There are three key principles to making good pancakes: consistency of the batter, proper heating of the griddle and recognizing when to turn the cakes.
Whether making pancake batter from scratch or a packaged mix, stir it just enough to moisten the dry ingredients. The batter should still be lumpy; overmixing makes the pancakes tough. For best results, cover the batter and refrigerate one to two hours so the flour expands and absorbs the moisture.
To cook the batter, preheat the griddle over medium heat. It's ready when a few drops of cold water sprinkled onto the surface "dance" and sizzle (Step 1). If the water just sits and boils, the griddle isn't hot enough; if it evaporates instantly, reduce the heat.
Brush the griddle lightly with oil (Step 2) unless it has a non-stick surface or is very well seasoned. Other types of fat--shortening, butter or margarine--may be used if desired.
An Easy Trial
The easiest way to check the consistency of the batter is to cook a trial pancake. Typically, one-quarter cup batter forms a pancake about 5 inches in diameter. Pouring the batter close to the griddle surface (Step 3) helps to keep the pancake round and using a measuring cup assures uniform size.
Pancakes are ready to turn when bubbles form and begin to break on the upper surface and the edges look dry. Turn with a spatula wide enough to accommodate the size of the pancake. Normally, the first side needs to cook two to three minutes, but the second cooks in about half that time. Turn the pancakes only once.
The pancake should turn out golden brown, light and tender and be cooked through in the center. If the batter is too thick, adjust with a little water; if too thin, add a little flour.
Pancakes are best served at once, either in a stack with syrup, or stuffed, rolled or glazed with a sauce and run under the broiler. You can also vary the batter by stirring in one-half to three-quarters cup blueberries or one-third cup chopped nuts.
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