Gluten-free pancakes recipe

This is a very easy, no-fuss, gluten-free pancake recipe that relies on masa harina. Amounts are for 2 people.

Dry ingredients:

3/4 cup masa harina for tortillas

3/4 cup masa harina for tamales

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 tablespoon sugar (if desired)

Wet ingredients:

2 eggs

1 tablespoon oil or melted butter

1 1/2 cups buttermilk (can use water)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Additional water as desired

Mix the dry ingredients together. Then add the wet ingredients. The batter will be too stiff. Do not use additional buttermilk. Instead, use water to thin the batter how you like it. I like my pancake batter a bit on the thick side.  I cook mine on a buttered cast iron skillet. This batter does better if you cook it for a little longer, at a little lower temperature than you would standard pancakes. I like to stir in different fruits, nuts and spices, too. I do not like “fluffy” pancakes. I prefer my pancakes to have some substance, and to make me feel like I’ve been fed. These fit the bill. They may be too heavy for your tastes.

Why this recipe is brilliant: It uses masa harina! Masa harina is great for gluten-free cooking and baking because some mysterious property is has is that foods made from it hold together! Unlike regular corn meals and corn flours that produce goods so delicate they can’t be handled, food made with masa harina is much sturdier. Most gluten-free recipes that are trying to recreate wheat-based foods include a bunch of esoteric ingredients like xanthan gum and bean flours that try to make up for the gluten. With masa harina, you don’t need any of that. Masa harina is also great because it is good nutrition. Regular cornmeal and corn flour, which are ground from maize (field corn or dent corn), are not nutritionally accessible, and excessive reliance on them for food leads to vitamin deficiency disease, such as pellagra. Masa harina, on the other hand, is made using nixtmalization, a process native to the Americas, in which the corn is first soaked in calcium oxide, or lime, before grinding, which render the nutrition bioavailable. This difference in processing, which was unknown to the descendants of the Europeans living in the United States, is why native peoples have relied on maize to sustain them for thousands of years, and the southerners who ate plain cornmeal in the United States fell ill.

Give this recipe a try. I have not tried to make a vegan version. If you do, let me know how it turns out. I also think if you have a favorite pancake recipe, the masa harina may be flexible enough for you to just substitute it for the amount of wheat flour. The key is to use half masa for tortillas, and half masa for tamales. Both kinds of masa harina will be on the shelf at your local Latino market. I feel that gives the best texture.

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  1. #1 by Jonathan Avedian on May 7, 2012 - 5:13 am

    Thanks! I made these this morning for a visiting celiac relative using all Maseca yellow corn flour masa harina (it is all I had), and they were wonderful – I like them better than regular pancakes! We had to cook them at a lower temperature on our electric griddle for a little longer than the regular pancakes, but it is a keeper, even for us that can eat gluten. How does using the tamale masa change the texture?

    • #2 by thinkfeelhealth on May 7, 2012 - 7:53 pm

      Hi, Jonathan!

      I’m so glad you gave this a try and it was a success! Your comment reminds me that they do in fact cook lower and slower than regular pancakes. I have been making whole grain pancakes for so long, I forgot about that part. I should edit the recipe to reflect that, thank you. To answer your question, tamale masa yields a pancake that is much cakeier, lighter and fluffier. For me, all tamale masa is too fluffy. I like ym pancakes to have a bit of heft. All tortilla masa, though, is a bit too smooth. Tamale masa has other uses for gluten-free cooking, too, being superior for cookies, bars and cobblers. Thanks for the feedback!

  2. #3 by Cathryn Cardellino on February 15, 2015 - 2:16 pm

    I made these using water instead of buttermilk and adding 1 Tbsp. lemon juice. I separated the eggs, beating the whites to peaks and folding them into the finished batter. The cakes were delicious, thick and fluffy except for tasting of baking soda. I used only 3/4 tsp. + 3/4 tsp baking powder, but maybe because of just using water, it was too much. Next time I will only use 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. baking soda and they should be perfect. I also think 1 tsp. of salt is too much and will reduce that as well.

