Flapjacks vs Pancakes: What Are They and What’s The Difference?

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Flapjacks and pancakes are often mistaken for each other as they have different meanings in the US and UK. This can cause a lot of confusion as they are the same in the US but completely different in the UK.

So what is the difference between flapjacks and pancakes? Naturally, this is dependent on where you are from. In the UK, pancakes are thin cakes made from batter whereas flapjacks are tray baked rolled oats.

In the US, both pancakes and flapjacks refer to the former. This can be quite confusing but this guide will tell you everything you need to know about pancakes and flapjacks and their differences. 

Flapjacks and pancakes in the United States

Flapjacks and pancakes are the same in the US as they are both thin cakes made from batter that has been fried in a pan on both sides. They are incredibly easy to make as the basic ingredients are milk, flour and sugar.

If you want to make a classic American pancake then you can also use a bit of baking powder which will help to make a thicker and fluffier pancake. They are usually served in stacks or flat with syrup drizzled on top. 

Often eaten for breakfast or dessert, you can have flapjacks and pancakes with syrup, honey, sugar, cream or chocolate syrup if you’re wanting a sweet treat or top them with jam or fruit for a healthier alternative.

Another great thing about flapjacks and pancakes is that you can add ingredients to the batter itself such as berries, nuts or chocolate chips so you can really make them your own. 

Although they are most commonly served as a sweet dish, you can also make flapjacks and pancakes into savory dishes by adding cheese or meat to the toppings which make it suitable for those who don’t have a sweet tooth. 

Whether they are called flapjacks or pancakes depends where you are in the US. The Northern states tend to refer to them as pancakes whereas the South and Southeast regions usually call them flapjacks.

If this hasn’t been confusing enough, sometimes flapjacks and pancakes can also refer to hotcakes and griddle cakes so knowing the different terms is always helpful, especially if you are visiting a state that you haven’t been to before. 

The one similar dish that is the same no matter where you are is waffles which has the same meaning in all states. 

Flapjacks and pancakes in the United Kingdom

Pancakes in the United Kingdom are the same as pancakes and flapjacks in the US. They are thin cakes made from batter. However, there are some differences in the final results. In the UK, the pancakes tend to be thinner and crispier than the US.

UK pancakes look more like crepes than American pancakes but they have less sugar and are thicker than crepes. They also differ slightly in their basic ingredients. 

The way UK pancakes are served is also different to US pancakes. UK pancakes are covered with the filling and then rolled up like a crepe. Like US pancakes, they can be filled with sweet and savory foods from syrup, honey and jam to cheese, meat or eggs. The great thing about pancakes is that you can experiment with different fillings and find out what you prefer. 

Now is where things get a bit different. As explained previously, flapjacks in the UK are completely different to flapjacks in the US. In the UK, flapjacks are tray baked rolled oats that are then cut into bars when cooked.

They look like granola bars and their basic ingredients are rolled oats, brown sugar and butter. Flapjacks can also have fillings added according to your personal preference such as fruit, nuts, chocolate or coconut among others. 

Flapjacks are usually served as a dessert or can be a quick breakfast or snack. Because they are easy to make, you can easily stock up on the basic ingredients and make a lot of them.

When cooked, they last a long time so you don’t have to worry about eating them within a short period of time either. 

Different ingredients

We’ve discussed some of the basic ingredients that can be found in flapjacks and pancakes but we’ll be delving into this a bit more in this section.

It does differ slightly in terms of ingredients and will be depending on when you plan on eating it and where. Is it a breakfast or are you wanting a sweet treat? The ingredients will determine this. 

What is a Pancake

When making pancakes in the US or UK, they consist of flour, eggs, milk and butter. Depending on whether you want fluffy pancakes, you can also add a leavening agent such as baking soda which will help to achieve that thicker and fluffier texture.

The great thing about pancakes is that you can substitute or leave certain ingredients out to cater to different lifestyles so you can experiment and see what works for you. 

If you’re wanting a sweeter pancake then you can add some sugar to your batter mix or maybe you’re wanting a savory pancake so you can sprinkle some salt in there.

