The Return of the GBBO Translation: Æbleskiver

Okay, people, I guess we’re doing this. I’ve seen the jokes about cooking blogs taking forever to get to a recipe, so here’s your chance to skip all the intro and notes (a.k.a. the fun stuff) and jump right to the end.

I mentioned recently that after idly poking through statistics from my old baking blog, I was surprised to find significant activity on the dormant site. My old entries converting Technical Challenge recipes featured on the Great British Bake Off (Baking Show) into recipes that are more accessible for us dumb Americans were still accruing a remarkable number of views.

The quiet popularity (i.e. thousands of views, zero comments) combined with the fact that I do, in fact, still enjoy baking has inspired me to throw the occasional baking entry onto this blog. I already bounce around from various topics like made-up monsters to home repair to real life monsters politics. Why not throw baking into the mix. It’s a blog salad. (Scratch that. It sounds disgusting.) And this post has been a long time coming. The abandoned draft over on Beyond the Box was last modified on August 19, 2019. That’s nearly three years.

I wrote and shared a handful of these translations and even went to the effort of compiling a complex spreadsheet for my own records detailing the bake featured in each episode of each season, where the episode was available for streaming, and whether I could find a recipe for it or not. Then one day, whilst wandering through a flea market/antique shop, I walked past this weird little pan, did a double take, and before I even saw the tag, I exclaimed, “Aebleskiver!”

“Bless you!” said Kalen, offering me a handkerchief.

The two friends who were browsing with us turned to see what oddity I had found and seemed politely confused at my excitement. We meandered these stores mainly to laugh at some of the random things people try to sell, and often the astounding values people assign to their garbage. But I had not found garbage. I had found treasure. I don’t remember at this point what it cost, but it was not much, maybe $15, and the cast iron was in beautiful condition. It was also the only thing keeping me from trying the technical challenge featured in Season 9, Episode 8, Danish Week: Æbleskiver (If you want to watch the episode, it can be streamed on Netflix as part of “Collection 6”). And because it’s a Danish recipe, this sort of makes it a double translation, from Danish to British English and then to American English, and if any Danes stop in and read this and find it heretical, I offer my deepest apologies. I’d love to come to Denmark and try authentic Aebleskiver some day.

I purchased the pan and did initial groundwork for drafting the blog and then…. who knows? I just never finished it. The pan has lived in my kitchen cabinet for three years only coming out to provide weight when I need to press tofu. But after three long years (maybe longer, since someone presumably said, “I never use this, I might as well sell it!”), it will fulfill its purpose!

In The Great British Bake Off (or the Great British Baking Show, as it is called in the US for legal reasons that are stupid), bakers compete elimination style to be awarded the title of best amateur baker in Great Britain. If you still haven’t watched it, you’ve been missing out. It’s delightful. Each week has a theme, and bakers are given three challenges related to that theme. The second challenge of each week is a Technical Challenge. The bakers are given a minimalistic recipe they’ve never seen before and a time limit.

Because the show takes place in the English countryside, American fans often find themselves asking questions like, “What the hell is a sultana? What makes that strong flour so strong? Why are they making cookies during biscuit week?” As a self-proclaimed Anglophile and passingly good baker, I’m here to translate (or take the fall if I translate incorrectly).

The recipe I’m working from is from the Great British Bake Off’s official site: Paul Hollywood’s Aebleskiver. I have copied and pasted it below to make my changes more apparent, interjecting my own original content in between. Of course, the whole translated recipe is at the very bottom, uninterrupted.

Makes: 16  Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 45 minutes Skill level: Easy

In the episode, the bakers were asked to make 14 Aebleskiver, so this recipe should allow for 2 throw-aways (or tasters!). And if you do the math given above, the recipe should take… I don’t know, a little over an hour? It’s not totally clear if the “Hands-on time” is entirely separate from the “Baking time,” or if there’s some overlap, since this recipe doesn’t get baked in an oven where you can’t touch it. The cooking is still what I would call “hands-on.” The competing bakers were given an hour, and even though this says the recipe is easy, it appeared in the quarter finals, which is pretty advanced, and gave the five remaining bakers some trouble. Obviously, they were given less instruction, and I don’t think any of them knew what Aebleskiver were, but now that we’ve seen the episode, we have that advantage. (If you haven’t seen it, they look like little donut holes, sort of. The aebleskiver, that is, not the bakers.)

