There’s no doubt that this recipe post will be but a drop in the constant stream of pancake recipes flooding your social media today. But let’s face it: people love pancakes. Whether they’re thin European crepes, fluffy American stacks, aebleskiver filled with chocolate or jam, or beignets dusted with icing sugar (all totally legitimate things to eat on Pancake Day, I think) you’ll see them all over Twitter and Instagram, lovingly styled, or perhaps already half demolished.
Today I’ve got an option for you that you may not have heard of before unless you’re Norwegian or have spent some time travelling in Norway. I discovered them two years ago at the Nordic Barista Cup in Oslo. Every morning on the breakfast buffet at my hotel, there was the usual daunting Nordic selection of boiled eggs, cold cut meats, cucumbers, and Kalle paste, and at the end of the table, a pile of yellowish pancakes. Confused as I was about the pancakes sitting out getting cold, I put a few on my plate, because what American doesn’t try the pancakes at the breakfast buffet? I was practically obligated. How surprising it was, then, to find that these pancakes had that certain je ne sais quoi, a little something inexplicably different that made them totally moreish and addictive. Adding brunøst, the brown goat’s cheese famous in Norway, took it up another level. What was this amazing pancake-like food?
Sveler are apparently well-loved in the northern parts of Norway as a ferry food. Yes, quite unglamorous. But board any fjord ferry and you’ll probably find a stack of them waiting next to vacuum pump thermoses of coffee, ready to be topped with cloudberry jam or brunøst and enjoyed as you contemplate the steel-gray water and majestic fjords.
What makes sveler different from normal pancake batter is the addition of buttermilk (or kefir or yoghurt) and hjortetakksalt, also known as ammonium bicarbonate. If you’re wondering whether that’s related to sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda), you’re correct. It was used as a leavening agent before modern baking powders, with sodium bicarbonate, were largely available; it also leavens more per unit than sodium bicarbonate. I find that using hjortetakksalt gives the pancakes a tang, the sort you taste and feel in the mouth but can’t really describe, a little bit like cream of tartar gives to Snickerdoodles (thereby distinguishing them from normal sugar cookies rolled in cinnamon sugar). It’s the je ne sais quoi mentioned earlier, and it’s definitely delicious. However, it does also smell a bit like death. So if you don’t mind your pancakes smelling a bit funky but tasting deliciously sweet with a slight tang, read on for a traditional sveler recipe.
300 g all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ammonium bicarbonate (available at Scandikitchen)
150 g caster sugar
2 large eggs
500 ml buttermilk/kefir
1 tsp vanilla paste
300 ml melted butter
First, sift together your flour, baking soda, and ammonium bicarbonate into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar to this sifted mixture and stir it a bit to mix this. Add your eggs, buttermilk or kefir (I even used unsweetened Greek yoghurt mixed with a bit of milk to achieve a buttermilk-like consistency, as I couldn’t find buttermilk nearby), vanilla paste, and butter on top. Mix this with a whisk by hand or on the medium-low setting with an electric mixer until the batter is uniform. Let it rest in the refrigerator for at least half an hour (the longer it rests, the less funky the pancakes will smell when you cook them).
Once you’re ready to cook, bring your skillet or pancake griddle to a sizzling hot temperature and grease it with a little bit of butter. Use a ladle or spoon to dollop pancake batter onto the pan. We’re going for round, thicker American-style pancakes here, not thin crepes. The batter will bubble quite vigorously, more so than normal pancake batter, but that is ok. You still cook these much the same way. Wait until the edges begin to look dry, and lift up the sides with your spatula to see how brown the underside is. When it’s a nice deep golden brown, slide the spatula under your sveler and flip it.
Once you’ve made as many sveler as your heart desires, it’s time to top them. Though they can be eaten on their own, the whole point of pancakes all over the world is to smother them in something tasty, right? In Norway those tasty somethings are brunøst (a caramelized goat’s cheese) and cloudberry jam. They’re both a bit of an acquired taste, especially the brunøst, but I think once you discover that you love it, you’ll be unable to resist it’s salty, molasses-sweet allure either. Use a cheese slicer to tempt delicate curls of cheese from the block, set them on top of your hot sveler and watch them melt. Add a little spoonful of cloudberry jam (Norwegian flags optional) and you’re halfway to heaven.
Enjoy your pancakes, whatever they may be today!