How to make diner pancakes: Personalized pancakes part 3

Is there anything better than diving into a still-warm stack of pancakes at your favorite diner? There just might be something even better!

Imagine sinking your fork into those same beautiful, golden pancakes in the comfort of your own home. Now THAT is the best thing ever.

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas or slippers to enjoy quintessential diner pancakes anymore. We’re going to teach you how to make the best diner-style pancakes at home using your favorite pancake recipe. Just a few simple tweaks and you’ll be serving up the best pancakes around!

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Turn your home kitchen into the best diner in town with these tips for making diner-style pancakes. Click To Tweet

Personalize your pancakes

If you’ve been reading along with our recent pancake blog posts, you’ll know this isn’t the first time we’re setting out to make a certain style of pancakes. We believe pancakes are personal, and you should be able to adjust any base recipe to make them just right for your taste buds.

Today, we’re catering to those who dream about diner-style pancakes — those ones that are evenly golden, slightly malty in flavor, and typically as big as your face — but that certainly doesn’t mean we don’t recognize and appreciate other styles of pancakes too.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Our first lesson was for the fluffy pancake-lovers — those who want their pancakes to be light and cakey.

How to make decadent and buttery pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Photo by Jenn Bakos

Next, inspired by my fellow blogger PJ’s love of buttery and moist pancakes, we explored how to make decadent pancakes that are rich with flavor. Learn how to make buttery pancakes in our second lesson.

Now we’re aiming to make pancakes that are cozy, comforting, and ultimately delicious. We’re going to recreate pancakes that are exactly like those you’d find at a classic diner on a weekend morning.

Buttermilk pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Photo by Liz Neily

The recipe: Buttermilk Pancakes

As with the other posts in our personalized pancakes series, we begin with our Buttermilk Pancakes recipe.

We turn to this recipe again because it serves as the perfect base for personalization. It’s basic enough to welcome some small adjustments but is also delicious as is.

Bottom line: It’s a recipe that’s easy to love and is worth adding to your arsenal of go-to recipes. As a review from Cassandra in North Carolina puts it, this recipe will make you look like a “pancake rockstar!”

Making diner pancakes at home: The tips

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Tip #1: Add the secret ingredient, malt!

There’s something about the flavor of diner pancakes that’s hard to put your finger on. It’s slightly sweet and complex. It reminds you of an old-fashioned milkshake.

That elusive flavor? It’s malt. Or more precisely, it’s malted milk powder. It’s the secret ingredient that will bring you right back to childhood.

To capture the essence of diner pancakes, omit the sugar in your pancake recipe and add between 2 and 3 tablespoons of malted milk powder for every cup of flour in your recipe. Opt for the higher amount if you’re looking for a more noticeable malted milk flavor.

I, for one, love malted milk anything — chocolate, milkshakes, pancakes — so I use 3 tablespoons (26g) of malted milk powder per cup of flour. For our Buttermilk Pancakes recipe, that means adding 6 tablespoons (which is a generous 1/3 cup or 52g) of malted milk powder to the dry ingredients.

No malted milk powder? Replace the sugar in your recipe with 1 tablespoon of brown sugar for every cup of flour in your recipe. Dark brown sugar will give you the most flavor, so use this as opposed to light brown sugar if possible.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

This simple swap will take the flavor of your pancakes to new heights.

Tip #2: Make a pourable batter

If you were ever lucky enough to sit at the counter in an old-school diner with an open kitchen, you might have seen a master pancake-maker in action. Usually, the chef has a big pitcher of pancake batter in one hand and expertly pours the batter in a thin stream onto the hot, sizzling griddle.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

The pourable consistency of the batter is key here. In order for the pancakes to look and taste like true diner pancakes, the batter should be relatively thin. This ensures it will spread into giant pancakes on the griddle.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

If you’re using King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (which has exactly the right protein content for diner pancakes), you should use about 1 1/4 cups (283g) of liquid for every cup of flour (120g) in your recipe.