    • #4 by thinkfeelhealth on February 15, 2015 - 3:22 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Cathryn! If you are beating the eggs to stiff peaks, you can use way less baking soda. The stiffly beaten egg whites are a very effective leavening agent. I make a reduced carb version of these that uses no baking soda at all, using beaten egg whites instead. Choosing to use baking powder rather than soda is your call, of course, you can do as you like. I don’t know how that affects the recipe, since I’ve never done it. I’m glad you had success!

  3. #5 by Steve Bears on April 18, 2016 - 4:09 am

    I am thinking of making this recipe but I am a little confused as to exactly what you mean about the 2 different masa harina flours.
    I assume the “masa for tortillas” is the Maseca finely ground white corn flour that has been cooked in lime. I’m not sure what the “masa for tamales” is. I’m guessing something like the P.A.N. brand precooked white cornmeal will do. the P.A.N. is precooked but no lime is used. It is also a coarser grind. The whole masa harina thing can be a little baffling for me. For example the bag of Maseca masa harina corn flour that I use most every day to make corn tortillas also says it is for tamales. It seems like too fine of a grind for good tamales. Can you clarify this for me or at least be a little more specific as to what you use for this recipe.

    • #6 by Donna Stewart on April 18, 2016 - 4:16 am

      Hi Steve! Thanks for your question. At the Latino market in my neighborhood, they carry two kinds of masa harina, both of the Maseca brand. The first one is a fine grind that the package says can be used for tortillas, tamales, pupusas, etc. The second only says it is for tamales, and has a picture of a tamale on the label. The tamale masa harina is a little coarser, and combining it with the regular tortilla masa harina gives a lighter pancake. You can make this recipe with all tortilla masa, but if you do that, I recommend separating the eggs and whipping the whites to lighten them. Otherwise, pancakes made with only tortilla masa come out kind of flat and weird. Tamale masa

      • #7 by sbears13 on April 18, 2016 - 5:51 am

        Thank you for the answer but I am still confused about one thing.
        Locally I can only guess the Mesaca for tortillas. I can’t find the Mesaca tamales but I see it online so I do know what product you are talking about. The Mesaca for tortillas shows the ingredients as corn treated with hydrated lime. What do the ingredients on the bag of Mesaca tamale flour say? I know it is a courser grind but I do not know if it is just corn or if it was treated with lime like the tortilla flour.

      • #8 by Donna Stewart on April 18, 2016 - 3:07 pm

        Yes, it is still treated with lime.

  4. #9 by Steve Bears on April 23, 2016 - 12:49 am

    So, I made these yesterday. I used Maseca tortilla flour and Bob’s Red Mill yellow corn masa harina because I can’t get the Maseca tamale flour locally.
    The Bob’s is stone ground so it is much coarser than the Maseca tortilla flour.
    I also used plain yogurt and milk because I didn’t have any buttermilk.
    Then I decided I would separate the eggs and whip the whites so I reduced the baking soda to 1 tsp.
    They came out great. They were better than any gluten free pancake I have tried. They were even better than any Johnny cake I have had.
    This recipe is a keeper. Next time I may try to hydrate the masa with hot water and let it set up for 20 min like I do when I make tortillas. I’m not sure if it will be worth the extra time and effort and I still have to figure out how and when to add the baking soda. I will let you know if I try it and what happens. I know I’m complicating a simple and delicious recipe. I can’t help but experiment.
    Thanks for the great recipe and the help.

  5. #10 by Donna Stewart on April 23, 2016 - 1:10 am

    Wonderful! I’m so glad it came out well, and you liked it. Yes, I think the Bob’s masa harina is probably a good substitute for the tamale masa. Whipping the whites is always a good option, too. Keep up the experimentation! That’s how this recipe came about in the first place.

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