In Berkeley, California, there is a diner called Bette’s. Bette’s Oceanview Diner, in fact, though it is nowhere near the ocean. Perhaps there is a story there, though it’s not on the “All About Bette’s” page of their website.
In any case, Bette’s is beloved, and not just by me. It’s a classic place – black-and-white tile floors, comfy booths, a long counter where you can sit on a stool and watch the staff bustle about. Plus, there’s the food. I’ve had some amazing breakfasts at Bette’s. So of course I picked up their little paperback Pancake Handbook. (A signed copy, even!)
And there I found something I had searched for for years – the perfect buttermilk pancake. The perfect buttermilk pancake is no joke. It must be fluffy yet just a little chewy. It has to spread just enough on the griddle – not too thin, not too thick. It has to brown perfectly, the top side patterned like a lace doily. And, of course, it must taste amazing.
Bette’s pancakes accomplish all of this. I don’t know why. It’s alchemy. These are just the right ingredients, in just the right proportions. There’s only one way I mess with this recipe, and that is to add a little malt powder (the kind to make malts or malted milk with; you can find it in jars near the hot chocolate in the grocery store). It makes these taste, truly, like the best diner pancakes you’ve ever had.
If you’re going to make pancakes more than once in a blue moon, it’s worth investing in an electric griddle. You can cook more pancakes at a time and flip them more easily, and they cook much more evenly than in a skillet. You can also get griddle pans that fit over two stove burners; I haven’t tried these and don’t know how evenly they cook.
This recipe makes 20 to 24 4-inch pancakes, serving 4 to 6 people. I almost always halve it.
Bette’s Diner Buttermilk Pancakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon malt powder, optional
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and malt powder in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and milk; pour the melted butter in while whisking to incorporate fully. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry all at once; stir just to blend. The batter will be lumpy and thick. Don’t overmix. Let rest for at least 5 minutes.
Heat a lightly oiled griddle or skillet (if using electric, heat to 350-375 degrees). Scoop the batter onto the skillet in 1/4-cup amounts; it will spread somewhat. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until there are bubbles all over the uncooked surface, the edges are starting to dry, and the undersides are browned how you like them. (You can lift an edge with your spatula and peek – but do not turn them more than once, as they will toughen.)
Turn the pancakes gently. I use two spatulas, one held behind each pancake to keep it from moving while I slide the other spatula underneath. Cook for about 2 more minutes until the second side is brown. You’ll probably need to regrease the skillet or griddle after every two batches.
Serve hot, with syrup – but don’t drown them! Their flavor is so good they don’t need a ton of syrup. I find butter to be optional. Also try them with really good jam or preserves and whipped cream.
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