Science says that air pockets are what makes a fluffy pancake. So, your major goal is to first obtain these bubbles in the batter, and then, solidify them.
These bubbles are formed from the release of gas, which is the product of adding baking powder to the pancake batter. When activated, baking powder performs its role as a chemical leavening agent, by producing CO2 gas. It is this gas that subsequently forms the bubbles.
The activation of the baking powder occurs in two stages:
- While mixing the ingredients: when you mix your dry and liquid ingredients, chemicals in the baking powder react, causing an initial and slow release of gas.
- When heating the batter: when you pour the batter onto a hot pan, a second, bigger burst of gas occurs.
This is exactly when pancakes get that exquisite fluffiness they are treasured for. The greater the heat, the more powerful is the release of gas.
Tip: you can't make fluffy pancakes with gluten-free flour. Without the elastic property of the gluten, the air pockets won't form in the batter.
As mentioned above, the next important step to getting fluffy pancakes is the solidification of the bubbles. This is also obtained during the heating process.
As soon as the batter hits the hot pan, less time than it takes for the bubbles to pop, the liquid in the batter cooks and turns to steam, the proteins in the egg coagulate, and the CO2 bubbles solidify into a network of air pockets. This produces the airy interior that gives a pancake its fluffy texture.
Keep in mind that the pan has to be hot enough (375 F.) to cause quicker activation of the baking powder, and subsequently, large bubbles and fluffiness.
Here are a few other important tips that'll help you get fluffy pancakes:
- Sugar slows the development of the gluten making the pancake softer, less rubbery, and less elastic. Sugar also aids browning.
- Salt also slows the development of the gluten, but it also produces a firmer dough.
- Fat will shorten the strands of gluten, reducing its elasticity. Therefore, substituting cream for milk would lead to a denser, less fluffy pancake.
- Flip the pancakes as gently as possible to avoid bursting the bubbles and making your pancakes very flat.