About Daytona Strong

I share stories about food, family, and Scandinavian hospitality here at Outside Oslo.

Norwegian Christmas Cookies: Pepperkaker

Pepperkaker

(This is the third post in my series on the syv slags kaker, or seven sorts of Norwegian Christmas cookies. I’ve shared recipes for krumkaker and Berlinerkranser so far, and I’ll be posting more delicious recipes in the weeks to come. Please follow along! Sign up for my newsletter and like my page on Facebook so you don’t miss a post!)

I returned home the other day and was surprised by the warmth and smell that greeted me. Cinnamon and cardamom, clove and ginger. Warm butter and sugar. The scents of baking. Earlier in the day I had made pepperkaker, but I hadn’t noticed just how fragrant the cookies were until I left for a while and then returned. This is what I want my home to smell like all season long.

This time of year I think a lot about the experiences of the holidays. I think about the senses, how the music we listen to and the decorations surrounding us impact our experience. I keep things pretty simple, all in all. But there are touches that can make all the difference. That’s why I’ll be putting a pot of gløgg on the stove whenever we’re expecting guests and churning out buttery and spiced cookies as often as I can. No matter how much or how little I manage to decorate the house for Christmas, the aromas and warmth pouring out of the kitchen will convey a sense of the season, one that’s inviting and welcoming, one that hopefully hints at the hospitality of my mom and grandmothers, whom I hope to emulate.

Pepperkaker Diptych

Pepperkaker

There’s a lot of talk out there right now about hygge, that Scandinavian word that somehow encapsulates big ideas of coziness, community, and a sense of well-being in an economical five words. I’ve been striving to embrace that lifestyle, or state of being, for a while now.

This time of the year it’s easy to feel the darkness. My friend Dianna posted a photo on Instagram today of her morning coffee, a candlelit scene capturing the available light while it lasts. She lives in Tromsø, a Norwegian city above the Arctic circle, where the sun will make its final appearance next week, not to return until January.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we never truly say goodbye to the sun, though it’s often shielded by veils of cloud and fog; for those working office hours, the sun may have set by the time one heads home from work. We feel the darkness too. Yet for all that’s missing during the late autumn and the winter months, there is much to celebrate, much to embrace during this time. The darkness doesn’t have to be something to dread. Rather it can be an excuse–an opportunity–to pull out all the stops and get as cozy as can be. Baking cookies is one way to do so.

I’ve been writing about the syv slags kaker, or seven sorts of Norwegian Christmas cookies, here on Outside Oslo in recent weeks, and today I’m sharing my recipe for pepperkaker, crisp, richly-spiced cookies that are similar to gingersnaps. Out of all the Norwegian Christmas cookies I’ve made, these might be the most fun. Anytime you can roll out dough and cut it into any number of shapes, it’s going to be a good day.

Pepperkaker Diptych

Pepperkaker are unfussy and forgiving, easy to make with the family. Once the dough comes together and rests in the refrigerator overnight, you’ll be ready to bake cookies at a moment’s notice, anytime you have little hands who want to help with rolling and shaping cookies.

That’s part of what’s so special about this time of year. For me, it’s not about the cookies themselves. The cookies are the excuse for spending quality time with people, for building relationships and extending hospitality. I can’t separate my memories of the holiday season from the cookies that my grandmothers served while I was growing up, and then the regular baking sessions that I shared with Mom and Grandma Adeline in recent years when my grandmother was well enough. There’s a glow in all those memories, one created by time spent with dear ones. There’s a saying—supposedly a Norwegian proverb—that goes like this: Cookies are baked with butter and love. Based on my own experiences, I can say without a doubt that this is true.

Pepperkaker

Pepperkaker (A Norwegian Gingerbread)
I analyzed many recipes for pepperkaker (spelled pepparkakor in Swedish) while creating the one I’m sharing with you today. The spices vary considerably, most notably the use of black pepper. People have different opinions on its presence, and I omit it. Recipes generally include both cinnamon and cloves, and often ginger. An addition that I use, that I don’t always see, is cardamom—freshly-ground, of course. Another thing to note is the syrup. I use golden syrup—specifically Lyle’s, which I can easily get at the grocery stores around here. It wouldn’t be as authentic to use molasses or honey, although there are recipes that use such alternatives with good results (my mother-in-law uses molasses, and her pepperkaker are fantastic). If you can get your hands on golden syrup, you’ll find that it produces a rich sweetness that accents the spices without being cloying or tasting flat.

2/3 cup butter (I use salted)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup
1/4 cup cream
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly-ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

In a medium saucepan, mix the butter, sugar, and golden syrup over medium-low heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Cool a few minutes, then stir in the cream and the spices.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the baking soda. Add the butter mixture and stir until the ingredients are incorporated and a dough comes together. Divide into two pieces and wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When it’s time to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper–you’ll be baking one sheet at a time, but this way you can keep rolling out and shaping cookies while one tray bakes. On a very-lightly floured surface, roll out a little of the dough very thin, about 1/8-inch thick. (Keep the other portions chilled—you want the dough you’re working with to always be cold.)

Cut the dough into the shapes of your choice and transfer to the baking sheets. Bake one tray at a time for 5-7 minutes, until the edges are barely starting to turn color. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet.

Store in an airtight container.

