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.
Risk takers like Hazel Zavala Tinoco, our art director, said, “I like chaos and would substitute with milk or yogurt.” Ready-for-anything preppers like Joe De Leo, senior visuals editor, wrote, “Buttermilk powder! I keep it on hand for exactly this.” Four of us proudly admitted (whilst silently judging the rest of the group) we always have buttermilk in our fridge. The majority was some variation of “make up a substitute and hope it works.”
This very unscientific but extremely helpful poll led me to develop a recipe for what we dubbed Lazy Day pancakes––for those times when you have no buttermilk (which is most of the time, clearly). They’re made entirely with milk. They’re thick, and fluffy––a tasty, tender sponge for butter and syrup. “Real McDonald’s hotcake vibe (genuine compliment),” as a reviewer notes. Here’s how I got there.
Milk + vinegar doesn’t work as a buttermilk substitute
If you’ve ever done the milk + vinegar = fake buttermilk trick, we need to chat. While this mixture might approximate the acidity of buttermilk, the texture is totally off. While cultured buttermilk is thick, this substitute is thin and watery. In recipes that use a lot of buttermilk, like pancakes, biscuits, dressings, or cakes, this can ruin the outcome. Batters and doughs turn runny and slump over. What was once tender will now be gummy from the extra moisture. Faux buttermilk also lacks the complex tang of the real deal, achieved only through fermentation and lactic acid bacteria.
Baking powder over baking soda
A simple way to remember how baking soda and baking powder work: Baking soda reacts with acid, baking powder reacts 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. So, baking powder becomes the catalyst of choice. The recipe calls for 4 Tbsp.––not a typo, promise. Baking powder is much weaker than baking soda and has only about a quarter of its bubble-making strength. Be scrupulous to use aluminum-free baking powder (it will say so on the package). This is important to prevent any metallic or bitter aftertaste.
Separate the eggs, but don’t whip them
If you scrolled away at the idea of separating eggs for something as simple as pancakes, wait! Come back! There’s zero whipping required. Instead, you just separate the eggs: the yolks get incorporated first, then the whites later on. Why? Suffice to say the ribbons of lightly stirred egg whites create extra puff as the pancakes cook, noticeably more than when they’re whisked in with and weighed down by the yolks.
So, for all of us who can’t be bothered with buttermilk, diner-style pancakes are entirely within reach.
No buttermilk, no problem: