People all over the world enjoy some form of pancakes at breakfast time. But regional differences significantly affect what those pancakes look like, the ingredients used to make them, and even the words used to describe them. So, what’s the difference between a pancake, a hotcake, and a flapjack?
In the United States, the terms pancake, hotcake, and flapjack are all used to describe a kind of breakfast food like a thin, round-bread product. The terminology and result might differ depending on where you came from. If you hail from the United Kingdom, there will be a big difference between a pancake and a flapjack.
Read on to learn the difference between a pancake vs. a hotcake vs. a flapjack.
What Is the Difference Between Pancakes, Hotcakes, and Flapjacks?
A pancake is typically a flat, thin cake made from batter. The batter usually includes eggs, butter, and milk, and the pancake is cooked on a griddle or in a skillet.
This pretty much describes the American version of pancakes, and no matter where you go in the United States, if you order a stack of pancakes, you will get something very similar.
Pancake Vs. Hotcake
A hotcake is a little harder to describe because, depending on the geographical location in the United States, it can mean different things. A lot of Americans use the terms pancake and hotcake interchangeably. They can mean the same thing.
For example, when you visit Mcdonald’s and order their breakfast meal, they refer to them as hotcakes. But they’re the same as what most people consider pancakes.
However, if you head down to the southern states in the U.S., there’s a good chance that people have different definitions for pancakes vs. hotcakes.
For them, a hotcake is usually smaller in diameter than a traditional pancake. They’re often thicker and denser, whereas pancakes can be slightly thin with a light, fluffy texture.
Hotcake Vs. Flapjack
In the United States, the terms hotcake, pancakes, and flapjack are all used to describe the common breakfast food that Americans are accustomed to. The main difference in which words people use is the part of the country where they come from.
Midwestern states commonly refer to them as flapjacks. The northeastern area is fond of the term pancakes. And the southern states use the term hotcakes frequently.
So, the word used to describe a pancake is a matter of what part of the country you’re in. Certain regions may have slight variations regarding the size and shape of the pancake. There also might be favored toppings or fillings that are popular from one place to another.
But in America, if you order a pancake, a hotcake, or a flapjack, you’re most likely to be served a very similar dish, regardless of the term you use.
Pancake Vs. Flapjack
So, what about a flapjack?
Once again, Americans have hijacked the word flapjack and often use it to describe traditional pancakes, especially in the northern states like Michigan. However, in parts of Europe and the U.K., flapjack is an entirely different type of breakfast food.
In England, a flapjack refers to a sweet dish like a biscuit or granola bar. It is typically baked in an oven rather than fried in a pan or griddle, although both methods work.
And though they can be prepared with flour just like pancakes, flapjacks are usually made of rolled oats and brown sugar.
Because of their ingredients and baking method, instead of frying, they’re usually healthier than their American cousins. But despite that, flapjacks are always a sweet treat, while pancakes can be either sweet or savory depending on the ingredients and toppings you choose.
History of Pancakes, Hotcakes, and Flapjacks
The history of the pancake goes back a long way. Even the ancient Romans enjoyed a kind of breakfast food resembling the traditional pancake with many of the same ingredients still used today.
In medieval times, Europeans ate pancakes before the start of Lent. The tradition was so popular that pancakes were part of the history of Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.
In parts of the United Kingdom, Shrove Tuesday is still referred to as Pancake Day or Pancake Tuesday, and the pancakes themselves are often called Shrove Cakes.
The tradition of eating pancakes before Lent stems from the people needing to consume the highly perishable ingredients they had before their fast started so they wouldn’t spoil.
The reason pancakes are so popular around the globe is probably because they are easy and fast to make and only require inexpensive ingredients.
They are a hearty, filling breakfast that can be customized to people’s cultures and tastes, and people worldwide have done just that. From crepes to blintzes and more, the pancake exists in almost every country on the planet.
What Is a Pancake?
Made from a Starch-based Batter
Most pancakes in North America are made with a leavening agent like baking powder. They are made from a starch-based batter of eggs, butter, milk or water, and flour.