Embracing hygge with gløgg (Scandinavian Mulled Wine)

Gløgg

A pot of spiced wine simmering on the stove, releasing its fragrant spices into the air. The flickering glow of candles, a crackling fireplace. It’s hard to imagine a more cozy setting in which to celebrate the holiday season or perhaps to welcome friends in from the cold. This is, for me, the easiest time of year to actively practice the art of hospitality that I grew up experiencing from the Norwegians in my life. these days, one of my favorite ways to do it is with a pot of gløgg.

Essentially a mulled wine, gløgg—spelled glögg in Swedish—conjures up that Scandinavian idea of hygge, or coziness, that Americans are beginning to catch on to. Even an ordinary bottle of red wine becomes something special when it’s combined with warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Add a bit of orange peel, a generous pour of aquavit, a dash of sugar, and a handful of almonds and raisins, and you have a drink that’s as festive as can be.

Gløgg Spices

Gløgg

I have been wondering lately if the antidote to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season might be found in a handful of Scandinavian recipes. What if, by creaming sticks of butter into sugar to make cookies and mixing up pots of spiced wine, we could somehow infuse the essence of hygge into our own lives? That’s certainly what I’m trying to do.

Hygge—the Danish term for a cozy, warm lifestyle and an emphasis on wellbeing—is embraced throughout Scandinavia, and it seems like it might be just what we need to dampen the stress and frenzy that so often accompany the holiday season.

We can hygge with the typical cozy things like warm, fuzzy blankets and fragrant candles glowing on shelves. We can pull on our softest sweaters and cradle portable mugs of steaming beverages between mitten-covered hands, then tuck into buttery cookies upon returning indoors. But we’d be missing the point if we didn’t pair it with community and relationship, those parts of life that are so essential.

Gløgg

Gløgg

This holiday season it’s a goal of mine to pour a bottle of wine into spice-infused aquavit anytime I’m anticipating visitors. I have the wine already purchased, the spices waiting in the pantry. Gløgg is simple to prepare, only requiring a little bit of advance planning. And the result? Well, who wouldn’t feel instantly welcomed when walking into a warm home filled with the aromas of wine and spices? Paired with the company of good friends and loved ones, this is as hygge as it gets.

Gløgg

Gløgg (Scandinavian Mulled Wine)
There are multiple ways to make gløgg. Around here, we steep the spices in the aquavit, ideally overnight. But on the occasions when we don’t plan ahead, we simply let the spices mingle in the aquavit over a low heat for a couple of hours, keeping the pot covered to minimize evaporation. I first shared my recipe for gløgg in The Norwegian American a year ago. Each time we make it, we do it a little differently, but the idea is the same. If you don’t have aquavit, go ahead and use vodka or even whiskey. I’ve added dried figs to the traditional mix of raisins and almonds, a tip I learned from Anna Brones, coauthor of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, at a baking class last year. No matter how you make it, be sure to enjoy the company. Oh, and if your guests are new to gløgg, be sure to warn them that it’s stronger than it tastes. Taking care of them in this way is just another way to extend your hospitality.

1 1/2 cups aquavit (or vodka or whiskey)
1/2 cup raisins
8 dried figs, quartered
3 cinnamon sticks
10 green cardamom pods
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 star anise
2-inch piece of orange peel
1 (750 ml) bottle red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup blanched almonds

The day before you’re going to serve the gløgg, pour aquavit into a jar along with raisins, figs, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves, star anise, and orange peel. Cover and let steep overnight, swirling it occasionally. After about 12 hours, strain the mixture, reserving the spices and fruit. You can make it ahead up to this point or proceed immediately to the next steps (in which case you need not strain the aquavit).

When ready to heat the gløgg, combine the spice-infused aquavit, wine, sugar, and the reserved spices and raisins in a medium saucepan with the almonds over low heat. Cover and let it slowly warm up for about half an hour or so, stirring occasionally and giving it a taste now and then to check the flavors. (There’s a moment, which is somewhat magical, in which the gløgg goes from good to amazing—it’s hard to describe until you’ve tasted it, but once you have you’ll know what I mean.) Be patient and keep a gentle heat—you don’t want it to boil, or even really simmer . When the gløgg is hot and the flavors have developed to your liking, ladle the gløgg into mugs, ideally something clear and heatproof, adding raisins, figs, and almonds to each. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and slice of orange, if you wish.

Note: The longer the spices stay in the gløgg, the stronger they will become. If you’re going to keep the gløgg on the stove for a while, you might want to remove the cloves, and maybe the cardamom and orange peel too, when it develops its proper flavor. If you have leftovers, strain into a jar, reserving the raisins figs and almonds. Reheat on the stove, with the reserved raisins, figs, and almonds, when ready to serve again.

Serves six.

Gløgg

Norwegian Christmas Cookies: Berlinerkranser

Berlinerkranser

(This is the second post in my series on the syv slags kaker, or seven sorts of Norwegian Christmas cookies. I began with krumkaker last week, and I have more delicious recipes to share in the weeks to come. Please follow along! Sign up for my newsletter and like my page on Facebook so you don’t miss a post!)

I grew up knowing the tradition by taste rather than by name. Syv slags kaker–or seven sorts of cookies. The way it goes, you wouldn’t be a proper Norwegian if you didn’t serve at least seven types of cookies at Christmastime. I only became aware of the tradition a handful of years ago, but there’s no doubt that my family’s propensity to load platters with multitudes of cookies stems from that particular part of our heritage.

