Cardamom-scented Fastelavnsboller (Semlor) with almond and cream

Fastelavnsboller

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the scent of cardamom filling the house when baking boller. These plump Norwegian buns with the slightest touch of sweetness need nothing–aside from perhaps a smear of butter—to make them a treat any time of the year. But during Shrovetide of Fastelavn, the time leading up to Lent, these fluffy buns get stuffed with rich almond filling and clouds of whipped cream, transforming them into the over-the-top delicacies known as Fastelavnsboller in Norway and Semlor in Sweden. I’m sharing my recipe over at The Norwegian American this week–find the recipe here!

Fastelavnsboller

Fastelavnsboller

Fastelavnsboller

Fastelavnsboller

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.

Cardamom-Almond Custard with Blueberries

Cardamom Almond Custard with Blueberries

They were just photos of landscapes. Muscular earth covered in green. A pair of cantilever bridges rising and falling, meandering through a snowy fishing village. Placid fjords reflecting their surroundings as they swallowed the light into their depths. Yet the photos almost brought tears to my eyes as I scrolled through an online acquaintance’s Facebook page the other day. Sunsets filled the skies with an otherworldly glow and as I looked at an image of the amber light bending around the mountains–the last light of day for the homes tucked along the shore–I felt a longing I’m still trying to process. It’s as though part of my heart resides in Norway, the country that my family left nearly 60 years ago.

When I visited Norway for the first time in 2008, something happened that I didn’t expect. Immediately I was struck with a sense of home, like I belonged there. I mentioned this to a friend at lunch recently, my story filled with apologies in case it sounded trite. She understood. And as time goes on I think I’m beginning to understand it more too. Norway is, in a way, home. It was home to my father for the first 11 years of his life. It was home to my grandparents, great grandparents, and countless other generations from both sides of my family tree. I’ve felt for so long that maybe I don’t deserve to claim the heritage. I’ve questioned whether I am “Norwegian enough,” despite being Norwegian 100 percent. I never traveled to Norway as a child, and only finally visited at the age of 26. I don’t speak the language (though I’m trying to learn). I don’t know any of my relatives in Norway, the few still remaining. My family is trying to connect with them but we’ve gotten news of one death and then another, making it feel like they’re drifting farther and farther out of reach.

But then a few photos stir up something deep inside me and I push all those doubts aside. When Grandma Agny died without warning almost six years ago, I dove into our shared heritage as a way to cope, to try to feel closer to her, even though I knew I couldn’t bring her back. Month after month, year after year, recipe after recipe, I’ve been working to understand more, to discover for myself this country that she knew so well. When my grandparents and father packed up their belongings and sailed to the United States in 1956, they were making a move that would shift the course of the family. We would, from that point, be Americans. But when I look back at my childhood, I see how my grandmother worked to keep the heritage and the traditions alive–through her hospitality and her food, the way she decorated her house, and even settling in Ballard, a neighborhood in Seattle with deep Scandinavian ties. She was giving me a gift, a starting place. I wouldn’t understand it until I became older and decided to take an interest in all of it myself. But when I was ready, there it was, infused in my memories, embedded in my heart.

Cardamom Almond Custard with Blueberries

Cardamom Almond Custard with Blueberries

Cardamom-Almond Custard with Blueberries

Grandma Agny had a flair for simple elegance. She spread her table with creamy fine linens and china when my parents and I came to eat, the napkins folded into fans. The food she served was steeped in the traditions of her native Norway, from the spiced medisterkaker meatballs and tart surkål that I loved so much to the rice pudding folded into a mound of fluffy whipped cream and drizzled with a deep magenta raspberry sauce. Norwegians have a number of rich, creamy desserts, and I’ve been noticing a theme of them in some of the Norwegian recipes I’ve been baking this spring. When I made the fillings for bløkake and Kvæfjordkake (also known as verdensbestekake, or world’s best cake), I found myself stopping at the fridge with a spoon repeatedly to sample the sweet, rich smooth creams and custards. This recipe takes the idea of those fillings and makes it into a dessert all its own. It’s inspired by the eggekrem in Ekte Norsk Mat by Astrid Karlsen Scott with cues from the no-bake custard in Bakeless Sweets by Faith Durand to make it more of a dessert and less of a filling. I’ve added almond and cardamom–two of my favorite Norwegian flavors–and finally topped it with luscious blueberries.

