Flip Out Over These Tips From a Professional Pancake Artist

Dancakes. Pisces Pancake. Instagram, 22 Mar 2019, www.instagram.com/p/BvUi2i-h_wM/

Olivia deGregory

Written by Olivia deGregory | Edited by Carol Coutinho

March 2, 2021

This might seem obvious to most of us, but pancakes have an endless variety of ingredients and flavors. It’s no surprise then that pancake art was born, expanding pancakes from just being delicious, to looking like the pieces of (yummy) art that they are. No matter which side of the age-old pancake vs waffle debate you root for, pancakes are a beloved food in most American households. Furthermore, a hot fluffy stack of buttery goodness is hard to resist, so much so that pancakes for dinner has become an acceptable trend! These days, pancakes are no longer just about tasting good, they are about looking good as well. 

According to Dictionary.com, a pancake is defined as “a thin, flat cake of batter fried on both sides on a griddle or in a frying pan” and is considered synonymous with “griddle-cake” and “flapjack”.

Some of us may have fond memories of our parents making us pancakes on a weekend morning, maybe someone made a smiley face with chocolate chips on them, or added Mickey Mouse ears. Though we didn’t know it then, that was the beginning of Pancake Art. Pancake art – which was originally viewed as a fad – has been on the rise over the last decade, as people show off their drawing skills using pancake batter as the medium! Now we have found the leading experts in Pancake Art, a Missouri based company called Dancakes, to get the best tips on becoming a self proclaimed pancake artist!

History of Pancakes 

Due to their simplistic nature and use of minimal ingredients, pancakes have been around for centuries. For example, some analyses have found evidence of starch grains from a grinding-tool that was likely used to make a pancake-like food over 30,000 years ago! Similarly, the infamous Otzi the Iceman, an incredibly preserved 5,300 year old mummy discovered in the Italian alps thirty years ago, was found to have ground-up einkorn wheat in one of his last meals. Additionally, pieces of charcoal he had consumed suggest that he may have eaten a pancake of sorts that was cooked over an open fire not long before dying. In fact, the term pancake first appeared in the 15th century, before then they were referred to by other names, such as hoe cakes or buckwheat cakes to English speakers. 

image of 15 different pancakes, each one is a Disney Princess

Drake, Daniel. 15 Disney Princess Pancakes. Dancakes, dancakes.com/our-team/#gallery-Drake-12.

 

What is Pancake Art?

Pancake art is the practice of using pancake batter as a medium to “draw” designs onto a hot surface, such as a griddle or frying pan, to create an edible piece of art. A design can be achieved through two main methods; the first method is done by gradually applying the batter in layers, allowing areas of the drawing to cook at different rates in order to achieve a variation in color, resulting in a pancake with a gradient of golden-toasted color. In contrast, the other method is to use edible food coloring to achieve bright colors to bring the art to life.

It is difficult to say how long pancake art has been around. For as long as parents have been making smiley faces on pancakes for their kids, pancake art has been in our lives before “pancake art” was really considered a thing. Notably, what we do know is that pancake art has taken off in the last decade, mostly thanks to the internet making it easier to share pictures and videos of fun pancakes. In fact, the internet was the spark that lit the griddle for Daniel Drake, one of the founders of Dancakes, after one of his first pieces of pancake art went viral on Reddit.

Above image of Dancakes team

Photo courtesy of Ben Daniel of Dancakes.

Featured Foodie: Dancakes

Dan had been working at a small diner in his hometown in Missouri when his pancake art went viral, and he was invited to appear on a live-broadcast of NBC’s the Today Show to make pancakes. After a boom in their popularity, Dan and his friend Hank Gustafson decided to form Dancakes, with Dan focusing on making the art, and Hank focused on running the business. As a result of their social media growth over the years, the demand for their event services increased. Thus they hired additional artists to help expand Dancakes. The next two additions fit perfectly in at Dancakes – Benjamin Daniels and Dana Baldus – coined Dan #2 and Dan #3 respectively. In effect, the team has expanded to have members based in Arizona, California, and Texas. 