My memories of Christmastime often take place in the kitchens and dining rooms of my mom and my grandmothers, the heart of the hospitality that pulses through my family. Grandma Adeline would drape clear plastic sheets over the china cabinet, shelving, carpet, and furniture come autumn, in preparation for baking potato lefse, the traditional flatbread that Norwegian-Americans love so much. As I wrote in an article about Christmas cookies for Edible Seattle magazine last year, once my maternal grandparents had frozen an adequate amount of lefse for the holidays and cleaned away any molecules of errant flour that had crept beyond the plastic sheets, they could relax (a bit at least) and begin baking cookies.

There were Norwegian favorites such as sandbakkels and krumkaker, plus a variety of other favorites. In my memories, Grandma Adeline is rarely siting still–rather, she’s on her feet rolling dough or drying dishes, always with a look of focus and joy in her expression. Sometimes I wonder where she got her energy.

Berlinerkranser

Berlinerkranser

In my research for the Edible Seattle article, I interviewed Dr. Kathleen Stokker, author of Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land. She helped me put in context the special nature of the family tradition.

Christmas has been extraordinarily special to Scandinavians, Stokker said, especially in Norway, which was the poorest of the Scandinavian countries and also had strong class divisions. For those who weren’t of an upper class, cookies infused liberally with butter would have been very special indeed. Farmers, among others, would have sold their butter and used lard instead for daily use–except at Christmastime, in which they’d use the butter to create cookies that reflected the celebratory time that it was. While I can now whip up a batch of cookie dough on a whim, my ancestors’ experience would have been much different. I now understand something of the context of the baking tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation, one that’s as linked as much to hospitality and generosity as it is to the pleasure of eating something sweet.

You can read more about the tradition of the syv slags kaker in my first post of the series, which is about krumkaker. But in the meantime, let’s talk a bit about Berlinerkranser. Rich and buttery, these wreath-shaped treats were among the most popular in a survey of Norwegian Christmas cookies that Aftenposten—Norway’s largest daily paper–conducted in 1992.

Berlinerkranser

Berlinerkranser

These cookies are as Norwegian lutefisk and Jarlsberg cheese, writes Sunny Gandara, the voice behind the blog Arctic Grub and one of my contributors at The Norwegian American, where I’m the food editor. The name, Berlinerkranser, she says, could be related to a history of German immigrants bringing their baking skills into Norway, as well as Scandinavians going to Germany to study the trade.

The interesting, or perhaps peculiar, thing about these cookies is that the dough begins with a mix of both cooked and raw egg yolks.The eggs are the centerpiece of these rich, buttery cookies, and the result–if done right–is a cookie that’s substantial while remaining tender and delicate. The yolks give the cookies a subtle yellow glow, and they augment the buttery characteristic without tasting entirely of eggs.

Norwegian cookbook author Astrid Karlsen Scott granted me permission to adapt her recipe for Berlinerkranser in my Edible Seattle article last year. But this season I wanted to take my research a step farther. Berlinerkranser can be a bit finicky to make, especially as the dough has a tendency to break easily when shaping. I collected and analyzed recipes and compiled as many tips as I could find to ensure that anyone will have success when baking Berlinerkranser. Read on after the recipe for tips, and please be sure to leave a comment with yours as well.

When I took my first bite of Berlinerkranser still warm from the oven yesterday, I savored the warm, comforting experiencing of letting the cookie almost melt as it disintegrated in my mouth. The buttery richness took me back to my childhood, and I finally remembered a taste memory I had forgotten–my grandma Agny’s Berlinerkranser. Mom recently told me that Grandma used to make these cookies, but I had forgotten. The memories are vague–it’s been many years since those Christmases at her home. But–as I’m sure you know–we never forget the taste.

Berlinerkranser

Berlinerkranser (Berlin Wreath Cookies)
This recipe is very good, if I do say so myself. The cookies, especially when warm out of the oven, are rich and eggy, warm and comforting. Be sure to enjoy one or two for yourself to enjoy–perhaps with a cup of coffee–before setting them out for guests.

2 hard-cooked egg yolks 
2 raw egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter (I use salted), at room temperature
2 1/2 cups flour
Egg whites, lightly beaten (reserved from the raw eggs above)
1/4 cup pearl sugar

In a mixing bowl, mash the hard-cooked egg yolks (you can do this with a fork, or you can do what Magnus Nilsson does in The Nordic Cookbook and press the yolks through a sieve). Mix in the two uncooked yolks. When smooth, add the sugar and whisk vigorously until smooth. Next you’ll add the flour and the softened butter, alternating, a little at a time, working as little as possible. It will still appear crumbly, but it will come together when you press it. Divide the dough into two thick logs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight.

When you’re getting ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375, line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and remove dough from the fridge (you want it to warm up slightly before you start shaping them—about a half an hour).

Divide each piece of dough into 14 even pieces. Put half of the dough back in the fridge to stay cool while you work on the first half—the dough can be challenging to work with as it gets warm. Roll each piece into a log about 1/3-inch in diameter, and about 4-4.5-inches long. Form each into a wreath with edges overlapping, and press together. Place the cookies on the baking sheets, about two inches apart. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or to help them keep their shape—if your baking sheets won’t fit, you can transfer them very carefully on the parchment onto a surface that will. Dip the tops of the chilled cookies into the beaten egg whites and then into the pearl sugar. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies are very lightly golden.

Cool a little on baking rack, then transfer with care to a baking rack—perhaps just sliding the whole sheet of parchment on. Store in an airtight container. Freeze if you’re making them well in advance.

Makes about two dozen.

