Saturday, October 13, 2012


In the three years that this blog has been kicking, it's pretty impressive that I haven't managed to touch upon pannenkoeken yet.  And it's not because I find them boring or bland, though truth be told, they are a bit of both--if you don't have anything to fill them with.  Once you start playing with fillings, you can have anything--sweet, savory, both sweet and savory, if that's your cup of tea.  But we don't really have pannenkoeken that often, and up until this year, Karel was the one who made pannenkoeken, while I made the thick 'n fluffy American-style pancakes (trade secret--karnemelk).  However, the problem with fluffly American-style pancakes is that you need a huge pan to cook them on if you don't want to do them one at a time, and until recently our electric griddle was buried under a sandwich grill, behind three glass bottles, above our cabinets.  Getting it down would have required reorganizing the entire kitchen--which we recently did.  But in the meantime, it meant that I would have to learn to make pannenkoeken.

If you've ever gone to one of those restaurants, you'll be familiar with the bit of delectable food artfully arranged on an enormous honkin' plate, with little spots of sauce casually but carefully dripped or streaked across the plate.  A proper Dutch pannenkoek will completely over that plate, and maybe even ooze a bit over the side.  It is, in other words, a meal unto itself, and if it's got bacon and apples (Karel's latest love) cooked into it, it even ventures into the "nutritionally adequate" territory.  

I don't claim to be an expert on making pannenkoeken--there are many recipes, and all of them claim to yield a tender, thin-but-not-delicate (a key aspect of this Dutch delight) pancake which you can fill with whatever you like.  The thin-but-not-delicate is the key to this--you do not want a crepe, which is thin and delicate.  The batter matrix of a pannenkoek should be sturdy enough to hold stuff as it cooks--Dutch tradtion calls for bacon bits, or raisins, but you can use whatever you like.  I've made pannenkoeken filled with mushrooms and cheese, raisins, apples, chocolate, bacon, and I've enjoyed one that was filled with spinach--and that doesn't even begin to cover the stuff you can put on top of the thing*.  Personally, I don't even use a recipe.  As long as it's a 2:1 liquid-to-flour ratio, it usually ends up all right (for normal pancakes I use 1:1).  And if you smother it in enough stroop, nobody's going to care that it's a bit too this or not enough that.

"Not-delicate" does not, however, mean "not tender":  don't overmix the batter.  Karel used to make his with our hand mixer, in the mistaken belief that lumps in the batter were bad.  You don't want pebbles of flour, obviously, but its better to have a slightly-grainy batter than it is to develop the gluten, which is how you end up with a pannenkoek that's a bit too chewy.  The little lumps in the batter will be dissolved as the batter cooks and air bubbles disperse the flour.  Promise.

The last key to making pannenkoeken, at least I've found, is variable heat.  You want to start it on a low heat--the idea here is to let the bottom coagulate while the top is still runny, and this is the stage at which you put your apple slices on, or whatever it is you're filling your pannenkoek with.  Once the top is set--but not cooked--turn up the heat so that the bottom will turn a pretty golden-brown.  This will still take a while--about 5 minutes or so.  Flipping the damn thing is also a bit of an art.  If you've done a good enough job cooking it, it will stay intact as you slide a spatula underneath and give it a quick turn.  If you're feeling really confident (or, if you've been making crepes your entire life) you can flip it by shimmying the pan.  In any event, once the thing is flipped, keep it on high, and the new bottom will brown nicely in a few minutes. Then you turn it out onto a plate, and hope that the apple slices stay put while you turn it over (nope).

*One of the more memorable things we've done was take a trip on the Pannenkoekenboot, which is exactly what it sounds like:  a boat where you can stuff yourself with as many pannenkoeken as you can eat while the boat takes a 3-hour trip up and down a river.  Despite the cost (€24/person), the boat was full, and while they only served 3 different types of pannenkoeken (apples, bacon, and plain), the bar of toppings was enormously varied--meatballs, tuna salad, pickled vegetables, potatoes, fruit salad, etc.  Stamppot was never this indiscriminate.  

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