Our Buttermilk Pancakes batter is slightly thicker than the ideal diner pancake’s, so we increase the total amount of buttermilk* to 2 1/2 cups (567g) to go along with the recipe’s 2 cups (240g) of flour.

*If you don’t regularly have buttermilk on hand, check out this blog post on how to substitute for buttermilk using ingredients that are likely in your pantry.

Once your batter is mixed, it should be easily pourable and fall off your spoon or whisk in a thin, quickly flowing ribbon.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Tip #3: Go for plate-sized pancake perfection

Once your batter is a perfect, pourable consistency, it’s time to get cooking. And now is not the time to be shy. Be generous with the amount of batter you use for each pancake.

If you’re truly trying to replicate the diner pancake experience at home, shoot for pancakes that are about 8” to 10” in size (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of batter per pancake).

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Yes, those are massive pancakes, I know! They aren’t too daunting though because they’re relatively thin. (Remember that extra liquid we added to the batter? It’ll help here.)

Plus, diners often offer a single pancake (or two) as a full serving; don’t feel pressured to stack them up too tall if that’s not what you’re looking for. Build your plate as you would imagine it’d look at your dream diner.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Most diners offer a plethora of fun mix-ins to add to your pancake batter. Chocolate wafers, Cinnamon Sweet Bits, chocolate chips, and fresh fruit are among our favorite choices.

Tip #4: Create mix-in magic

Do you remember perusing the diner menu as a kid, looking at all of the fun additions you could choose for your pancakes? I remember weighing my options heavily: chocolate chips or blueberries? Raspberries or strawberries? Or both?!

Embrace your inner child sidling on up to the diner counter, and pull out some decadent ingredients when you make diner pancakes at home. Be whimsical and fun with your combinations. Bananas and butterscotch chips? Yes.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Don’t add the mix-ins directly to the batter. Wait until the batter is poured onto the griddle and then immediately sprinkle the ingredients on top. This approach allows each person to add exactly what they wish and have their own “order” of diner pancakes.

Plus, sprinkling your berries or chips on top of the batter prevents them from sinking through the thin batter to the bottom of the bowl. You don’t want to go fishing for blueberries when your griddle is hot and you’re hungry for pancakes!

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

I’ll be adding chocolate and a handful of berries to my diner pancakes, that’s for sure.

Tip #5: Cook until evenly golden

Turns out that the pan (or griddle) you use to cook the batter, as well as how you prepare it, is key to the final appearance of your pancakes.

The cooked surface of pancakes sometimes turns out a bit splotchy, with rings of color and a pale base peeking through. While those pancakes usually still taste delicious, we’re looking to make pancakes just like the best diners in town. That means your pancakes should be perfectly (evenly!) golden brown from edge to edge.

So how do you avoid those rings of color and uneven splotches? It starts with how you prepare the pan. At diners, the griddle is usually so well-seasoned that the pancake-makers don’t even need to add extra fat to the surface.

Take a page out of their book and skip applying butter or oil to the surface of the pan before adding the pancake batter. Instead, use a pan that’s naturally non-stick, like a well-seasoned cast iron pan or electric griddle.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

See the steam rising from the pancake on the left? That means it’s not quite ready to flip — just a few more minutes before it’s evenly golden brown.

If you don’t have much confidence in the patina of your pan or you’re worried about the pancakes sticking, you can add an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil to the batter. This will also make the pancakes extra tender, so feel free to include this step even if you own a well-loved cast iron pan.

Cook the pancakes over medium heat the entire time (about 325°F if you’re using an electric griddle). This will brown the undersides of the pancakes without drying them out.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Feel free to taste a pancake or two along the way to make sure they’re just right. Baker’s treat!

Tip #6: Serve your pancakes as a diner would

Now that you’ve done all the hard work to make pancakes that look and taste like they came from the diner downtown, be sure to give your pancakes the final flourishes they deserve. That means butter, maple syrup, and anything else you think might be delicious.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

I grew up going to the Fairlee Diner on weekend mornings, and they always served their massive pancakes with a ramekin of whipped butter. The syrup was warm and always from Vermont, and there was never a shortage of that liquid amber gold.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

After Sunday morning basketball practice, I’d go so far to gild the lily and order diner pancakes served with a generous serving of whipped cream on top. Feel free to top yours with a squirt straight from the can (we love Cabot!). Alternately, whip up your own if you have a few extra minutes to spare.

