I could write about pancakes for hours. I got hooked on them in grade school and I’ve loved them ever since. They’re my #2 sense memory food, just behind mac-n-cheese. And just like that dish, I eat pancakes at least once a week — no joke.
They’re a childhood favorite I’ve never even tried to grow out of. To this day, this is the vision I get in my head when I hear the word “pancakes.”
Look at those beauties! Piled high and steaming!
So when I convinced Zach Johnston and Vince Mancini to try a pancake battle, I assumed I’d get three riffs on the classic American pancake. Zach even bluffed me by sending some traditional pancake images to our group chat. But as you’ll see, neither of them stuck to the classic approach in the end.
For anyone who’s new here, note that we use your votes in the comments to decide whose dish is deemed “the best.” So read on (this is a short one!), roast us within an inch of our lives, then tell us the pancakes you prefer. All three dishes are drastically different and we all made a few unforced errors for you to mercilessly pick on.
— Steve Bramucci, Editorial Director, UPROXX LIFE
PAST 5 RESULTS (see full results here):
Oscar Movie Showdown w/Binging With Babish: 1) Steve 2) Vince 3) Zach
Meatball Showdown with Chef Tyler Anderson: 1) Vince 2) Steve 3) Zach
Diner Food Showdown with George Motz: 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Vegetarian and Vegan Showdown: 1) Zach 2) Vince 3) Steve
Sweet Treet Showdown: 1) Vince 2) Zach 3) Steve
We’re giving three points to the winner and one to second place for each round. All votes are counted equally. As it stands, the score is:
Vince’s Potato Pancakes
If you’ve ever read my many potato-related rants over the years, you might’ve noticed that I’m a bit of a potato piggy. It’s true, I can’t get enough of the damned things, especially fried. Thus, my favorite kind of pancake has long been potato. Who wants limp, empty carbs when you can have a little gordita made of french fries?
I realize, not all potato pancakes are created equal, but luckily I’ve been eating potato pancakes since before I knew that many people call them latkes. Over the years, I’ve developed what I like to think is a pretty damned tasty recipe. I know people with sugary palates (which I admit I pretty much don’t have at all — fat and rich and fried are what I crave) tend to love regular flour pancakes — presumably for their syrup-absorbing capabilities. But even my stepson, who hides Skittles under the pillow and thinks ice cream is a food group, always crushes a full plate of latkes whenever I make them.
Yes, I have some slightly unconventional choices in here but you could absolutely make this with just potatoes, eggs, and flour.
- 4 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes (I use Yukons because I think they’re the best-tasting potatoes, but you could use just about anything. Russets fry up nice but are mealier and lacking in flavor, imo.)
- 2 cloves garlic (also optional, but I was raised Italian-American, after all)
- 1 handful (call it half a cup?) of shredded carrots
- 1 egg
- Onion powder
- About 1/8th cup of flour
Now, I use onion powder instead of grated onion here, which admittedly is a slight flavor sacrifice, because my goal is to have the final product as dry as possible. This is basically how I make gnocchis too — keep the mix as dry as possible so that I don’t need a ton of flour to bind it, which can make it dense. I like the shredded carrots because carrots are nice and dry and they bring some of the sweetness you get from the onion. Garlic is also semi-optional, but I like it because fuck yeah garlic.
First, peel your potatoes. Then grate them with a box grater over a mesh strainer (if that’s too annoying you can always do them on a cutting board and then grab them with some bench scrapers and put them in the strainer).
Now take those grated potatoes over the sink and run some cold water over them. This is going to wash off the excess starch so you can get them extra crispy without them turning gummy. I like my potatoes like I like my food battle competitors: washed.
Next spread out a dish towel or some cheesecloth on the counter and flip your washed potatoes onto it. Gather the corners and then put a wring on it, to get rid of all that excess liquid.
And yes, I absolutely learned this trick from Zach. Great artists steal. Add your potatoes to a mixing bowl:
Smash your garlic and give it a quick chop:
Add the garlic and carrots to the bowl. Now sprinkle with salt, pepper, and onion powder. I don’t put a specific amount of onion powder here because I do it sort of like I would an egg or a piece of meat. Just an even sprinkle over the whole mixture.
Once that’s done, sprinkle the flour over it. Kind of the same deal with the flour: I never measure it, I just try to add just enough flour to soak up any excess liquid.
Massage it all together. Once all the dry (ish) ingredients are mixed together, add your egg and mix everything together with a fork.
Now the batter is ready. I’m going to fry it up in my cast iron fry pan (any pan or skillet works, really). I want about a quarter-inch of oil at the bottom. This time I’m using peanut oil, which is light and has a high heat point because I happen to have it on hand, but yeah, you could use some lard or beef tallow or duck fat if you wanted, to make them extra tasty.