Tips:

I discovered that recipes generally resemble each other, with virtually all of them beginning with two hard-cooked egg yolks and two uncooked egg yolks. Recipe vary slightly in the amount of sugar used, ranging from 1/2 to 1 cup (I’m using 2/3 cup, which is somewhere in the middle, and I wouldn’t recommend any more–but you can use a smaller quantity if you’d like them a little less sweet). The amount of flour also varies quite a bit, from 1 1/4 to 3 1/3 cups. You don’t want to use too much flour, I read, as that will impact the texture—you want them to be tender. Also, work the dough as minimally as possible.

As for rolling the dough, one recipe said that working as little as possible, while still incorporating the ingredients, should help.

Getting the temperature just right is also key, as I learned from Gandara, as you want it neither too warm nor too cool. She suggests removing the dough from the refrigerator about a half an hour before forming the cookies. I find that putting unused portions of dough back in the fridge while I work keeps them from warming up too much.

I’m grateful for discovering the tip of putting the shaped dough back in the fridge for a while–15 minutes perhaps–before proceeding. The chilled cookies are so much easier to dip into the egg white and sugar at this point, and this step might help them keep their shape as well.

Berlinerkranser

Norwegian Christmas Baking: Krumkaker

Krumkaker

(This is the first post in my new series on the syv slags kaker, or seven sorts of Norwegian Christmas cookies. Please follow along! Sign up for my newsletter and like my page on Facebook so you don’t miss a post!)

I still remember what it was like, cupping my hand under my mouth to catch the crumbs. Biting into a krumkake at my grandparents’ house at Christmastime, I knew that the cookie would inevitably shatter. I just had to be ready to contain the pieces to a moderate mess.

The cone-shaped cookies, as golden as my locks of wavy hair, were a staple on both sides of my family. Somehow, perhaps due to years of practice, both of my grandmothers managed to make countless krumkaker, each one consistent in color and shape, nestled safely in round tins ready for visitors.

Krumkaker

Krumkaker

Biting into the delicate cookies was always a delight, one that was as expected as the garland of Norwegian flags strung around my grandparents’ tree and the riskrem (rice cream) these dear people served after a traditional Norwegian celebration meal of roast pork, spiced medisterkaker meatballs, the sour cabbage known as surkål, and a variety of vegetables simply prepared.

I came upon my late grandmother Agny’s krumaker recipe by accident a while back. It was nestled among recipe clippings and cards that my other grandma had given to me when she downsized to a retirement community. I’m thankful that Grandma Agny shared her recipe with Grandma Adeline. Written in her elegant handwriting on a scrap of blue paper, with a personal note saying “good luck,” it’s a treasure of mine—one of only three recipes of hers that I have. Had she not been generous enough to share it, I never would have gotten it.

A few days ago I heated my krumkaker iron—an electric model that makes two cookies at a time—and whipped up the batter, following Grandma Agny’s recipe for the most part, with a few tweaks. I added water, a little at a time, until the batter was just barely thicker than heavy cream. Pouring a teaspoonful into the center of each decorative circle, I closed the iron and hoped for the best.

The first couple of cookies, waffles, or pancakes are always sacrificial, as far as I’m concerned. It takes a few tries to get the temperature and the timing just right. Krumkaker pose an extra challenge because they are rolled around a cone while still hot—let them cool too much and they become too brittle to work with. But before I knew it, I had amassed two platefuls of beautiful krumkaker, much like the ones I had grown up eating.

Krumkaker

Krumkaker

Krumkaker are among the syv slags kaker, or seven sorts of cookies, that are a must at Christmastime for Norwegians. And they’re certainly a favorite type. Back in 1992, Aftenposten—Norway’s largest daily paper—surveyed people and compiled a list of the most popular varieties.

Krumkaker were on the list, along with smultringer and hjortetakk (these two tied for first place), sandkaker, sirupsnipper, berlinerkranser, goro, and fattigman.

The syv slags kaker fall into three categories: baked, fried, or cooked on special irons or griddles. The krumkaker fall into the latter and are the oldest of these cookies, along with goro. They go back to at least the 1700s, writes Kathleen Stokker in Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land, and the blacksmiths who made them would integrate their initials into the pattern. In Norway, the design might differ depending on the area or the family. With ties to waffles, another treat made on an iron, the roots of these cookies go back at least a thousand years.

Krumkaker

Krumkaker

As a child, I incorrectly associated the word krumkake with “crumb cookie,” an appropriate name for my experience with them. I have since learned that krum actually means curvature and reflects the cookies’ signature cone shape. As with any number of traditional cookies, variations abound. Some people flavor them with vanilla, others with cardamom. Some shape them into cones, others into cigars or bowls. While I grew up eating krumkaker plain, as many people do, they’re also often served with fillings such as whipped cream and berries or perhaps multekrem (cloudberry cream) or trollkrem (whipped lingonberries with egg whites).

As I baked the season’s first batch of krumkaker with my kids the other day, I watched with anticipation as they tasted them. I, of course, knew the cookies would break apart. I wanted to catch their surprise and then reassure them quickly that it was okay—to let that know that this is among the pleasures of eating these very old, very beloved cookies.

KrumkakerKrumkaker
Today’s bakers have a choice: stovetop or electric irons. There are benefits to either type, with tradition and romance associated with the former and convenience, speed, and ease of cleanup with the latter. I personally use a dual-krumkaker electric iron that Grandma Adeline gave me years ago. Whichever model you choose, they’re available at many cookware and Scandinavian shops, as well as online. Don’t forget to pick up a couple of cone rollers, too. There are some beautiful, handcarved ones out there, which would make lovely Christmas gifts. As for technique, yours will vary a bit depending on your preferences and your iron. Please see a variety of tips following the recipe.