They travel across the US making pancake art at birthdays, work luncheons, company events, and even Comic-Con! Now that Dancakes has been around for almost eight years, they are experts at what they do, and they constantly are looking to try out new techniques to push the boundaries of pancake art.

Naturally, Dancakes works to bring joy to their customers, whether it be through portraits or a favorite animated character, they take on any task. For that reason, they have even begun preserving some of their art work! So, if you want a preserved portrait of a loved one to frame on your wall, they can do that! Thus, their company has proven that food is so much more than just a source of nutrition, it is something that connects people and has deep emotional roots within us. 

image of Dan's first viral pancake

Drake, Daniel. Viral Pancake. Dancakes, dancakes.com/about/#image-1

How to Make Pancake Art

If you’re like me, then you can’t even make a normal round pancake look good, so pancake art sounds intimidating. Luckily for us, Dancakes has provided in depth tutorials, breaking down how to make the best pancake art!

First off, you will need to gather supplies:

  • Pancake batter mix. In fact, Dancakes actually uses a just-add-water mix! In other words, there is no magic secret recipe to pancake art – just regular ol’ pancake mix! So do not feel like you need to buy eggs, oil, flour, and make it from scratch! 
  • Mixing tools. One bowl, measuring cups, and a whisk or hand-mixer (Dancakes recommends using a hand mixer).
  • Cooking tools. A flat hot cooking surface – such as a frying pan or griddle. A large flat spatula (preferably a non-metal one). 
  • Fine-tipped squeeze bottles. These are to hold your batter and are key to controlling the batter flow as you draw. Bottles with different sized openings will help you achieve different line thickness to make your art more detailed. 
  • Edible food coloring. Make your pancake art pop by dying your batter fun colors!

In order to make your life easier, Dancakes now offers a full pancake art starter kit on their website, which includes a griddle designed specifically for pancake art, batter pens for drawing, a fill bottle, a large reliable spatula to flip your art, and a one-month membership to their exclusive content! Now, becoming a pancake artist has never been easier, with the tools bundled together and a handbook to guide you through the process! 

 

Steps:

1. The first step is making your pancake batter. Follow the steps on your box mix or your scratch recipe. The key to pancake art is the batter consistency, you will want a smooth clump-free batter, or else it will be hard to get the batter through the tip of your bottle. Typically, pancake mix advises you to not over-mix your batter, but Dancakes assures you that mixing until the batter is smooth is vital. If your batter is on the thicker side, just add a dash of water or milk to thin it out. Eventually you will get the feel for what consistency works best when drawing.

Bonus tip: Begin by pouring your dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Typically we add the wet ingredients on top of the dry, but this can lead to clumping. 

2. Next its time to separate and color the batter. No worries, this step doesn’t require you to find a dozen different bowls in your kitchen to mix different colors in.  First, separate your batter into the necessary squeeze-bottles, filling them about half way. It helps to know how many colors you will need for your design, so you know how many bottles to fill. After you have your batter in the bottles, add a few drops of food coloring into each – the more drops you add the darker the color will be. Then, add a more batter into the bottle, filling it about ¾ of the way full – its important to leave room to mix the batter inside the bottle. Lastly, screw the caps onto your bottles, cover the tip with your finger, and shake the bottle until the color is mixed evenly throughout the batter. 

 

Nine pancake art portraits

Dancakes. Famous Portraits. Instagram, 7 Aug 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CDmF1J_nC8o/

 Steps Continued:

3. Step three is a compilation of tips to know before you get started.

Tip One: draw with the heat off. Drawing while the heat is off allows you to take your time drawing without worrying about burning your pancake. Turning the griddle on towards the end of your drawing process will help cook the pancake more evenly. If you want, you can turn the heat on briefly to set your base line-work – just be careful not to burn yourself as it cools down!

Tip Two: don’t use non-stick sprays, butter, or oil. Most pans or griddles are non-stick, so applying another layer is unnecessary. Moreover, the addition of a non-stick agent may cause batter lines to run or spread out, which can compromise your design.

