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It seems like making a pancake should be the easiest thing in the world.
But, as anyone who’s ever messed up their batter or creamed a crepe will tell you, getting through Pancake Day isn’t always that easy.
Luckily for anyone tackling the kitchen this Shrove Tuesday, professional help is now available.
MailOnline asked experts what science says about the recipe for the perfect pancake.
And, from the precise diameter of the perfect pancake to understanding your “baker’s ratio,” these clever tips are sure to make Pancake Day a smashing success.
MailOnline asked experts what science says about the perfect pancake. By giving the batter the right consistency and using the proper pan technique, you should ensure you get beautiful pancakes every time.
Every good pancake starts with great batter.
The basic ingredients are simple: flour, milk, eggs, and whatever else you want to use as flavoring.
But it’s the proportion and method you use to combine these ingredients that decides whether your pancakes fail.
Professor Ian Eames is a fluid mechanics expert at UCL and has spent more time than most thinking about the physics of pancake batter.
Professor Eames explained: “The characteristics of your pancake are determined by the baker’s ratio, which is an indication of how much liquid is in your mixture, and the thickness of your pancake.”
To calculate the baker’s ratio of your dough, divide the amount of milk in milliliters by the weight of flour in grams and multiply by 100.
A lower baker’s ratio will result in a thicker batter, while a higher ratio will result in a thinner, crepe-like batter.
Professor Eames measured the baker’s ratio and thickness of pancakes around the world to determine the exact relationship between batter and pancake.
According to Professor Eames, the ideal baking ratio for a UK-style thin pancake is 100.
He explained: ‘Use 200ml milk, 100g flour, one or two eggs and a pinch of salt.
“The salt contrasts well with the sweetness if you opt for the traditional lemon and sugar.”
If you want a more American-style pancake, Professor Eames suggests 200ml of milk, 200g of flour and two eggs.
This graph shows the relationship between the baker’s ratio, which is determined by the amount of milk, and the thickness and size of the pancake. The ideal UK-style thin pancake (yellow star) has a bakers ratio of about 200, while American-style pancakes (red star) come in at just over 100.
Professor Eames’ research has found that the consistency of the batter determines how the pancake will cook. For the ideal British pancake (yellow star), aim for the top to show islands and a ring of golden color, while the bottom is smooth and darkly speckled.
You may have heard that a lumpy batter results in a more tender pancake.
And while it may seem like an excuse for laziness, there is some scientific truth to this.
When flour is mixed with wet ingredients, two proteins called glutenin and gliadin combine to form long chains of gluten proteins.
But getting the texture right requires a trade-off: too much gluten and the pancake will be tough, but too little and it will have no structure.
Just like kneading dough, over-mixing to try to remove all the lumps can create too much gluten and result in a tough, rubbery pancake.
“I would always recommend beating the dough with a fork to capture as much air as possible,” Professor Eames said.
This allows you to remove lumps from the batter and develop gluten that can bind trapped air to keep the pancake light and tender without losing its structure.
If you want an even thinner crepe-like pancake, let the batter sit for 10 to 15 minutes after whipping.
This will allow the gluten strands to relax as the protein chains unravel and the flour is fully hydrated, resulting in a thin, delicate pancake.
For light, tender pancakes, beat the batter with a fork and let it rest. This will allow air to enter the gluten in the flower but allow the proteins to relax (stock image)
Of course, making the dough is only half the battle.
Professor Eames said: “Science tells you the relationship between the milk content of your pancake and its typical size.” The higher the milk content, the thinner the pancake should be.’
For a thin British-style pancake, Professor Eames recommends a diameter of around 15-20cm to ensure even cooking.
For a thicker American pancake, he recommends looking for a diameter of about 10 cm.
Meanwhile, to get that perfectly thin, crispy pancake, he suggests swapping out the butter for vegetable oil.
Vegetable oil has a lower smoke point than butter, so it can get hotter without burning, and it spreads more easily across the pan, meaning better heat transfer to the pancake for more even cooking.
We’ve all felt the struggle of trying to get a pancake perfectly round. Experts say the problem is that the batter is poured into the center of a flat pan and then spreads out from there.
To get the perfect pancake every time, pour the batter into a very tilted pan and then make circles in the pan to allow the batter to run around the circumference. Slowly reduce the tilt and keep circling until the pan is evenly coated (stock image)
This might be easier said than done, as the pancake batter seems to get stuck the moment it hits the pan instead of spreading out into a neat circle.
But once again, science has the answer.
Professor Mathieu Sellier, head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury, has developed the optimal way to tilt the pan to ensure the batter is evenly distributed.
He said: ‘Often the problem is that if the dough is delivered in the center of the pan and the pan is left flat (horizontal), the dough cooks quickly and solidifies before reaching the edge of the pan.
“Therefore, most people tend to tilt the plate and rotate it to speed up the distribution, since the steeper slope offered by a tilted plate speeds up the flow.”
The problem is that as the hot pan transfers heat to the dough, it goes from behaving more like a liquid to more like a solid.
Therefore, trying to spread the dough from the center produces holes and uneven thicknesses.
To solve this problem, Professor Sellier and his co-authors created an algorithm to predict the optimal way to tilt the pan to always get a perfect pancake.
The solution is to sharply tilt the pan in one direction while pouring the batter, letting it run quickly to the edge of the pan.
Once all the dough has reached one edge, keep the pan tilted and rotate it in a circular motion, letting the dough go around the entire circumference.
Then slowly decrease the tilt while maintaining the circular motion until the tray is flat again.
Now, all that’s left to do is let it cook until it turns golden brown on one side and starts to cook before turning it over.
Unfortunately, your tumbling technique is still something you’ll have to practice yourself.