Kitchen Lab: An Experiment in Cup-Pan-Cakes

My city has a lot of interesting brunchy places, with interesting items on their respective menus. I generally look for things I can’t make at home, or things that are rather a PITA to make, since hey, I CAN MAKE THAT AT HOME. But at a recent outing, I saw a glorious item on the menu that I’d never tried nor heard of.


So yeah, we’re at this little sixteen-table, artisinal, also-a-fancy-grocery-with-olives sort of place, which means the description was all overblown with evocative adjectives and twenty-five cent words when a nickel would do. But what it boiled down to was that this place makes its own cupcake batter, and serves it to you in pancake form. For breakfast.

There weren’t really any fancy toppings or whatever; I don’t care how you want to say “fresh butter” and “real maple syrup,” that’s what you’re serving ’em with. And since I know I can make pancakes at home, and I can make cupcakes at home, I thought I’d give this hybrid a shot. Because I’ve never made cup-pan-cakes, and I wanted to try. FOR SCIENCE!

First I made some cupcake batter. (I’m sure you could use stuff from a mix, too, which just opens up whole realms of awesome cup-pan-cake possibilities. Keep interesting mixes in the cupboard, snazz up a random weekend breakfast!) And after the cupcake batter was prepared, I just treated it like pancake batter… and anyone who’s got Bisquick floating around can make a pancake. Heat griddle, add butter/cooking spray/whatever, pour batter, wait for bubbles, flip carefully, check for done-ness probably too often, eat. Yes? (Do I need to do a Pancake Lab? Because I’ll totally eat more pancakes.)

Pancake batter spreading to fill a square pan
They got bigger than this, too.
partially burnt pancakes in two pans
Something has not gone according to plan.

Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have treated it like pancake batter. For one thing, this cupcake batter was WAY runnier than the stuff I usually use for pancakes, so I kinda wound up with a whole pan full of cup-pan-cake. Which made things cook rather unevenly, and rather hard to flip. It got so unwieldy that I just gave up and frantically greased and heated another pan so I could flip half of the mess somewhere else… which really pointed out how unevenly they’d cooked. Sadness.

I also foolishly thought I could try to cook bacon at the same time as I tried out a new and unfamiliar thing. That had less disastrous results, but it still wasn’t ideal.

So. What had I done wrong?

First, I’d poured too much batter on the griddle at once. This cupcake batter, again, was way thinner than any pancake batter I’ve ever made, so rather than sticking together in a nice, pancake-shaped cohesive roundness it spread across the whole damn pan and gave me pancakes with corners. This is unfortunate, because the burner underneath does not have corners, and since I don’t have super-fancy even-heating pans this led to burny bits in the middle while there were still-runny bits on the edges.

Second, I made the griddle too hot. The cupcake batter just behaves differently than pancake batter because it’s thinner/runnier/more liquid-y, and it seems to need longer to cook itself. (Cook? Bake? I don’t even know any more.) But since the middle was burnt before the edges even solidified, I knew I’d need to use a lower temperature for a longer period of time. This is true for when you’re cooking just about anything where the middle is still cold but it seems like it’s piping hot on the outside… which has happened to me while baking, but I more often run into this while using the microwave. (I highly recommend exploring the power level settings on your microwave, btw.)

four pancakes on a square pan
Second try, after flipping. This is working a little better.

For round two (because there’s always more pancake batter), I re-greased the griddle and turned down the heat by probably half. Using about a third as much batter as I had in the first go ’round, the batter still really wanted to sneak over toward the lower edges and corners of my pan but I got far better results. While checking on the undersides far too frequently for my own good, I let them cook for about eleventeen times as long as  a normal pancake.

Okay, it just seemed like that long. I really wanted to try some cup-pan-cakes.

These ones looked quite a bit better, and as an added bonus of the longer cooking times they got all crispy on the outside.

That’s right, I’d just made cupcakes that were ALL TOPS. Seriously, try this at home.

stack of four pancakes and two slices of bacon on a plate
They may look a bit like regular pancakes, but all they need is a telephone booth to turn into SUPERCUPPANCAKES!

They turned out pretty sweet, but not so sweet that you couldn’t still put syrup on them. Cupcakes are meant to be frosted after all, right? I’ll admit I went rather sparingly on the syrup at first, and these guys do absorb a lot more syrup than your typical pancake, so pour judiciously. Or you could just eat them plain, as I did with the leftovers the next day.

Holy foo, I just made a new thing! One that I’d never seen before, didn’t have a recipe for, and only saw a description of on a menu once. I think this is how you learn to cook… just keep trying random stuff that sounds good until it IS good.

What have you tried lately?

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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  1. I think that might be more complex to suss out the proper baking time, but I could do maple-bacon frosting! With crumbled bacon! OH YAY!

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