saturday afternoon æbleskiver

æbleskiver 5

I first encountered æbleskiver*, Danish pancake balls, at the annual Yulefest celebration at Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum. As you wait in line (there’s always a line – they’re a popular item) you can watch a line of volunteers, each with their own portable burner and æbleskiver pan, as they tend to their batter with long, thin wooden sticks, rotating the balls to form perfect spheres composed of the lightest, fluffiest dough I’ve ever had. Only slightly sweetened, these pancake balls are served topped off with powdered sugar and either applesauce or lingonberries (at the museum, that is – elsewhere you might find them filled with applesauce or jam instead). The word æbleskiver is actually composed of two Danish words: æble, meaning “apple,” and skiver, meaning “slices.” Given the name I can only assume that applesauce is the more traditional of the two toppings, but I’ve always gone for lingonberries. I’ve also had these delicious pancake balls at Broder in Portland, a wonderful Swedish restaurant that’s been a favorite of mine since my first trip to Portland.

My husband and I have been going through our house in preparation for a move to Norway (you can read about that here) – lots to pack, lots to find new homes for, lots to figure out what to do with – but in going through our kitchen I discovered a cast iron æbleskiver pan in the back of a cupboard. I think we must have bought it during the holidays sometime in the past few years, but forgotten about it after it went in the cupboard in the madness of holiday travel and all of that. In any case, I doubt the pan will be coming with us to Norway, so I decided it was high time for me to try making some æbleskiver of my own, before we find a new home for it!

æbleskiver 1

The dough itself is quite simple with relatively few ingredients – simpler than any of the other Nordic pancakes I’ve made, at least. Some of the ingredients need prepping – the milk needs to be heated to lukewarm, the butter needs to be melted, and the egg whites need to be whipped until stiff – but once you’ve done that you’re almost ready to hit the pan, really. I think my technique could probably use some work, though, because most of my pancakes came out shaped much more like macarons than like balls. Still, they were delicious all the same!

æbleskiver 2

Æbleskiver are made with a special pan, with half-sphere indentations in which the pancakes are cooked. When the surface of the first half has cooked, you use a long, thin stick (made of metal or wood) to turn the spheres so that the rest of the dough forms the other half of the ball. I have a feeling it takes some practice to get pancakes that are perfectly round.

æbleskiver 3

æbleskiver 4

I served mine up the way I like them – topped with powdered sugar and some lingonberry compote (homemade, in this case). They were a lovely Saturday afternoon treat!

*Beatrice spells this recipe “aebelskiver,” but I’m more familiar with the common spelling æbleskiver, so that’s what I’ve used here. The second half of the word sometimes gets spelled “shiver” in English, because of how the “sk” sound is pronounced.

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pulla

Oslo, January 2012

A belated happy new year to all of you! I am back in Hungary now, but I welcomed the new year with friends in Copenhagen, which I followed up with a trip to Oslo. Winter has always been my favorite season; I love the cold fresh air and and the quiet calm outside and especially the snow. So when Oslo got its first good snow of the winter while I was there, I was thrilled to death. And then I did what I always do: I baked.

I was fortunate enough to make it to another Sunday evening meal with my friend Camilla and her family up in Bærum while I was in Norway, and her family had been so good to me on my last visit that I wanted to bake them something. I thumbed through The Book and settled on a recipe for cardamom coffeebread, dubbed pulla. Beatrice tells a tale about the name of this particular bread:

“Although this bread is the basic yeast coffeebread of all Scandinavia, the name I give it is Finnish because of my own bias. The Swedes call it vetebröd, Norwegians call it hvetebrød, the Danes call it hvedebrød, and the Icelandics call it hveitibrauð. All of these names mean ‘wheat bread.’
The Finns who settled in the early 1900s in our country brought this recipe with them. At that time the Finnish word for wheat was nisu rather than vehnä, the modern name. (The Finnish language has been ‘Finnicized’ since the early part of this century, and all words that were too ‘Swedish’ such as nisu have been changed to more correct Finnish.) But many American Finns still call this bread ‘nisu,’ and the debates become heated! Where I grew up, however, we called this bread ‘biscuit.’ . . . The name pulla, however, arises from the Swedish bollar, which is translated as ‘bun.’ But pulla is most often shaped into a braided loaf. All very confusing!”

