I’m writing this from my kitchen this morning, where the aroma of melted butter and sugar lingers after breakfast. It was a pannekaker morning for my kids, and all is quiet again after the morning rush, when they came to the kitchen to devour the Norwegian pancakes nearly as quickly as they came off the pan.
I love these times–making something from our Norwegian heritage for my kids and sharing in a tradition we’ve developed together over the years.
The tradition of making pannekaker for my children began when my oldest was a toddler. I’d been hired to teach a baking class at Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum (now the National Nordic Museum). They were hosting a series of classes on pancakes from each of the Nordic countries and wanted me to instruct the class on the Norwegian kind. I’d grown up eating Swedish pancakes in Seattle but didn’t know there was a distinction. After consulting with a variety of sources, I discovered that Norwegian pannekaker are a little thicker and eggier than Swedish pannkakor, but they’re really quite similar.
“Mama gets to make pancakes for work,” I told my toddler son as I prepared for the class all those years ago, researching and analyzing recipes as I developed my own version with the right balance of delicacy and toothsome bite, and with plenty of flavor. We ate plenty of Norwegian pancakes the week of the class, and I was so grateful to be able to integrate work and motherhood in this way.
We were beginning a tradition that week, one that’s carried on over the years with his sister, with whom I was pregnant at the time. It’s linked to the reason I began cooking Scandinavian food to begin with. I grew up with food being a primary link to my heritage. My grandparents–one set directly from Norway, the other Norwegian by way of North Dakota and a few generations–favored Scandinavian dishes in much of their cooking and baking, particularly during the holidays. Lefse, lutefisk, ribbe, boller, vaffler, riskrem, sandkaker, krumkaker, potato dumplings, the list goes on–food was one of the ways they showed love. Being able to share this heritage with my kids through the foods I serve (and sometimes invite them to make with me) is such a joy, as I know that it’s not just heritage that I am serving, but a legacy of love.
Something worth noting about pannekaker is that it’s traditional to eat the pancakes with soup for dinner—sometimes a yellow pea soup, other times a version studded with little pieces of meat and vegetables. While the idea of eating pancakes with pea soup originated in Sweden, many Norwegians have adopted the tradition, making the combination comfort food to people in both countries.
When developing this recipe, I noticed a lot of similarities between the ingredients in other ones. Basically, if you have flour, salt, sugar, eggs, milk, and butter, you can make pancakes. The differences come from the flavorings—which can include cardamom, lemon zest, and vanilla—and the ratios. Through testing I came up with my ideal ratio, which turned out similar to some others—the ultimate in authentic pannekaker, in my opinion. If you’d like to add any of the flavorings, go ahead.
Be aware that practice makes perfect. Don’t be afraid to just start cooking—the first ones will be imperfect and might even tear while you’re flipping or rolling them. That’s okay—it’s part of the process, and each one will turn out better than the last as you get the technique down and adjust the heat of your pan to the right temperature.
To serve, consider lingonberry preserves or perhaps another fruit jam with sour cream. Butter and sugar is another classic combination. I hope you’ll give these a try.
Pannekaker (Norwegian Pancakes)
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1-2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted, plus more for pan
- Mix all ingredients except butter in a medium-sized bowl using a whisk or fork until the batter is smooth and you have no lumps. Stir in butter. Refrigerate for a half an hour to let the batter rest.
- Meanwhile, warm a pan over medium heat. I prefer a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, which minimizes the need for additional butter to keep the pancakes from sticking.
- Melt a little butter in the pan. To get started on your first pancake, pour in enough batter to thinly coat the bottom of the pan—I find that a 1/3-cup measure is just right for my 10-inch pan. Twirl the pan around to coat the bottom, and when the top starts to set and the edges begin to color slightly, carefully but confidently and swiftly slide a heat-safe silicone spatula under the pancake, jiggling it slightly as you do, and flip the pancake. It will probably need about 2 minutes on the first side and a minute or so on the second. When done, use the spatula to roll the pancake in the pan and transfer to a plate.
- Repeat until you’ve used up all the batter, adding a little butter to the pan between pancakes if necessary. Cover the pancakes with a tent of foil paper as you go to keep them warm.
Find even more sweet and savory treats in my cookbook Modern Scandinavian Baking!
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