For the custard:
2 cups whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
6 egg yolks
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon almond extract

Blueberries:
3 cups frozen blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon potato starch flour
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Start by preparing a shallow pool of ice water in a container large enough to hold a heatproof bowl. You’ll use this to cool the custard at the end.

To make the custard, combine milk, sugar, and ground cardamom in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking to combine. Continuing to whisk, bring the milk almost to a simmer, then remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, cornstarch, and salt, and mix until smooth. You can use a stand mixer here, or simply a bowl and whisk. Pour the milk into the eggs while mixing on low speed. Once smooth, pour back into the saucepan. Whisking constantly, bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil two minutes, continuing to whisk, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in almond extract.

Strain the custard into a heatproof bowl set in the pool of ice water. Give the custard a good stir until it reaches a smooth, uniform consistency. Divide between four individual serving dishes and chill for several hours.

Shortly before you’re ready to serve the custard, give the frozen berries a quick rinse and drain. Place them in a medium saucepan with the sugar over medium heat. Stir occasionally and gently until the liquid from the berries comes to a boil, about three minutes. While the blueberries are heating, dissolve potato starch flour in a tablespoon of water. Add to the blueberries in a steady stream, stirring constantly. The liquid will immediately start to thicken and a sauce will form. After about a minute, when the liquid has thickened slightly, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Keep warm.

When ready to serve, spoon the blueberries over each custard.

Serves 4.

Cardamom Almond Custard with Blueberries

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars

Candied GingerSo many of the dessert recipes that find their way to the pages of this blog are traditional–old Scandinavian classics that have stood the test of time. But I love discovering new recipes, too, especially when they incorporate some of my favorite Nordic ingredients and flavors. Recently my friend Christy–a fellow Norwegian-American–sent me a recipe she had spotted for candied ginger-cardamom bars. I promptly printed it out and committed to baking them soon.

Cardamom, with its pungent perfume of sandlewood and a grandfather’s cologne, is one of the quintessential spices of Scandinavian baking. Its scent–earthy and exotic–conjures up childhood memories of visiting my grandparents’ midcentury home overlooking Puget Sound. Commonly used to flavor krumkaker, vaffler, cakes, and a variety of other traditional treats, cardamom holds a prominent place in the food experiences of most Scandinavians.

So while the recipe in my inbox wasn’t necessary a classic, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. But first things first: What was I going to do about the candied ginger?

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars

Ginger Root

I have mixed feelings about the dry, crunchy, potent nuggets that reside in a canister on grocery store shelves: all at once too strong and sweet–yet strangely addictive. Not a fan of over-processed and preservative-laden food, I set out to make my own.

Candied ginger, it turns out, is easy to make. A little time-consuming, sure, but fun. Techniques vary. Some recipes call for slicing the ginger into coins. Other instruct a matchstick shape. Some cook the ginger in a sugar syrup immediately, while others have you simmer the ginger in fresh water once or twice before cooking it in the syrup in order to mitigate some of the overpowering flavor. The latter is extra effort, but it’s worth it. The resulting candied ginger is assertive yet refined, a more balanced and sophisticated version of its packaged relative.

Candied Ginger

So much of baking depends on quality ingredients, so when making a recipe like this in which the taste of the ginger will shine, I’m happy to put in a little extra effort. Plus, I now have a bowlful of extra ginger to keep on hand for future baking. It would be a nice addition to homemade granola or even a ginger spice cake. With Christmas coming up in a couple of months, the ginger would also make a welcomed gift for a food-loving friend. Come to think of it, Christy, if you’re reading this, you might just find yourself with some homemade candied ginger soon…

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars

Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars
Adapted from Bon Appétit by way of The Oregonian

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 egg
3/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prep a 8-or 9-inch square baking pan by spritzing it with baking spray.

Whirl flour, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt together in a food processor to combine, then add the butter. Pulse to work the butter into the flour, continuing until you have a course meal. Crack open the egg and beat it; add two tablespoons to the flour, reserving the rest. Pulse some more just until the dough comes together, then add the ginger, pulsing just enough to combine. Turn it out into the prepared pan and press it evenly across the bottom. Brush the top with the reserved egg.