Typically, they are fried in oil either in a hot skillet or on a griddle. The leavening agent gives them a light, fluffy texture that most Americans are accustomed to.
Pancakes in the United States are usually thin, round, and about a half-inch thick. They are served in a stack and traditionally covered with butter and maple syrup.
But Americans like some variety in their cuisine, so it’s not uncommon to see a variety of toppings served with pancakes in the states. Berries, chocolate chips, nuts, bananas, and whipped cream are popular toppings featured on American-style pancakes.
Sometimes the ingredients used as toppings are folded directly into the pancake batter. So, the toppings are inside the pancake instead of on top. Pancakes can be transformed from a sweet dish into something savory by adding meats and cheeses. Bacon, of course, is a popular choice.
Going to the United Kingdom and ordering a pancake will look different from the traditional American stack of these breakfast cakes.
The Brits don’t use a leavening agent in their pancakes, so the result is a much thinner cake, like the French-style crepe. They are slightly thicker and crispier than crepes but not as thick and fluffy as pancakes in the U.S.
It’s also not uncommon for pancakes in the U.K. to be covered with filling and then rolled up before serving. Like the U.S., the filling choices are endless and can be sweet or savory.
What Is a Hotcake?
If you’re in the United States and order a hotcake for breakfast, you may get a stack of traditional pancakes. The terms pancake and hotcake have become interchangeable in the states, and there is no real difference for many Americans.
Depending on their geographical location, some people may consider hotcakes slightly smaller in diameter than traditional pancakes. They are often thicker and denser, but besides that resemble pancakes in most ways.
What makes hotcakes denser than pancakes is that they are more often made with milk than water. This gives the cakes a denser, heavier texture. Hotcakes are usually sweeter than pancakes, and while they are still eaten as breakfast food, they can also substitute for a quick, sweet snack.
What Is a Flapjack?
In the United States, then there is no difference between pancakes and flapjacks. It’s simply a matter of which word you grew up using and are more accustomed to. However, if you head to the United Kingdom and order a flapjack, you might be surprised at what they serve you.
Not Like the Traditional Pancakes
A flapjack in the U.K. isn’t like a traditional American pancake. It’s a bar dessert baked in a pan and cut into squares.
They are typically made from rolled oats, butter, and brown sugar. They’re usually referred to as more of a biscuit because their preparation involves baking instead of frying.
Easy to Prepare
Flapjacks in Britain are popular because they’re easy to prepare. You only need a few ingredients, and you don’t have to watch them while they cook as you would a pancake. You stick the pan into the oven and set the timer.
Can Last a Long Time
Also, they last a long time after being prepared, unlike a pancake or hotcake, which needs to be eaten fairly quickly. Flapjacks in the U.K. are often served as breakfast or dessert, and they are always sweet, unlike pancakes which you can prepare with sweet and savory ingredients.
Other Ingredients You Can Add
Flapjacks are just as customizable as American-style pancakes. You can add a variety of ingredients before baking these sweet bars. Common choices are usually sweet ingredients like:
- Chocolate chips
- Dried fruits
- Peanut butter
Another popular method is to drizzle melted chocolate over the bars after baking so the chocolate melts down into and over the bars.
So, the main difference between American pancakes and hotcakes vs. British-style flapjacks is that flapjacks in the United Kingdom resemble what the United States would call a granola bar.
Again, are pancakes, hotcakes, and flapjacks the same thing? Pancake’s ingredients include flour, eggs, milk, butter, and baking powder, while flapjacks’ ingredients include oats, syrup, brown sugar, and butter.
Recipes for Pancakes, Hotcakes, and Flapjacks
So now that we’ve covered the difference between pancake vs. flapjack vs. hotcakes, your mouth is probably watering. So, let’s list some easy recipes you can try at home to make these delicious breakfast staples.
- 1 cup flour
- One egg
- ¾ cup milk
- Two tablespoons of butter or margarine, melted
- One tablespoon sugar*
- One teaspoon of baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Beat egg in a small bowl
- Add milk and butter
- Add flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder
- Mix ingredients well. Don’t over-mix.