And don’t stop here! These are the ways my childhood diner served their pancakes. I encourage you to recreate the magic of your favorite diner by following their lead. Serve your pancakes with style.

How to make diner pancakes via @kingarthurflour

Essential tips for making diner pancakes at home

With these six solid tips under your belt (or under your apron), you’ll be rivaling the best diners around with your golden, malted pancakes.

Remember these takeaways the next time you whip up a batch of pancakes — you can also find them at the bottom of our Buttermilk Pancakes recipe in the baker’s tips.

  • For nostalgic flavor, use 2 to 3 tablespoons of malted milk powder (or 1 tablespoon of dark brown sugar) for every cup of flour in your recipe.
  • Make a pourable batter by using 1 1/4 cups (283g) of liquid for every cup of flour (120g) in your recipe.
  • Use about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of batter per pancake to ensure the final results are generous and practically plate-sized.
  • Use a well-seasoned pan. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the batter if needed to prevent sticking; cook pancakes until they’re evenly golden.
  • Customize pancakes to taste by sprinkling whimsical ingredients like chips, fruit, and nuts atop each pancake as they cook.
  • Serve pancakes as a diner would. Top generously with salted butter, warm maple syrup, whipped cream, and anything else you’d like to “order” up!

Read the other posts in our personalized pancake series, then try a few versions at home to find out what you like best. Let us know which kind of pancake is the winner in your home in the comments, below.

Thanks to Anne Mientka for taking the photos for this post.

Kye Ameden
About

Kye Ameden grew up in Fairlee, Vermont and has always had a love of food, farms, and family. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, she became an employee-owner at King Arthur Flour and is a proud member of the Digital Marketing Team.

comments

  1. Wes

    Wow thanks for giving the spotlight to other styles of pancakes. I tried so hard to make them in the past by modifying fluffy pancake recipes in the past, but could never get them right.

    For some reason, whenever I try to make pancakes with a thin batter the middle never cooks correctly (tastes a bit raw) no matter how thin I spread the batter and how low the heat is. Would you have any idea why?

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Sometimes a raw flavor in pancakes comes from too much flour in the batter. With just a quick cook on the stovetop (as opposed to being baked in the oven) pancakes need just the right balance of liquid to flour. You might try measuring your flour by weight with a scale or gently fluffing and sprinkling it into the measuring cup. Additionally, you can turn your oven on low (around 200°F) and place cooked pancakes on a baking sheet in the oven to stay warm and continue cooking slightly until you’re ready to serve. You might find that this additional rest period is just what your pancakes need to have the right texture and flavor. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  2. Diane

    You didn’t mention any techniques for flipping these giants without them falling apart. Do they not get turned? Is there a giant spatula I don’t know about?

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      We’re glad you asked, Diane. While such a giant spatula exists (it’s also great for moving cake layers), I didn’t find it necessary to use this behemoth to flip the flapjacks. (They should be flipped once you start to see lots of pinhole-sized bubbles appear on one side.) I used a very thin, wide spatula (sometimes called a “fish spatula,”) and with a swift motion, it worked just fine. The key is to be sure to let the pancakes cook long enough before flipping. A very flimsy, delicate, mostly uncooked pancake will be a bear to flip. An almost-all-the-way cooked pancake will be a breeze if you have some confidence. And I know you can do this – with or without the giant spatula! Kye@KAF

  3. Sarah

    This brings me back to my childhood at the diner. Thank you for helping me bring these pancakes into our home. I love the addition of malt to the batter. It is perfect.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      That’s one of the reasons why we love baking so much; all it takes is a favorite recipe and few bites of a nostalgic treat to transport you back in time. Thanks for reading and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Tao

    Wow, these pancakes are making my stomach grumble! I love incorporating all of the fancy add-ins and making delicious combinations such as banana and cinnamon chips or raspberries and chocolate. Are there other ways I could enhance my pancakes, like adding flavor right to the batter with perhaps almond extract, pumpkin puree, or a sprinkle of espresso powder?

