You Really Don’t Need Buttermilk for Tall, Diner-Style Pancakes

In Baking Hows, Whys, and WTFs, food editor Shilpa Uskokovic will answer your burning baking questions and share her tips and tricks for flawless sweets. Today: How do you make a tall stack of pancakes without buttermilk?

“It’s the weekend. You really, really want pancakes, but you don’t have any buttermilk. What do you do?” I floated this question on the company Slack and the answers were more revealing than any personality test.

“I like chaos and would substitute with milk or yogurt,” said our art director Hazel Zavala Tinoco. “Buttermilk powder!” wrote Joe De Leo, senior visuals editor, a ready-for-anything prepper. I keep it on hand just for this purpose.” We always have buttermilk in the fridge, four of us proudly admitted (while silently judging the rest of the group). The majority were variations on “make something up and hope it works.”

This very unscientific but extremely helpful poll inspired me to create a recipe for what we dubbed Lazy Day pancakes—for when you don’t have buttermilk (which is most of the time, clearly). They are entirely made of milk. They’re thick and fluffy, like a delicious, tender sponge for butter and syrup. “Real McDonald’s hotcake vibe (genuine compliment),” according to one reviewer. This is how I got there.

As a buttermilk substitute, milk and vinegar are ineffective.
We need to talk if you’ve ever done the milk + vinegar = fake buttermilk trick. While the acidity of this mixture is similar to that of buttermilk, the texture is completely different. Unlike cultured buttermilk, which is thick and creamy, this substitute is thin and watery. This can ruin the outcome of recipes that call for a lot of buttermilk, such as pancakes, biscuits, dressings, or cakes. Batters and doughs become runny and collapse. Because of the extra moisture, what was once tender has become gummy. Faux buttermilk also lacks the complex tang of real buttermilk, which is only achieved through fermentation and lactic acid bacteria.

Baking powder is preferred over baking soda.
Here’s a quick reminder of how baking soda and baking powder work: Baking soda combines with acid, while baking powder combines with heat (and liquid, but to a lesser extent in the case of double acting baking powder––the most commonly sold version). Without buttermilk, pancake batter no longer contains enough acid to react with baking soda and create the characteristic bubbles. As a result, baking powder is chosen as the catalyst. The recipe calls for 4 Tbsp.—not a typo, promise. Baking powder is much weaker than baking soda, with only about a quarter of the bubble-making power. Make sure to use aluminum-free baking powder (it will say so on the package). This is necessary to avoid any metallic or bitter aftertaste.

Separate the eggs but do not beat them.
Wait! If you scrolled away at the thought of separating eggs for something as simple as pancakes, reconsider! Please return! There is no need for whipping. Instead, separate the eggs so that the yolks are incorporated first, followed by the whites. Why? To summarize, the ribbons of lightly stirred egg whites create noticeably more puff as the pancakes cook than when they’re whisked in with and weighed down by the yolks.

So, for those of us who don’t want to deal with buttermilk, diner-style pancakes are entirely possible.

No buttermilk, no problem:

A stack of Perfectly Fluffy Pancakes on a green surface with syrup being drizzled

No buttermilk? No problem. Fluffy pancakes can still be yours, requiring nothing more than milk, some pantry staples, and one hot tip.

View Recipe


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