Photo: Taste of Home
Newsflash: It’s mayonnaise.
Grossed out? Don’t be. At its most basic level, this common condiment is made up of vinegar, eggs and oil (plus a small amount of an emulsifier such as mustard). There’s nothing scary about these ingredients, right? You’ll find them individually or together, as mayo, in many baked goods, like this gorgeous cake. But we bet you didn’t know that you can use mayo as a secret ingredient in soft, fluffy pancakes, too.
Why mayo is a magical ingredient
When it comes to baking science, vinegar is actually the most important part of mayonnaise. An acid, vinegar reacts with baking soda to kick off the production of carbon dioxide, which gives the batter a lift as it bakes. The acidity also causes the flour’s proteins to gently unravel, producing a tender cake that is fluffy and moist.
Eggs are bakery workhorses. When separated and whipped, egg whites are able to trap air, which helps many recipes rise and makes way for sweet treats like meringues. For their part, egg yolks provide a source of fat to help keep cakes tender. In mayonnaise, eggs provide the aforementioned fat; they can also act as a binder in pancake and cake recipes.
Most pancake recipes use oil, which has 20 percent more fat than butter (and you don’t have to soften or cream it first). Scientifically, this matters because when more fat is involved, less gluten is formed. Gluten is a protein that provides structure, so while it’s necessary to some degree, too much can dry out baked goods and make them dense. The lipids in the oil coat the flour and render it unable to absorb moisture, effectively preventing the over-formation of gluten.
How to get super fluffy pancakes
To get that extra loft, stir a few tablespoons of mayonnaise into your pancake batter along with the egg and the oil. If you’re worried about tasting the mayonnaise in the finished pancake, fret not—unless you’re using an unusually strong-tasting brand, the only evidence of its use will be a supremely fluffy flapjack.
And if you want to take it a step further, savvy cooks in Japan have discovered that mayonnaise plus a splash of carbonated water can produce a super tall pancake that soaks up maple syrup like a sponge…a win-win!