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TL;DR: Usual pancake (French-style crepe) mixture causes separation of mixture in the blender and fizzes when fried resulting in very poor quality pancakes which burn easily.

The last couple of weeks I made flat (not fluffy) pancakes with this recipe:

  • 500ml semi-skimmed milk (green top for those in the UK)
  • approx 200ml gluten-free flour (it was tipped in without measuring, but that's how I always do it) - by volume this would be about 1/3 of the milk measure
  • 2 fresh medium eggs (bought the day before, stored in fridge)
  • 1/2 tbl spoon of vanilla essence, aka a 'splash'

The method?.. Stick it all in a blender, run for 10 seconds, scrape/scoop any unmixed flour from the sides, run for another 5 seconds, fry (no oil.)

Last week I got a really nice, thin, medium-golden set of pancakes. Literally every single one cooked beautifully in seconds, curled at the edges just so I could flip and were thin, tasty and perfect.

This week the mixture fizzed (yes, 'fizzed') as it hit the pan. The holes appearing as it fried were huge and at the edges it seemed to stick straight to the pan and just burn straight away. It did not curl and I had to get the spatula (thin, metal) forced under the edges to be able to peel them and flip. The underside burnt and until the mixture cook firm the liquid mixture continued to make the disturbing fizzing. Just before flipping I could see a sort of mottling on the top, completely unlike any pattern a regular pancake would have. After flipping the second side would not brown at all - just go from white to burnt. They tasted OK, but not like last weeks'.

This is how I always make pancakes, but every-so-often they come out with this irritating 'fizz' sort of sound and it's at that moment I know they are going to be a pain to fry.

The one other indicator I get is that when I finish blending the mixture together, the top is bubbly and clearly separate from the regular part of the mixture. I just can't figure out why it would separate like this - what is the cause of the low quality mixture? The ingredients are always bought within a couple of days of making and I've had great success with relatively older ingredients. I have had limited success by removing the frothy mixture from the top of the blender, but even the better mixture at the bottom does not produce great pancakes.

PS: Yes, I wish I'd taken a photo or two but I was so stressed by it happening again I just didn't. Sorry.

  • No leavening but the eggs? Are these more like crepes? If so, should you let them rest after blending for the bubbles to separate or are you relying on the bubbles for leavening? – Sobachatina Aug 13 '18 at 9:36
  • Yes, the crepe-style of pancake. This is more common in the UK than the American or Japanese style of fluffy pancakes. Typically it is not necessary to leave the mixture any time at all after blending/mixing and it can be fried immediately. – Matt W Aug 13 '18 at 9:38
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    The first thing that leaps to mind was that your pan temperature with the problem batch was probably significantly hotter that your previously successful baches – Cynetta Aug 13 '18 at 10:25
  • Though I've always been told that using a very high heat and cooking pancakes quite quickly is the key (see any crepe vendor in Paris, for example) I use a medium heat which takes ~1 for the first side and ~30 seconds after flipping. – Matt W Aug 13 '18 at 10:59
  • It's a shame I can't check both current answers as correct. I'll wait a bit and see which gets the most votes. Lots of great info here - thanks everyone! – Matt W Aug 14 '18 at 7:24
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I don't have much experience of cooking with gluten free flour so can't comment on any degree to which that might be a factor. I would generally let a pancake batter sit for at least 15 minutes before use to let the flour fully absorb the liquid, that may be less necessary with gluten free flour.

However there are three main things that leap out at me from the description as being possible sources of the problem:

  • The recipe: pancake batter is quite thin normally, if you push the balance too far towards liquids, the batter can't form a cohesive pancake because the flour mix is too dilute, the bonds can't be formed. It will eventually form a solid, but not until heat has driven off the excess liquid. Your recipe already has a higher proportion of liquid than most UK recipes I've seen, and also less egg for the amount of batter than many. Obviously it works for you some of the time, which leads us to the next point...
  • Not measuring flour: Your recipe is for a pretty thin batter, that reduces the tolerance within which under-measuring still lets the batter function. I suspect that the times you see what you describe as 'separation' is when there just isn't enough flour to thicken the liquid.
  • Pan temperature. What you describe as 'fizzing' may be what others would just call sizzling, the mixture hit the hot pan surface and the liquid in it quickly turns to steam, causing the bubbles. This is going to be more pronounce the higher the proportion of liquid in your batter.

A minor thing is that in my experience some thing s work better if you just whisk them together rather than using the chopping motion of the blades in a blender. I'd put pancake batter in that category, but that may be just personal preference.

I recommend that

  • you start measuring the flour to ensure that you achieve a consistent batter
  • Use a small amount of batter to test the temperature of the pan before you start making the pancakes proper.
  • Try whisking rather than blending and resting the batter, though I think these are less likely to make a difference.

My personal preference would always be to cook pancakes in a buttered pan too. One of the benefits of that, apart from the flavour, is that because butter burns if the pan is too hot, you have to keep the pan temperature lower and that is generally a good thing for pancakes.