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      We love the way you’re thinking! Jazzing up your pancakes with additional flavor is always welcome. Some of the additions you suggested can be simply added directly to the batter after you’ve mixed it (espresso powder, spices like cinnamon, extracts). If you’re going to really take it up a notch and add wet ingredients like pumpkin or banana purée, you’ll want to reduce some of the liquid in your recipe. Alternately, if you’re open to using different recipes, consider choosing some of our specialty pancake recipes from our collection: Oat and Yogurt Pancakes, Lemon Zephyr Pancakes, Almond Flour Pancakes, Pumpkin Pancakes, and Cinnamon-Streusel Pancakes are a few enticing choices. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. Jo

    Creating a diner vibe in my own kitchen is my favorite! Thanks for the tip about how and when to include the add ins. I typically add them in to the batter with the idea of a more even distribution and not having them all on one side when flipped, but this has backfired on me this time of year when I’m using frozen blueberries. The batter will actually start to freeze up and clump (I am generous with my blueberries…) Your post also reminded me to be patient about flipping as there’s nothing more disappointing about pancakes than when they have raw batter in the middle! I always try to wait for the bubbles, but I’ll try your steam trick now. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Being generous with the blueberries is a crime only of the best pancake-makers! You might consider rinsing your frozen blueberries under cold water until the water runs clear before sprinkling them onto your pancake batter next time – this will prevent the batter from freezing/clumping and staining the batter purple. (You’ll just get beautiful purple pockets right where the berries land.) This tip also works for blueberry muffins too; see our post, The secret to baking with frozen blueberries. It’s so helpful when you want to use your hand-picked berries from the summer to make your breakfast or brunch even more special. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  6. Julia

    These pancakes look magnificent! I enjoy the KAF Essential Goodness Protein Pancake Mix. I feel less guilty about my weekend pancakes since the protein/carb ratio is better. The plate size pancakes reminds me of a diner pancake challenge in Potsdam, NY. I much rather enjoy my plate size pancake at home in my jammies. If I were to make my pancakes with whole wheat flour how would the texture and fluff factor change?

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Julia, the “fluff factor,” I love it! You just may have coined a new term that we use in our pancake series – brilliant. Anyways, as for your question about how you to add whole wheat flour to your favorite pancakes, you might consider starting by replacing half of the all-purpose flour called for with whole wheat flour. (Opt for White Whole Wheat Flour if anyone in your breakfast gang isn’t a big fan of traditional whole wheat flavor.) If you really want to embrace whole grains and use 100% whole wheat flour in your pancakes, you can replace all of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour and add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of additional liquid per cup of flour in your recipe. This will keep the pleasant “fluff factor,” you’ve mentioned and prevent the pancakes from being dry or heavy. You might notice the pancakes have a slightly denser texture, but if you let the whole wheat batter rest for 15 minutes before using, you’ll end up with a texture that’s very similar to the original version. Happy pancake making! Kye@KAF

  7. Ann Hall

    I have made pancakes for many, many years and yet learned some new tips from your blog. I will now try malted milk powder and adding oil to the batter. Thanks for this terrific information! We love pancakes and waffles at our house.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      If you like a slightly crispy texture in your waffles, then oil is the way to go. And the malted milk powder? It will send you back to your childhood and impart a pleasantly sweet, malty flavor. It’ll leave your breakfast and brunch guests asking for more! Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  8. Christine

    I’m with you Leanne, except we call it “breakfast for supper”, along with lots of bacon, scrambled eggs, and homemade triple berry freezer jam to spread on those pancakes, along with a BIG dollop of whipped cream.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      What do we have to do in order to get an invite to your place for breakfast (or supper!), Christine? It sounds like a tempting feast. Enjoy! Kye@KAF

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