Pannekoeken

Nearly every culture throughout history has had some form of pancake. After all, food doesn’t get much simpler than cooking batter in a pan. Pancake recipes are often difficult to find in early cookbooks, however; pancakes were so simple and easy to make that the instructions often weren’t written down.

While some of the first written pancake recipes in Europe appeared in the 16th century, they differ greatly from what we would consider to be pancakes today. Food historian Ken Albala suggests that the 17th century Dutch may have been the first to make truly “modern” pancakes. Pancakes were certainly popular in the 17th-century Netherlands, as their high volume of pancake-related art attests.

De Pannenkoekenbakster (The Pancake Maker), Jan Miense Molenaer, 1645

I decided to try out two pancake recipes, Groeninger pancakes and common pancakes, from the 1669 Dutch cookbook De Verstandige Kock. Except for the absence of baking soda, which would not be available for about two hundred years, the common pancakes are almost identical to modern pancake recipes. The Groeninger pancakes, most likely named for the city or province of Groningen, add currants and cinnamon.

Translation (from Peter Rose):

“To fry Groeninger pancakes: Take a pound of wheat flour, 3 eggs, a quarter pound of currants and some cinnamon, this mixture is fried in butter. Is good.

To fry common pancakes: For each pound of wheat flour take a pint of sweet milk and 3 eggs. Some add some sugar to it.”

The Groeninger pancakes are made from the exact same batter as the common pancakes, with the addition of currants and cinnamon (the recipe for Groeninger pancakes does not specify adding milk, but that is most likely a mistake because otherwise there would be almost no liquid). I’m not sure exactly what kind of flour the Terwen-meel or wheat flour would’ve been in the 17th century; I don’t think it would be exactly the same as modern wheat flour. In any case, I was out of wheat flour, so I just used all-purpose.

I started with the common pancake batter, made two pancakes, then added a handful of currants and about half a teaspoon of cinnamon to make the Groeninger pancakes. I made the common pancakes in a dry pan and fried the Groeninger pancakes in butter, as the recipe instructs. I only used half the quantities specified; this made a total of four fairly large pancakes.

Since the only rising agent in these pancakes is the eggs, I whisked the eggs thoroughly with the milk to give them some lift. Unfortunately, I continued whisking while adding the flour, which was probably a mistake. My pancakes turned out a little chewy, most likely because I built up gluten by over-mixing the flour. It wasn’t bad, but I would recommend folding the flour in gently after whisking the eggs to avoid this.

Groeninger pancakes on the left, common pancakes on the right. I can never manage to cook a whole batch of pancakes evenly.

Tasting notes:

Slight chewiness aside, these were pretty good! With honey (historically accurate) or maple syrup (not so much) they were delicious. The currants and cinnamon in the Groeninger pancakes were especially good, although next time I actually might not use so much butter to fry them since it was difficult to keep it from burning. Just a little bit of butter or oil to keep them from sticking would be perfect.

This is the first time that I have ever regretted cutting a historic recipe in half – usually historic recipes are sized to make food for a crowd, but in this case eating only four pancakes (between two people) felt a little skimpy. They were tasty enough to make a whole stack!

References:

Albala, K. (2013). Pancake: A global history. London: Reaktion Books.

Doornick, M. (1669). De verstandige kock. Amsterdam: Marcus Doornick. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=iBH56i4oziMC&printsec=frontcover&pg=GBS.PA19

Rose, P. (1989). The sensible cook: Dutch foodways in the old and new world. Syracuse University Press.

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