Pancakes: Sweet Comfort in a Gadget

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett
Somewhere in your life, there’s probably a comfort pancake.
Maybe it’s the chocolate chip pancakes your mother used to make, or your college diner’s dinner plate-size version, or a Korean scallion pancake.
For me, it was eierkuchen, a 10-inch, crepe-like, eggy German pancake that my mother (and her mother) made occasionally for supper. Close behind was my mother’s apple puff pancake, for which she covered sauteed apples with a thin batter and baked until it billowed up.

My comfort food nearly always has German or Scandinavian roots, though much Southern food can also qualify. Like a pair of old sweatpants, it’s cozy, not trendy.
Now, another Scandinavian food is vying to be my heart’s comfort pancake. It began so innocently, when I went online looking for silicone pastry brushes (which definitely have my heart — dishwasher safe, no disturbingly hair-like bristles left behind for an unsuspecting diner). The website I landed on listed everything it carried alphabetically, scrolled down the side of the screen — and there, first up, was an aebleskivar pan.
A website like this just screams “sucker” at me: so many gadgets, so little space. The pan, which resembles an egg poacher, has just one function — but I was hooked, and oh, it does its job so well.
From that pan, with seven small depressions, come gorgeous, doughnut-like puffballs. Danish for “apple slice,” aebleskiver (say ay-bla-skeever) traditionally contain a spot of apple in the center, though they’re more often served plain with jam on the side. Making them is (ahem) a piece of cake, and somewhat Zenlike, as one stands before the stove gently flipping 75 airballs.
And how many other recipes call for a knitting needle? Sure, you can flip the puffs with a paring knife, but authenticity requires you to borrow Grandma’s needle to hook them. This would be fun regardless, but it’s a perfect conversation starter for company.
Pancakes might not be your first thought for company food, but given how many people’s sole experience with them these days comes from a box, they’re sure to please. Great for breakfast, aebleskiver are traditionally a dessert, simply dusted with confectioners’ sugar. With so many house designs today featuring the cook as star (in theory, anyway, given that so many showcase kitchens get bought by non-cooks), here’s your chance to shine, as you’ll want people near enough to watch and eat the puffs hot off the fire.
Aebleskiver show emphatically the value of beaten egg whites in pancakes and waffles. Whole eggs work decently, but they leave you dependent on baking powder for most of the puffery. Whip those whites til they’re stiff, though, and you have fluffiness even before baking starts. . The only other trick is to fold the whites into the batter gently. In these, the whites just help the rise; in waffles, they also ensure crispness (an ideal waffle stays crisp for some moments after coming off the iron, contrary to what those of you who’d rather just eat the batter may think).
One of the nicest qualities of pancakes is their resistance to being gussied up. Short of caviar on a blini, there’s not much you can do to pancakes that takes them far from the realm of comfort. With aebleskiver, though you could play with flavor and add citrus zests, or cinnamon, or go for a fancier yeast batter, there’s really no need.
Far more fun, I expect, will be expanding what I do with this pan. As far as I can tell, its only other use is for a savory Vietnamese pancake. But what about making gingerbread puffs, or little zucchini pancakes topped with an herbed sour cream for a supper side, or even tiny angel-hair pasta flans? These would veer dangerously close to precious and the savory ones would fail the anti-gussied test — but they’d make a perfect hors d’ouevre.
Truth be told, though, I will probably mainly follow Danish tradition and use that pan just to make aebleskiver around a holiday, such as Christmas or Easter. The thrill comes just in knowing that I can, that there’s a $10 pan waiting patiently for its day in gadget sun.
Recipe: Aebleskiver
First published in the Independent Weekly, February 23, 2005

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