Breakfast with the Danes
It’s early morning and we are in the midst of a late spring snowstorm. The wind is fierce and waves are crashing onto the beach near our dock. My 82-year-old father Jim has recently moved in with us and he is up early. Jim is hard of hearing, a remnant of World War II, and my normally peaceful and quiet home is jolted by the sounds of television politics.
Jim is a first-generation Danish American. We are Americans because my dad’s great-uncles, Jens and Christian Nissen, took a boat from Copenhagen to New York City in the early 1900s. I know this because my dad and I spent a recent evening together peering into my laptop searching for our family history. The amount of information we found was staggering. We even pulled up a photo of the boat that my great-great uncles sailed on.
How the Nissen boys ended up in Alaska and why they settled in the Petersburg area is still unclear. But the uncles sent money for my grandfather Ove Schmidt and his soon-to-be wife Asta to come to the States from Denmark, and so here we are, my dad and I.
We’ve been to Denmark a couple of times to visit relatives on both sides of my father’s family, and now I stay in touch with cousins on Facebook. But these days, there are few remnants of our Danish heritage woven into our daily lives. My dad loves to eat something called rollmops — rolled pickled herring. And he loves dense rye bread spread with butter or sometimes a little cold roast beef. He has a taste for stinky cheese and strong licorice and so do I. Maybe that’s genetic.
Morgenmad (breakfast): I’ve decided to make a Danish breakfast for my dad, something that would remind him of his childhood. I’m making aebleskiver, little spheres of dough that seem like a cross between pancakes and popovers. They are made with a pancake-like batter with egg whites folded in for lightness. I’m opening the last of the blueberry jam to add into our aebleskivers. I’ve been reluctant to open this last precious jar on the shelf until the next summer was at least in sight.
I have an aebleskiver pan that I picked up at a local culinary store. It’s a cross between a skillet and a series of attached egg poachers. My pan isn’t quite as cool as a sturdy cast iron model I might get from Denmark. Oddly, the pan is nearly identical to a kanom krok pan used in Thai street food cuisine. I wonder how that happened.
This is an easy recipe. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir. Fold in the egg whites gently. Today I have added in some orange juice to the batter. I grated in a bit of orange and lemon zest. I thought these flavors might go well with the blueberry jam.
Danish food hasn’t historically been on the culinary radar. It is a cuisine born from a harsh northern landscape. But recently, world gastronomic attention has turned to Scandinavia. The restaurant Noma near Copenhagen was named the best restaurant in the world in 2010. The cookbook “Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine,” written by René Redzepi, is an international sensation. This book is worth a look for Alaskans because we share many ingredients and cooking styles with Denmark.
I give my dad a basket of aebleskiver, filled with blueberries I picked last summer. He bites into one.
“Hmm — my mom used to make these,” he says, as he reaches in for another.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup orange juice
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup blueberry jam
- In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and the salt.
- In another mixing bowl combine the sugar, the citrus zests, and the vanilla. Add in the buttermilk, orange juice and egg yolks into the sugar mixture and mix until well combined.
- Add the liquid into the flour mixture. Combine these two until the mixture is smooth.
- In a small bowl beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter.
- Place an aebleskiver pan over medium heat. Lightly oil the pan. Use about 2 tablespoons of the batter to fill each cup.
- Add in a teaspoon of blueberry jam into each cup and cover with an additional tablespoon of batter. There seems to be some variation on the depth of aebleskiver pans, so the amount of batter may vary.
- Cook for about 1 minute. These little pancakes cook pretty fast. As the batter firms, use chopsticks to gently turn over the aebleskiver and continue cooking the other side of the sphere. You can turn the aebleskiver again if the pancake needs to brown up additionally.
- Use your chopsticks to transfer each aebleskiver to a plate. Serve immediately.