Pannekaker–Norwegian Pancakes–For Dinner
There’s a retirement home in Seattle overlooking Puget Sound, where western-facing residents watch the sun set over the Olympic Mountains in one of the best views the city has to offer. Scandinavians founded the community in the middle of the 20th century, and walking into the beige midcentury building today you’ll still feel like you’re entering an expansive version of your Norwegian relatives’ living room. My grandma Agny lived there for a while after my grandfather died, and she would occasionally have my parents, husband, and me join her for a Scandinavian pancake brunch.
Scandinavian pancakes–why not Swedish or Norwegian pancakes? Most other places around Seattle served what they called Swedish pancakes and back then my family didn’t know the distinction. I only knew they were warm and comforting, the sort of eggy yet carb-filled food that tasted like dessert but for some reason counted as a real meal. I’ve since learned quite a bit about them, and I had the opportunity to share the enthusiasm and knowledge in a pannekaker cooking class at the Nordic Heritage Museum this winter.
“Mama gets to make pancakes for work,” I told my toddler son as I prepared for the class, 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 can imagine few better jobs to have during a chilly Seattle winter.
If you have Nordic roots or at least live in a place like Seattle with a rich Scandinavian background, chances are you’re familiar with the pancakes I’m talking about. Much thinner than the ones Americans typically eat for brunch, slathered with pats of melting butter in a pool of maple syrup, pannekaker–Norwegian pancakes–are much thinner, more like a crepe. As for the Swedish distinction? Pannekaker are a little thicker and eggier than pannkakor, but they’re really quite similar. Oh, and about that mention of brunch–you wouldn’t typically serve these in the morning hours. Instead, they’re about the most indulgent dinner I can think of. (Yes, dinner.)
The Scandinavians have a tradition of eating the pancakes with soup–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.
In the (sold out!) class, I taught about 20 students how to make pannekaker and yellow pea soup. Since the pancakes are really quite simple but rely heavily on practice and technique, I wanted everyone to have a chance to make as many as possible. While I can’t replicate that experience in a blog post, I do want to share the recipe with you today along with detailed instructions and a number of tips to help you successfully make pannekaker for your family.
First of all, be aware that practice makes perfect. As I told my students, 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 next as you get the technique down and adjust the heat of your pan to the right temperature. Also, I like to take a cue from cookbook author and food writer Signe Johansen who starts the process with a mini test pancake to check the flavoring of the batter and then adjusts accordingly.
Finally, when it comes to serving, lingonberry preserves are a popular condiment, and some people like to top their pannekaker with both fruit jam and sour cream. Butter and sugar is a classic combination, and whipped cream or honey are also options. Sunny over at Arctic Grub loves to eat them with bacon and blueberry jam.
I hope you’ll give these a try. They’re really quite easy to make, and once you’ve prepared a batch or two, you’ll feel confident enough to work these into your weeknight dinner repertoire.
Norwegian Pancakes (Pannekaker)
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 analysis and testing I came up with my ideal ratio, which turned out similar to some others, and it results in a texture that’s just right, in my opinion. Of course, feel free to tweak it if you’re trying to replicate ones you remember eating–perhaps an extra egg or less flour? More liquid will result in a thinner pancake. I also added Scandinavian vanilla sugar, which lends a touch more sweetness and a pleasant vanilla flavor to the batter. You can find this at Scandinavian specialty stores, or you can use a little more sugar and some vanilla extract instead, although I have yet to exactly mimic the results of the Scandinavian vanilla sugar through substitutions.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Scandinavian vanilla sugar*
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 30 minutes 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 and make a small test pancake like Signe Johansen recommends–this will help you gauge the heat and adjust the flavors if necessary–giving it a minute or so on each side to cook.
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. You may even wish to place them, covered, in a warm oven, but I find that if I’m going to serve them as soon as they’re ready, they retain heat well enough that keeping them tented near the ambient heat of the stove keeps them hot enough.
Hi Daytona – thanks for the shout out to Arctic Grub – great article! I love that you give classes, keeping the Scandinavian food traditions alive here in the U.S.!
Thanks, Sunny! And thanks for all your great information on pannekaker a few months ago, too!
My grandmother used to make these often. I visited my aunt in California and she made them for me. It had been so long since I last tasted these most delicious pancakes; so light and yummy. It was National Pancake Day on Tuesday. I should have thought of these as they would have been perfect to make. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I also had to laugh. My maternal grandmother’s name was Signe. It brought a smile to my face when I saw the name of the author of the cookbook you referenced.