  • Having used various greases and pans, I've settled on no butter, oil etc at all and a non-stick pan. The one I use at present is not my favourite, but does the job. As I say above, I've had some epic successes from it - but a few failures which are (currently) blowing my mind. – Matt W Aug 13 '18 at 11:00
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    @MattW I edited my answer just before you commented, did you see the update? I understand you've had some successes, but if it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't it is because you are not always doing the same thing, even if you think you are. Butter is neither here nor there, I like it but that's personal preference, I mention it here because it can play a role in helping you be aware of pan temperature. – Spagirl Aug 13 '18 at 11:04
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    I'm mentally discounting the flour measurement because I have tried it with one small measure and gradually increased the amount, with just enough blending to get each addition of four mixed in. As I progressed I got the same result. I have also tried frying from different temperatures - in fact this weekend I had start with high, realised it was very wrong and dropped very low, gradually increasing the temperature once cooled and the next batter was in. Same result - the only difference being the amount of audible fizz or sizzle and how long they took to cook. – Matt W Aug 13 '18 at 11:27
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    My above comment is what lead to the high stress/frustration. While I wouldn't say that I've been scientifically methodical, I have tried quite a few variations. It is the reliability of the failed mixture to remain failed regardless of the changes I make to it's pan environment. I've even let it sit a while to allow it to separate and then removed the obvious problem top - that ended up with a lot of flour sediment which then needed to be mixed back in. – Matt W Aug 13 '18 at 11:30
  • @MattW Since resist the recipe or method being the source of the issue, I'm not sure what's left. Do you sometimes use eggs that have gone off? Do you always use the same type of gluten free flour? – Spagirl Aug 13 '18 at 13:03
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From what you've described, I'd recommend three changes:

  1. Let the mixture sit 15 to 30 minutes before cooking it. Gluten-free flour needs time to hydrate. If you don't, you can get the separation that you describe (as it didn't absorb the moisture fully), and it can be gritty. It's also a good practice with regular flour to let it sit for a few minutes, as that will let the bubbles that get whipped in from the blender a chance to escape. (although the 'fizzing' might also be free liquid that's evaporating and causing extra bubbling)
  2. Make sure the pan is up to temperature. If it weren't a non-stick pan, I'd recommend using the Leidenfrost effect. For non-stick, I'd cook a small 'sacrificial pancake' to determine if the heat is correct.
  3. Grease the pan. 'Non-stick' is more like 'stick resistant'. Use a paper towel (piece of kitchen roll?) to spread a really thin layer (basically, put it on, then wipe it all off), so you're less likely to stick, but won't end up frying the pancakes in fat. Heating up a teflon pan dry can lead to damage from overheating (and killing any exotic birds in the house), so always heat it up with a little bit of oil in it so you have an indicator when it's getting hot.

You might also want to look for gluten-free specific recipes, as not all gluten free flours are best for all types of baked goods. There are many 'pancakes' of the style that you like in other countries, so you can widen your range (and be less likely to have to dig through American pancake recipes)

  • Yes, there is always a sacrifice. The "there must always be one" pancake, at the start. – Matt W Aug 14 '18 at 7:19
  • Did you mean to use the same link for both the 'Leidenfrost effect' and the 'Other styles of pancake' links? – Matt W Aug 14 '18 at 7:25
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    @MattW : nope. fixed – Joe Aug 14 '18 at 14:17
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I've used Dove's Farm and Sainsbury's own gluten free flour for pancakes (crepe and American) with little problem. However, I wonder if the blender isn't very efficient at mixing everything very well. Pancakes work best by gradually adding wet ingredients to dry and whisking it in until smooth. Blenders aren't really made with that in mind.

The other is the lack of oil in the pan.

I mix by hand, gradually adding the wet to dry ingredients and then letting it rest for about ten minutes, a dab of oil on a clean kitchen towel and a medium heat is all I need for about three pans of pancakes (drop scones are bite sized American pancakes).

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I have accepted @spagirl's answer as it provided the best information, but I also want to provide a description of what I have done to produce successful pancakes - the original question doesn't seem the right place...

Though @spagirl has provided some great information which I took account of this past weekend, I believe I have nailed the method and that the recipe in my question is good.

This past weekend I tried again and very successfully made about 10 thin (crepe-style), light, tasty pancakes without burning (or sacrificing!) even one of them! Very happy I am. Yes.

So, having achieved really great pancakes, here's the detractors and significant details:

  1. Oil - Not used oil at all
  2. Water - I heated the pan a little to make sure any excess moisture was removed, but otherwise just used a kitchen towerl (paper)
  3. Recipe - Exactly the same as in my original description
  4. Measurements - I measured after adding what I thought was correct (more for future reference, but also to check that I was getting something akin to the 3-2-1 ratios)
  5. Standing - The only stand time the mixture got after blending was the perhaps 30-60 seconds it took me to light the pan and grab a spatula.
  6. Temperature - This was the biggest change to the method: I lit the gas under the pan, set it to the lowest setting and poured the first pancake in straight away, tilting the pan to spread it out evenly. I then increased the heat to about 1/3 of the maximum temperature of the ring. (It is a double ring, with an outer and an inner gas ring - so can produce much hotter pans than my other rings.)

Other than the above there was no change. Having said that, the detail for #4 Measurements is:

  1. Put 0.35 litres of 2% milk (regular semi-skimmed UK) in the blender
  2. Dropped in 2 eggs and a splash of vanilla essence
  3. Placed the blender on the digital scales, set it to 0 and added 175g of gluten-free flour
  4. Blended on high for about 10 seconds (until it looked mixed in - including time to scrape extra bits from the sides)

As I said, I don't believe that I've done anything differently - the measuring of flour was done after adding it by eye - and the only significant change was heating the pan to required temperature after the first pancake's batter was in the pan.

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