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Every time I cook hotcakes, the first one is usually the worst one. It seems like it will take forever to cook and for the bubbles to show up at the surface.

I initially thought it was the pan, that it was not hot enough, but I've even gone to the extreme of measuring the pan temperature, and it's the same temperature for the first cake, than it is for the last one.

Is there anything chemically/physically different from the first hotcake from the rest?

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Do you have a specific recipe or further details that you can provide to help determine what's going wrong? –  logophobe May 28 at 13:58
7  
первый блин всегда комом –  Sobachatina May 28 at 14:57
    
@Sobachatina Truer words were never spoken. –  Ben Kovitz May 28 at 18:57

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Absolutely the first hotcake/pancake is the worst.

Typically, the pan has not reached an optimal temperature nor has the oil/butter that you use seeped into the pan to create a better cooking surface for the hotcake. An improperly heated and greased pan will lead to suboptimal pancake.

To cook the perfect first pancake (or as close to the second as possible), do the following:

  1. Heat the pan (375 F / 190 C)
  2. Coat the pan with oil (I use safflower - but can use canola)
  3. Let the oil get hot
  4. Wipe the oil from the pan (wipe the pan dry)
  5. Add a few more drops of oil
  6. Let the oil get hot again
  7. Wipe the oil
  8. Apply batter

This process will seal the surface of the pan (which is pocked) and create a truly flat surface for the hotcakes to cook on.

Additionally, you should let the batter sit (in its bowl) for 6 to 8 minutes so that it has time to mix the wet and dry ingredients more thoroughly. Make sure that your batter is at room temperature - or as close to it. You don't want the pan to lose heat while trying to bring cold batter up to temperature - this will give you a soggy pancake.

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I can buy the temperature of the batter being a factor, but this doesn't make a lot of sense as a definitive cause if the OP is measuring the temperature of the pan before ever starting the first cake. –  logophobe May 28 at 17:36
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There is not one 'definitive' cause - its a whole group of causes, each participating to create a horrible first (or first few) hotcakes. –  jsanc623 May 28 at 17:54

Well, seeing as you ruled out the heat of the pan already, let's consider other possibilities:

  • Dishsoap residue rubbing off on the first pancake, altering its properties.
  • Remnants of other kinds of food having been cooked in the pan also altering the first pancake's properties.
  • You might just get better at it after the first one. You may have used too much or too little oil the first time.
  • It could be that the part of the pan that you measured the temperature on wasn't the right part to have measured. The entirety of the pan might count.
  • The room temperature and humidity. This could change after the first pancake and potentially have an effect.
  • The first pancake may help to season the pan better.
  • Maybe you didn't mix your batter enough.
  • It could have to do with eggs. I've noticed that eggs react to a pan that hasn't had eggs on it in a while differently, at least cast-iron.

I've noticed that the first item is often improved on a cast-iron pan, preheated. If you're using nonstick or something, try cast-iron instead. If you heat it for a while, with the temperature almost halfway up it'll be heated evenly.

You can always try baking a cast-iron pan in the oven and then frying the pancakes in the oven. That could waste energy, though.

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What advantage does a cast-iron pan offer over a nonstick? –  Chris Steinbach May 31 at 7:59
    
As it pertains to the first pancake, or generally? As it pertains to the first pancake, I don't have a scientific explanation for why I think it's better. That's just my experience. Generally, there are loads of advantages, however: 1. Get as hot as you want. 2. Healthier (and won't kill birds with smoking teflon) 3. They last a whole lot longer 4. It adds to the flavor 5. Seasoning is fun 6. You can bake the pans (I guess that pertains to my first-pancake-answer) 7. You can cook on a campfire 8. Potentially heats more evenly. I'm sure there are loads of other reasons, but those come to mind. –  user2962794 Jun 3 at 2:21

Barring technical factors, it's that you use the first hotcake to get a gauge of how long it will take to cook the rest. Even if you're a human metronome, factors such as ambient temperature, humidity, the thickness of the batter, the heat of the cooktop (never as constant as we imagine) will all vary the ideal cook time - so the first cake is always terrible, as you were having a hard time of judging how long to cook it.

If you're impatient, it seems like it takes forever for the cake to bubble, and you'll probably flip it too soon. If you're paranoid, you'll wait too long to flip. After that first cake, you've adjusted to the approximate time, so you can more comfortably rely on other cues for done-ness.

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