I take my biggest cereal spoon to grab some of the mix and just spoon it right into the pan, which should be medium hot.
Now I throw the lid on for the first minute or two, just to make sure my potatoes get soft.
Here’s a tip: I always cook my potatoes by smell. The potatoes smell a certain way when they get brown, and when you start to detect that “brown potato” aroma in the air, that’s usually a good indication that your potatoes are brown. I like them when the lightest part of the pancake is golden brown and the darkest part of it hasn’t turned black:
I let them drain any excess oil onto a wire rack, but a paper towel works okay too.
Now, for serving, the age-old question is “apple sauce or sour cream?” My answer? Either, neither, or both. I honestly don’t think it matters. I’ve had them every way and they’re all good. My only advice? Don’t put the apple sauce or sour cream ON TOP of the nice crispy potatoes. Why sog it up? Put a little dollop there on the plate and you can add your topping as you go. This is actually how I do my syrup for pancakes and waffles too. I know, I’m weird. But if I can convert just one person out there into being a fellow dunker maybe it will cease to be weird.
Consider the crunch! Think of the mouthfeel!
Honestly, I ate these straight off the damned rack without even plating because they were so good. I always think about that statistic about the Irish, that the average adult Irishman in 1844 ate 13 pounds of potatoes a day. Which is about 65 potatoes per day. It’s probably the most insane statistic I’ve ever heard. 13 pounds a day??? How is that even possible??
It still hurts my brain a little to think about, but the speed at which I can polish off three or four big potatoes in latke form in a single sitting does make it seem slightly more plausible. I don’t think I’ve ever ordered flour pancakes and not gotten tired of them before I was finished. Conversely, I don’t think I’ve ever made latkes and not finished every last one. Frankly, it could be a sickness.
Steve on Vince’s Pancakes:
It goes the same every round. I wanted to hate these and then I read through and felt at least semi-converted. These look like very tasty… pancakes. Are they pancakes? I saw a pan, but is there a cake element? The flour was nominal. No baking powder. They’re practically hashbrowns.
WOULD YOU ALSO ENTER THESE IN THE “FRITTER FACE OFF,” VINCE???
“Potato pancake” has a Wiki page and latke is Yiddish for “little pancake,” so I guess I’m clearly not seeding any doubt with this little jag. Instead, let me talk about the lack of spice. Would a little cayenne kill us? These seem like they’d smash next to a bloody mary if there was some heat. What about mustard powder?
You find diner-style pancakes boring? Well, these don’t exactly blow my brain out of my earholes, dog. Give me two and I’ll lick my fingers. Give me four and I’m eyeing other people’s plates.
And what about a little fresh element? Would a dusting of chives have killed you? You love chives! Your boy Jacques Pepin would have murdered those shits with chives.
Zach on Vince’s Pancakes:
Man, I love me a good potato pancake. Luckily, I live in Germany where they are a fried-in-lard staple year-round. I’m not sure about the addition of carrots in the mix. Is it there for crunch or sweetness or both? Why carrots though? Why not parsnip? Okay, I’m Monday morning quarterbacking here.
I really can’t find a whole lot to fault here besides the misshapen globs these turned out to be. Man, you have this photo of a beautiful puck of potato up there then the final product looks like something you let a toddler spit up into a pan to crisp up. Come on, Mancini! Think about your form!
Joking aside, these look really tasty in the end. The next time we hang, you better make these so I can stand in the kitchen and devour them with you. I’ll bring the beer (and I’ll do the dolloping into the pan so these are properly shaped).
Zach’s Buckwheat Crêpes Bretonne
I went back and forth a lot on what to do here. For a minute, I was going to go with classic diner flapjacks. Then I was thinking about Japanese souffle pancakes for a while. Finally, I remembered I’d made buckwheat blini the other week and I had leftover buckwheat flour on the shelf. I also wanted to steer away from sweet applications for pancakes.
That got me to Crêpes Bretonne — the fantastic thin buckwheat pancakes that are often filled with melty cheese, ham, and a runny egg. I’d found my pancake.
This feels like a home run. It’s cheesy ham and eggs with a savory, earthy, and thin pancake. It’s gluten-free thanks to buckwheat being a seed and not a grain. It’s both filling and light. It’s pretty much the perfect dish.
You really don’t have to go all out on this dish. I’m using mostly French ingredients because I live in Europe. Good ham and cheese from your local deli are going to be great in this dish. I would argue that you need solid, fresh eggs. You want that bright orange yolk and those come from chickens that are treated well and eggs that don’t have to travel far.