1 ¼ sticks of butter (10 tablespoons) (I use salted)
1 teaspoon freshly-ground cardamom seeds
3 eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 cup flour
Up to 1/2 cup cold water, or as needed to thin batter to the right consistency

In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from the heat, stir in the cardamom, and let cool a bit.

Beat eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix in the cooled butter, then stir in the flour until the batter is smooth. Mix in cold water, a little at a time as needed, to thin the batter almost to the consistency of thick, heavy cream—it should pour well but still coat the spoon.

Heat your krumkaker iron and lightly grease it. To bake the cookies, drop a teaspoonful of batter into the center of the iron. Bake until both sides are golden—this takes about a minute on my iron. To remove, slip a metal spatula—some people use the tip of a blunt knife—under the cookie and slide it off, then immediately roll onto a cone and set aside to cool.

Transfer to an airtight tin shortly after they’ve cooled, or serve immediately. They can also be frozen.

Tips:

While everyone’s technique, timing, and workflow will differ, I like to slide the cookies off the iron onto a piece of parchment paper and immediately put more batter on the iron; by this time my krumkaker have cooled just enough to be workable (though still hot), but not so much that they become brittle. By the time they’ve set enough to transfer off the cone rollers and retain their shape, the next batch are just about ready to remove and roll.

Be patient and give yourself plenty of grace. It takes a little while to get the hang of the timing and rolling. Some krumkaker won’t turn out just right, but that’s okay—part of the fun is sampling while you go, and the imperfect cookies provide a great excuse to do so.

Some years ago when I was first learning to make krumkaker, I asked my surviving grandmother, Adeline, how to roll the cookies onto the cones without burning my fingers. “You just have to do it,” she said. Not satisfied that making krumkaker should have to hurt, I posted a question on Facebook a year ago, asking readers for tips. While some people echoed my grandmother’s thoughts, that you just have to deal with it (“Asbestos hands that’s all,” wrote one person), readers posted a variety of tips that I want to share with you here:

Some people use rollers from Norway that have a clip attached, which allows you to slide the krumkaker off the iron and roll it in one step with minimal contact with the hot cookie. Others use gloves, even the cotton ones available at the drugstore—just make sure you’re using food-safe materials. Others use a dishcloth or parchment paper as a shield for the hands while rolling. Another great tip I learned from one reader is to keep a small glass of ice water nearby—that way you can cool your fingers immediately after rolling the krumkaker.

Krumkaker

My Favorite Kladdkaka (Swedish Fudgy Chocolate Cake)

Kladdkaka

Life is full of reasons to celebrate, I’m convinced of that. It’s so easy to get caught up in the movement and the swiftness of the everyday. Sometimes—as a friend put it the other day—the monotony. But I’m trying to slow down, to protect the white spaces in my schedule, to factor in time to train myself to notice.

The brush strokes in the blue-yellow autumn sunset. An efficient spider building its tightrope home outside the dining room window. The stunning transformations as summer unfolds with sunflowers and berries for a while before giving way to pumpkins and cascades of fiery leaves. Nature itself is enough to awaken awe. Even more so are our friends.

As I watch my children form their first friendships, I’m reminded of the value of my own. I don’t take any of them for granted. It’s hard to write about friendship without sounding trite, but there’s rejuvenation and refreshment to be found in a heart-to-heart conversation with someone who accepts and loves you for who you are. (Sarah, that’s you.) There’s support and nourishment, too, from the dear ones who provide a steady flow of hot meals in the weeks after a baby is born. (Too many of you to list!) There are the prayers, the notes sent handwritten and stamped, the phone calls to wish a happy birthday in the time of social media’s rapid, generic greetings.

This kladdkaka, then, is for all of my friends.

Kladdkaka

I’ll always associate this Swedish chocolate cake with Rachel, for whom I baked it in the depths of winter this past year. It was a week of recipe development for me, and I made the chocolate cake four times. The one that turned out the best was the one I brought to Rachel’s house when she hosted us for dinner. I was uncertain whether I had baked it long enough or how it was going to turn out. But I was confident enough in our friendship to know that I didn’t have to stress about perfection. I knew that Rachel is an eager cook, like me, who likes to experiment in the kitchen. She’d either celebrate or commiserate. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When you bake with love, that’s when things turn out just right, when things become beautiful.

After dinner, when the cake—which had still been hot from the oven when I left my house earlier that evening—had cooled and set, we dug in. The knife slid in with ease and I pulled out a thin wedge baked just right, the chocolate still glistening with kladdkaka’s signature sheen but sturdy enough to transfer to a plate.

Kladdkaka - DSC_3499

The beauty of this cake is its underbaked perfection. Similar to flourless chocolate cakes and molten “lava” cakes, it’s both dense and gooey inside. But it retains a light quality, too, in contrast to flourless cakes. I’ve heard it likened to brownies, but I don’t agree with that comparison; if kladdkaka resembles those, then it’s overbaked.

Kladdkaka—often translated to gooey chocolate cake—is the most searched-for recipes online in Sweden, as I learned from Magnus Nilsson, two star chef of Sweden’s celebrated restaurant Fäviken, when he spoke at the Nordic Culinary Conference in Seattle last spring. The origins go back only as far as the 1970s, yet it’s become a national favorite. I can see why.

