« Smarni », a Hungarian « scrambled pancake »


In a few days time we’ll celebrate Candlemas, that is pancake day. As you certainly already know how to cook regular pancakes, I’d like to introduce for this occasion an original, homey Hungarian dish which is based on a tweaked pancake recipe (with this recipe, you won’t even have to flip them !).

I’m not a big fan of the sugar-loaded Gundel palacsinta, a Hungarian speciality crepe which you may already know, but on the contrary, I love this very dish, which is just as sweet as you want it to be, and was one of my childhood’s favorite comfort foods. We used to eat it these « crumbs » (that’s how we used to call them) as a main course, on the days when my parents didn’t want to cook sophisticated meals : it’s as easy as making a thick pancake batter and scrambling it while pan-frying ! Nowadays I’d rather eat it as a nourishing snack, since I don’t use to eat sweet things as a whole meal anymore, but I read that you might still have it as lunch if you were on a trip in Hungary. My mother told me that she could even order it as a dessert in a restaurant over there, some months ago. She also said that the crumbs were then drier because they were finished cooking in an oven, what we didn’t do at home ; and to be honest, I have to say that even if it sometimes browned too much, I liked the fact that they remained soft and slightly crispy on the outside.

In spite of it’s humble appearance, this dish has had some of an unexpected glorious destiny. While it seems to have originated in the Alps as a popular dish, the smarni (say « shmarr-nee ») got appreciated in the highest rank of the court society at that time, by the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph himself – which was also by way of it king of Hungary (1830-1916). That’s why you may also find this dish in the Austrian culinary heritage under the name « Kaiserschmarrn« , literally translated by « császár morsza« (say « chaa-ssaarr ») in hungarian, which means the « emperor’s crumbs » (this translation is debated, but I’m not going to argue about it here: see the Wikipedia page for Kaiserschmarrn if you want to learn more about it and read the whole story !).

To make the batter, I followed my mother’s instructions, but for more convenience, feel free to use your customary pancake recipe, though thinking to adjust the ratio of solids and fluids.

Ingredients (serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a snack and even more as a dessert) :

  • 4 eggs
  • 300gr sifted all purpose flour (more or less according to the flour you have in the place where you live)
  • 250-300 ml milk
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil + cooking oil
  • icing sugar for serving (optional)

Preparation :

Beat the eggs until they turn foamy.

Add in the sugar and salt, then 200gr of the flour, and blend to a smooth paste.

1st stage of preparation

Blend in gradually and alternately the milk and the remaining 100gr flour (more or less according to how it comes out), in order to get a thick, creamy batter. The whisk should leave lines on the surface.

2nd stage of preparation

At the end, add in the oil and mix thoroughly.

Heat enough oil in a pan to cover entirely its bottom, over high heat.

3st stage of preparation

As the oil nearly starts smoking, pour in the whole batter.

Wait until the bottom is set before starting to scramble the « pancake » into bite-sized crumbs, using a spatula. At the beginning the batter will turn very sticky, so you’ll have some trouble really breaking it, but it will harden as it cooks and then the crumbs will start not to cohere anymore.

3rd stage of preparation

So don’t be worried, and continue stirring and scrambling until all crumbs are cooked through, and evenly sized and browned (about 5 minutes). You may adjust the size of the crumbs to your liking : I myself chose to make them smaller than my mother did.

At the end, that is how it should look like :

Cooked smarni

Dish out on plates or into bowls, dust with some icing sugar and serve hot !

The traditional way of eating smarni is to have it served with some jam (rather of plum or berries in Hungary, but also with applesauce in Austria), but you may also serve it with your favorite pancake topping : maple syrup (my favorite), a fruit syrup (it’s not as weird as you think, we used to do it at home), chocolate sauce, chocolate spread, brown or white sugar, and so forth. Some versions even include apples or other fruits.


Hope you’ll enjoy these imperial crumbs !

Notes :

For a fluffier result, you may want to beat the eggs whites until stiff before blending them into the batter.

To cook the smarni, you can use butter instead of oil, at your convenience.

If you find the smarni undercooked, spread it on a baking tray covered with a sheet of greaseproof paper and have it dried a few minutes in a 180°C preheated oven.

And to finish, the original recipe calls for raisins soaked in rhum to add to the batter : it’s not my cup of tea, but you might try it !

Don’t mind using your imagination to make the smarni yours 😉


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