Still, all of the ingredients featured should be easy to find and cheap at any grocery store or through a delivery service. FYI, this is a recipe that’ll make six crêpes.
For the batter:
- 1 cup buckwheat flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup tap water
For the crêpe:
- Thin slices of good quality ham (classic Blackforest is probably the best bet from the deli counter)
- Minced chives
- Shredded Gruyère
- Melted unsalted butter
- Black pepper
- Neutral oil (Canola is fine)
You’re really going to have to dial in your crêpe game. I’m still pretty shitty at it. One, the batter needs to be super smooth and thin-ish. I use a food processor to achieve that.
Then, there’s the matter of making a nice thin crêpe. I have one of those wooden batter spreader thingies. But even with that, you have to work fast to get that batter spread all around before it starts to set.
For the batter:
- Add all the ingredients to a blender or food processor. Pulse until the batter is completely smooth with no lumps, maybe five or six good pulses.
- Pour the batter into a bowl and set aside. If you didn’t use a machine and have whisked everything together, cover the bowl and let rest for a few hours in the fridge to help the flour break down.
- In the meantime, shredded the gruyère, mince the chives, and slice the ham into long, thin pieces.
For the crêpe:
- Heat a non-stick pan on medium heat with a touch of neutral oil.
- Working quickly, use a ladle to scoop the batter into the pan and then use the bottom of the ladle or a wooden crêpe spreader to evenly spread the batter all the way around the pan.
- Use a brush to spread melted butter around the edges of the pan so that it helps crisp up the edges of the crêpe and loosen them.
- Cook for about one minute or until edges start to just come up. The batter should look completely set.
- Crack an egg over the center of the crêpe. Use a spoon to spread the egg white around the crêpe as thinly as possible without breaking the yolk then sprinkle with salt and fresh cracked pepper.
- Add the cheese and ham around the egg yolk. The cheese should start to melt pretty quickly.
- Using a thin spatula, fold the sides of the crêpe just enough to create a square, leaving the egg yolk exposed.
- Brush the folded-over edges of the crêpe with melted butter. Let cook until the egg white is completely set but the yolk is still runny.
- Plate and sprinkle with chives.
Goddamn, this is delicious. It’s melted cheese with savory ham and a runny egg inside a thin buckwheat crêpe with both a buttery crunch and a soft earthiness. What more could you want?
This really was satisfying. My presentation isn’t great. But, you know, I don’t really care. As soon as I tucked in, all my cares drifted away. The slightly funky cheese mixed with the runny yolk next to the soft ham, all sopped up and mixed inside the light pancake was just … delicious.
I don’t know what else to say. This was good. I want to eat it every day. Etc.
I mean, look at that river of orange yolk flowing from the center of this glorious pancake!
Vince on Zach’s Pancakes:
First off, I’ll admit that I’m a philistine and don’t believe I’ve ever had buckwheat pancakes. My first thought when I hear “buckwheat” or any more rustic version of wheat is the awful hippie bread that my mom used to buy for my sandwiches growing up. I swear that shit had acorns and pine needles in it. I admit that could be the result of childhood trauma, but I have a knee-jerk “just use white flour damn you!” reaction in anything bread-related.
That being said, I’m very much a crepes-over-pancakes person. They maximize surface area and butter absorption and minimize the cakey bullshit in the middle. Is SEED flour going to absorb that butter? I don’t know. Meanwhile, the eggs and ham feels like CHEATING, but as a savory-daddy I can’t really find fault with it. You’re cheating but getting away with it. This is the Barry Bonds of pancake recipes.
I admit it, it looks pretty tasty. But — making pancakes with a scraper AND a pastry brush? Good Christ, how insufferably European of you. I hope you were wearing a beret and a turtleneck and garnishing with the ashes from the incredibly thin cigarette dangling from your mouth as you made this. I don’t know whether to eat it or just laugh Frenchly. OH HON HON HON HON.
Steve on Zach’s Pancakes:
For Chrissakes, you guys are trolling me now. Zach forgets to call this a pancake 90% of the time! Aren’t crepes just crêpes? I want to see the food family tree on this, because what I really see is an AM Crunchwrap. Albeit, a delicious-looking one.
If this is a pancake what else is a pancake? Popovers? Galettes? Souffle?
(Yes, I know those are all pancake variations. Yes, I’m grasping at straws. Yes, the pancake world contains multitudes.)
Anyway, I like your savory crepe. It looks tasty as shit and relatively easy. But since we’re talking about the vastness of the food world and how the combination of grain (or a seed, in this case) and a hot pan can create any number of results, tell me that my AM Crunchwrap idea doesn’t make this a little better?
