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  3. These pancakes look so light and delicious! Man, it's been too long since I made pancakes. I feel like even on weekends, I end up rushing around to different activities instead of having a leisurely morning. I just happen to have potato starch in my pantry...it's a common ingredient during Passover when you can't eat flour. Looks like I'll be trying these soon ;)

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    1. I know life gets too busy. When I first decided to "make time" for family breakfasts, it stressed me out a little...but then it became normal and it naturally happens all the time now. I'd never bought potato starch before but now I'm glad. Hope you try this.

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  4. How interesting! I didn't know potato starch makes it tender. I'll have to try that next time I make pancakes. Looks so fluffy and pretty! Thanks for sharing your secret ingredient Monica. ;)

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    1. Thanks Anne but I can't take any credit. Ina (not that one but Ms. Pickney of Chicago) somehow cracked the code on this one. I'm sure there are other ways to get the same result but this impressed me.

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  5. Potato Starch! I would have never guessed.. going to try this and possibly cornstarch too. I can never have too many pancakes! These look fantastic!

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    1. Would love to know if/how it works with cornstarch if you try it.

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  6. These pancakes look so light and perfect Monica! I always have potato starch on hand so this is great. I find it a bit bothersome to whip up egg whites for my batter sometimes too so thanks so much for sharing the great tip about potato starch:) Will definitely try this next time :)

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    1. I hope you give it a try and let me know what you think, Kelly. I think these are just as good as the pancakes that we add the whites to. I'll continue to research to make sure though. : )

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  7. this is SO interesting: potato starch, you say! I'm completely going to try these; i probably live in a perpetual state of trying to find the perfect pancake on some level. :) and it gives me a good reason to add potato starch to the pantry.

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    1. Shannon - this was a library cookbook find. I was checking out and saw a "Brunch!" book on the return cart...asked for it and here we are. I was intrigued by the potato starch, too. I've seen it in other cake recipes and wondered...and like I said, I've heard others rave about cornstarch in cookies.

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    1. Thanks, Angie. They came out soft and tender w/o whipped egg whites.

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  9. These pancakes look delicious, Monica! As a matter of fact, I recently tried out a cookie recipe that used cornstarch and boy did it do the trick! Nice, soft, and tender -- just like you said. I'm sure potato starch would be just as great in pancakes. What a great idea!

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    1. I've been wondering about the cornstarch...wonder why it went out of fashion since it seems like the old recipes used to use it (but what do I know). Does the cornstarch make the cookie cake-like though? I like a soft but chewy cookie for the most part when it comes to, say, choc chip.

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  10. I never would have thought to use potato starch my friend, this looks way too delicious :D

    Cheers
    CCU

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    1. I'm learning right with you! : )

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  11. Such a cool idea! I've never tried potato starch before. I wonder what other recipes it could work with!

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    1. I wonder too. Like I mentioned, I've heard others rave about cornstarch in cookies and this cookbook I was reading said they used cornstarch in Victorian times to make tender, "velvety" cakes...

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  12. Hi Monica,
    These pancakes look so soft. It's interesting to know you add potato starch. I will need to try this one as my daughter loves pancakes and every morning she eats it ( the pre packaged ). I would love to make fresh pancakes which are soft and fluffy like these!

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    1. Hi Asmita - not very long ago, I made pancakes from the box. Once you make them from scratch, there's no going back. I like these pancakes as well as a buttermilk and another classic one I have in my index. My son loves pancakes (with bacon) for breakfast.

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  13. I hate having to whip eggs just for pancakes also, so I'm so glad you posted these! Now breakfast can be on the table in even less time!

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  14. I use potato starch instead of corn starch for Japanese cooking. I can't believe that's a secret ingredient in pancakes. I am going to try this as soon as I get a chance in the US!

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    1. I know potato starch if a good alternative to cornstarch in savory cooking but I've never used it until now. Give it a try in pancakes one day and see what you think...

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