Neil Tambe

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I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

How to Make Outstanding Pancakes (And Companies)

I love making pancakes, and I'm very serious about it. I've probably made close to 5000 pancakes in my lifetime - crafting my skills over nearly two decades. I can (and often do) literally smell my way through mixing pancake batter from scratch. For years I've maintained (only half jokingly) that making pancakes is the only thing I'm truly exceptional at.

The secret to an outstanding pancake is not in the recipe, it's in the making.

  • Always start with the flour. Spend at least 90 seconds stirring it, and it alone, with a whisk. This mixes air into the batter from jump, leaving you with a fluffy texture. A fork or a spoon is insufficient, use only a whisk. Stir slowly. The flour is your base and you have to caress it.
  • Next, you must mix in the butter. Melt the butter so it's hot. The liquid you mix in will likely be cold, so if you mix in the liquid prior to the butter, the fats will clump before they spread evenly. You must add the butter before the liquid to ensure the fats are spread evenly throughout the batter. Don't be stingy with your fats either, err on the side of more. It's better to have a little extra than not enough. The fats are what give your pancake softness, so you want to get this right.
  • Next, mix in the liquid. Use whole milk as it has a nice balance of fat and viscosity. Buttermilk is okay, but it leaves you with a chewy pancake with a overly rich taste if it's mixed in at the wrong temperature, so I avoid it. It also usually is always has a strange odor when it's not fresh.
  • I like to add the sugar and then baking powder next. Adding sugar to the batter once it's liquid helps you smell the sweetness and calibrate the quantity needed.
  • Finish with eggs and salt. These are the ingredients that bring the batter back together. If you don't do these last, you'll have to beat the batter harder and it affects mixing of and absorption of the liquid. You must do these last.
  • When you cook the batter, don't blindly follow the heating instructions in the recipe. You have to know the intricacies of your cooking surface. I use an electric griddle at home and I keep it at just below 375 degrees for the first 2 batches, until the surface's heat is holding steady. I adjust down from there. My mother's electric griddle runs hotter and heats up faster. There's no way around knowing your own pan.
  • Flip once the pancakes start to bubble and they've risen slightly. They'll be golden brown.

Don't get me wrong, recipes do matter (and to be sure, I've tinkered for years to develop a fantastic one). But an outstanding recipe alone won't get you an outstanding pancake. The real amazing stuff happens when you take a great recipe and make the hell out of it.

I've learned the same lesson in management - a great strategy doesn't assure great results. A great strategy (even an okay one) executed well often does lead to great results.

I used to glorify strategy development, strategic planning, strategy consulting, and the like. I no longer do, because the majority of companies I've been exposed to, don't need a monumentally better strategy. They just need to execute the hell out of the strategy they've got. 

If you're an audio person, you can also catch these posts (with a little extra discussion) by subscribing to my podcast via the iTunes store. Happy listening!

Please do say hello: neil.tambe[at]gmail[dot]com