For the batter:
1 large egg, separated
1 tsp caster sugar (white sugar)
75g plain flour (2.6 oz all purpose flour, roughly 1/2 cup)
pinch of salt
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
135ml buttermilk (4.5 oz buttermilk, or 1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon)
35g unsalted butter, plus extra for cooking (2 ¼ Tablespoons butter, plus more)
icing sugar, to dust  (powdered sugar)

For the spiced apple filling:
2 apples, peeled and cut into ½ cm dice
15g butter (0.5 oz butter, or 1 Tablespoon butter)
juice of 1 lemon
pinch of salt
20g light brown soft sugar (0.7 oz light brown sugar, or 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon, firmly packed)
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp cornflour (corn starch)

For the strawberry dipping jam:
400g strawberries, hulled and quartered (14 oz strawberries, or roughly 2 cups)
175g jam sugar (6 oz sugar, or about 2/3 cup)
small knob of unsalted butter  (I dunno, maybe a half a tablespoon?)

You will also need:
Sugar thermometer
7-hole aebleskiver pan
2 wooden skewers

There isn’t anything too difficult in the ingredients and equipment list aside from the aebleskiver pan, which I’m sure is available for purchase on the vast expanse of the interwebs. As I said, I found mine by happy accident.

I have provided some rough volumetric conversions, but please use these with caution. I bake using a kitchen scale and I promise it will completely change how you bake for the better! Further, if you have a digital scale, it should have simple settings to give you measurements in grams or ounces, making a lot of conversion unnecessary.

I will note that caster sugar is essentially standard white sugar, but a little bit finer. You might be able to find something called baker’s sugar in your grocery store, but you can also just put your regular sugar in the food processor and whiz it around a few times. Or, you can just use regular sugar and know that it won’t dissolve quite as easily into the baked goods.

The other note I’ll make is about the buttermilk. Buttermilk is pretty readily available in the US, but I almost never have it on hand when I need it because I use it so rarely, and recipes never need the full amount that I can buy. Instead, I typically use regular milk lightly acidified with lemon juice or vinegar (all of which I do usually have on hand and can use separately before they spoil).

Step 1 – First, make the spiced apple filling. Tip the diced apples into a pan with the butter, lemon juice, salt, sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat until the butter has melted, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20–25 minutes, until the apple is tender, but still holding its shape. If the apple gets too dry during cooking, add a splash of water. 

Step 2 – Sift the cornflour corn starch over the apple and cook for 2–3 minutes, until the apple mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.

This part is pretty simple. Because the apples needed to be diced so small (1/2 centimeter is a little less than a quarter of an inch), I actually grated them on the big holes on my box grater. It was also faster for me, but if you’re a certified Fruit Ninja, go ahead and use a knife. I’m not a huge fan of nutmeg, so I only used a pinch and added a little ground clove and allspice. Give your spices a smell if you’re not sure which flavors you like and go with the ones that appeal to you.

Step 3 – Meanwhile, make the strawberry dipping jam. Tip the strawberries into a pan with the jam sugar. Bring to a boil, crushing the strawberries with a potato masher. Boil until the temperature on a sugar thermometer reaches 102°C 215°F, then remove from the heat and press through a metal sieve, to remove the pips seeds. Add a knob of butter to the strawberry purée to disperse any scum, then leave to cool to a warm, runny jam. 

Again, pretty simple, and pretty similar to the previous step. Because this step wants the fruit to reach a specific temperature, I’m using an instant read thermometer. I have a candy thermometer, but it’s honestly much more of a hassle to use. Instant read thermometers can get pretty pricey, but I love mine and get way more use from them than I ever imagined. I asked for one for Christmas, and because of a communication mixup, I ended up with three. I returned one of them for credit with my favorite baking supply company (shout out to King Arthur Baking!).

Step 4 – Make the batter. Whisk the egg white and sugar together until fluffy and stiff, but not dry. Set aside.

Step 5 – Sift the flour, salt, and bicarbonate of soda baking soda into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Mix the buttermilk and egg yolk together in a jug. Melt the butter in a small pan and set aside to cool slightly. 

Whisking egg whites to stiff peaks always feels like magic to me. In the final recipe I changed “jug” to “small bowl” but what actually works best here is a glass measuring cup with a spout. Use what you have. And if you think I’m dirtying another pan just to melt 2 Tablespoons of butter, you’re out of your mind. That’s going in the microwave for about 20 seconds.

Step 6 – Using a handheld electric whisk, gradually pour the buttermilk mixture into the well of the dry ingredients, whisking continuously to a smooth batter.  

Step 7 – Slowly whisk in the melted butter, then carefully fold in the egg white mixture. 

Several of the GBBO recipes I’ve encountered mention a “handheld electric whisk.” I do basically have one of these, although it’s technically a stick blender with several different blade attachments, and one of those happens to be a balloon whisk. I don’t know if it is an actual, direct translation, but almost every time I’m instructed to use an “electric whisk,” I just use either my stand mixer with the whisk attachment or a smaller hand mixer (depending on the size of what I’m mixing). This was a pretty small batter so I used the smaller mixer today.