The cake in its simplest form only requires a handful of ingredients. The technique is rather simple too. By and large, kladdkaka recipes call for cocoa powder, but I’m pretty sure that once you’ve tried it this way, with bars of bittersweet chocolate, you won’t be going back. I started making the cake this way a few years ago, following a recipe in Signe Johansen’s mouthwatering book, Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking… Scandilicious. While I’ve given cocoa powder a try once since, I just can’t break away from the incredibly moist and silky results of a good quality chocolate bar. Signe’s approach is definitely a winner (she adds whiskey to her Bergen fish soup, too, which sounds daring until you taste it and realize that it respectfully transforms the traditional soup). I played with the recipe, switching things up a bit each time, until I came to my ultimate kladdkaka recipe. While this one now bears only an echo of hers, Signe is a master of Scandinavian baking, and I’d like to believe she’d give her stamp of approval.

The ease of this cake makes it perfect for celebrations of all kinds. I’ve served it at book club, and at a dear friend’s bridal shower. It comes together quickly and requires less than 15 minutes to bake. Plus, it has a reputation for freezing well.

As I’m trying to live life looking for things to celebrate, I’m glad to have this cake recipe in my repertoire. I’m sure you will be too.

Kladdkaka - DSC_3513

Kladdkaka (Swedish Fudgy Chocolate Cake)
The magic in this cake is in the timing. There’s no real way to guarantee that your timing is perfect until the cake has cooled and you’ve gone ahead and cut yourself a slice, as I did when I brought it to Rachel’s home last winter. Go for the 14 minutes indicated the first time around. Make a note if you need to give it a minute or two more or less the next time. When you know how much time it needs in your particular oven, you’ll have a deceptively easy cake recipe that’s bound to become a favorite.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used 60% cacao)
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan.

Roughly chop the chocolate, using either a sharp knife or a food processor.

In a deep saucepan, 3-quart or larger, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, stirring until melted. Stir in the espresso powder and vanilla extract. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until frothy, then stir in the melted chocolate and butter. In another bowl, give the flour and baking powder a quick whisk to combine, then gently fold in to the batter until incorporated. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 14 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Remove from pan and dust with powdered sugar. Serve with mounds of sweetened whipped cream and fresh berries or a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Serves 12.

A Perfected Scandinavian Swirled Tiger Cake

swedish-tiger-cake-dsc_3615

I’ve lost track of all the butter and sugar.

I started writing about Scandinavian food seven years ago last month. I have no idea how many sticks of butter and cups of sugar I’ve whipped into cakes and cookies since then, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Scandinavian sweets are among the world’s best.

At the beginning, I would flip through The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas—one of the first Scandinavian cookbooks I bought—like a student. Almond, butter, sugar, and spices appeared time and time in the ingredient lists. I wanted to bake nearly everything.

Though I had grown up eating Scandinavian sweets and knew many of them by taste, I was new to baking most of them. These days, I’ve switched my focus to creating my own recipes, taking classic or traditional desserts and creating versions that are as delicious as possible while retaining authenticity.

That’s where this tiger cake comes in.

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I first made a tiger cake last spring while baking from one of my favorite Nordic cookbooks. The result, however, was lacking. Sure, it was good, but if I’m going to eat cake, I want it to be worth every calorie and grain of sugar.

I got to work, boosting the intensity of the chocolate flavor and making the variations in color less marbled and more like stripes—the Scandinavians call it tiger cake, after all. This cake has become a new favorite of mine, and I hope you enjoy it just as much.

Swedish Tiger Cake

Scandinavian Swirled Tiger Cake
The marbled cake can be found throughout the Nordic countries. Baked in a loaf pan or a Bundt pan, it reveals swirls of chocolate and vanilla or citrus-flavored cake when sliced. Marble cakes are hardly unique to the Nordic countries. We know them well in America, where they go back at least to the 19th century. German immigrants have been attributed as bringing them here prior to the Civil War (What’s Cooking in America).

2 sticks butter (salted), room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons natural, unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used semi-sweet)
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a loaf pan (9x5x3).

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Stir in vanilla extract. Sift together flour and baking powder and add to the batter, stirring to incorporate. Set aside two thirds of the batter and set aside.

In the remaining third of the batter, mix in the cocoa powder, chopped chocolate, espresso powder, and milk.

Spoon about a quarter cup of the plain batter into the bottom of the loaf pan, spreading it out slightly with a spatula. Add a spoonful of the chocolate batter in the center. Repeat, alternating the layers, until all the batter is gone.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, approximately one hour. Let cool on a wire rack.

Makes 1 loaf cake.

Celebrating the Kräftskiva: a Swedish Crayfish Party Tradition

Swedish Crayfish Party

A few weeks ago, before the season began its visible transition from summer to fall, I took part in one of the most charming of Scandinavian celebrations, the kräftskiva, or Swedish crayfish party. A tradition every August in Sweden, it’s one that I’ve tried to embrace here in Seattle over the past several years. This year, in addition to hosting my own, I had the opportunity to be a guest at a very special kräftskiva hosted by Old Ballard Liquor Company.

As the summer sun glowed golden over Ballard, a neighborhood rich with Scandinavian history, I crossed the old railroad tracks, past the main streets, and made my way into a shipyard where relics of the old neighborhood were displayed as if it were a museum. Lights and signs from shuttered Ballard bars and restaurants (including one of my favorites, the old Copper Gate) brought back memories of old times. An old newspaper vending box displaying a 2009 issue made me do a double take (the headline announced the demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer print edition, an event that as a journalist I remember vividly). The sun cast a radiant tint over everything, and if one had entered the scene after putting back a few shots of aquavit, one might wonder if they were really seeing things for what they were.

