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

Wine Pairings for Scandinavian Food?

White Wine Simple

When you think about Scandinavian food, what are the first things that come to mine? Salmon, dill, almond, cardamom, berries, mushrooms, potatoes, pickled herring, apples–and that’s just a starting place. The food of Scandinavia is guided by tradition as well as geography and the seasons, resulting in a variety of regional cuisines with no shortage of seafood, game, cakes, cookies, dairy, and produce that varies widely throughout the year. As rich as Scandinavian cuisine can be, it’s not typically one of the top ones for wine pairings. After all, what kind of wine would really go well with pickled herring?

Food and Wine Pairing Session

At a wine pairing session this weekend at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle, I decided to get to the bottom of wine pairings for Scandinavian food. I asked chef John Sarich, culinary director at Chateau Ste. Michelle, what he’d pair with Scandinavian food. Riesling, Riesling, Riesling, he repeated as I listed some of the hallmark flavors in many dishes–salmon, dill, horseradish, potatoes. And then I stumped him with pickled herring. Sure enough, my suspicions were right: Don’t even try, stick with aquavit and beer. But I’m intrigued by the Riesling pairing. Much Riesling is too sweet for my palate so I rarely consider it. But as I’ve been mulling over the flavors of both the food and this particular wine (especially the drier ones), I think he’s onto something.

What about you? What do you like to pair–wine or otherwise–with your favorite Scandinavian foods?

Full disclosure: Although I paid my way to the conference, there were plenty of free things handed our way, including a cookbook from Sarich and a discount on the conference for people blogging about it. Just thought you should know.

Travel: New Zealand

Auckland Skyline in Distance

Here at Outside Oslo I try to stick to the focus of Scandinavian food but every once in a while something calls to me, asking me to digress. Since I’ve been pretty quiet over here on the blog in recent weeks due to travel, I’ve decided to answer the call of my memories and tell you about my recent trip to New Zealand. I visited–with a stop in Honolulu each way–for a travel piece I’m writing, and while I prepare for that story, I thought it might be fun to visually share some highlights of my experience with you over here.

Royal Hawaiian Collage

Honolulu to Auckland Inaugural Flight

Auckland Skyline from Ferry

Lavender and Greenhouse at Mudbrick

Mudbrick Vineyard

Mudbrick Restaurant

Leaving Waiheke

The Foodstore Auckland

The Foodstore Dishes

Waikiki Beach

 Want to read my New Zealand travel story when it’s published? Follow Outside Oslo on Facebook and I’ll share the link when it’s available!

Disclosure: I was generously sent on the trip by Hawaiian Airlines and Tourism New Zealand.

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