- Heat a griddle or frying pan and grease lightly with butter or oil
- Check to see if the pan is hot enough. Again, you’ll know it’s ready when a sprinkle of water dances on the surface.
- Pour or spoon batter into pan, approximately ¼ cup.
- Tip pan to spread the batter.
- Cook on one side until bubbles appear on the surface
- Flip pancake and cook on the other side for approximately 2-3 minutes
- Serve with desired toppings
If you look closely, you’ll notice that this recipe for hotcakes resembles a recipe for pancakes. That’s because they are very similar.
The only difference is adding vanilla and a bit more sugar. Hotcakes are also traditionally smaller in circumference than pancakes.
Note: Use ½ teaspoon of honey or molasses as an alternative.
- 1 cups flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Two teaspoons of baking powder
- One egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2/3 cup milk
- Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Add milk and stir
- Add eggs and vanilla
- Mix well. Don’t overmix.
- Let batter sit for 5 minutes until it thickens.
- Heat a skillet or griddle and lightly grease with oil or butter
- Check to see if the pan is hot enough. You’ll know when it’s ready when you sprinkle water on the pan and dances on the surface.
- Spoon or pour batter into the pan. Any size you want, but hotcakes are usually 3-4 inches across.
- Cook until you see bubbles form
- Flip. Then, cook the hotcake for 2 minutes
- Serve with a topping of your choice
- ½ stick unsalted butter
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup golden syrup*
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
- Preheat the oven to 325° F
- Heat butter, sugar, salt, and syrup in a medium saucepan until butter melts but not long enough to dissolve the sugar
- Place oats in a mixing bowl
- Add sugar mixture to oats and stir to coat
- Spread mixture into a lined baking sheet
- Pat flat with a spatula
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned
- Allow cooling for ten minutes
- Cut into rectangles and serve
Note: This ingredient is common in the United Kingdom. You can make your own or substitute it with honey.
Frequently Asked Questions – What Is the Difference Between Pancakes, Hotcakes, and Flapjacks?
What Is Golden Syrup?
Golden syrup is a frequently used ingredient in the United Kingdom, sometimes called light treacle or goldie. It is readily available as a shelf staple item in grocery stores.
It looks like honey but is made from sugar, water, and citric acid. Americans who want to use this sweet syrup for baking can make their own using a simple recipe.
What Is a Dutch Baby Pancake?
Another popular term used to describe pancakes is the Dutch Baby or a German pancake. Dutch Babies are traditionally made with flour, milk, and eggs. What makes them different from regular pancakes is that they are baked in the oven, usually in an oven-proof or cast-iron skillet.
This causes the pancake to expand and then deflate after baking, leaving a signature crater shape for which Dutch Babies are known. They are often served with a topping of fruit, yogurt or sprinkled with sugar.
What Is a Crepe Pancake?
Crepes originated in France and are a very thin version of a pancake. It is thought that they were invented by mistake when a housewife spilled some porridge onto a hot cooktop. Crepes are paper-thin, usually filled with a topping, and then rolled or folded into a pocket.
They were initially filled with lemon and topped with sugar, but now they can include any sweet or savory filling. They’re also popular in most regions of the United Kingdom and are often referred to as British pancakes.
In Closing – Difference Between Pancakes, Hotcakes, and Flapjacks
No matter what they’re called, Americans love their pancakes. Served hot and stacked, they’re usually covered in butter and smothered in maple syrup. Go to any diner in the United States, and you won’t be disappointed when you order a plate of these delicious breakfast treats.
If you’re from the United Kingdom or simply planning a trip across the pond, you will find a wider definition for pancake and flapjack.
The British version of the pancake is much more like the French-style crepe. It is thinner than a traditional American pancake and is usually served rolled up with the topping inside.
If you order flapjacks in the United Kingdom, don’t expect to get anything that resembles a pancake at all. Popular flapjacks in these parts of Europe are much like granola bars. But that doesn’t mean they’re not delicious.
And because of the wide range of ingredients and the fact that they’re baked and not fried, they are usually much healthier than American-style flapjacks.
Overall, all three of these treats can be enjoyed by all. And they’re super easy to make at home as well. So, what are you having for breakfast today?