Debbie, thanks for sharing. I hope you’ll give these a try in your own kitchen soon! Also, check out Signe Johansen’s cookbooks–they are some of my favorites, in terms of Scandinavian cooking.
Egg pancakes! That is what my Norwegian family calls them. While growing up we would have them for dinner, especially on Sunday night since we had a substantial meal after church. I have an easy way to remember the recipe.
1 – 1 egg (I usually figure 2 eggs per person)
2 – 1/2 cup milk
3 – 1/3 cup flour
Multiply the flour and milk for how many eggs you use.
My family spreads pancake with butter and brown sugar. Roll up and enjoy.
Sigrid, having a ratio like that sounds like a great way to make sure you can prepare these anytime–with or without a recipe. Thanks for sharing!
We had them rolled up with butter and white sugar! Sometimes my mom would fry up some bacon and crumble it, and then add the bacon to the pancake, after pouring it in the pan. So so good!
My dad made Swedish pancakes as a special breakfast when we were kids, and brought them back at Christmas this year. But for dinner? That sounds so simple and satisfying.
I made Argentine panqueques for dessert last night with homemade dulce de leche, so I feel like I got the technique (and the right pan) figured out. Looking forward to trying your recipe soon!
Christy, yes, if you made panqueques last night, then you will be flipping pannekaker like a pro! Let me know how you like these!
Followed Debbie Petras over here. I used to make crepes–even have a crepe pan just like the upside down one used in the long ago Magic Pan restaurant. That was when I had more time to cook. But your recipe and enthusiasm has given me new incentive to cultivate this taste in our home again. I look forward to trying your recipe. I imagine I could fill them with something hardy for dinner just like I did with the crepes? Thank you, Daytona.
Janis, I’m so glad you stopped by and took a moment to comment. I hope you do give these a try. You can certainly fill them like you would with crepes. If you’re going to use a savory filling, you might just want to omit the vanilla sugar and decrease the regular sugar (or eliminate it entirely). Let me know how it goes!
I just stumbled over this recipe while searching for something else.
Norwegian pancakes are traditionally served with blueberry jam, and/or sugar. Some people use strawberry jam, but it’s mostly blueberry.
We do like to eat them alongside soup, in our house it was always tomato soup.
Oh, and it is mostly made on Tuesdays! A lot of Norwegian people have what they call “pancake Tuesday”.
I hope you don’t mind my comment, this is how I and everyone I know have been eating pancakes growing up.
I live an hour north of Oslo:-)
Hi there! Awesome recipe. My mom makes pannekaker for us quite often and my kids love them. It’s the perfect after school dinner/treat. I like them with butter and sprinkled with sugar, and we will also eat them with any flavor of jam/ preserves we have available. It’s important to note that in Norway, traditions (like pannekake toppings/fillings) often vary from place to place. I grew up in southern Norway.
Hi Daytona, This recipe bring back memories. In my childhood home we ate pancakes studded with salt pork and sprinkled lightly with sugar. Along with that we had a sweet soup made with berries or raisins. What a Saturday evening dinner THAT was! Now, it is my ‘comfort’ food , so I make it quite a bit.
Agreeing with Synnøve, a little bit 😉
I grew up half an hour west of Oslo, and we always had tomato soup or spinach soup with the pancakes. Actually, not “with”, soup was first, then pancakes. Us kids preferred strawberry jam on the pancakes, my Mom preferred blueberry jam, and now I do too (less sweet). A friend long ago introduced me to sugar and drops of lemon juice, so I use that too. (Might be Swedish? She went to Swedish school for a year. In Belgium. Maybe it was Belgian.)
We did not have pancakes any particular day of the week, but I have to say I like it now on Sundays or Fridays – the end of the week and the end of the weekend, when I don’t feel like cooking much.
Sugar and lemon is what they use in the UK. In Sweden I think we prefer sweet jam, like strawberry and a lot of whiped cream.
My Norwegian born mom served Norwegian pancakes rolled in powered sugar.
Thank you for the recipe. I made these for my husband tonight and he really enjoyed them!
Thank you Daytona, you can buy vanilla sugar from Penzeys too. I don’t think it’s Scandinavian but it would probably work.
Having lived in a Norwegian community in Minnesota for almost 20 years, I started making these gems at that time. Now my grown children ask for them whenever I visit them, which is Florida right now.
Do you have a recipe for making pancakes with gluten free flour? I have a granddaughter who has celiac disease, and we are always looking for gluten free adaptations.
My mother-in-law made what she called Polychinkas-she said they were a German pancake (her family was from Germany/Hungary area). My husband makes them all the time with flour, egg, salt, vanilla, milk and sugar (of course, he doesn’t really use measurements!).