Looks like batter to me. Also, am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that there is as much filling and dipping sauce as there is batter? And the apple filling is dark. I suspect the cinnamon is the culprit; a whole tablespoon felt like a lot for this application. Time for the tricky part.

Step 8 – Heat the aebleskiver pan over a medium–high heat. Dot a little knob of cold butter into each of the 7 holes to grease. When melted, spoon the batter into the holes until they are ¾ full, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 1–2 minutes, until the edges begin to firm. 

I have an electric stove, and the aebleskiver pan is cast iron and the bubbles make for an unusual surface on this pan. I was very careful to not scratch my glass cook top, and I think it worked out fine, but if you’re in the same situation, be careful. I also expect this might not be the most efficient heat use, but what else can I do.

Step 9 – When the edges are firm, turn the aebleskiver through 90 degrees using 2 wooden skewers, allowing the batter to flow into the pan. It’s as though you were turning the aebleskiver over in the hollows, but you stop once you get to a quarter turn.

Step 10 – At this point there is a hole in the side of the aebleskiver. Spoon a little of the spiced apple mixture into the hole and turn the aebleskiver another 90 degrees to close. Cook for 3–4 minutes, until firm.   

This is the part where the bakers on GBBO struggled, and I’m sure it’s because the instructions were pared down significantly. I remember watching this the first time and as each contestant read their instructions, I could not picture what they were meant to be doing. Even after someone figured out the mechanics of it, I was pretty doubtful that I’d ever be able to accomplish such a thing.

I’ll be honest, I did cheat a bit. On the first batch I must have waited too long to turn them and none of the batter was liquid enough to flow out when I turned them, so I after I added my little scoop of apple filling, I added a little more batter. It seemed to work fine, but I did have a better grasp of the method after the first round.

They remind me of that little magnetic kids fishing game, where their mouths open and close as they spin in a circle. Tastes better than the plastic magnet fish, though.

Step 11 – When the aebleskiver are firm, turn them regularly for about 4–5 minutes more, until they have an even and golden-brown crust. Remove from the pan and serve dusted with icing sugar. 

And, voilá! We did it. It took three years, and it turned out…. like that, not bad for a first try, but not stunning either. For those curious, my final time ended up being right at an hour and a half but I had to take about a ten minute break in the beginning to provide some over-the-phone technical support to my dad. I guess there were different kinds of technical challenges happening.

Here are my final take aways:

Apple filling: I think actually cubing the apples may have been a better call than shredding them, but the grater certainly was faster. I’m not even sure they really need to be peeled, the peeling might give a nice little chew. I often leave the peel on when I make apple fritters, and these are pretty fundamentally similar. The filling also could have been a little sweeter, maybe 2 full tablespoons of the brown sugar, or one brown and one white, and it definitely needs less cinnamon. I love cinnamon, but there was too much cinnamon for that little apple and it overpowered it and left a sort of gritty texture.

There was also just too much filling for the application. I think I would have been fine with one apple and maybe a teaspoon of cinnamon (or even a little less). I thought about keeping the leftover filling as an extra dipping sauce, but the texture was too off-putting, and I pitched it. Reducing the amount of filling would also, reasonably, reduce the cook time for the filling a little, and the 20-25 minutes seemed too long anyhow.

Strawberry Sauce: This was good, but again there was too much of it, and the recipe could easily have been cut in half. It cooked up nicely though, so I put the leftovers in a jar to have on toast or ice cream or whatever. I didn’t go to the effort of straining out the chunks and seeds because I kind of like fruit chunks, and also I’m lazy and didn’t want to have to wash my wire sieve.

For anyone curious about the sugar, here’s what you need to know. “Jam sugar” is technically available in the US, sometimes called “gelling sugar” or “jelly sugar.” It’s just regular white sugar with added pectin and citric acid to help give your fruit preserves that jiggly quality. Last time I did a GBBO recipe that asked for jam sugar, I couldn’t find any, but did eventually find some pectin that I could add myself. Fruit naturally has pectin in it though, so unless you just really want a stiff jam, regular sugar will often do the trick. I used regular sugar in this recipe and the strawberry sauce still came to a really nice consistency when it cooled.

Æbleskiver: They taste pretty good, and seemed to improve as they cooled slightly, but they aren’t quite what I imagined. The texture was nice, light, chewy. They weren’t as sweet as I expected, but that’s not too surprising as most other countries’ sweets are mild to American palates. I’m not sure how the apple filling and strawberry sauce really go together, but if that’s traditional, I won’t fight it. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t seem necessary. It might be better if the apple filling actually tasted of apple and not just cinnamon. And both for eating and photographing, a liberal sprinkling of powdered sugar can cover a host of flaws.

