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Do you eat your pancakes for breakfast or for dinner? That questions should be a great way to distinguish between a Dutch and an American. Whereas in the USA pancakes are a staple for breakfast, you’d have trouble finding a pancake restaurant open before noon in the Netherlands. Finding pancakes for dinner time though is a challenge in the USA (except of course for 24h pancakes places, but they don’t count!) and even if you can find them, it would be called breakfast-for-dinner.
We Dutch, like our pancakes in the evening and prefer them flat, not thick and fluffy. As a matter of fact, most Dutch pancake mixes contain a variety of different flours aside from regular wheat. Back in the day, when wheat flour wasn’t accessible for everyone, other flour types would often be used by Dutch, making hearty delicious pancakes.
Dutch pancake history
Some form of pancakes was eaten by many Dutch in the previous centuries. Those who had more money and resources used eggs and milk and just little flour to make more delicate pancakes. Whereas those who lived in poverty often used just water and buckwheat flour to make their hearty pancakes. Some pancakes used rice, others used crumbled dry biscuits in the batter. Which pancake you ate depended heavily on where in the Netherlands you lived and what you had at hand to make your pancakes.
Pancakes go back a long time. Recipes can be found in 17th-century cookbooks. Famous painters from that era, such as Jan Steen and Rembrandt, made paintings showing pancake makers.
By the way, the Dutch aren’t alone in our rich pancake history. Pancakes, or similar foods, have played important roles in a lot of other countries and regions all over the world.
Making Dutch pancakes
Dutch pancakes are easy to make but set themselves apart from some of the other pancakes in a few ways. First of all, these pancakes are large (as big as your plate in diameter), flat, but not as thin as crepes. They are often made of a blend of flours instead of just wheat flour (although you can use just wheat flour) and contain only a little bit of leavening agent to lighten them up. But what really sets them apart is that we Dutch like to bake fillings into our pancakes, and not just sweet ones. The ‘farmer’s’ pancake is one with plenty of bacon, bell pepper, mushrooms, onion, and of course cheese!
Dutch pancake flour blend
But, before we dive into those fillings. We’ll start with the pancake flour blend.
If you’d buy a pancake flour mix in the Netherlands it likely contains several types of flour. Those buckwheat pancakes still influence our pancakes up to this day. However, instead, of them being made from just buckwheat, which makes for quite a hefty pancake, different flour types are blended to add flour to the pancake.
Most flour blend will contain wheat flour as its base with some buckwheat flour and cornmeal mixed through. Both wholewheat and all-purpose flour are commonly used as well. So why makes this blend?
Using just wheat flour doesn’t give as much flavor to a pancake. But, wheat flour is great at forming the core of the pancake. It helps the pancake to set and become firm. Not using any whet flour can give you trouble flipping the pancake because it might fall apart.
Buckwheat flour on the other hand has quite a strong flavor. Some will describe it as being nutty. If you’re not used to the flavor of buckwheat, you might not want to add too much in your first try to balance out the flavors.
Cornmeal again doesn’t provide as much flavor. However, cornmeal can help create a slightly lighter texture and give the pancake some firmness.
You make a Dutch pancake by mixing your flour blend with eggs, milk, and some leavening agent such as baking powder. The batter is quite runny, but thicker than one for a French crepe again. The batter should be runny enough to help it spread all over the pan in a layer of a few millimeter thickness.
Once the batter has slightly set at the top, it’s time to flip those pancakes. A good pancake maker can flip them with a slight movement of the hand, no tools required!
Some prefer their pancakes just so, as a baked batter. However, most Dutch pancake restaurants will have a long long list of pancakes they make. All that really varies between these types is the fillings they use. They can contain thinly sliced fruit, vegetables or meat. A personal favorite is the pineapple version with thin slices of pineapple (of course, pineapples don’t grow in the Netherlands, so it can’t really be considered ‘traditional’).
Once that pancake is fully baked, it’s time to eat it. No matter the filling, whether it’s sweet or savory, most Dutch will still sprinkle ample of icing sugar or pour over a rich sugar syrup. Alternatively, Dutch chocolate sprinkles work very well also.
Gehring, C. T., Rose, P. G., Minty, N. T., Barnes, D. R. (2002). Matters of Taste: Food and Drink in Seventeenth-century Dutch Art and Life. United States: Albany Institute of History & Art., p. 110 & 128 link ; for more information on 17th century paintings with pancakes
Albert Heijn (Dutch supermarket), Koopmans pannenkoeken origineel, link