A stack of light, fluffy pancakes generously buttered and swimming in maple syrup is a weekend staple in my little New York City apartment. Among the city’s beeping car alarms, throngs of people, and incessant hustle, this old-fashioned breakfast staple offers a simple and nostalgic weekly reprieve from the grind of everyday life. An easy-to-make meal that uses just a few basic pantry ingredients, truly dreamy pancakes represent immediately attainable happiness. And this perfectly sweet and savory food is indeed a cinch to make if you can avoid the common mistakes. Take note of these pitfalls and you’ll always have the recipe for zen in your back pocket.
Using old baking soda, bleached flour, or cheap butter
For any food requiring few ingredients, you should assume that using high-quality ones will yield better results. Since baking soda helps pancakes achieve their full fluffy potential when they are heated, it’s crucial to use a leavener that’s no more than six months old. Doing so helps you avoid cooking up flat ones that are no fun to look at or eat.
Overmixing the batter
It’s easy to overmix the pancake batter in an effort to smooth out all the lumps, but don’t do this! The more you stir, the more you work the gluten in the flour, resulting in tough and chewy pancakes instead of light and tender ones.
Using the wrong whisk to mix the batter
While narrower, more conventional French whisks are perfect for hard, vigorous stir jobs, you want to opt for the more bulbous, rounder balloon whisk for preparing your pancake batter. The latter has wires that are farther apart and create a rounder shape, hence the name. This type of whisk is best for this particular task because the ample space between the wires creates air during whisking, keeping your batter light and fluffy.
Preparing the batter ahead of time
Leaveners like baking soda or powder are activated as soon as they come into contact with wet ingredients. As such, you don’t want to make the batter too early. The leavener you’re using will not work as well if the batter’s been sitting around for a day or even an hour.
Using a small frying pan
The flat, roomy surface makes it easy to transfer your batter and flip your pancakes. Using a regular pan with sloped sides doesn’t leave you quite enough room to cook multiple pancakes comfortably. Short of a griddle, you could try using a wide pan with a heavy bottom. The latter quality promotes even cooking.
Cooking with butter
The milk solids in butter means it has a relatively low smoking point, burning quite easily. A better option would be to use clarified butter since the milk solids have already been separated from the fat. Otherwise, opt for a neutral oil such as grapeseed or canola.
Flipping too soon or too often
You should cook the pancakes until you can see bubbles begin to form on the surface, signaling the big flip. Flip your pancakes exactly once.
Cooking pancakes at the wrong temp
If the bottoms of the pancakes are too dark and bubbles haven’t formed, this indicates that the heat level is too high. On the flip side, if the bottoms are not yet golden and the bubbles have already formed, you’ll know that the heat level is too low. Adjust accordingly.
Not testing the first pancake
This inevitably means that the first pancake you make should be a test run — the time to gauge the heat level and notice if certain areas are cooking unevenly. Adjust so that your real official batch will be just right.
Not letting the batter rest
Giving the batter a few minutes to rest allows the gluten in the mixture to relax just enough to avoid chewy pancakes.
Using processed pancake syrups
These fake syrups are made of processed sugars and contain artificial flavors and colorings. Your best bet is to stick with pure maple syrup even if it is a little more expensive.
Adding too many fillings
Doing so will make your batter heavy and uneven.
Pouring the batter directly from the bowl to the pan
Avoid pouring the batter directly from your mixing bowl onto the pan or griddle. Doing so may seem like a way to save dishes, but it ends up producing misshapen pancakes that are different sizes, not to mention messy. In order to have more control over the stream you’re pouring, try using a small measuring cup, about ¼ or ⅓.
Not measuring everything
Unlike other kinds of casual cooking, cake batters — even for simple things like pancakes — are finicky. As with complicated layered cakes, pancake batter works because the proportions of the ingredients are just right. That means you should measure everything, from the flour and baking soda to the milk and salt. Too much baking soda, and your pancakes won’t rise enough. Too little, and they’ll rise too much and taste slightly bitter. In order to avoid wonky pancakes, pull out your trusty measuring cups and spoons.
Written by Jennifer En, this story originally appeared on mashed.com