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Danish delight

Wed., March 28, 2012

Puffed-up pancakes called aebleskivers can be served for breakfast or as a treat

When I graduated from high school, my mom gave me a cook’s notebook with a collection of our family’s favorite recipes. Written in pencil and slightly faded, the notebook contains several Danish recipes reflective of my mother’s home country, including one of my favorites: aebleskiver.

Pronounced able-skee-ver, these little round fluffy pancakes are made in a special skillet with seven holes a bit bigger than a golf ball. The name aebleskiver means apple slices, since in the old days cooks would put an apple slice in the middle of each one. Nowadays most Danes just eat them with powdered sugar and jam for dipping.

These pancake balls are traditionally eaten at Christmastime in Denmark, when one might be invited to a friend’s house for an afternoon coffee or glogg (hot spiced wine) and aebleskivers. But there’s no reason not to enjoy them all the time. They’re delicious for breakfast, make a perfect snack and pack well for picnics or lunch boxes.

Dave Sevier, co-owner of Spokane’s Old European restaurant, remembers the first time he had aebleskivers. “I thought, what’s this? But holy Toledo they’re good,” he said. The restaurant serves several variations of aebleskiver, including one with seasoned sausage and Havarti cheese.

“We serve them all day,” said Sevier, whose wife Tami’s ancestors are Danish. “My wife’s mom made them all the time – even for dinner,” he said.

Even though Old European’s customers aren’t sure how to pronounce this quintessential Danish treat, aebleskivers are very popular, Sevier said. “People like them because they are different. They’re fun.”

Aebleskivers take a little time to make, but once you try them you’ll be hooked. Here are some tips to get you started.

Pick your pan

Aebleskiver pans come in different sizes and materials, including traditional cast iron pans. Heidi Tsadilas, manager of Gourmet Way kitchen store in Hayden, recommends looking for a nonstick pan with an aluminum base. “They’re easier (than cast iron),” she said. “You can practically wipe them clean.”

To prolong the life of your pan, wash it by hand. Cast iron pans shouldn’t be cleaned with soap. Don’t worry about little bits of aebleskiver that get stuck to the pan – they just add to the flavor.

Making the batter

Aebleskiver batter is similar to a thick pancake or waffle batter, flavored with lemon zest, vanilla and cardamom, a spice traditionally used in Danish baked goods. There are as many different recipes for aebleskiver as there are cooks in Denmark – some use yeast for a leavening agent, others use a combination of baking soda, baking powder and whipped egg whites. Experiment until you find one you like. Once cooked, an aebleskiver should be light and airy, not dense or chewy.

If you’re pressed for time, packaged aebleskiver mixes are available. Tsadilas used to carry them at Gourmet Way, but discovered that pancake batter works just fine.

Tsadilas likes to experiment with different fillings. “It’s like a waffle. You can really play with the flavors,” she said. “It’s really fun for the kids.”

For a savory version of this traditional Danish treat, Tsadilas likes to add about half a cup of cooked mashed sweet potatoes and a pinch of nutmeg.

For a sweeter treat, Tsadilas likes to mix small pieces of apples (skin on), pears or miniature chocolate chips into the batter. “It doesn’t melt completely, so you get this nice bite of chocolate,” said Tsadilas, who also likes to serve aebleskivers with a drizzle of chocolate syrup on top. “One of my favorite toppings is reduced balsamic vinegar on top as a dessert,” she said.

Pia Hallenberg, a Spokesman-Review reporter and native Dane, prefers the traditional Danish style. “I don’t put anything in them,” said Hallenberg, who likes to dip aebleskivers in powdered sugar and black currant or strawberry jam. Applesauce is good for dipping, too.

If you are going to add fillings, make sure the pieces are small, advises Old European’s Sevier. Blueberries or huckleberries can be added during cooking to make a special treat, he said.

Cooking tips

The trick to getting aebleskivers perfectly round is to keep turning them while they are cooking, a quarter of the way with each turn, said Sevier. “It’s just practice,” he said. His cooks use a bamboo skewer to turn the aebleskiver. Chopsticks are another option. If you are using a Teflon pan, be careful not to scratch it with a fork or other sharp instrument. Some Danes use a knitting needle to turn the aebleskivers.

“Finding the right temperature is important,” said Hallenberg, who uses a cast-iron pan she bought at a Danish flea market for $5. She sprays her pan with cooking spray before she starts, but you can also use vegetable oil or a dab of butter. Hallenberg gets the pan really hot and uses a ladle to get the batter into the holes.

“They have a tendency to stick,” she said.

They’re ready to turn when they get brown around the edges and bubble up in the middle. “The easiest way to flip them is with a little fork,” Hallenberg said.

To tell if the aebleskivers are done, Sevier recommends using a bamboo skewer. Poke them in the middle and when the skewer comes out clean the aebleskivers are ready.

Hallenberg just tears one apart to make sure they’re not raw in the middle. “The first couple of batches are hit or miss. There’s no secret,” she said. Even the misshapen aebleskivers taste delicious.

Hallenberg gives some final words of advice. “Just have fun with it. It’s not that hard.”

Danish Aebleskiver

From Froeken Jensen’s Kogebog, a popular Danish cookbook. Translated from Danish by Pia Hallenberg. You will need an aebleskiver pan (available at kitchen supply stores) for this recipe.

6 eggs, separated

3 1/2 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grated lemon zest from one lemon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, buttermilk, vegetable oil, sugar, salt, cardamom, vanilla and lemon zest.

Sift in baking soda and baking powder. Mix in flour, a little at a time, until batter resembles a thick pancake batter.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

Coat aebleskiver pan with cooking spray or vegetable oil and place on burner over medium-high heat to preheat.

While pan is heating, carefully fold stiff egg whites into batter. Fill cups in pan 2/3 full. When edges begin to brown and bubbles form, turn aebleskiver with a small fork. Turn several times, until brown and baked all the way through. Serve with jam and powdered sugar. Leftover aebleskivers can be frozen. Reheat in microwave, straight from freezer.

Yield: 50-60

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