I had my doubts about the technique but it did end up working, and I was surprised at how well the pan functioned. I was also surprised at how appropriate the skewers were as tools. It’s definitely a two handed job, though, and I found I had better luck when I wasn’t necessarily trying to work with all seven divots at once. I did end up with 14 aebleskiver, which is what the challenge required, but two short of what the recipe said it would make. This is almost certainly down to the extra batter that I used on the few that cooked too much before I turned them. I think with practice, I could maybe get 18 out of the same recipe.

I may actually go back and try to tweak the filling recipe and make these again, as the technique really was kind of fun, and Kalen thought they were pretty tasty. When/if I do, I’ll be sure to share it. And if you try your hand at this (or have had aebleskiver otherwise!), I’d love to hear about it!

Paul Hollywood’s Aebleskiver – US Translation

Makes: 16 
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 45 minutes
Skill level: Easy

For the batter:
1 large egg, separated
1 tsp fine, white sugar
2.6 oz all purpose flour
pinch of salt
¼ tsp baking soda
4.5 ounces buttermilk, or 1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon
2 ¼ Tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for cooking
powdered sugar, to dust 

For the spiced apple filling:
2 apples, peeled and finely diced
1 Tablespoon butter
juice of 1 lemon
pinch of salt
0.7 oz light brown sugar, or 2 tablespoons, firmly packed
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp ground cinnamon*
2 tsp corn starch

For the strawberry dipping jam:
14 oz strawberries, hulled and quartered (roughly 2 cups)
6 oz sugar
small knob of unsalted butter  (about half a tablespoon)

You will also need:
Sugar thermometer
7-hole aebleskiver pan
2 wooden skewers

Step 1 – First, make the spiced apple filling. Add the diced apples into a pan with the butter, lemon juice, salt, sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat until the butter has melted, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20–25 minutes, until the apple is tender, but still holding its shape. If the apple gets too dry during cooking, add a splash of water.   

Step 2 – Sift the corn starch over the apple and cook for 2–3 minutes, until the apple mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.

Step 3 – Meanwhile, make the strawberry dipping jam. Add the strawberries into a pan with the sugar. Bring to a boil, crushing the strawberries with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Boil until the temperature on a sugar thermometer reaches 215°F, then remove from heat and press through a metal sieve to remove the seeds. Add a knob of butter to the strawberry purée, stir until melted and combined, and leave to cool to a warm, runny jam. 

Step 4 – Make the batter. Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg white and sugar together until fluffy and stiff, but not dry. Set aside.

Step 5 – Sift the flour, salt and baking soda into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Mix the buttermilk and egg yolk together in a small bowl. Melt the butter in a small pan or microwave for about 20 seconds and set aside to cool slightly. 

Step 6 – Using an electric mixer, preferably with a whisk attachment, gradually pour the buttermilk mixture into the well of the dry ingredients, whisking continuously to a smooth batter.  

Step 7 – Slowly whisk in the melted butter, then carefully fold in the egg white mixture. 

Step 8 – Heat the aebleskiver pan over a medium–high heat. Dot a little knob of cold butter into each of the 7 holes to grease. When melted, spoon the batter into the holes until they are ¾ full, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 1–2 minutes, until the edges begin to firm. 

Step 9 – When the edges are firm, turn the aebleskiver vertically 90 degrees using 2 wooden skewers, allowing the batter to flow into the pan. It’s as though you were turning the aebleskiver over in the hollows, but you stop once you get to a quarter turn.

Step 10 – At this point there is a hole in the side of the aebleskiver. Spoon a little of the spiced apple mixture into the hole and turn the aebleskiver another 90 degrees to close. Cook for 3–4 minutes, until firm.   

Step 11 – When the aebleskiver are firm, turn them regularly for about 4–5 minutes more, until they have an even and golden-brown crust. Remove from the pan and serve dusted with icing sugar. 

*This is the original amount called for in the recipe, but I strongly suggest reducing the amount to 1 teaspoon rather than the stated tablespoon.

6 responses to “The Return of the GBBO Translation: Æbleskiver”

  1. What a delightful morning read! The only issue is that I would like to try them and am both on my way to work and (the bigger problem) far too lazy. But… maybe if I make modified fritters 😋

    1. Thank you, M Leece! They were definitely similar to fritters, so that might do the trick 🙂 and as far as lazy goes, it took me three years to make these, so maybe laziness is part of the recipe!

      1. Did you know Dan Levy is on the Great Canadian Bake Off?

        1. What?! I did not know! I wasn’t impressed with the American spinoff they did but I’d watch that! Canada looks better all the time!

  2. Those look delicious! Two please, with a cuppa. Thanks for the explanation of British terms! I may need a hands on lesson to master this recipe.

    1. Any time! They were fun to make!

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