When I was learning how to cook, I began by taking baby steps. I used a lot of products that gave me a jump start on the preparations. Boxed brownie mix. Dried tabbouleh. Bottled dressing. Canned frosting. Bisquick.

I recall buying the bulk box of Bisquick at Costco. I made biscuits, ill-advised pizza crusts and goodness knows what else. The pancakes I made with Bisquick were pretty good.

Eventually I realized pretty good was not good enough when it came to one of my favorite foods.

I am not someone who insists on making everything from scratch. But these pancakes are at least one thing I swear by, and aside from measuring a few additional ingredients, they take the same minimal effort as any mix. They are a deserving staple for lazy weekends, Christmas morning and, in my frequent experience, weeknight dinners.

What I love about this recipe, cribbed from a Gourmet cookbook I got as a wedding present almost a decade ago, is it is decidedly unfussy. Six ingredients in one bowl. There is no separating and whipping of eggs for fluffiness. Instead, buttermilk, in combination with baking soda, gives lift, not to mention a wonderful tangy flavor.

Yes, I am insisting on buttermilk. It is cheap and lasts months in the refrigerator. I am with Stella Parks over at Serious Eats, who says nothing can approximate it. “Clabbered” milk (milk doctored with lemon juice or vinegar) never comes close to the flavor or thick consistency of the real stuff, and that is what you want in this recipe. I have used powdered buttermilk, acceptable in a pinch, but again, I find the resulting batter too thin and prone to spreading.

Served with warmed maple syrup and/or butter, these pancakes are lovely as is. I, however, almost always add chocolate chips, tossed onto the batter in the skillet while the first side cooks. You could use blueberries, nuts or whatever you like in a pancake. If you are doing something more savory inside or on top, leave out the optional vanilla.

The original recipe calls for pancakes made using 1/8 cup of batter, which makes for cute and tiny pancakes. You can also make them bigger by using a scant 1/4 cup of batter per pancake. This recipe doubles easily. Instead of a skillet, you can use an electric griddle if you have one, set to about 350 degrees.

This recipe makes fifteen 2 1/2- to 3-inch pancakes or ten 3 1/2- to 4-inch pancakes.

Make Ahead: The batter keeps, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days. Thin as necessary with additional buttermilk or water, 1 tablespoon at a time, before using.


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken well
  • 12 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • Vegetable oil, for brushing the skillet

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. 

Step 2

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, egg, buttermilk and the vanilla extract, if using, in a mixing bowl, until smooth.

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Step 3

Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Once its surface is hot enough to make drops of water scatter over its surface, use a silicone brush or wad of paper towel to coat the pan lightly with oil.

Step 4

Working in batches, use a 1/4-cup measuring cup filled halfway for small pancakes or almost the full 1/4 cup for larger pancakes. Pour the portions and cook for 1 to 2 minutes per side, turning the pancakes over once bubbles begin to form along the bottom edges. If the pancakes are browning too quickly, reduce the heat to medium-low. You may also need to add more oil if the skillet looks dry and the pancakes are getting too dark.

Step 5

As they are done, transfer the pancakes to a baking sheet or heatproof platter; cover loosely with aluminum foil and keep warm in the oven while you cook the remaining batches. Serve warm.

Adapted from “Gourmet Today: More Than 1,000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen,” edited by Ruth Reichl (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009).

Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here. The nutritional info below is based on 4 servings.

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Calories: 160; Total Fat: 2 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 50 mg; Sodium: 550 mg; Carbohydrates: 27 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 4 g; Protein: 7 g.