How to make fluffy Japanese soufflé pancakes

The puffy, whimsical hot cakes took off in Japan and, in recent months, reached new heights globally.
The secret to the lightest, airiest soufflé pancakes is in the egg whites.
The secret to the lightest, airiest soufflé pancakes is in the egg whites.Ali Rosen

If comfort food and Instagram had a baby in 2020, it would most certainly be a soufflé pancake. The puffy, whimsical hot cakes took off in Japan and, in recent months, reached new heights globally — both in the pan and on social media.

Japanese pancakes have always been different to their American counterparts. Sonoko Sakai, the author of "Japanese Home Cooking," explained to TODAY Food that "pancakes are treated as a dessert in Japan — it's something you eat at 3 o’clock as a snack with whipped cream."

Maiko Kyogoku, who owns Japanese home-cooking spot Bessou in New York City, remembers her after-school hot cakes as being more fluffy and cake-like than an American pancake. But she’s not surprised that soufflé pancakes are making their way West now.

“The Japanese do a good job of adapting and putting their own twist to Western foods," she told TODAY. "Sometimes it comes back once it's been reappropriated. Hot cakes are one of those trends, especially right now when we are quarantined, that are high up there for comfort.”

But how does a pancake reach such great heights — often topping out at 5 or 6 inches? Well, it all starts with egg whites. The whites are whipped with sugar to create a light meringue that gets folded into the regular cake batter, often featuring a leavener like baking powder to add even more rise.

After that, every recipe has its own secrets. Some use ring molds to give them a perfectly round shape. Others have temperature-specific griddles with lids. Some use water to steam them, but others, like Emily Yuen, the chef at Bessou, put theirs in the convection oven to get that steam quality but also use a hot pan with oil to give it a deep-fried edge.

Whatever your kitchen setup looks like at home, you can follow an easier recipe that will give you the rise without as much of the fuss — no special equipment or ingredients needed. All you need is a pan with a cover that heats evenly (hot spots will curtail the even rise you need). With a consistent pan, a little bit of oil and a low temperature, you’ll be ready to get started.

1. The secret is in the egg whites

The recipe only works if the whites are right. That starts with making sure you don’t spill any yolk in your whites (we have all been there) and ensuring that the whites are cold. From there, you want to whip them with sugar until they have stiff peaks, which means the meringue you make will stand straight up when you pull the beaters out.

This is what your "stiff peaks" should look like.Ali Rosen

2. Combine carefully

Don’t be overzealous when you combine the whites with the rest of the batter ingredients — egg yolks, vanilla, milk, flour, cornstarch and baking powder — to get a true batter. Add a bit of egg white first to break up the batter, but then you want to very gently fold the rest in. You want it to be fully incorporated but to maintain its airiness; the key is to take it slowly.

Get your ingredients at the ready!Ali Rosen

3. Stack high and be patient

Soufflé pancakes are all about not overdoing it. You want to stack the batter vertically without letting the pancake get too wide, as tempting as that might be. And then it’s all about waiting: Wait for them to set a bit and then add some more batter; wait for that to set even more and then you flip them over; then wait again, because you want to cook low-and-slow so the interior is fluffy but the outside has browned. The patience will be worth it!

You want to layer the batter vertically without letting the pancake get too wide.Ali Rosen

4. Serve immediately, with all the toppings

Even though these pancakes are a social media sensation, don’t spend too long taking photos of your handiwork; they start to deflate, just like any other soufflé, so eat them while they're hot and puffy. Add berries, whipped cream or syrup to make them as decadent as a soufflé pancake is meant to be.

Eat 'em while they're hot!Ali Rosen

Mostly, practice makes perfect with these pancakes, which means you'll just have to keep making them — which, on the bright side, also means eating them!