Cast Iron

Oma's Apfelpfannkuchen (Apple Pancakes)

October 23, 2020
5 Stars
Photo by James Ransom. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne, Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine
Author Notes

With her ramrod-straight back and short, stocky physique, our Oma's physical bearing rivaled that of a military officer, but behind her formidable stature was a kind woman who loved her "American grandchildren" beyond measure. She’d admonish us but then quickly after, proffer a plum or a piece of chocolate.

As children, visiting Oma in Germany, food was central to our holiday's most memorable moments. We used to stop at kiosks in town and along the Rhine to eat pommes frites with little plastic forks and a side of mayonnaise. My brother Stephen and I delighted in Spaghettieis, vanilla ice cream made to look like pasta noodles with raspberry sauce and white chocolate shavings on top. We ate cold cuts and bread for breakfast and big, warm lunches of pork chops, peas, carrots, and mashed potatoes.

Nothing compared, however, to my grandmother’s cooking, especially her apfelpfannkuchen, or apple pancakes. The sweet and doughy concoctions were the size of dinner plates, layered with sliced apples and sprinkled with sugar. Composed of only a few basic ingredients—flour, eggs, milk, apples, sugar—the recipe was far from complicated. Everything she made was prepared on a small counter and cooked over a tiny electric stove.

For years now, my mother and I have made this recipe over and over—but it never quite tastes the same. It's always delicious, but missing that certain something. "It must be the apples," we say, but secretly we know—it's Oma we are missing. —Kristina Henry

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: My Oma’s Apple Pancakes—& Why They Never Taste the Same Without Her. —The Editors

  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Serves 2
Ingredients
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sparkling water (San Pellegrino or any carbonated water)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 apple, peeled and thinly sliced (any tart apple will do, especially Granny Smith)
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. In a mixing bowl mix together the egg yolks, sugar, flour, baking powder, milk, mineral water and salt. (The batter consistency should be runny like a thick soup.)
  2. Whip the egg whites into soft peaks, using a handheld mixer. Fold into the batter mixture. The mixture can be adjusted for feel and taste (denser batter could use more flour etc.).
  3. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a small or medium cast iron pan. When hot, pour pancake batter in like you would to make a thick pancake and cook on medium heat.
  4. Add the sliced apples on top like you would on a tart.
  5. Run the spatula down around the edges and lift it gently to check firmness/doneness before flipping over.
  6. Turn over (you can flip onto the pan lid and slide back into the pan).
  7. Repeat for the second pancake.
  8. When done, let sit and serve with powdered sugar on top.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

15 Reviews

cecile January 19, 2021
While reading your lovely story, I relived my very own wonderful memories about the same geographic area you describe, of that of my childhood, and my very own Oma and her recipes. Apfelpfannkuchen will be on the menu list this weekend - albeit in the tropics. All the best to you.
 
Author Comment
Kristina H. January 19, 2021
Thank you, Cecile. I'm glad it brought back your own happy memories. Enjoy the recipe and the sunshine.
 
[email protected] January 2, 2021
This was very simple to make and delightful for a novice cook. Thanks for sharing!
 
Author Comment
Kristina H. January 2, 2021
Good to hear, so glad you enjoyed it. And thank you for your kind words.
 
Natasha October 25, 2020
I love apple pancakes and look forward to trying your family recipe. Thank you for sharing it! I love to put some vanilla extract in batters such as this one. A touch of lemon zest can also be quite nice. My brother-in-law, Claude, used to make his crepe batter with sparkling water or a wheat beer to lighten it, in addition to using milk. I think your Oma's use of sparkling water in her recipe likely has a similar effect.
 
Author Comment
Kristina H. October 26, 2020
Thank you, Natasha. Great ideas. The wheat beer sounds very interesting, will have to try that.
 
witloof October 25, 2020
I used to make an apple pancake very similar to this one that I got out of a Jewish cookbook decades ago. It tastes like love. Thanks for this recipe and for telling us about your Oma.
 
Author Comment
Kristina H. October 26, 2020
Thank you.
 
snuffcurry October 25, 2020
Given your mother’s mutable results when following Oma’s handmedown and since the recipe shared here is meant to reproduce that elusive perfection, I’d love to eventually get it right rather than close: any chance you can tighten up the instructions for a layperson lacking your personal recollections?

Folk recipes handed down tend to rely on instincts coupled with experience. That is as expected, but, unfortunately, none of us can remember your childhood experiences, and thus lack the memory of Oma’s finished product designed to steer us towards an ideal.

What does “mix” signify in instruction 1? Is that a lazy fork whisk, a gentle fold, an emulsion designed to incorporate air? Moreover, a sparkling water already provides lift. Are we supposed to be careful not to “deflate” that lift through overmixing? Runniness and thick soup are excellent descriptors, but seem to butt up against one’s experience with a batter using carbonated/sparkling water, which is closer to a sponge than something thin or runny, unless we’re talking about a coating applied before frying something. Egg batters as such generally don’t involve separation, whereas here we’re using inflated egg whites AND carbonation, which suggests something delicate requiring the application of careful folding and quick heat.

Instruction 2 indicates a desired feel and taste, along with a suggestion for correcting density. What is the “feel” we’re aiming for? What does that density look like at the raw batter stage, given all the air we’re creating?

Instructions 3, 7, 8 are quite interesting. What’s a thick pancake? Apparently a second pancake is anticipated. How many pancakes does this recipe produce? Finally, what is “done?” Doneness looks different on a conventionally dense pancake versus an airy dutch baby versus a hydrated clafoutis versus a cast iron quick cake using a thin and unrested batter. We’re generally given some kind of clues, related to bubbles, color, or time.

If “it’s never the same” from one execution to the next, does that not indicate it’s time to revisit one’s method or quantities? Presumably Oma delivered a uniform end result time and time again. The cultivar of apple can’t possibly make up that difference, given that any old apple, sliced the right thickness, imparts a limited array of acid to sweetness, crisp to mealiness.
 
Selma M. October 25, 2020
Wow!
 
User October 25, 2020
Wow x 2. Please stay away from the kitchen and from reading anything to do with cooking...
 
Author Comment
Kristina H. October 26, 2020
Thank you for your lengthy comment, your cooking knowledge exceeds mine :). When I mix, I usually use a handheld mixer. You're correct, the carbonation and egg whites do provide a nice fluff. The pancake number depends on size, I prefer them on the smaller side because they're easier to flip. I would suggest giving it a try.
 
E B. February 13, 2021
Totally inappropriate comments.
 
bareebrown October 9, 2021
Enjoyed reading your brief memories and excited to try adding sparkling water which I haven’t done before. I even appreciate your gracious replies. Having lived in Germany for 5 years, I’d love to get even more of your Oma’s recipes.
:0)
 
Author Comment
Kristina H. October 9, 2021
Thank you! Your comments just made my day. My Oma didn't have recipes per se. Much like her knitting, a lot was done without a pattern :). My mom and I are cobbling a few ideas though, so stay tuned!