This will help lean the pancake flavor to compliment the other toppings and fillings that you plan on using. A popular flavoring that people add is vanilla essence which is great if you are making a sweet pancake. 

Some substitutes you can use are oil instead of butter or buttermilk instead of milk. Buttermilk provides a lighter texture with a tangier taste for those looking to make something a bit different. You could also replace your dairy milk with a vegan alternative such as coconut milk or almond milk which will also add a hint of flavoring in the batter. 

If you’re wanting to add ingredients into your batter mix, you can add in chocolate chips or dried fruit which will give a sweeter taste. You can use any kind of chocolate depending on your preference or even a combination to make it more exciting. 

What is a Flapjack

As mentioned, in the UK, flapjacks are oats that are tray baked and then cut into bars once cooked in the oven. The main ingredients in UK flapjacks are oats, butter, sugar and golden syrup. They are then mixed together and put in a baking tray in the oven. 

The best sugar to use in flapjacks is brown sugar or demerara sugar as they provide the mixture with a richer flavor. You can also add an array of different ingredients to the mixture to make it sweeter or healthier depending on your personal preference and lifestyle.

Some of the ingredients you can add include: chocolate chips, dried fruit, desiccated coconut, nuts, peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or berries among many others. 

A great healthy alternative is that you can work with recipes that incorporate apples and bananas which cut out the processed sugar from the flapjacks altogether. 

When the flapjacks have been baked in the oven, slice them while they are hot and then leave them on a cooling rack so they can cool down. 

You can also put a topping on your flapjacks if you wish. A popular choice is melted chocolate that is poured on top once they have cooled down and then they are put in the fridge so the chocolate can harden. 

Final comparisons 

Although flapjacks and pancakes may have their similarities and differences depending on where you are, there is so much that you can do with them whether you add into the mixture themselves or experiment with your toppings. 

In the UK, pancakes are made from a thin batter that consists of milk, butter, flour and eggs which is then cooked on both sides on the pan whereas flapjacks are made from a mixture of oats, sugar, butter and syrup which is then tray baked in the oven.

Flapjacks do not have to be served with any extra fillings or toppings whereas pancakes aren’t usually served plain and have toppings or filling with syrup, sugar and lemon juice being among the most basic toppings. Some people will combine fillings to add more flavor or add foods that can contribute to a healthier lifestyle. 

Bear in mind that what classes as a UK flapjack is commonly known as a granola bar in the US to avoid any confusion and don’t forget to have fun when experimenting with what fillings and toppings to use. It can be trial and error but you can have lots of fun trying to make both sweet and savory meals. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make perfect American pancakes?

To make the perfect American pancakes, you have to make sure that your batter has the perfect consistency to ensure that it has that fluffy texture that has become an American pancake signature.

Before you create your mixture, dry sift your ingredients to prevent any lumps from appearing when the pancake is cooking. 

When it comes to preparing your batter, there are some changes you can make to the basic recipe in order to create a fluffier texture such as switching out regular dairy milk for buttermilk as well as adding in 1 tsp of baking powder or baking soda which will help the pancake to rise and get thicker and fluffier in its centre.

Bear in mind that using buttermilk will make the pancake taste tangier. If you choose to add buttermilk then make sure you use baking soda rather than baking powder because buttermilk contains an acid that will kick start the baking soda to give your pancakes that extra height. 

The first thing to do is preheat your stove so the mixture will start cooking immediately. It is best to have it on a medium heat initially and then gaging it from there.

You’ll know when to flip the pancake as it will start to brown and bubbles will start to form. When you flip the pancake, the bottom should be a golden brown color. 

How do you make perfect British flapjacks?

Making UK style flapjacks is really easy and a quick and convenient way to incorporate quick snacks and full desserts into your regular routine. If you follow a recipe then you can’t really go wrong.

There are some tips to bear in mind when making flapjacks, however, with the main point being that you should not cook the flapjacks for too long. If they are left in the oven longer than the recipe dictates then they will be too hard to eat and not as flavorsome. 

You can also add different ingredients and fillings to your flapjack mixture such as dried fruits, nuts or chocolate which can add more flavors and include different textures into the flapjacks.

