Sveler ("sveh-lehr") are thick Norwegian pancakes, enriched with sugar, butter, and cultured milk. In appearance and texture they are similar to the prototypical American pancake, so you'd be forgiven for the two were alike. Sveler, however, have ventured where no other pancake has gone before. Long ago they graduated from the brunch table and have since taken up residence in several niche Norwegian snack times, such in the daypacks of weekend cross country skiers and in the galleys of ferry boats sailing in the Western fjords of Norway. This post tells the story about how I got to know and love these pancakes. And I'll share my recipe to boot.
It was through their connection with ferry boats that I first encountered these iconic Norwegian pancakes. It was my very first day of work in this country and I was seated self-consciously at a large table in a room at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. The people sitting around the table were my new colleagues and they were planning to design and build the world’s first unmanned ferry for urban water canals. Being my first day at work, I was already bewildered enough. Quickly, though, things got even more perplexing. “If it's unmanned, who’s going to serve the sveler onboard the ferry?” One Norwegian researcher asked, earnestly. “We could install an automatic svele machine!” Answered another, excitedly. Meanwhile, a stack of sveler stood stacked importantly on a model scale version of the unmanned ferry in the middle of the table. Obviously, there was more to these pancakes than met the eye...
“You can’t have a ferry in Norway without sveler!” Announced the team leader of the unmanned ferry project, reaching for a svele that was stacked on the scale model. That was my very first lesson in my new job as a naval architect in Norway. Today, several months have passed since that meeting. And for all the talk about groundbreaking research that occurred that day, all the details I can recall seem to involve these pancakes.
Shortly thereafter, during my first weekend in Norway, I had my second serendipitous encounter with sveler. This time it was in the Trøndelag Folk Museum, an institution dedicated to the region’s cultural history. There they stood in a stack next to the biggest block of brunost (Norwegian brown cheese) I’d ever seen. “SVELER!” I yelled, pointing. “Yes! Good!” Said Kristin, beaming. The server must’ve thought I was simple.
We ordered a svele each. I put brunost and blueberry jam on mine and folded it in half, like I had learned at my important meeting at work. Kristin approved of my topping choice, but opted for rømme (cultured sour cream) and strawberry jam for her own.
I decided to tell all the Norwegians I met that I loved sveler and brunost. I wrote an ingratiating short essay about the subject on my Norwegian language placement test. I miraculously passed it, short cutting to Level 2 and leaving the other newcomers in the dust.
Meanwhile, the serendipitous pancake appeared again and again. On the ferry crossing between Trondheim and Ålesund I ate about fifty. In a snowy cabin in the forests of Bymarka I snacked on one during a day of skiing with friends. Eaten cold they are brilliant with a sweet buttercream filling. The stiff butter is almost repulsively rich and yet you absolutely cannot stop eating it. The energy surge is palpable: suddenly you’d find yourself gliding off into the woods again, faster than you can say “takk for maten.”
(Makes 15 sveler)
100 g sugar (1 cup)
60 g (4 tbsp) butter, melted and cooled
500 mL (2 cups plus 2 tbsp) cultured milk
375 g (3 cups plus 2 tbsp) soft white flour
2 ¼ tsp baking soda
Butter, for frying
Place the eggs in a bowl and whip them until combined. Add the sugar and mix until smooth and fluffy. Add the melted butter and stir until combined, then add the culture milk and combine.
In a second mixing bowl sift in the flour and baking soda. Add the flour to the liquid mixture and stir with a whisk until no lumps are left. Cover and leave it for 30 minutes.
Lightly butter a non-stick frying pan. Use a tablespoon to add generous spoonfuls of batter to the pan. Fry in batches and don’t overcrowd the pan. Fry under medium heat, until light golden brown. Flip them over with a spatula and fry the other side. Serve warm or cool them on a wire rack and serve later.
Serve with brunost, rømme (cultured cream), and jam. If you’re taking them as a snack to enjoy on a hike or during a day of skiing, consider packing them with a buttercream spread. Simply cut a svele in half and spread the buttercream over one half, then fold in half like a sandwich and pack.
For the buttercream, put all ingredients together in a bowl and mix until fluffy:
90 g butter (6 tbsp)
60 g sugar (¼ cup plus 1 tbsp)
90 g confectioners’ sugar (¾ cups)
I'm Erik, the Burnt Chef. I'm a Finnish-born Newfoundlander living in Norway. I have a passion for cooking and a deep fascination for the culinary history of the North. Simplicity guides my cooking. Time, place, and history guide my storytelling. This is my personal blog about food.