I think it is time for me to jump into the breakfast forum by tackling waffle and pancake customization. There’s no shortage of articles written with the title “5 tricks to fluffy pancakes” or “How to make crispy waffles,” but let’s be honest. How many of these articles actually present useful information? Not to take any shots at anyone, but I think there is much to be covered when it comes to this topic. Like how do different ingredients shape texture? Or what is the roll of gluten in the process? This post will include everything you need to know about customizing waffles and pancakes because no one knows what you like better than you.
Fluffy pancakes tend to be a huge talking point when making breakfast. I’m sure there are people out there that love thin pancakes, but it seems to be that people lean more towards the fluffy. Maybe it is because eating a fluffy pancake is like eating a delicious pillow, so it lets us imagine ourselves where we really want to be, in bed.
The secret to recipe customization is learning how each added ingredient alters the mixture and its effect on the cooked product. We know that pancakes are created using the Muffin Method, so this should give us information on how best to utilize our ingredients. Because the leavening of muffin method food comes from baking soda and baking powder, the most obvious change to texture would be to add (or subtract depending on preference) leavening from the mix. Increasing the amount of leavening increases the amount of CO2 production and the rise. If you take this approach, then you have to increase the amount of gluten in the pancake batter.
If you only add leavening, there is a limit to how much the pancake will increase in size because there is a limitation on the amount of gluten present. Thus additional flour is essential for a fluffy pancake because gluten is created by the proteins in flours covalently bonding in the presence of water. Basically, flour+water= gluten. It also increases the viscosity/thickness of the batter, which further complements fluffy pancakes.
So if you ever want a fluffier pancake, take the recipe you are already using and add ¼ tsp of baking soda and ¼ cup of flour to the mix (assuming the mix makes about 8 pancakes). It’s actually pretty simple. You should be aware that adding sugar and butter/vegetable oil reduces gluten formation by interfering with the bonding of flour proteins and sugar. It usually won’t be necessary to add more sugar or butter to a pancake recipe, but if you do decide to do that be aware that it will cause slight pancake thinning.
Outside of ingredient changes, there are certain cooking steps that alter pancake texture. The one that gets thrown around the most is not to over mix. The thought behind this is that over mixing created unnecessary gluten that contributes to toughness of pancakes. Honestly, the effect of this one is iffy because pancake batters are generally more liquid to flour. This means that there is a limit to the amount of gluten that can be formed. It would take quite a bit of muscle to over mix pancake batter, so if you don’t think that all of the ingredients are incorporated mix a little bit more. There will be lumps in the batter, however, so do not attempt to beat out the lumps. These are natural. Also remember to only flip the pancake once!
Waffle is KING
Waffles are the kings and queens of the breakfast world. There is nothing better that a waffle with a crisp exterior and soft, bready center. To the dungeon with floppy, soft waffles! Let me enlighten you to the secret of crisp waffle exteriors. The secret is… cornstarch.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “What the heck does cornstarch have to do with waffles?” Well my friend, consider that the soft, floppiness in waffles are actually from too much gluten. Gluten is amazing when controlled. It provides a structure for the waffles to rise. But in too high of a quantity, you get floppiness. Recall that earlier I told you that gluten is formed from water and flour proteins. Guess what cornstarch doesn’t have… flour proteins! But it does have a similar texture to flour, which means that we get the traditional waffle taste with a crisp texture. I recommend adding one or two tablespoons for every cup of flour.
Now there is a catch to this. It is the addition of sugars and fats. If you use cornstarch, in addition to adding more sugar and butter, then you run the risk of eliminating too much gluten. I know it can be a bit confusing to navigate these boundaries. Here’s the compass. In the world of science experiments, scientists typically run experiments in which they hold change one variable per experiment. This allows them to control the experiment and isolate the difference makers. That’s how you will determine what works. The next time you make waffles try adding one or two tablespoons of cornstarch. If you love the texture, but think it needs more flavor add sugar or butter to it next time. Keep experimenting until you have the perfect waffle. It may only take one or two tries for you.
Experimentation isn’t necessary though. All of my recipes, with the exception of Chicken n’ waffles are designed to be crispy and tasty. Give them a try! Then you can just change a few things on the next go around, until it’s just the way you like it. You really can’t go wrong with customization.
The flavors that you choose are completely up to you. If you want to add cranberries or coconut to your waffles, be my guess. If you want to be really experimental, you can even add a few tablespoons of vodka to instill some flavor and make the pancakes a bit lighter. (Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so it will evaporate much quicker than water.)
I do want to mention a special quality of cocoa powder, however. You can add cocoa powder directly to the flour mix, but it has a much more pronounced effect if you heat the cocoa powder in liquid first to break the cocoa granules. Cocoa Powder is a starch, so it should be treated as a starch. When people refer to “activating” cocoa powder with hot/boiling water, they are referring to the process of gelatinization. The starch bonds in cocoa powder are disrupted by heat and then displaced by water molecules. This causes the starch to leak into the water. In addition to starches, fats and flavoring compounds are also released into the liquid. This allows for the fats and flavoring to be distributed throughout the batter/dough of whatever is being made.
You don’t have to “activate” cocoa powder, but it definitely doesn’t hurt if you have guests to impress. You’ve taken the blue pill, so you now know how far the rabbit hole goes.