Fluffy, puffy, soufflé-style pancakes inspired by the cafes of Japan. With a light and airy center and a tender, buttery crumb, these pancakes are as delicious as they are impressive.
What makes these pancakes so puffy? They are made with whipped egg whites for extra loft and cooked within metal pastry rings to give them their shape and height. But the real trick is in the flip: it may take you a few tries to master the technique (I’ve included a handy video below to get you started!) but trust me when I say that even the rejects will be delicious (I should know – we ate a lot of them!)
Japan has a habit of taking something quintessentially American and taking it to new heights. Literally, in this case, with this ultra tall twist on a classic buttermilk pancake.
The most famous puffy pancake shop in Japan is Cafe Gram. They prepare only 3 batches of pancakes each day, and the demand is high: the lines can get rather ridiculous (personally there are very few foods worth waiting in line for, especially when there’s a line-free alternative that’s just a good).
Rather than spend our precious vacation time standing in line for pancakes, we sought out in the lesser-known but no-less-delicious pancakes from Hoshino coffee, which has a few locations throughout Tokyo (pro tip: the one in Shibuya offers a fabulous view of the crossing). Their pancakes aren’t quite as tall or jiggly, but the golden brown tops, tender crumb, and tempting topping options (not to mention no lines) make them the winner in my book. So much so that, after a single bite, I knew I had to try and recreate them at home.
Which turned out to be a bit easier said than done. Getting a sky high pancake might be easy, but flipping it so that both sides are perfectly golden brown, is not.
But I persevered, testing this recipe nearly half a dozen times until I got the technique just right.
Sacrifices, guys. I do it for you.
Speaking of toppings…
You can go classic here with a side of fresh fruit and a drizzle of maple syrup (the sponge-like texture will absorb every last drop of sticky sweetness)
Go for broke. Try a scoop of vanilla ice cream, brûléed bananas, and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce. I mean, you only live once, right?
You’ll need a few tools to help you reach puffy perfection:
Nonstick skillet with domed lid. We used this 8.5-inch skillet from Anolon (the lid is sold separately or comes with the set; the 10-inch size appears to be sold with the lid which would work fine here). The skillet itself shouldn’t be too heavy (you’ll need to flip it one-handed) so skip the cast-iron (trust me). The lid should be tight fitting (the pancake needs to steam) and be tall enough to fit over the pastry ring. You could also use a flat griddle pan and then a ‘steamer’ of sorts to cover the pancake (like they use to melt cheese on hamburgers, for instance).
Metal pastry rings help the batter keep its shape. The ones I used were about 3-inches-wide by and 1.5-inches deep; you’ll get 5 pancakes of this size from a single batch. I’ve also seen people make thier own pastry rings using cut out tuna cans, strips of milk carton lined with parchment, or even aluminum foil; I can’t say as to how well these DIY-versions would work in this situation. Whatever molds you use, be sure to only fill them a bit over halfway. The batter gains a lot of volume and if you fill it much fuller than that, they will overflow (you’ve been warned). I used a large cookie scoop and two generous scoops was just about perfect for one mold.
A thin flexible spatula like this one from OXO as wide as the pastry ring to easily slip under the pancake when it’s ready to flip.
Silicone tongs to ‘grip’ the ring mold as you flip it. You could also use silicone/heat-proof oven mits here too.
Do the flip.
Did I mention it took me half a dozen tries to get this recipe right? The recipe itself didn’t change much from batch to batch, but I experimented with a number of different techniques to try to get the perfect pancake, golden brown on both sides and cooked through.
Simply flipping the pancake like you’d do with a normal pancake doesn’t work: the top of the pancake is still pretty raw, and the force of the flip will send batter spattering everywhere.
Rather than flipping the pancake upside down, flip the skillet: suspending your pancake on the spatula, invert the skillet and bring the raw top of the pancake to the skillet surface. Hold the two together as you flip the whole thing and place it back on the burner. You might make a mess of your first pancake or two, but keep at it: you’ll be a fancy flipper before you know it!
Temperature is key with this recipe too. If your burner is too hot, the bottom will brown too quickly and the center will still be raw. I recommend heating up your pan thoroughly before starting (give it a solid 10 minutes before you cook your first pancake), but then a nice low to medium-low is probably what you need to maintain the proper heat. Each pancake should take about 5-6 minutes to brown; if it’s browning too quickly, adjust your heat as necessary.
One downside to this technique is that you can only cook one pancake at a time. However, I will say these keep splendidly if you wanted to make them ahead of time and reheat in the oven, or you can keep the cakes in a warm oven while you cook and then serve them all at once.
Once you get the hang of the technique it’s really rather straightforward. Just hard to explain, which is probably why it sounds intimidating. I figured a video would help you see the flip technique better than I could explain it here or with still photos! Hope you find it helpful!
- 1 cup (4 1/4 ounces/120 grams) all-purpose flour (preferably bleached)
- 2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce/22 grams) potato starch
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- non-stick cooking spray
- Sift flour, potato starch, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a mixing bowl.
- In another bowl, whisk together egg yolks with buttermilk, oil, and vanilla.
- Place egg whites in a clean mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until frothy, then sprinkle in sugar. Beat on medium high speed until whites form soft, slumpy mounds (one step below soft peaks, essentially).
- Add egg yolk mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated.
- Mix in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter, then fold in the remaining egg white until evenly incorporated. Use a folding motion to fully incorporate the whites, scraping the thicker batter of the bottom so it is fully incorporated. You don’t have to be too gentle here though, not like you’re not making macarons.
- Meanwhile, you can be preheating a small nonstick skillet (one with a tight-fitting domed lid) over medium-low heat. Be sure the pan is thoroughly preheated; I’d give it at least 5-10 minutes to come up to temperature before you start cooking.
- Spray the inside of a 3-by-1.5-inch pastry ring with cooking spray. Spray the bottom of the skillet as well and place the ring in the center of the pan. Fill just over half-way with batter (for the pastry rings I used, this was almost exactly 2 large scoops or a generous 3 tablespoons of batter; if your rings are slightly larger/smaller it may require a slightly different amount — just don’t overfill as these will expand quite a bit as they cook).
- Cover the skillet and let cook for 5 to 6 minutes, until the bottom is nice and golden brown (the top will have visible bubbles but will still look pretty raw). If your pancakes are browning more quickly than this, lower your heat so that the cook time is consistently 5 to 6 minutes (this ensures the insides are cooked through).
- To flip (this is the tricky part), carefully slide a thin flexible spatula under the pancake (use a pair of grippy silicone tongs to help you lift the edge of the ring and get the spatula underneath). Carefully balancing the pancake on the spatula, invert the pan on top of the pancake, then flip the whole thing over, trying to keep the pastry ring firmly against the skillet as you flip.
- Return the skillet to burner; cover and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes or until the other side is equally golden brown.
- Using the tongs and spatula again, transfer the pancake to a cookie sheet and carefully remove the pastry ring. Wipe out the pastry ring and repeat with remaining batter.
- I recommend keeping the already-cooked pancakes in a warm oven to keep them warm while you cook the remaining pancakes. Also, if your pan was too hot and your pancakes browned too quickly, the oven will help the centers to fully cook through.
- Serve warm, drizzled with warm maple syrup and fresh fruit (or go crazy and top it with ice cream, caramelized bananas, and chocolate or caramel sauce if you prefer). Pancakes can also be made a few hours ahead of time and reheated in a warm oven until heated through.