Norwegian Coffee Treats: A Class at Nordic Heritage Museum

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When we bake with love, that’s when beauty comes into our creations, I told a sold-out crowd of students at the Nordic Heritage Museum on a recent Saturday. They were there to learn how to make a variety of Norwegian coffee treats, each one of the recipes beautiful or intricate in its own right. My objective in teaching is for students to leave a class with the confidence and ability to recreate the dishes at home. Teaching the steps of a recipe is only part of the equation. One of the most important parts, I believe, is the heart.

But until that Saturday in January, I hadn’t been able to fully articulate what makes a recipe work. Butter, sugar, flour, eggs–I had been playing around with that mix of ingredients in the weeks leading up to the class, making heart-shaped waffles (vaffler), prince cake (fyrstekake), and sandbakkels. I had studied how a handful of simple ingredients could yield such dramatically different results with just a few variations of ingredients.

In class I kept encouraging the students to just give it a try. Just put the batter in the waffle iron and practice–you’ll soon get a feel for how much to spoon in and how long to cook the waffle. Just make sandbakkel after sandbakkel, getting used to the feeling of pressing the dough into the crevices of the little tins until it’s as thin as you think it can be. Then when it was time to talk about the fyrstekake–an almond cake with a shortbread crust baked in a tart pan–I assured everyone that it really is easy.

Don’t stress out, I told students time and time again as they oohed and ahhed over the cake. Baking isn’t fun if you do. When it comes to crafting the crisscross or lattice topping that gives the fyrstekake a hint of elegance, you can get frustrated when the soft dough warms up too much and sticks to your work surface as you cut it into strips. Or you can roll with it, doing the best you can, and putting your heart into what you’re doing. Nothing about Norwegian cooking is fussy, as far as I’m concerned. Even the beautiful fyrstekake allows for grace, the filling puffing up into the top layer and rounding out the rough edges.

When you bake with love, that impacts the way you approach the food. It works its way into each cup of flour measured, the care taken in beating sugar into eggs, the way the dough is manipulated into something of beauty. I’m as much of a perfectionist as the next person–it was my downfall as a child trying to strike a balance between booksmart and just being a kid–but when it comes to baking, I do it because I love it, because I love people. I do it because I love watching how a few simple ingredients can be transformed into something that feeds and nourishes others–their stomaches and their souls. Sure, care and precision are important. But love is essential.

Thanks to each of you who attended the class last month–it was a joy to teach you to make some of my favorite Norwegian treats. I enjoyed meeting each and every one of you, and I hope I inspired you to work some of these recipes into your own homes.

If you’re in the Seattle area and interested in learning more about Nordic baking, be sure to check out the rest of the Nordic Heritage Museum’s coffee treats series. I kicked it off last month with Norwegian coffee treats, and the museum continues with recipes from the other Nordic countries in the months to come.

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 Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ehrlich / Nordic Heritage Museum

Norwegian Baking Class in Seattle, January 24

Norwegian Heart Waffles Horizontal

In a few hours the clock will strike midnight and Christmas Eve will be upon us. There are a few more gifts to wrap–plus my husband and I just decided a few hours ago to host Christmas dinner at our house–but all is calm, all is bright. Before setting into planning mode, I wanted to take a little time to share an announcement with you.

On January 24, I’m teaching another baking class at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, and this time the menu features heart-shaped waffles (vaffler), prince cake (fyrstekake), and sandbakkels. If you’re in the Seattle area, I hope you’ll consider joining me as we kick off the museum’s 5-part series on coffee treats from each of the Nordic countries!

Vaffler, fyrstekake, and sandbakkels are three of my all-time favorite Norwegian treats, and I have special connections to and memories of each. My grandmother taught me to make the sandbakkels and vaffler, and I grew up eating fyrstekake frequently. It will be a delicious day.

You can learn more about the series on the Nordic Heritage Museum’s website, and you can register for any or all of the classes online here. This might be just the last-minute Christmas gift for someone in the Seattle area who loves Nordic food!

Sandbakkels

Fyrstekake Slice on Plate with Crumbs

Family Classics: Norwegian Waffles

Norwegian Vaffler

I believe that food is a connector. Both to the people we love and to our heritage. I began writing about Scandinavian food in 2009 a couple of months after Grandma Agny passed away; the grief had struck me in ways deeper than I could have expected, and I found myself seeking out elements of our shared Norwegian heritage as a way to feel closer to her memory. Food was the winner.

As I read Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Scandinavian Baking Book and Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit–the two titles that began my collection of Scandinavian cookbooks–I began to understand my grandmother and our Norwegian heritage in new, illuminating ways. Outside Oslo became a place where I could share what was on my mind and what I was discovering as I cooked and baked my way through Scandinavian recipes.

Earlier this week I had the privilege of speaking at a Daughters of Norway meeting in Seattle about how we can use food to share our heritage with people we care about–both in the present and as we think about ways to preserve it for the future. Whey they invited me to come and speak at their May meeting, I was both honored and nervous. I would be speaking to women who knew just as much–perhaps more–about the cuisine than I do, and I wanted to both inform and inspire them. What it came down to was speaking from the heart.

Daytona Strong Speaker

On that special evening, I shared how I became interested in Norwegian cuisine, and the important roles it has played in my life from childhood and into the present. I discussed the value of creating memories with loved ones, sharing stories and family history, and handing down recipes and the associations that go along with them. Speaking from my own experience, I shared ways to preserve family history and recipes through tools such as blogging and making a family cookbook.

Norwegian Heart Waffles HorizontalAs I bake regularly with Grandma Adeline and my mom, we create memories as we spend time together in the kitchen, sampling bites of whatever we’re making and often enjoying a meal. In these baking sessions, something often triggers memories for Grandma, and she’ll share stories from her youth in North Dakota, her experiences cooking for and managing restaurants, and bits of family history. These baking days bring forth parts of my family history and my heritage that I might otherwise never have learned.

As I did with the women of Daughters of Norway, I would like to encourage you to find ways to share such experiences with your relatives, whether they’re older generations or younger. Food has an amazing way of connecting people, and so much of a time and place can be wrapped up in one single recipe.

Norwegian Waffles Vertical

If you do decide to write a family cookbook, let me share with you one of the recommendations a source gave me when I interviewed her for an article on the topic for Costco Connection magazine: Don’t worry about including the most impressive recipes. The goal, rather, should be including the ones with meaning, the ones that have fond memories and stories written between the lines.

For me, one of those recipes is for Norwegian waffles. I suspect every Norwegian family has its own version of this traditional dish; some use sour cream, others use buttermilk. Some people eat them with lingonberry preserves, others with geitost (brown goat cheese) or some sort of nut spread. But they’re typically made with a waffle iron that creates little heart-shaped waffles that look pretty on a platter and speak to the love that invariably goes into making them. This particular recipe goes back generations, at least to my great-grandmother Josephine. Making them with Grandma Adeline a week and a half ago, we carried on a family tradition, imbuing generations of past memories with our own and connecting the past with the present. And that, my friends, is a very special gift.

Norwegian Heart Waffles VerticalGreat-Grandma Josephine’s Norwegian Waffles (Vaffler)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat eggs in a separate bowl, then add to the butter and beat until smooth. Mix in buttermilk and milk. Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda and mix into the batter to combine.

Baking using a heart-shaped waffle maker.

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