I’m not out here trying to flip crepes and ruining 50 of them to make five. Give me a flour tortilla to sop up that yolk with and let’s call it a breakfast quesadilla. Pour on the hot sauce. God knows your dish could use a little spice.
Steve’s “Double Everything” Pancakes
Clearly, if you look at the burns above, my thinking is a little rigid on this whole pancake issue. I can work on that. Room for growth, etc. But you’d better believe, I set out with a simple goal: to make the perfect “classic American” flapjacks.
If that was the competition (dammit, I should have narrowed the parameters), I think I’d win in a walk. See, I’ve been making pancakes for a looooonnnnngggg time. And for literal decades, I’d tweak the recipe weekly. Dozens upon dozens of subtle shifts here and there. By the time I hit thirty, I had some Sunday morning standards — banana pancakes (mash and warm the bananas in butter, then add them to your batter), blueberry pancakes (use the tiny wild blueberries, not the big tart ones), and about five more.
This is the recipe that endures, though. It’s “the one” for me, and I’ve tried them all. My reps with this dish are just endless. Yes, I sometimes use sour cream in the batter over buttermilk. Yes, I occasionally add bacon grease in place of browned butter for a little smokiness. But this is the most popular recipe I’ve ever publically shared on IG and one of only a handful I’ve ever entered in this contest where I know you’ll be in perfect shape if you follow it to the letter.
This is a classic recipe that “doubles everything” in that it takes a few elements two ways. That doesn’t add much work, I promise.
For the pancakes:
- Good butter.
- Vanilla bean.
- Vanilla extract.
- Brown sugar.
- Baking powder.
- AP or AA flour, organic.
- Baking powder.
For the syrup:
I have about 20 syrups I do that are all relatively similar. I’m not here to really focus on that, but here are the ingredients for the quick one I made, which I call “Cowboy syrup” because of the coffee, whiskey, and bacon.
- Vietnamese coffee.
- Mulholland whiskey.
- Vanilla sugar.
- Maple syrup.
- Brown sugar.
- Bacon grease.
- Vanilla husks.
The one thing I have to say about this recipe is that it is MINE. It’s similar to a few I’ve seen, but this is the one time ever where I’ve tracked the amounts of different things. Pancakes are a mixture of baking and cooking — with baking being a science (follow my amounts!) and cooking being an art (feel free to use less vanilla!).
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour. (This is rigid — go higher than this and you need another egg.)
- 3.5 tsp baking powder. (Use non-aluminum powder if you’re a supertaster who gets a metallic taste from this stuff.)
- 1/2 tsp salt. (The max you’d want, the buttermilk is salty enough.)
- 3 tbsp brown sugar. (Any more than that and the sugar in the batter will carmelize on the pan and brown unnaturally.)
- .75 cup buttermilk, room temp.
- 1 cup milk, room temp.
- 1 egg, room temp.
- 2 tbsp browned butter.
- 2 tsp regular butter, gently melted. (Do this by browning and filtering the first half of the butter and dropping the second half in it to melt. That gives you the grassy notes of unbrowned butter and the nutty notes of the browned stuff.)
- 3 tsp vanilla extract.
- 2 vanilla beans, sliced and scraped.
- 3 tsp almond extract.
- A light dusting of lemon rind, off the planer.
Mix thoroughly but don’t overmix. Less than a minute will do it. Because of altitude differences, you might need to add more milk. You want it to be the consistency of a McDonald’s shake, not a Wendy’s frostee. But also not watery.
There’s your final batter. Incredibly light because of all the baking powder. Vanilla beans just waiting to get awoken by a little heat.
A few pro tips:
- Grease the pan with your excess browned butter-melted butter mix.
- We don’t use the saying “first pancake” anymore, but it used to be a colloquialism about how the first one is never perfect and you have to throw it in the trash. I remember being devastated when I heard Katie Holmes’ character refer to herself as the “first pancake” in Pieces of April. Anyway, you need those first pancakes to get your griddle temp right. If you’re too hot, you will get a brownish-turning black pancake on one side — because it gets overdone before it’s sturdy enough to flip. I put my burner on 5. Medium skewing toward medium-low is the way to go.
- Pancakes are almost always too big. Make them smaller and stack them taller. Four to five pancakes that are exactly 1/4 cup of batter is the sweet spot.
- Regardless of temp, you want your batter to spread in a circle. No manipulation at all. And you want them no more than 1/8 inch on the spread — they’ll fluff on the flip.
