The Sunny Fields of Denmark

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


About an hour north of us is the quaint village of Solvang – an old Danish-American settlement nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley. Once home to settlers, refugees from Midwestern winters and educator’s, the village began its life as a folk school where students learned the basics of Danish craftsmanship and a love of Danish culture.

When the king and queen of Denmark visited, in 1936 and the Saturday Evening Post featured Solvang in an article 10 years later tourists flocked to the 9,000 acre Spanish land grant, attracted by the setting, the customs, and the idyllic life.

As a little girl, Solvang was a favorite weekend day trip for my family. Up the coastline of crashing waves and birds skittering over the water, then cut inland, through valleys where foothills were studded with oak trees and deer munched in the alfalfa fields that bordered the road. Finally we arrived on the outskirts of the village. No cars were allowed in the town limits back then, a rule that has since been repealed, much to the detriment of pedestrians.

To a little girl, this was a magical town. People dressed in traditional Danish costumes, horse drawn carriages slowly made their way down through the streets; the band stand at the center of town was always in full swing with music and dancing and shade trees to which tired children could lie under and rest while enjoying the merriment. There were shops and galleries and restaurants and hotels, each reflecting the area’s Danish architectural heritage. This was the good life where simple pleasures were remembered amidst old world charm and customs.

But, the thing I remember the most is the food. Yep, even then I lead my life with my stomach, a true “foodie” in the making. Pastries and cookies and breads, meats and sausages, even cabbage dishes, I tried them all. One of my favorites was Aebleskiver’s – traditional Danish pancakes made in a special pan called a monk’s pan. Think round pancake and you’ll get the picture. They’re light and fluffy and when filled with jam or chocolate they are wonderful!

To create your own bit of Denmark, try the recipe below

Basic Aebleskiver Recipe

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Maple syrup or jellies for serving

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, granulated sugar and salt.

In a small bowl, lightly whisk together the egg yolks and buttermilk. Whisk the yolk mixture into the flour mixture until well combined; the batter will be lumpy.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff but not dry peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whites into the batter in two additions.

Put 1/2 tsp. butter in each well of a filled-pancake pan. Place over medium heat and heat until the butter begins to bubble. Pour batter into each well ¾ full and cook until the bottoms are golden brown and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes. Using 2 wooden skewers flip the pancakes over and cook until golden and crispy, about 3 minutes more. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Dust the pancakes with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm with maple syrup. Makes about 40.

To make jam filled Aebleskiver’s simply fill each monk’s pan well 1/3 full of batter then add a dollop of preserves, then a dollop more of batter and proceed as directed above. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve with extra jam.

For chocolate Aebleskiver’s, add 1/3 cup cocoa powder to the dry ingredients and proceed as directed. Serve with whipped cream.

Today, Solvang is still a charming town with roots firmly planted in its Danish tradition, but it has also evolved into a major tourist mecca, as its many Danish-American residents continue to perpetuate their Danish heritage. I haven’t visited for many years, but the memories of Danish folk dancing, music, parades, displays and, of coarse the food are all firmly fixed in my mind. I’m not lonely for it though because anytime I want to take myself back I just pull out my monk’s pan and make my own little Aebleskiver’s; all the while thinking, thank heaven I don’t have to pronounce it to eat it!

Monk’s pans can be found at Target, or William Sonoma, but you may find them at thrift stores and some local hardware stores as well.

Creative Commons License photo credit: JCast911

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