This has got to be one of the foods from my part of the country with the best reputation throughout all of Norway. You simply don’t visit the north-west of Norway without tasting one of these delicious, fluffy pancake-looking cakes! I sell them weekly at farmer’s markets in New York through my company, Fork and Glass, previously was a catering company, which I’ve now turned into a personal chef service and teaching institute where I give classes on food and wine. Whenever people taste “sveler”, they get this dreamy look on their faces and more times than I can count, I hear “this is the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my LIFE!!” Not a bad compliment to get, and I owe it all to my beautiful county of Møre og Romsdal 🙂 I will dive into the history and geography of this gorgeous region in a later post, but for now let’s focus on more important things: Sveler!!
“Sveler” is a batter based baked item often referred to as ‘ferry food’ on the north-west coast of Norway, because we so often see these mouthwatering batter cakes sold in the small cafeterias on the ferries that run between the fjords. Many people live on small islands or villages spread throughout the fjords in this area, and are dependent on this method of commuting to their jobs, to shop, visit family, go to the hospital, airport, and so forth. While the travel on the sea can be grueling sometimes, it all seems to be worth it just to get a bite of the famous “svele”. Typically the sveler will have a simple sugar-butter spread, and folded in half like a crescent. They are eaten room temp, but are even more delicious warm, right off the griddle. There are as many recipes for this as with any other type of popular food, you can imagine a lot of discussions go on as to who has the better one.. of course I think I do. There are competitions nationwide every year where chefs showcase their idea of the best svele, but the main ingredients are always eggs, sugar, flour, baking soda, hartshorn, kefir (or buttermilk / some type of tangy milk product) and melted butter.
When you get on a ferry in Norway, try going downstairs to the little coffee shop, order a svele and a cup of coffee. You will be considered a true local, not to mention get a culinary experience you are not likely to forget!
This is usually how they will look on the ferries:
Sveler is traditionally accompanied with coffee, most often in the afternoon or evening. When Americans see “sveler”, they think of pancakes and are likely to think of breakfast. Not so in Norway! The sveler are typically baked on a special “sveletakke” or griddle, the same kind used for flatbrød and lefse, but a regular non stick frying pan can also be used.
As mentioned previously, the recipes differ greatly from village to village, they can also have different names as well as thickness depending on where you are. When invited to someone’s home, these cakes will be “dressed up” and the gourmet edition consists of strawberry jam with a dollop of sour cream. The sweet and tangy together works beautifully, I’ve converted many a skeptic to enjoy this version! Other toppings I’ve seen include butter and gjetost (The famous Norwegian brown cheese) with berry jam, mascarpone and lingonberry jam, cloudberry jam and whipped cream, cinnamon sugar, and vanilla yogurt with fresh berries. At the markets I even experiment further and add savory items into the batter while I bake it on the griddle, like cheese and bacon, caramelized onion and mushrooms – the sweet and savory really work, try it out!
I should mention there are also several names for sveler – in the eastern part of Norway they are called “lapper”, but don’t get it confused: The best kind you get on the MRF ferry in Møre og Romsdal!! 🙂
A recipe that is guaranteed to please many follows below…shhhh! It’s a secret!!
1 cup sugar
1 quart kefir (or buttermilk)
1 lb all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp horn salt/hartshorn
2 tbsp vanilla sugar (specialty Scandinavian item or substitute vanilla extract)
1 ½ stick butter, melted
Whisk together eggs, sugar and buttermilk/kefir. Combine the dry ingredients in separate bowl and fold into the liquid mix. Add the butter last, and let sit for 30 minutes before baking.
You can get vanilla sugar at Ikea in the States or buy it online from www.ingebretsens.com.