Lots of countries have their own version of the pancake in their national cuisine, but few are quite so pleasing on the eye as Dutch poffertjes. Sometimes referred to as ‘baby pancakes’, these tiny pancake puffs are golden and fluffy, and almost too cute to eat. If you’ve ever visited the Netherlands, you have probably seen them being sold from street stalls on cardboard plates, covered with a liberal dusting of confectioners’ sugar.
What are Poffertjes?
Poffertjes are miniature pancakes, traditionally made from buckwheat flour with added yeast, giving them a part-risen, flying-saucer shape. The Dutch have been enjoying these bite-sized beauties since at least the 1700s, serving them at weddings, birthday parties, and other festive occasions. They are also a popular street food, sold from stalls on city streets and at outdoor festivals.
Legend has it that poffertjes may even be divine in origin. Also known as broedertjes, or ‘little brothers’, they are thought to have originated in a Dutch abbey, where they were created to use as a part of the communion host. Churchgoers were transported by the heavenly taste, or so the story goes, and soon enterprising locals began setting up stalls selling this new delicacy.
Like so many beloved national foods, poffertjes were originally seen as a poor man’s dish, mainly because they were made from buckwheat flour, considered an inferior substitute for wheat flour, but necessary due to the wheat shortages caused by the French revolution. These days the slightly bitter flavour of buckwheat tends to be supplemented using wheat flour, milk and eggs, for a more pleasing texture and flavour.
Poffertjes are made in batches in a special poffertjespan, a metal hotplate with several circular indentations, one for each pancake. Due to the small size of the indents, poffertjes are flipped using a sharp implement like a knitting needle or a skewer. The poffertjespan was traditionally made from cast iron or copper, but these days modern versions made from Teflon-coated aluminium are also available.
If you buy poffertjes from a bakery or street stall they will usually be prepared fresh and sold by the dozen, but there are also commercially made versions available from most Dutch supermarkets. These include pre-prepared poffertjes for heating in the microwave and dried batter mixes.
How do you Eat Poffertjes?
The traditional way to eat poffertjes is with butter and plenty of powdered sugar. They should be served warm, so the butter melts into them, ideally fresh from the poffertjespan, but you can warm them up for a few seconds in the microwave if they’re cold by the time you get home. As with most pancakes, there are a wealth of other, more flamboyant toppings available, but even if you usually prefer your pancakes fully-loaded, it’s well worth trying this simple, buttery-sweet version at least once.
Poffertjes can also be topped with all the usual pancake favourites like chocolate spread, various types of syrup, whipped cream and chopped fruit such as strawberries or bananas. Fans of Dutch food can try poffertjes soaked in Advocaat or even a savoury version served with Gouda cheese.
You can eat poffertjes any time of day, but they are most commonly eaten as a dessert or snack, particularly during the colder months of the year. You can find them for sale at big street markets like the Albert Cuyp or Noordermark in Amsterdam and also in restaurants specialising in pannenkoeken, another popular Dutch pancake.
Luckily, you don’t have to go all the way to Holland to try poffertjes for yourself, although it is a wonderful place to visit if you get the chance. Poffertjes are actually pretty easy to make at home, and most of the ingredients should be readily available from your local store, with the possible exception of buckwheat flour, which can usually be found in health food shops.
You will need to get yourself a poffertjespan, unless you happen to have one lying around your kitchen. These are available to buy online starting from around $30, and once you have your poffertjespan, you can use it for cooking a whole host of dainty snacks from around the world, from similar pancakes like Danish aebelskiver or Norwegian munkers, to Indian paniyaram, a dumpling made from leftover dhosa batter. And if you’re craving something a bit more familiar, you can even use it to fry some eggs.
This poffertjes recipe from Adamant Kitchen is the perfect how-to guide for anyone looking to make their own batch of hot buttered poffertjes. We particularly like how it talks you through flipping your pancakes - the trickiest part of an otherwise very simple recipe - using clear photographs to show how it’s done.
Quick and easy to cook, these fun-size pancakes are a tempting treat that won’t ruin your appetite. They also make the perfect indulgent weekend breakfast, and it goes without saying that kids will love them.
If you like the sound of poffertjes, you can learn more about Dutch food by checking out our guide to some Dutch foods you must try. Discover the very best the Netherlands has to offer, from savoury meat croquettes bitterballen or freshly-caught raw herring, to indulgent, caramel drenched stroopwafel and every child’s favourite chocolate sprinkle sandwich, hagelslag.