Tumble Swede Swedish Crayfish Party

Swedish Crayfish Party

With live music, lanterns, and plenty of aquavit flowing at Pacific Fishermen Shipyard, we made fast friends with our fellow diners and dug into the meal. With crustacean juice and the wild-fennel-and-beer poaching liquid dripping from our lips, we shared tips for how to break into the crayfish and extract as much of the meat and goodness as possible.

My neighbor, nostalgic for a time when she had lived in Sweden, focused on the crayfish, savoring the eat-with-your-hands meal and her own personal aquavit carafe frozen in a thick sleeve of ice. Less sure of the crayfish, the woman across from me made a meal primarily out of the mini onion and mushroom cheese pies (it’s typical to serve Västerbotten cheese pie at such dinners, as crayfish themselves are hardly enough to fill one up and soak up all the aquavit consumed). Rounded out with new potatoes tossed with butter and dill, rye crispbread to slather with butter, and an elderberry ice cream topped with stone fruit compote, the meal was distinctly Nordic—with a Pacific Northwest touch.

Tumble Swede Swedish Crayfish Party

As the sun set, I couldn’t help but think about the Friday-night revelers that would be gathering along the strips of bars and restaurants in the heart of Ballard. They would be oblivious to this quirky, cultural tradition taking place on just the other side of the old railroad tracks. With a full stomach and happy with the warm glow of celebration and community, I knew just where I would rather be.

Swedish Crayfish Party

Scandinavian Cinnamon Rolls

Scandinavian Cinnamon Rolls

While the cloudless blue sky and wind-free warmth of August hardly seem like the start of a new season, in reality autumn will creep up surely in the coming weeks—subtly at first, then erupting into its crisp, fog-laden fullness. I’ve been noticing the shift already, from hazy mornings draped in gray to the spiders testing out nooks and posts around the house to spin their webs. This is a time for coziness.

It seems like Americans have been gradually catching on to the Scandinavian idea of hygge in the past couple of years. Hygge—the Danish term for a cozy, warm lifestyle, like koselig in Norwegian and mysig in Swedish—seems like it might be just the antidote we need for the cold and darkness in the seasons ahead. And that’s where these cinnamon rolls come in.

Fragrant with the warm aromas of cinnamon, freshly-ground cardamom, and hot, buttery yeasted dough, these buns would be perfect to serve for fika, another Scandinavian concept that I think it’s time Americans adopt. The very definition of fika—the Swedish word for a social coffee break—invokes savoring coffee and baked treats in the company of friends. While cozy can look a lot of different ways, from plush blankets and flickering candlelight to thick sweaters and scarves, we’d do well to consider community an integral part of it. When you start with a warm, spiced bun, it really can’t be too hard.

Scandinavian Cinnamon Rolls

Scandinavian Cinnamon Rolls

Variations of these buns are popular in Scandinavia and rightfully so. There are the kanelsnurrer, or Norwegian cinnamon twists, and also kanelbullar, or Swedish cinnamon buns. (October 4 is the treat’s official day in Sweden.) Sometimes they’re called knots. Whatever name you use, they seem—at least to me—an edible version of hygge.

In this recipe, we’re starting with a sweet cardamom-scented dough and using that to blanket a rich, fragrant spice filling. Recipes vary quite a bit and can be as simple as butter, sugar and spice, or include a bit of almond paste or marzipan. Some recipes don’t use any filling at all.

While they’re commonly made with cinnamon, Scandi Kitchen features a vanilla and cardamom variety. Signe Johansen, author of Scandilicious Baking adds a little crème fraiche to the filling. She also suggests making the dough the night before to let it ferment a little for flavor and texture. I’ve become a big fan of freshly-ground cardamom and use it in both the dough and filling in my cinnamon buns. After doing the hard work of grinding it in a mortar and pestle (and subsequently sneezing at least 10 times in the span of a half an hour) earlier this year, I finally broke down and bought a spice grinder. I use it exclusively for cardamom, and treat it almost like my cardamom spice bottle, storing cardamom seeds in it. Each time I use it, the spice releases an aroma that make me think of my grandfather’s old cologne, warm and intense, complex, yet soft.

In these last weeks of summer, as one season begins to topple into the next, I’m planning ways to make this the coziest autumn yet. With these cinnamon buns releasing their spiced fragrance throughout the house, I don’t think it’s going to be too hard.

Scandinavian Cinnamon Rolls

Scandinavian Cinnamon Buns

For the dough:

5 tablespoons butter (salted)
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 cups flour, plus more if necessary
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons freshly-ground cardamom
1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten

For the filling:

6 tablespoons butter (salted), room temperature
3 tablepsoons packed brown sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
Scandinavian pearl sugar

To make the dough: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter then pour in the milk and let it scald. Remove from heat and cool until it’s warm to the touch. Pour into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the milk. Give it a quick stir, then let it sit until it starts to bubble.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, and cardamom. When the yeast has started to bubble, gradually stir in the flour mixture, and then the beaten egg. Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured surface and knead for five minutes or so, until the dough comes together and you can see little pockets of air if you cut into it. The dough should be somewhat sticky, and a bench scraper can help if it sticks to the counter, but add more flour as needed. Transfer to a large bowl, cover with a damp tea towel, and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling by mixing the butter, sugar, and spices either with a mixer or with a fork until combined and smooth.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s a rectangle roughly 16-by-20 inches. Spread the filling over it, reaching all the way to the ends, then fold the dough toward you, lengthwise, making a long, skinny rectangle about 8-by-20 inches. Cut the dough into 16 strips. Form each into knots by twisting the ends in opposite directions a couple of times, then rolling them around your finger a couple of times and tucking in the ends. Place on baking trays that are either greased or lined with parchment paper. Cover with damp tea towels and let rise another 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sprinkle the tops with pearl sugar, then bake for 10-12 minutes. For an extra special treat, enjoy while they’re still warm and release their spiced aroma when you bite in.

