Japanese soufflé pancakes are a hybrid of airy soufflés and flat, sweet American-style pancakes—they call for the same ingredients, like flour, eggs, sugar, milk, and baking powder, just much less of it. Copious amounts of billowy meringue, whipped egg whites stabilized with sugar and cream of tartar, are folded into the pancake batter, making them incredibly fluffy.
These impressive pancakes are a true labor of love. They take some practice to perfect and need to be cooked and served immediately. You can only cook two or three at a time as they need space in the pan to be flipped. Earmark these for when you have time for a leisurely brunch or want to impress someone.
True Origins of Japanese Soufflé Pancakes
Despite their name, Japanese soufflé pancakes are from Hawaii. As the story goes, the pancakes were created by a chef at Cream Pot, a restaurant in Waikīkī. Chef Nathan Tran was not a fan of pancakes, but he did enjoy soufflés.
To appease Japanese tourists clamoring for American-style pancakes, he came up with these soufflé pancakes, which were then taken to Japan, where they trended hard. They made their way around Asia and back to the U.S. by way of chain restaurants and independent cafés.
Practice Makes Perfect, Plus Tips!
I won’t lie. These pancakes are tricky and take some practice to make well—they can deflate and it’s a little hard to tell when it’s cooked through and ready to flip. I felt a real sense of accomplishment when they come out nice and tall. Rest assured that even if they’re not pretty, the pancakes still taste great.
Here are some tips to help you along:
- Use a clean metal or glass bowl to whip the egg whites. Plastic bowls can still retain grease, inhibiting the egg whites from whipping to their full potential.
- The egg whites should be cold before whipping. You can even chill the bowl.
- Be very gentle when folding the meringue into the batter to keep as much air intact.
- I recommend using a pastry brush to lightly brush the skillet with a little oil. You don’t want the residual oil to burn as the pancakes cook.
- Don’t crowd the skillet since you’ll need space to flip the pancakes. I use a 12-inch skillet to cook 3 pancakes at a time. If your skillet is smaller, cook 2 pancakes at a time.
- Cook the pancakes over very, very, very low heat so that the bottoms don’t burn before the center cooks through and sets.
A Few Substitutions that Work
These pancakes are finicky so I can’t recommend too many ingredient swaps. Here are a few you work:
- Use 2% milk instead of whole milk.
- Use 1 tablespoon lemon juice or distilled white vinegar instead of cream of tartar.
- Use almond extract instead of vanilla extract.
How to Serve Japanese Soufflé Pancakes
Japanese soufflé pancakes can be served with a variety of toppings. Restaurants often stack them into a tall tower of up to 3 pancakes and with enough toppings to push you into a sugar coma. Feel free to be as judicious or generous as you’d like:
- A pat of butter or a scoop of whipped butter
- A dusting of powdered sugar
- A drizzle of maple or chocolate syrup
- Generous dollops of whipped cream
- Vanilla custard
- Lemon curd
- Jams or compotes
- Fresh berries
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Make the egg yolk mixture:
Separate the 4 eggs—you’ll need 4 egg whites in a large bowl and 2 egg yolks in separate large bowl. Save the remaining 2 egg yolks for another use.
Place the egg whites in the fridge to chill while you make the egg yolk batter.
To the egg yolks, add the flour, baking powder, vanilla, salt, milk, and oil. Whisk until smooth and set it aside.
Preheat the skillet:
Heat a large (12-inch) nonstick skillet over very, very, very low heat. My stove top goes from 0 to 10 and I set it to a 1.
Make the meringue:
Take the egg whites out of the fridge and add the cream of tartar. Use a hand mixer to whisk them on medium-low speed for about 30 seconds. You can also use a stand mixer.
Increase the speed to medium and whisk for 1 minute, gradually sprinkling in the sugar. Then, increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until the egg whites are glossy, billowy, and form firm peaks. From start to finish, it should take about 5 minutes. The meringue is ready when you can invert the bowl and it will not fall out.
Make the batter:
Scrape about 1/2 cup of the meringue into the yolk mixture and gently whisk to combine. This will make it easier to incorporate the remaining meringue into the batter.
Add about half of the remaining meringue and use a spatula to gently fold it in until mostly combined—you will still see streaks of white. Fold in the remaining meringue. Be gentle and make sure not to overmix. You want the batter to stay light and airy.
Cook the pancakes:
Use the pastry brush to lightly brush oil on the skillet. Use a large spoon to scoop 3 evenly sized pancakes, about 3 generous tablespoons each, with the batter piled up high. Do not spread the batter out with the spoon.
Immediately drizzle about 1 tablespoon of water on an empty space inside the skillet, trying not to let the water touch the pancakes. This will create steam to help the pancakes stay moist. If the water sizzles and evaporates right away, your skillet is too hot—lower it even more.
Immediately cover the skillet with a lid and let the pancakes cook for 10 minutes. The exact cook time depends on how much heat the lowest setting on your stovetop emits. It should cook very low and slow.
Try not to lift the lid to peak as the pancakes cook.
Keep the remaining batter refrigerated.
Flip the pancakes:
After 10 minutes, scoop 1 tablespoon of batter on top of each pancake.
Run an offset spatula or a very thin spatula under a pancake—it’s best to use the long side of the offset spatula, not the tip. The pancake will release from the skillet easily when it’s ready. Don’t force it! If it starts to fall apart, let it cook for 2 to 5 more minutes with the lid on, but do not increase the heat.
Carefully flip all 3 pancakes. The bottoms, now on top, will be a deep golden brown. Cover the skillet and cook for about 8 minutes. When the pancakes are ready, it will be easy to release them from the skillet.
Serve the pancakes:
Serve the pancakes right away—leftovers aren’t great. The pancakes may deflate a little, but that’s okay!
Follow the same methods to cook the remaining pancakes.
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