Kringle: The Nordic Pretzel
The kringle is a familiar Scandinavian pastry here in the U.S. among those familiar with Nordic cuisine. Often times referred to as the Nordic pretzel because of its similarity in shape, it is said to have arrived in the 13th century with the Roman Catholic monks. Denmark is the country in Scandinavia best known for their “kringler”, and although I’m Norwegian must admit they perhaps have the slight upper hand when it comes to developing creative varieties of this delicious knotted-shaped pastry.
The kringle symbol is one of the few ancient guild signs still used, and a traditional golden kringle sign is often hung outside bakery shops. The shape is said to symbolize hands folded in a cross like pattern across the chest ) to mimic the way people prayed in the Middle Ages. (and not folding hands as is done today). According to history, a 7th century monk wanted to reward his students with small pieces of bread shaped in same way the children kept their arms during prayer. He named the baked good “pretiolas” – “a little reward”. The idea was quickly adopted across Europe, and the kringle became a symbol of luck and a long, prosperous life. The kringle achieved particular fame in 1510, when Turkish troops attempted to dig their way into access Austria by digging their way underground through the wall into Vienna. The bakers, who were the only ones at work at that time of night, heard the noise, and the attack was stopped as a result. As a reward the bakers received their own seal, which among other things included the kringle, which later became the bakers’ symbol.
Solvang Bakery in California:
The Norwegian word “kringle” is an old word, meaning ring or circle. In his introductory notes in his royal history saga stories, Snorre Sturlasson (an Icelandic poet and politician) described the creation of the world as “Kringla heimsins” (the world’s circle) in Norse. His sagas have later become known as “Heimskringla”. Who knew this pastry had such a long and interesting history?
Bergen is the place in Norway best known for their kringle. The tradition most likely came from German or Dutch salesmen who conducted business on the dock in the coastal city (“Bryggen”). Perhaps this is where the connection to the German, salty pretzel comes in? Regardless, kringler from Bergen was hugely popular all over the country. Fishermen from the north were not shy – they even transported kringler back home north in empty coffins!!
Both sweet and savory versions of kringler exists, some are filled with nuts, confectioners glaze and pastry cream among many other delectable things. “Kringler” in my area of Norway however, more often than not, are not filled, but rather plain – the pastry cream filled version we refer to as “wienerbrød” and I have a blog post about these amazingly tasty pastries here.
I should also quickly mention the correct pronounciation of kringle is “Kring-LUH” – not “Kring-EL” which so many Americans say and I sometimes don’t connect the dots about which pastry they are trying to tell me about :)
Last year I posted a recipe for “aniskringler” – a kringle flavored with whole anise seeds, which is probably one of the oldest kringle recipes out there. Most Norwegians who remember this version, probably had their grandmothers serve this – as was the case with me. I love the simplicity of the flavors and preparations in it; both savory and sweet, with a touch of anise (sometimes likened to licorice but it’s more earthy). Today I wanted to update the recipe to eliminate the dairy in the recipe – it is so easy to make these with plant based ingredients and I promise you won’t even taste the difference!
BESTA’S KRINGLER (Grandma’s Kringler)
1 1/4 cup almond milk
50 grams fresh yeast or 1 packet instant dry yeast (2 1/2 tsp)
about 90 grams or about 6 tablespoons margarine or vegan butter
70 grams granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp whole anise seeds
400 grams or 3 1/4 cup all purpose flour
Additional anise seeds for sprinkling on kringler
Almond milk for brushing kringler
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit (240 degrees Celcius). Line some baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a small pot, gently heat up the milk and butter until around 90 degrees F/32 degrees C. Add in the yeast and stir to combine. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid. Knead until a dough forms. Cover with a towel, place in a warm spot and let rise for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
On a clean work surface, sprinkle some flour and start kneading the dough until smooth and shiny. Cut the dough into about 20 equal pieces, and roll them out to links. Shape them into a pretzel and place on prepared baking sheets. Cover with a towel and let them rise again for about 20-30 minutes.
Brush them with a bit of almond milk and sprinkle on whole anise seeds. Bake in oven for around 10 minutes until nice and golden on top. Spread some plant based butter on these babies and enjoy!!