Pancakes and flapjacks may seem like two words for the same beloved brunch dish, but you may be surprised to learn they are in fact wildly different. That is, depending on where you are.
If you’re from the U.S., you may think that a flapjack would resemble a pancake, and you would be right. However, if you are in the U.K., you may be disappointed in what you get, as a flapjack in the U.K. is more akin to a granola bar.
Keep reading for a deep dive into the stomach-grumbling world of British and American terminology. By the time you get to the bottom, your cravings will be answered.
What is a Pancake?
Starting off easy, here’s a softball.
What’s a pancake?
A pancake is essentially a thin yet fluffy cake made from a batter typically consisting of flour, butter, eggs, baking powder, and baking soda. The batter is fried to golden brown perfection on a griddle or a frying pan.
The end result is a perfect cake, usually more than one, that are stacked on top of each other. Traditional toppings include maple syrup and butter, though you can certainly get creative and try this tres leches topping.
That being said, pancakes are almost always sweet and served for breakfast or brunch.
Different Types of Pancakes
A pancake in America is virtually guaranteed to look the same, no matter where you order it from. However, if you travel abroad and order a “pancake,” you can expect to get something slightly different.
French: If you order a pancake, you will likely get a funny look. What you’re really asking for is a “crepe.” A crepe is a very thin, delicate pancake that acts more as a wrap than a cake. It is served any time of the day, and can have savory or sweet fillings, like this recipe for banana crepes.
British: More similar to a crepe than an American pancake, but slightly thicker and with crispier edges. A British pancake, like a crepe, is also served at any time of the day and can have sweet or savory fillings.
Johnnycake: An American variation on the pancake—or perhaps a variation on cornbread—a johnnycake is made with cornmeal as opposed to flour. The resulting cake has a subtle corn flavor and cornbread-like texture. Johnnycakes are typically served with butter and maple syrup.
What is a Flapjack?
Depending on where you are, a flapjack and a pancake may very well be the exact same thing. In America, there is no difference between the two. The term flapjack is used more commonly in the American south, though it means the same thing across the whole country.
Now, if you travel abroad to the United Kingdom, you will be sorely mistaken if you order a flapjack expecting a big stack of buttery hotcakes.
In Britain, flapjacks are more similar to an oat bar or a granola bar. The bars contain a combination of rolled oats, butter, brown sugar, and “golden syrup” or light treacle.
Golden syrup, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a thickened sugar syrup made up of water, sugar, and lemon juice.
The resulting thick batter is flatted on a baking sheet, baked, then cut into squares or triangles. Flapjacks in Europe and Canada function more as a breakfast on the go as opposed to a sit-down treat accompanied by mimosas and bacon.
What is the Difference Between a Pancake and a Flapjack?
If you’re in the United States, there’s no difference between a pancake and a flapjack.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself traveling to Europe or Canada, then you’ll want to either stick with the local pancake (crepe, British pancake, etc.) or look for an American-style restaurant that offers an old fashioned fluffy pancake.
Here’s a breakdown on the main differences between the two:
Pancakes are made of a thin flour-based batter that is composed of flour, baking powder, baking soda, eggs, and butter. Occasionally, additional flavors can be added such as cinnamon, like in these french toast pancakes.
Flapjacks, on the other hand, are made with ingredients similar to a granola or energy bar. Rolled oats, butter, brown sugar, and “golden syrup” are combined into a thick, lumpy batter. Additional flavors can also be added, though most recipes will call for more traditional and simple ingredients.
Pancakes begin with a thin batter that is poured into a buttered skillet or grill pan. American pancakes are around ½ inch in thickness and anywhere from 4 to 10 inches in diameter.
This recipe for lemon blueberry pancakes explains how to make perfect, buttery golden pancakes in no time at all.
Flapjack batter is made quite differently. The batter is poured onto a baking sheet that’s lined with parchment paper. The batter is usually flattened into a uniform level, then baked until firm but chewy in texture.
The finished flapjacks are cut into squares or triangles.
Pancakes are typically eaten sweet, with traditional toppings such as maple syrup or butter.
Flapjacks, since they are eaten as an on-the-go breakfast snack, are not usually topped with anything. They are prepared to be more of a grab-and-go treat.
How do you make a British Flapjack?
Just in case you were curious (and why wouldn’t you be), here is a basic recipe for making traditional British flapjacks, with a little twist:
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup brown or dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup golden syrup
- 3 cups rolled oats
- ½ Tbsp cinnamon
- ¼ cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar, and golden syrup. Once melted, add the oats, cinnamon, and chopped nuts. Stir to combine.
- Once everything is combined, pour the batter onto your baking sheet and flatten out until you have 1 inch thickness of the batter.
- Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the flapjacks are golden brown, cooked but still chewy in texture.
- Cut into triangles and allow to cool completely.
Next time you catch a couple friends in a heated debate over flapjacks versus pancakes, you should feel free to insert yourself as an expert. Now you know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that pancakes and flapjacks are both the same and incredibly different. It all depends on where you are.
The term flapjack originally referred to the “flapping” nature of the cake on the griddle, though over time the meaning has shifted in the U.K. to refer to a baked cereal bar.
Flapjacks and pancakes in America are one in the same, so there is no difference in thickness. British flapjacks are about 1 inch in thickness, whereas American pancakes are usually around ½ inch in thickness.
Olivia has been in love with all things food and libations for nearly a decade. When she’s not cooking up new recipes, she enjoys bikepacking, wine tasting, crocheting, and traveling in her camper van up and down the Pacific Northwest.