This is a bread with many names.

We added one more name once we got up to Camilla’s family home – her father Fred misheard me when I tried to tell him it was hvetebrød, and he thought I said flettet brød, or “braided bread.” It is perhaps the most apt description of any of the names! It is indeed braided bread.

This is one of my favorite recipes out of the book thus far. It really bats it out of the park, in my opinion. I’ve become really comfortable with yeast doughs in the last few months, and this recipe bakes up into three really lovely soft loaves that you can pull apart with ease (but that hold together quite nicely if you’re trekking around on Oslo’s public transportation system with freshly baked bread in tow, as I was). And the cardamom is the perfect amount. I was happy to have friends to give loaves away to, or else I’d easily have scarfed them all down myself!

I’ll leave you with just a few photos of the trips to Copenhagen and Oslo. I can’t wait to go back.

landbrød

So far, I’ve stuck to the sweeter recipes contained within The Great Scandinavian Baking Book. For some reason, I am intimidated by bread. It might be the yeast, because even though yeast isn’t that difficult, it’s usually the culprit if something’s gone wrong with bread baking. Determined to branch out into the rather large section of bread recipes, however, I decided to pick a simple bread to try out in my new Hungarian kitchen.

Enter landbrød, or Danish country egg bread. This is a fairly easy, if time intensive recipe, requiring few ingredients (flour, yeast, sugar, salt, eggs, and vegetable oil). It involves dissolving the yeast and then combining the ingredients to make the dough, followed by a 15 minute rest, then the kneading of the dough, and another hour’s rest while the dough rises. Then it is broken into pieces to form the beautiful braided loaf, and left to rise another 45 minutes before it goes into the oven for about a half hour. If you add up all the time you sit around waiting for the dough to rise, you’ll come out with two hours. This is perfect for Sunday baking, though, when I am home and have plenty of time and plenty of things to do while the dough is rising.

I’m still getting used to my oven, which uses gas mark numbers on the dial instead of temperatures, and so it was hotter than I expected. The bread wasn’t in for quite as long as it should have been, but I didn’t want the outside to be too crispy. Still, the inside baked nicely and the result was both delicious and quite pretty to look at. The recipe yielded two healthy-sized loaves, but they didn’t stick around long enough for me to get both in one shot. I can definitely see baking this recipe again, perhaps when I’m headed back stateside for Christmas.

kringler

Kringler! A Scandinavian classic. Kringler have a long history in Scandinavia, and I always associate them with Denmark. There are many varieties out there, but the common element is the twisted pretzel shape. I’m most accustomed to the type that’s like a flaky pastry and on the large side – Seattle has a few Danish bakeries that make this kind (Larsen’s Bakery, which features a kringle in their logo, and Nielsen’s Pastries are proprietors of the large pastry kringle, as seen here).

Ojakangas features a kringle recipe that is much more of a cookie – small, crumbly, and not at all in the flaky-pastry family. She calls them Danish sugar pretzels, and I have to admit this is the first recipe I’ve tried in this book that’s only so-so. The flavor of the cookies is a little bland and I think they would do better supplemented with some sort of flavor or seasoning, or even just by putting sugar in the dough (of which there is none, it’s only stuck to the top of the cookies prior to baking them). Another thing that may have contributed to them was the fact that I used whole wheat flour rather than the standard all-purpose white flour. I’ve actually used the whole wheat for the last few recipes and they’ve been fine, but this one seems to be one where it makes a difference.

Still, the cookies weren’t bad by any means, just a little below my expectations. They make a nice sweet treat and they sure are pretty to look at…