It isn't as easy as it looks to make animal-shaped pancakes—that is, if you want to create a creature that has a little more depth than your simple bear head or snake. And, while there is nothing wrong with good ol' silver dollars or giant fluffy circles, adding a little pizazz to the breakfast table is awfully fun, especially if you have the proper audience. My two-year-old loves them, and I swear he will eat twice as much if I am serving him pancakes that look like octopuses, dinosaurs, and kitty cats. Plus, my partner loves creating newer and better beasts, which means he cooks, the kid eats and it's darned entertaining. All together, we call that a win-win situation in this household.
Now, while we aren't as good as Nathan Shields, a seemingly awesome dad a great pancake artist, we do pretty well. To start with, you need a good, non-stick pan, a wide flip with a thin lip (I am fond of Gir's brightly-colored options), one or two squeeze bottles, and a head full of inspiration. The pancake batter can be any recipe you like, though you want to keep it on the thin, smooth side so it pours from the bottle without clumping and is easy to draw with.
A good technique is to make two different colored batters. Do this either by making one with darker flour, adding cocoa powder to the batter or, if you feel really funky, food coloring. This gives you the ability to highlight aspects of the design and/or make distinct outlines.
Another important aspect to pancake art is thinking about what you want to make before you start drawing in the image. Sometimes it helps to quickly sketch your animal on a piece of paper first so you know how it's going to go. Making pancake shapes is a quick business and you can't dally too long mid process or the batter will burn. Heat the pan on medium-low heat and start by making simple images such as a cat head, butterfly, snail, or any other shape one has been drawing since preschool. From there you can see how the batter works, how long you need to leave it on and the nuances of browning and the way it turns out. Then play with stripes, eyes, whiskers, and other details.
You know the pancake is ready to flip once bubbles erupt over the surface as if the batter is boiling. Gently turn your pancake and let the other side cook for about a minute. Of course, another approach to pancake art is is to have a robot do it for you. Behold the PancakeBot, a machine that takes any design or drawing you want and makes it into a tasty breakfast.
No matter which way you go, retire the basic circle and go for a pancake masterpiece.