FOR YEARS I thought I wanted backyard chickens. I envied friends with chicken coops at the edge of the garden, amiable Araucanas and elegant Australorps clucking and foraging for insects.
I know better now. I didn’t really want chickens; I wanted something simpler: eggs. Chickens would mean vet bills, constant vigilance against predators, daily chores, abandonment of garden greens which would be devoured along with aphids.
Since deciding that the egg comes before the chicken, I have bought four dozen at a time, as many as if I had a generous flock myself. The eggs come from friends whose chickens roam an idyllic yard, feasting on well-balanced grains and organic leftovers. Similar arrangements pop up regularly in my neighborhood groups online.
This is a relatively new phenomenon for Seattle, where city codes once prohibited owning enough chickens to generate a realistic surplus. Seattle didn’t allow more than three chickens in a residential yard until 2010, when the number was increased to eight chickens for lots up to 10,000 square feet (no roosters, though!). The change was intended to encourage urban farming, the city’s Department of Buildings and Inspections wrote the following year, noting an increase in “chicken-related complaints”.
While neighborhood egg deals have a clandestine feel, such sales are actually legal and don’t require permits here, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Vendors must technically use clean cartons and cool eggs to 45 degrees or less. (There is much debate about whether barnyard eggs really need to be refrigerated if unwashed, about the theory that unwashed eggs retain a protective outer coating. In the Union even store-bought eggs are not washed and sold unrefrigerated, although the EU is taking other steps to control salmonella.) Chicken expert Lisa Steele, who writes the popular blog “Fresh Eggs Daily and a new cookbook of the same name, likes to keep a decorative egg bowl on the counter, but she notes that even unwashed eggs will last longer if stored in the fridge.
At first I thought I would have trouble using all the eggs I agreed to buy, but the abundance became a feature of the arrangement rather than a… bug. I have never had access to such quantities of cool, pastel-shelled, golden-yellow beauties. That said, heaps of eggs aren’t just a small-scale luxury for those with lucky friendships or neighborhood sales. Costco eggs come in packs of 48 or even 60 for a much cheaper price, which I’ve also taken advantage of, but without the pretty colors and heartwarming knowledge of the chickens’ names, personalities, and pampered lives.
Especially with vegetarians at home, a family of five eats four dozen eggs surprisingly quickly, without even exceeding dietary limit recommendations. A meal of omelettes easily uses up a dozen. Our favorite tea eggs could use an extra dozen or two. And we always love egg breakfast sandwiches, with the big kids opting for two eggs instead of one. When I don’t know what to cook for dinner, I can make a frittata with the eggs and all the veggies and cheeses on hand, and when I don’t know what’s for breakfast, I can mic -wave a frozen burrito stuffed with scrambled eggs and sautéed vegetables. (I make a full tray and put them in the freezer when I have the weekend and 24 eggs to spare, usually with the first one as the limiting factor.)
I barely ached for options when I flipped through Steele’s tantalizing book, but was encouraged by pages of new options, including Pannukakku, a Finnish baked pancake much like a Dutch baby, calling to six eggs. I made it once with great family success, then tried a few variations over the weeks: replacing the cinnamon and nutmeg with cardamom (also good!); combine ingredients in blender instead of stirring (crepe too dense; won’t repeat this); reduce the butter, as full allocation left some pooling on top (works great).
I’m glad my repertoire now includes the puffy, golden treat, which is as impressive as a soufflé. This will be my new centerpiece for a chic brunch. Most of the time, I’ll have enough eggs to make enough for a crowd.
Pannukakku (Finnish baked pancake)
A cross between a popover and a Yorkshire pudding, Pannukakku is the Finnish version of a Dutch Baby. My mother and grandmother used to cook this dish, so it’s a childhood treat that I fondly remember. The cream pastry, flavored with notes of cardamom, is baked in the oven until it puffs, and it can be savory or sweet, depending on the filling. It’s slightly sweet on its own but goes well with bacon, sausages, or herbs like tarragon or dill. Pannukakku is often cooked in a square skillet, but I use a cast iron skillet. Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated or eaten at room temperature.
1½ cups of milk
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
1. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla bean paste.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and whisk until smooth and no lumps remain. The batter will be thin and resemble pancake batter. Let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
3. Add the butter to a 10 inch cast iron skillet and place in the oven for a few minutes or until the butter melts. Shake the pan to evenly coat the bottom with butter.
4. Once the batter has rested, pour it into the hot pan and bake until your Pannukakku is puffed and golden, about 12 to 15 minutes.
5. Take the pan out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes, then cut the Pannukakku into slices or wedges and serve topped with icing sugar, jam or fresh fruit.
– “The Daily Fresh Egg Cookbook” by Lisa Steele (Harper Horizon, $27.99)