- “Bubble, pop, bubble, pop, bubble, pop, bubble — NO POP!” That’s my kid telling you when your pancakes are ready (he’s three, so he’s not quite correct, but close). It’s when the first bubble on the back of the pancake pops but doesn’t reform. If all the bubbles pop and don’t reform, your pancake is gonna be dry. So watch the things.
- Once you flip the pancakes and they start to puff, give them two pats with the backside of your spatula. Any more and you’ll make them too dense. Any less and they’ll be unbalanced. There was a pancake scene that shows this in Dan In Real Life, which is a movie about a dude who literally steals his brother’s girl.
- Pancakes should cook for about 2/3 of their time on side A and 1/3 on side B. That will give you a pancake that’s stable enough to flip without overcooking.
These were my first. See how I had to turn the griddle down on the front half so that the batter wasn’t too loose for the next round? I actually turned it up a tiny bit on the back.
Come on. A food stylist would lose it over these. My syrup took two minutes but pancakes need to be eaten right away so make it first. I blended (yes, like a blender) my vanilla husks with 1/4 cup of whiskey, 1/8 cup of Vietnamese coffee, and 2 tsp of bacon grease.
I added 1/4 cup of maple syrup and 1/4 cup of brown sugar (I used Native Vanilla’s vanilla bean sugar, but I know that will be overload for most!) while the mix was reducing to syrup thickness. I added salt to taste, the pancakes aren’t overly sweet so try one before making a full-on salted caramel.
As much as I love pancakes, I dislike pure maple syrup. I was raised on the corn syrup fake varieties. So some sort of syrup is necessary.
Here’s your final.
There’s your sidecut. They hold form and don’t run but they aren’t dry. They’re airy and loose, like… the distance between me and the competition today. The syrup isn’t for everyone — cue Zach and Vince focusing only on it — but I like using my pods for something. I love the syrup because it hits all the notes I love at breakfast: black coffee, sweet vanilla, bacon smoke, touch of maple.
This is a unique recipe, executed with years of practice. If you have a tweak, that’s fine — but you can bet I’ve seen and tried it. I love the nuttiness of the browned butter and the almond extract. I love the brightness of the lemon rind (go so light!). I love…
These are my pancakes. Like really mine. Most recipes are experiments or “versions” and these feel like my actual dish. So I forgive me but I love all the aspects, to be honest.
Zach on Steve’s Pancakes:
This reminds me of that old Frasier line when Niles asks his overcompensating brother, “Didn’t someone say ‘less is more?’” To which Frasier tautly retorts, “Ah yes, but then imagine how much more more would be!”
Jesus, man. I feel like I could have gotten on a plane and flown to Los Angeles and back in the time it took to read about (and likely make) these pancakes. Yes, you put a lot of shit in there. But why? You need two types of melted butter? Two kinds of milk? There are four packages of vanilla in that photo. Really? You know people used to just use bourbon to get a vanilla flavor when they didn’t have access to the real stuff and worked out great for them. Again, I don’t see any benefit besides creating overly vanilla pancakes that’d be fluffier with less fat in them and benefit from more time resting to allow for natural fermentation to set it and leaven them.
As for that, ahem, syrup … it looks like someone took the coffee filter basket from a 7-Eleven drip machine, filled it with gutter water, and then Jackson Pollack’d that whole used coffee filter with the water and grounds all over your pancakes.
Also, why did you add a drawing of Trump stealing pancakes from a child?
Lastly, questioning whether crepes are pancakes is up there with thinking bourbon isn’t whiskey. Come on, man! You’ve got nothing.
All I can do is shake my head.
Vince on Steve’s Pancakes:
Oh my God, Steve. I laughed out loud at the picture of ingredients, when I saw that it had vanilla beans, vanilla powder, vanilla extract, and a fourth vanilla derivative whose label I can’t identify. If AIG was still around they would come to you to help design a vanilla-based financial instrument to back their credit swaps. What an ALL-AMERICAN recipe! I like to imagine you apoplectic at at a diner, screaming “you call this SYRUP? Where are the god damned VANILLA HUSKS!?” I hope that stuff tastes good, because it looks like the liquid that leaks out of the bottom of my barbecue when it rains.
That being said, those are beautiful pancakes. They’d better be with this Hannibal Lecter-ass pancake recipe. Which has, to recap, FOUR forms of dairy, two vanilla derivatives, two extracts, and a fruit zest. I enjoy the boudoir photograph you took of them, just sitting on a bed beckoning to come hither. They look like they’d taste great, but I’m not sure a “classic American pancake” should require two separate witch’s cauldrons to hold all the ingredients. Call it a solid B+.