For those wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle, you can replace the use of sugar with apple puree and mashed bananas which then bind the oats together. This means the flapjacks will be as natural as possible eliminating the processed sugar. 

What is a johnnycake?

As well as flapjacks and pancakes, there are other foods that are commonly confused due to their appearance and one is johnnycakes. These look like pancakes but instead of flour, they are used with cornmeal.

A common dish found in the United States, particularly along the Atlantic Coast, johnnycakes can be served both sweet and savory and can be eaten at any time of the day. 

They do taste slightly different to pancakes as they are denser but like pancakes, they are extremely easy to prepare. 

What are crumpets?

Another dish that is commonly thrown into the confusion mix are crumpets. A traditional dish from the UK, crumpets are considered to be the same as English muffins in the US but they are completely different.

Crumpets are more similar to griddle cakes as they are made with flour, water, milk and yeast. This makes them thicker than pancakes but smaller in size.

Crumpets are traditionally served hot with butter and jam and are often associated with breakfast and are a very popular food all around the world. 

Rather than making crumpets from scratch, you’ll easily be able to find them already made and prepared and then you can take them home and heat them up in the toaster before eating them. 

Why do they call pancakes flapjacks?

The confusion between pancakes and flapjacks comes from the two words having different meanings in the USA and the UK.

In the US and Canada, flapjacks and pancakes refer to the same food, while the two are totally different in the UK. Flapjacks and pancakes are used interchangeably in the US. Both refer to the thin, round cakes made from a batter that is fried on a griddle or in a pan on both sides that are traditionally served for breakfast.

The word flapjack is believed to come from flipping, or ‘flapping’ the cake on a griddle in the cooking process.

What is a flapjack in America?

In America, a flapjack is a cake cooked on a hot pan or griddle, usually served as a breakfast food. You can also call flapjacks pancakes, and the terms are used interchangeably around America. 

The toppings for flapjacks or pancakes are varied, and they’re commonly served with butter, real maple syrup, bacon, berries, and many more toppings. The options are limitless when it comes to flapjacks.

Although classic flapjacks are made primarily from milk, flour, eggs, and leavening agent, they are not to be confused with the British flapjacks which are typically made out of oats, sugar, butter, and golden syrup. Despite the fact they’re totally different, they share a name – which can confuse some people when it comes to traveling to the UK. Another key difference between UK flapjacks and US flapjacks is the method in which they are prepared. While the UK flapjacks are baked until the oats turn golden brown, US flapjacks are fried and flipped on a hot griddle.

Is there a difference between hotcakes and pancakes?

Yes, there is a slight difference between hotcakes and pancakes. While pancakes are generally considered to be sweet breakfast food, hotcakes are a much more general term that can refer to any small griddle-fried cake in its broadest sense.

Generally, pancakes are wide and have a fluffy texture, whereas the term hotcakes usually refer to a thicker, denser cake with a narrower diameter than pancakes, which doesn’t rip as easily when picked up. Although hotcakes are typically sweet, they are hugely versatile and there is a tonne of varieties, including savory, potato, buttery, salty, scone-like types that you wouldn’t necessarily order for breakfast or consider a traditional breakfast food.

It can also depend on the location of where they are being served in America, as it can differ depending on which state you are in. For instance, like people refer to fizzy beverages as different names, including fizzy pop, or soda, the same concept applies to hotcakes and pancakes. Although they are similar, people call them different things depending on where they are from!

What do British call pancakes?

In Britain, traditional pancakes resemble something similar to what the French call crepes. That is flat, thin pancakes that are traditionally eaten on shrove Tuesday. 

While pancakes in the US are laid out flat or in a stack, in the UK, they are served differently.

Typically speaking, a filling is spread all over a British pancake and then rolled up. The filling can range from sweet ingredients like golden or maple syrup, honey, Nutella, fruit, or the nation’s favorite: a sprinkling of sugar with lemon juice. Alternatively, though, savory fillings include cheese, ham, and eggs.

British people refer to thick, round pancakes that you would typically pair with maple syrup and bacon as American pancakes. Although these types of pancakes are everywhere, too, if you order traditional British pancakes, then you should expect the thin, crepe-like pancakes.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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