Tip Three: use a hand towel to rest your hand on the griddle. This helps to prevent accidentally burning your hand, and can help steady your lines!

Tip Four:  remember, whatever you draw will be mirrored once you flip it over! Pancake art can be tricky at this step, because whatever lines you put down first will end up being on the top of the image. Before you get started, think through your design. Also, it helps to draw your outline first, and then color in the shape.

Tip Five: learn to use the bottle’s suction as a way to control your flow of batter. By squeezing a small amount of air out before flipping your bottle over to draw you can prevent drips and spills by manipulating the suction created in the bottle.

4. Now, time for the most fun – drawing.

First, draw your design outline.
Second, color in the little details.
Third, fill in the bulk of the design.
Next, border your design.
Finally, back your design with plain batter.

picture of a unicorn pancake on the griddle surrounded by bottles of colored batter

Baldus, Dana. Unicorn Pancake. Dancakes, dancakes.com/our-team/#gallery-Baldus-1

Final Steps:

5. Now it is time to cook your piece of art! Here, the key is to not cook it at a high temperature. This is because cooking your pancake on high heat may compromise the design by turning the pancake brown. Instead, cook your pancake on medium heat (approximately 225 degrees Fahrenheit). Then, once your pancake forms bubbles and the batter appears matte instead of shiny-wet, it is almost ready to flip. Most importantly, loosen your pancake from the pan before you flip it. Next, using your spatula, gently ease your way under the pancake, loosening it from the pan. If you have to use a lot of force, the pancake may not be solid enough to flip yet, just give it a little more time.

6. The flip! Flipping should be done in a smooth quick motion. In other words, you don’t want to flip it too hard and damage your piece of art. Just slide your spatula under and turn it over in a quick gentle motion. This is because if you wait too long once your spatula is under, the pancake may begin to stick to it, which may cause the pancake to break when you go to flip it.

7. Finally, it is time to plate your delicious design – and eat!

For a more detailed tutorial – along with step-by-step images and pro-tips, check out How to Make Pancake Art: Dancakes 101. 

Pancake art leopard picture from 2016 next to an improved version from 2019
Dancakes. Leopard Pancake. Instagram, 28 Jul 2019, www.instagram.com/p/B0d1hsoHuCy/
Pancake art of the Beast from 2017 above an improved version of it from 2020
Dancakes. The Beast Pancake. Instagram, 13 Jul 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CClzie3n8dN/

Pancakes from Around the Globe

Another indication of the pancake’s vast history is its appearance in cultures from around the world. While some ingredients may change, most cultures have some type of pancake! These may not look like the standard American fluffy stack we are accustomed to, but they are all deliciously unique to their regions. The team at Dancakes have traveled internationally to create pancake art at a variety of events – proof that a love of pancakes is universal and that food can connect cultures. Until now, they never thought that making pancakes would be a job that takes them around the world, but they have found that people love the art – and the taste – everywhere!

Likewise, many countries and cultures have their own unique pancakes, whether it be Korean jeon, Italian farinata, Russian blini, or Indian dosas, pancakes are loved universally. Due to the nature of pancake art, it can be difficult to incorporate more culturally relevant recipes, which might include pieces of food or have a colored batter, that would make it difficult to create a drawing. Nonetheless, these cultural dishes are art in and of themselves! 

 

 

Now Its Your Turn To Try!

 

In short, pancake art requires patience, and you will only get better with continued practice. At Dancakes, their motto is, “Mistakes are delicious” and with pancake art that couldn’t be more true! Making mistakes just means more yummy pancakes to eat and share with the family! So, go ahead and make breakfast a little more fun this weekend – take the time to enjoy the time to yourself or with loved ones. First, check out Dancakes Instagram for inspiration and funny videos of the team at work. Then, post pictures of your own pancake art and tag us @cookandculture on Instagram. Pancake art is sure to bring a smile to everyone around! 

 

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