Articles & Recipes

What the Heck is an Ebelskiver?

January 15, 2018

Ebelskiver History: Beyond the Borders of Denmark

The origins of ebelskivers are murky, but a common legend of their creation persists. As the story goes, ebelskivers were created by Vikings following a long day of (very unsuccessful) battle. As the weary men gathered around the evening fire, someone mixed up a batter for pancakes. But alas, the griddle had been misplaced! A quick-thinking member of their throng decided his much-dented shield would do and placed it on the fire to heat. As the batter was poured onto the hot shield, it settled into the dents. The result was the inaugural batch of ebelskivers.

While the legend is amusing, an alternative and far more plausible history of ebelskivers comes from Asia. Denmark maintained a significant amount of trade with East and Southeast Asia from the 17th to the 19th century, including the maintenance of small colonies and trading posts in the Indian subcontinent. Throughout these regions, a variety of pancake puffs and breads are made in pans that are similar or nearly identical to ebelskiver pans. In Japan, the takoyaki pan is used to make takoyaki, a wildly popular savory puffed pancake ball with cooked pieces of octopus (tako) stuffed into the center. In China, a larger pan with smaller wells, reminiscent of a waffle maker, is used to make the equally popular, lightly sweetened puffed pancake bites called gai daan jai, or Hong Kong egg cakes. In Thailand, the kanom krok pan is used to make the quintessentially Thai street food snack kanom krok. And in India, the paniyaram pan is used to make tender puffed rice flour breads called kuzhi paniyaram.

More than likely, versions of the Asian pans were brought back to Denmark and used by home cooks to make distinctive — and now traditional — Danish treats. The Dutch, too, have a version of the ebelskiver pan, the poffertje pan. Given Holland’s extensive levels of trade throughout Asia from the 17th to the 19th century, the origins of the poffertje pan are quite likely identical to those of the ebelskiver pan.

Because they are made from pantry staples — flour, milk, eggs and butter — ebelskivers are in a class of their own when it comes to simplicity and style. But what makes them so exciting is their incredible variability and versatility. With one old-fashioned pan, you can make an array of modern, simple, convenient and incredibly delicious puffs. Ebelskivers are in essence quick breads, and just like muffins, scones and biscuits, the possibilities for variation are vast, from classic ebelskivers to modern breakfast options (sit-down and to-go), sophisticated make-ahead appetizers, sweet and savory snacks for the family, decadent desserts and more. They are truly stovetop wonders: snacks, mini breads and desserts that can be made in minutes, without turning on the oven.

~Camilla Saulsbury, author of 150 Best Ebelskiver Recipes

 

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