If you want to have your taste of some pretty unique Dutch foods, I’d recommend you visit a fair or market. You’ll get your chance to eat oliebollen (only eaten with New Year’s or on a fair), kibbeling (fried fish) and another very Dutch snack dish: poffertjes!
If you’re opting for the last, choose a day that you don’t have a cold. Poffertjes are served with a lot, and truly a lot, of icing sugar dusted on top. Don’t exhale, don’t sneeze when you’re head is close to these puffy mini-pancakes or you or your companion’s clothes will be white!
But that should not hold you off, they’re a real treat!
Some poffertjes history
Even though fairs do give you a good chance to find poffertjes, you might also try your luck by visiting a food (truck) festival. Whereas poffertjes were considered old-fashioned for a while, they seem to be back as a true ‘traditional’ nostalgic treat!
Poffertjes though do have a strong ‘fair’ background. Even back in the 18th-century poffertjes makers would be present at fairs. They’d take their large carts on which they’d attach a large steel frame with a lot of small indentations. Each indentation fits exactly one poffertje! They’d heat the large frame using a fire below, baking poffertjes on these frames must have been quite a skill!
More proof of the long poffertjes tradition can be found in some of the still operational poffertjes stalls. One of the oldest, if not the oldest, stalls is still operational in Laren and is over 100 years old!
How poffertjes are made
Poffertjes are like mini fluffy pancakes. They are about 5 cm in diameter, round, like a large lentil, more officially an oblate spheroid.
Poffertjes can only be made with a frame or pan that is dedicated to making poffertjes. These pans contain several evenly sized indentations. The diameter of such an indentation will be the diameter of your final poffertje. The degree of indentation will be the thickness of your poffertje.
The pan is hot when a poffertjes maker pours in just enough batter that the indentation is filled just a little below its maximum height. This batter contains yeast (see an example recipe below) which is important to ensure the batter puffs up during baking. One half of the batter takes on the shape of the pan, but the other half does require some puffing up.
The trickiest aspect of making poffertjes is knowing when to turn the poffertjes around to cook the other side. Whereas the poffertjes start to expand when on their initial side, they only get that nice symmetrical curvature when you flip them in time. The batter should still be a little fluid for the other side to take the shape of the pan.
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Professional poffertjes makers only have to flip their poffertjes around once and know exactly when they’re done, that does require some skill though. You want to make sure you turn the poffertjes before they burn on the bottom, before they are completely solid, but after they’ve solidified a little on the outside to not fall apart during flipping! It’s not a problem to have to flip the poffertjes around more than once though if you’re not yet happy with the colour on a side for instance.
You should eat poffertjes fresh, straight of the pan. If poffertjes are waiting for you, that’s not a good sign, their small size makes them cool down quickly and turn old easily. Freshly made ones are the best and they need to be hot to melt that slab of butter draped on top, finished of with a good dusting of icing sugar!
- 125g all purpose flour (original versions contain 50% wheat and 50% buckwheat flour)
- pinch of salt
- 2 tsp yeast
- 75g butter*
- 1 egg
- 200ml milk
- Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Melt the butter in a small bowl either in a small pan or in the microwave (use short boosts, you don't want the butter to explode in the microwave!). If it is hot to the touch, leave to cool down for a few minutes before adding to the flour, you don't want to kill the yeast.
- Add the butter, egg, and milk to the dry ingredients. Mix through with a spatula until it's a consistent batter.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm spot for about one hour.
- Pre-heat the poffertjespan on a medium-high heat. Coat the pan with some butter. It is better to add a bit too much butter at this point to prevent sticking!
- Quickly fill all the little holes with some batter. You can use a ladle for this or just pour from a bowl. You might want to turn down the heat or fill only part of the pan to prevent the first ones burning before the last ones are in if this is your first time.
- Easing a fork, gently insert it into the half-set poffertje and turn it over quickly. Do so for all the poffertjes. The bottom should have just set and be a nice brown color, the top should still be wet. If you turn too late they tend to stick to the pan (in my case at least).
- Take from the heat once both sides are a nice brown colour.
- Eat with plenty of icing sugar and butter!
* You will also find recipes without butter, having some butter in the recipe does help a little with preventing any sticking. If you're using a new poffertjespan you'll likely have some sticking going on!
Nederlands Bakkerijmuseum, Kermis en Jaarmarkten – Poffertjes, link
Poffertjeskraam in Laren, link
Mary Ella Waller, Through the gates of the Netherlands, 1907, p. 210, link ; An American in the Netherlands in 1907, describes eating poffertjes!