Bake about 40 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, until the top of the bars is golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (it will be moist but should have no crumbs). Set the pan on a rack to cool.

When cooled, cut into 18 bars by dividing into three long rectangles and then cutting each of them into six bars. Stored at room temperature in an airtight container, these should last several days.

Serves 18.

Candied Ginger
Adapted from www.davidlebovitz.com

1 pound fresh ginger
5 to 5 1/2 cups sugar, divided
Pinch of salt

Peel the ginger thoroughly, then slice as thinly as you can. Follow the direction of the root’s growth when possible to produce coin-like shapes, but feel free to adjust the angle and slice into long, thin oval when the nubs taper down. Uniformity isn’t crucial here.

Place the ginger in a nonreactive pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Drain the water (you could reserve it for another use if you’d like) and repeat with a fresh batch of water.

Once you’ve simmered the ginger in fresh water twice, drain and return the ginger to the pan with 4 cups sugar, 4 cups water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. David Lebovitz says to cook until the temperature reaches 225 degrees or until the liquid’s consistency becomes like thin honey. (I allowed the syrup to boil for about ten minutes, and then considered it done–the liquid seemed thin on the spoon but had the consistency of simple syrup when I cooled a little on a spoon in order to taste it.)

Remove the pot from the heat and drain the syrup well, reserving it for another use (hot toddies or herbal tea, anyone?)

Combine the ginger slices with the remaining 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar in a bowl and toss until the sugar coats the ginger. Shake off the excess sugar (David suggests reserving it for another use, such as ice cream or batter) and spread the slices onto a cooling rack to dry.

If you’re planning to make the candied ginger-cardamom bars on the same day, then you can chop the ginger after a couple of hours. Otherwise allow the slices to dry overnight.

Store at room temperature.

The Nordic Bakery’s Ginger Cake

Autumn Leaves

We have entered one of my favorite times of year: autumn. By the time late September arrives, sunlight casts a warm, cheery glow on the cooling Seattle days, and it’s still perfectly reasonable to wear my favorite warm-weather dresses–though perhaps covered with a sweater or light jacket. The leaves brighten up a little as they begin their transformation into a fiery display of colors. Cozy pots of soup simmer on the stove, filling the house with aromas of onions, garlic, spices, and herbs. The last figs and tomatoes of summer mingle with the heartier produce of fall as one season gracefully topples into the next.

Figs and Chanterelles Diptych

Cake with ApplesAnd of course there is cake.

The first cake of autumn this year was a spicy ginger cake from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook. Heavily flavored with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and ginger, each bite of the dense crumb packed a wallop of spice hinting at the aromas and flavors that will be so prevalent in my baking in the months to come.

Oh, autumn. I love the gauzy fog that shrouds the crisp mornings and the way a hot cup of coffee feels between my hands on a cold, damp day. The falling leaves lend an artistic touch to the sidewalks. And there’s the cozy feeling of curling up with a blanket and a book while the rain beats on the windows.

I may be a bit early bringing such a spicy cake into the kitchen when it’s only September, but let it serve as an introduction to all the festive cakes, hot beverages, and cookies that will be baked in the months leading up to Christmas.

Enjoy!

Leaves and Spice Cake

Ginger Cake and Leaves

Ginger Cake with Autumn Spices
This recipe is adapted from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook by Miisa Mink. It is quite spicy, so if you prefer a subtler flavor, then reduce the spices, especially the clove and cardamom. If possible, bake the cake a day in advance to give the flavors time to develop. If you prefer a moister cake, feel free to brush a sugar syrup over the top of the cake, allowing the liquid to trickle down through the crumbs and infuse the cake with a soft sweetness.

2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 eggs
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter an 8-inch springform pan.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then mix in the vanilla. Add each of the eggs, one at a time, beating well before adding the next.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and spices together in a medium bowl and pour into the batter, folding it in until just incorporated. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top of the cake is firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about one hour. Don’t just trust the toothpick test on this one–be sure that the top is firm as well or you will end up with a cake that’s undercooked in the center.

Let cool. Brush with a sugar syrup if desired.

Serves 12-16.

Ginger Cake and Apples

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