The Ingredient Ina Garten Uses To Make Pancakes More Tender

No matter how much maple syrup you pour over it, a dense, rubbery pancake is hard to disguise. Pancakes should ideally be soft and fluffy, but when you overmix the dough, the texture can quickly change. As Bon Appétit explains, the process of making pancakes relies on the development of gluten: When you add liquid to flour, gluten forms, and the pancake takes shape. But too much gluten results in a pancake with a tough, chewy crumb rather than a tender one.

To prevent this from happening, you'll need to err on the side of undermixing. Per The Spruce Eat's recommendation, it's best to stop mixing as soon as the wet and dry ingredients are combined, even if there are lumps left behind. Along with the right leavening agents — a combination of baking soda, baking powder, and buttermilk (via Crazy for Crust) — this should be enough to ensure your pancakes are ultra soft. 

But it's even easier, according to Ina Garten, if you add one extra ingredient.

Ina Garten's pancakes rely on cornstarch

During an episode of "Barefoot Contessa" (via YouTube), Ina Garten shared how she spruces up her pancakes by adding ricotta, lemon, and fresh figs. These ingredients automatically elevate the flavor of the pancakes, but what makes the biggest difference is actually the cornstarch. When preparing the dry ingredients, Garten uses a quarter cup of cornstarch per one and a fourth cups of flour, and it makes all the difference in terms of texture.

Although cornstarch isn't a common ingredient in pancakes, you can find it in the recipes for many other baked goods like cookies and cakes because it increases their softness. The reason this works, Bob's Red Mill explains, has to do with the way cornstarch absorbs liquid. When the starch molecules come in contact with liquid, they expand up to 10 times larger and continue absorbing more liquid. The fine starch also balances out the much grainier wheat, Playing With Flour notes, resulting in a fluffier baked good, or, in Ina Garten's case, the perfect pancake.