The kids usually spread with jelly and roll up, but I like them with cinnamon sugar. We also use maple syrup sometimes. She used to also make them as a dessert with a cottage cheese/raisin mixture or apple/raisins rolled up inside, then a sauce over them. They were baked in the oven & the sauce would thicken like custard. Very good!
Thanks for sharing. I am 100 percent Norwegian and live in a northwest suburb of Chicago. We love our think pancakes and I’m excited to try your recipe. Have you ever attempted to make lefsa? Just wondering. Thank you fellow Norwegian cooks. Becky
vet du hvordan å lage suppe som er spist med pannekaker? jeg vet ikke hvordan å lage det, men jeg husker som det smakte veldig bra, og jeg vil lage det for mitt familie i USA.
SO, WHAT IS NORWEGIAN SUGAR?
It is pretty much sugar infused with vanilla beans.
substitute 1/8 t vanilla for the ‘vanilla sugar’
I found this on a site Olsen’s Scandinavian Food.com. They have All the different ingredients you can order. Not expensive at all. Everything you could think of. very helpful.
Your recipe is almost identical to my Swedish father’s recipe! He would make them every Thursday night come winter, served along side a steaming bowl of homemade yellow pea soup with some ham or pork thrown in if any was on hand, topped with mustard. The pannekaker were made in my Norwegian mother’s cast iron skillet, lovingly handed down over 3 generations. And while no doubt her technique would be looked down on today, and rightfully so, hehe, my mother never bothered with a spatula for turning. She simply took a fork, lifted up the edge, and using two hands, forefingers and thumbs, flipped them. After a few burned fingers, I finally perfected her technique!
I am Canadian – Estonian, and this was dinner every Saturday night! We eat them with lemon and sugar, or we buy lingonberry jam from Ikea, and eat them with that. Mmmm! Thanks for this recipe. I’ve never tried it with vanilla/vanilla sugar. I am going to make them for my kids over Christmas. 🙂
My grandmother, mother, wife and now my children have all made Norwegian pancakes our whole life and loved them. Hard to make enough for a large family and sit down together. Most of the time we eat them as they come out of the pan, with cinnamon sugar or a jam. I have to admit, half of us do not even use a fork, we roll up and go at it.
We have also passed down a cardamom bread recipe that we make every Christmas. Absolutely love it.
I grew up eating (and making) these yummy pancakes. My grandma taught us to make batter one at a time: 1 egg, 2 TBSP flour, dash of salt, and 1/4 cup of milk…and butter in the pan with each one! As I began making them for my children, I tried the “batch” version, but have gone back to one at a time. Now I make them for my grand children!
Just my two cents. My Norwegian dad (from Oslo) used to make these for a weekend breakfast. I think he used more sugar than you often see in the recipes. He’s make the batter the night before and leave to refrigerate overnight. I was usually his assistant cook and I wish I remembered more precisely how he liked to make the batter. But anyway, I was going to add that we always used dad’s homemade strawberry jam in our pancakes and sometimes with a dollop of sour cream. The combination of the sour cream with the sweet jam really works. 🙂
Does it have to be whole milk when it asks for Whole milk and kosher salt does it have to be?
Any salt will do. Using a thinner milk is certainly possible but it might affect the consistency.
I make the pannekaker all the time, but only for breakfast.
Have you ousted the yellow peas soup recipe? I so miss my moms yellow pea soup with salted lamb.
I learned how to make pannekake from my Bestemor. She never measured anything. It was done by how the batter feels. We started with 8 eggs and melted butter. Everhyone I make them for loves them. Now I am working on perfecting potetebal or Klubb. My daughter lived in Seattle for 10 years. It was so wonderful for me to go to all the Scandinavian places. I loved Larsen’s bakery the best. ☺
How enjoyable to read this article and all of the comments. Brought me back to my Bestemor and Mom who made Swedish pancakes for us. (Don’t know why they called them Swedish because we are of Norwegian heritage.) They both used a fork and fingers to flip the pancakes too. Miss them so much but do enjoy the memories.
I was reading your recipe & took a pic of the ingredients of your grandma’s potato dumplings when it suddenly disappeared from my email. Can you post it? (I’ve been looking for a similar recipe a friend”s mum made.)
Hi. I was browsing your site and happened across this Pannekaker recipe. Your ratios are very similar to what my Bestemor Haugen used to make, and we have been making as well for many years. One difference I notice is no Cardamom. That has always been a major part of ours. Do you know of others who do this?