Darra Goldstein’s Mussels in Aquavit in The Norwegian American

Mussels in Aquavit

Mussels always take me back to that summer in Oslo, the first time I visited the country where my dad was born. Norway had been a place with almost a mythical quality, someplace alive and real in my mind but also distant and seeming quite idyllic. Arriving by air that summer, a quarter of my life having heard about Norway but never traveling there, I felt a deep sense of home, one that has morphed over the years into a place of longing. There, on the waterfront at Aker Brygge, my husband and I ate steamed mussels with fries, commonly known as moules-frites, while the midday sun forced us to squint and the marine air wound its way through our hair. Something that I had previously associated with an August spent in Normandy years before, due to those signs advertising it outside of beachside cafes, had now become a thing of Norway to me. So now, these little shellfish prompt memories of that special time.

This summer I made a recipe for mussels steamed in aquavit with horseradish from the lovely cookbook Fire and Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking by Darra Goldstein. Released last fall by Ten Speed Press, the book has quickly become one of my favorites in my collection, one that’s as gorgeous to look through as satisfying to cook from (all the recipes I’ve tried are delicious). I interviewed Goldstein for The Norwegian American recently, and she agreed to share her recipe for these mussels with readers. I hope you’ll click on over to the paper’s website to check out the recipe along with my latest story.

The Nordic Cookbook’s Finnish Spinach Pancakes (Pinaattiohukaiset)

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I’ve been sitting with the book for quite some time now. Perhaps you’ve seen it around, maybe even have a copy of your own. The Nordic Cookbook, by Magnus Nilsson, came out last fall, and ever since it’s become my primary resource in my Scandinavian and Nordic cookbook library. I had a chance to meet Magnus Nilsson—two star chef of Sweden’s celebrated restaurant Fäviken—at the Nordic Culinary Conference in Seattle this past spring. There, I found out just why this five-pound, 768-page hardcover is such a gem.

Personally, I have appreciated the context in which Nilsson puts many of the recipes, with headnotes that are meatier and more relevant than ones in many other cookbooks. But the extent of research that went into the book is what lends it something of incredible significance. Nilsson spent several years traveling throughout the Nordic countries, documenting stories, and collecting recipes. While he initially turned down the book when the publisher proposed it, wanting rather to write a Swedish cookbook, he realized eventually that there was a need: Most people don’t really know much about Nordic food culture, let alone what defines the Nordic region or the differences between “Nordic” and “Scandinavian.”

While there’s a lot of talk about Nordic food, it’s not really a homogenous region or one with dishes that exist throughout,Nilsson shared in a lecture that weekend in May. Rather, it’s a vast area, and what people eat in one part of the region differs from what people eat in the another. He didn’t want the book to be an idealized version of Nordic food, with Dala horses and gingerbread cookies, he said. Instead he wanted to reflect what people really eat—both today and traditionally.

Nestled among the approximately 700 recipes from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland are stunning photos of the region’s landscape, producers, and citizens—photos that Nilsson, who’s enjoyed photography since he was a child—took during his travels. This is one of those books that reflects history, culture, and a sense of place. As a food writer, for me The Nordic Cookbook is one of a handful that I reach for time and time again. For the recipes, of course, but also for the history and context Nilsson provides.

LingonberriesAndPancakesDiptych

Nilsson is open about the fact that it would have been impossible to put the book’s 700 or so recipes through extensive testing. So while I keep The Nordic Cookbook within easy reach, I use it mostly as a guide in the kitchen, adding my own touches as I go or merely using it as a starting place. The Swedish tiger cake, for example, was good but not spectacular–the next time I made one, I created my own recipe and bumped up the chocolate flavor considerably. That said, the recipes are traditional and are largely collected from people throughout the Nordic countries who shared them with him. I’d like to think that if I were sending a recipe to a world-class chef, it would one I’d be proud of. The Finnish spinach pancakes I’m sharing with you today are an example of that. While I altered the instructions to make them more clear, the recipe itself was sound and lent itself a sweet and savory treat. While Nilsson suggests serving these with sugared lingonberries, if you don’t have access to fresh or frozen berries, lingonberry preserves will work as well.

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Finnish Spinach Pancakes with Lingonberries (Pinaattiohukaiset)
Adapted from The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson

5 ½ ounces spinach
2 eggs
15 fluid ounces whole milk
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Salt
White pepper
Freshly-grated nutmeg
Butter, for frying
Lingonberry preserves or sugared lingonberries, for serving

Chop the spinach as finely as you can, set aside.

In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the spinach, milk, flour, salt, white pepper, and nutmeg and stir to combine.

In a small cast-iron, melt a pat of butter over medium heat. Ladle in the batter to create thin pancakes roughly 4 inches in diameter, and fry until the underside has turned a light brown. Flip and finish cooking on the other side, then transfer to a plate to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Serve with lingonberry preserves or sugared lingonberries.

Serves 4

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