If you are thoroughly swamped and trying to make your way through 5.42 quadrillion deadlines before you take a winter holiday, say ‘aye.’ Yeah, that’s what I thought. Me too. I have skads and skads of work, and find myself needing to take little breaks to doodle pictures of chickens and meditating monkeys in order to let my brain turn over and rev up again (this is actually fairly standard practice among a subset of the population who, um, finds drawing chickens and monkeys cathartic). But, now it’s time to take another little respite. Come with me if you would, on a little walk down memory lane…
This memory has to do with food, of course. One of the very, very best foods of my childhood, pannekaker. Norwegian pancakes are thin, almost crepe like (but more delicious ), and like crepes you can put nearly anything you’d like in them. In Norway they are a dinner food, and while I’m sure my brothers and I would have been quite happy to have them every single night, the time we most dependably ate them was on a very specific special occasion. When my parents would go out in the summer to visit with friends (and, let me tell you, in Norway a visit with friends can turn into a fest that lasts until 4am!) my uncle would come to watch us and cook us dinner. He would make us eggy, tender, buttery pannekaker, that we would smear generously with fresh blueberry or raspberry jam. We accompanied the pancakes with tomato noodle soup that came out of a packet (Scandinavians have the dubious distinction of packing an extremely odd and wide ranging assortment of foods in a packet, from cabbage, to rose hip soup, to mashed kohlrabi, to sour cream porridge. It sets you up really well if you want to go on a camping trip though!) The pancake tomato soup combination was an odd one – at least we didn’t actually mix the two together – but we adored it. It was, after all, undeniably delicious.
In the United States, however, it turned out that pancakes are a breakfast food (and the American versions are fluffy and soak up lots of syrup, which I’m still not entirely certain I approve of), so my mom did a little cultural adapting. In a stroke of motherly genius pannekaker suddenly appeared on the morning menu after sleep overs. They were an instant sensation with the children in the neighborhood! Everyone starting requesting them. Sometimes we’d even go to my house for pancakes after sleeping over somewhere else. In my memory, on mornings when my mother made pannekaker, it was as if a town crier ran out pel mel into the streets sounding the alarm, and children from every house within walking distance would come filing in the door to cram in at our little table and enjoy the treat. It’s the kind of thing that, as a child, makes you feel like your family is actually pretty cool. (And at this point I know for sure that they are!)
Even now, for many of us when we go back to Duluth for a visit, pancakes at my family’s house or one of our dear neighbors, are a breakfast that signifies you are special and being taken care of. For the full nostalgic experience I’ll eat them with jam and whipped cream, but as an adult, I’ve also come to really enjoy them with honey and ricotta, or with sour cream and fruit preserves.
Pannekaker (Norwegian pancakes) (serves 4-6)
- 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 6 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, or lemon zest, whichever you prefer (which obviously means cardamom…)
- 3 cups whole milk
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
- 1 cup ricotta
- 4 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest (orange is also good)
- sour cream
- good strawberry, raspberry or blueberry preserves
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, eggs, salt, sugar and cardamom or lemon zest until it makes kind of a thick yellow mixture.
- Bit by bit, whisk in the milk to make a smooth batter. Allow to rest at room temperature for half an hour. (I don’t actually know what this does to the batter, but it is simply something you “must do.”)
- Right before frying the pancakes, whisk the melted butter into the batter.
- Heat a 9 or 12 inch skillet (I like cast iron best) over medium-high heat. Melt a bit of butter in it, then pour in a ladle full of batter and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan. It should be about the thickness of a crepe or just slightly thicker.
- Cook for about 2 minutes, until the under side has turned golden brown and the top is beginning to set. Then flip it (this can be tricky and the first one almost always gets ruined), and cook the other side for just a minute. Transfer to a serving plate.
- Grease the pan with a little more butter and continue frying up the batter until it is all used. You should use pretty high heat the whole time, but if the pancakes start burning and the pan starts smoking, you should adjust the heat down a bit.
- Before serving, mix the ricotta, 2 tsp. lemon zest, and honey together in a small bowl. Serve the pancakes accompanied by the ricotta as one topping option and sour cream and jam as another. (Or you can mix and match at will). Spread a pancake lightly with your topping of choice, roll it up, and eat. And don’t forget strong black coffee!