Fastelavn is celebrated the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and evolved from the Roman Catholic tradition of celebrating the days before Lent. Often referred to as the Nordic Halloween, children will dress up in costumes and gather treats for the fastelavn feast. Although we don’t see as much of this tradition in Norway, it’s still very much practiced in Denmark, who I think are the masters of ‘fastelavn’ and are known for parades and festivities across the country.
The term fastelavn comes from the old Danish fastelaghen, again borrowed from the low German word vastel-avent, or fasten abend, meaning “fast evening”. Much like Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras) in this country, the day was created to ‘fatten up’ before the fast. In Norway, this Tuesday is often referred to as “white Tuesday”, when “white” food like flour and milk products were on the menu. In fact, ‘fastelavn’ is not only one day, but three; fastelavn Sunday, Blue Monday and Fat Tuesday.
Fastelavn, originally a heathen spring fest, is related to many old customs, among others the fastelavnsris -a bouquet of birch branches, often decorated with colorful feathers or candy among other items:
Women, animals and trees were to be woken up to fertility by being whipped with these birch branches, and was practiced specifically on young, childless wives. A lot of superstition surrounded the birch; which was filled with sprigs full of life this time of year, and the branch was often called “the life branch”. People believed that birch which not yet had leaves, had true fertility power, and the sprigs which developed was a sign of life to come.
Gluttony was the key word for fastelavn – one custom said one were to eat nine times in every corner of the living room; that totals 36 times! Food included bacon, fatty soups and flour buns. These flour buns were probably the origin of what we in Norway and Denmark make and eat surrounding this day, called “fastelavensboller”; a sweet bun filled with whipped cream and jam.
In Sweden, you have the delicious “semla” or “semlor”, a very similar creation. Historically, only rich people in the city made fastelavnsboller and didn’t become a nationwide tradition until the 20th century. There are endless variations of recipes of course, but the commonality of the fastelavnsboller is that they contain whipped cream and many are dusted with confectioners sugar while others are topped with chocolate.
I find it interesting comparing the different buns, or cream puffs, among the three Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. They are very different in many ways although they may look similar. Norwegians prefer theirs quite simple, with a little bit of sweetened whipped cream and a dusting of confectioners sugar, perhaps some raspberry or strawberry jam in the middle. The Swedes will scoop their buns out, making room for more filling, and sometimes mix the scooped out center with a little marzipan and milk and place it back in the center of the bun. The Danes will use a wienerbrød base to make their buns – you can read more about wienerbrød in my previous post here. The buns are often filled with either a chocolate or vanilla custard and whipped cream mixed with some raspberry jam and often glazed with chocolate as well.
I’ve chosen to list three different recipes, inspired by an article I read about the famous Norwegian bakery “Bakeriet i Lom”. The baker there, Morten Schakenda, has almost cult like status and is highly regarded for his fantastic bread and other baked goods. Previously a chef at some of Norway’s top restaurants, he decided to pack away is knives and open a bakery in Lom, which has since experienced tremendous success. Lom is located in Oppland and part of the traditional region of Gudbrandsal.
Below is a recipe for his famous “Schakenda Buns” under the Norwegian recipe. Hope you will give these a go when you feel like a special treat – perhaps for Fat Tuesday? I know I will!
2.2 lbs all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
150 grams (5.3 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
1 large egg
50 grams fresh (cake) yeast
150 grams (5.3oz) butter, diced
For the filling:
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
To make the buns: In a large bowl, add all the ingredients except the butter. Combine ingredients by hand and knead until a dough forms. Slowly add in the pieces of butter and continue kneading until the dough releases from the bowl (about 15 minutes) and all the butter is integrated. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size, in a warm spot.
Divide the dough into 20 pieces and shape into buns. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap and let them rise until doubled in size.
Crack an egg into a small bowl and whisk lightly – brush the buns with the eggs, and bake in the oven at 400F for about 15 minutes, until the buns have a golden color on top.
Cool on a rack. Whisk the heavy cream with the sugar until you get whipped cream. Divide the buns in half lengthwise, fill them with the cream, and dust with confectioners sugar.
Use the same recipe as for the buns in the Norwegian recipe (I’ll let the Swedes have this one, hehehe)
300 grams (10.5 oz) marzipan
1/2 cup milk
Scooped out crumbs from the buns
Cut off the “lid” off the buns after they are baked and cooled off. Remove a bit of the insides and place in a bowl. Add in the marzipan and combine it with the bun insides. Add some of the milk until you get a loose dough. Divide the filling in the center of each bun, whisk the heavy cream with some vanilla sugar (or confectioners sugar and vanilla extract) and place on top of the marzipan filling. Cover with the “lid” top and dust with confectioners sugar.
This will be the most time consuming of the three recipes, as it is a flaky style butter dough and requires cooling down of the dough and rolling out several times. But will be worth it!
about 1 cup cold water
500 grams/1 lb all purpose flour, sifted
50 grams (1.8 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
40 grams yeast
400 grams (14 oz) butter
Vanilla custard, home made or store bough
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
To make buns:
Place the flour, salt and sugar in the freezer to make sure that the dough is not too warm when you will work with it.
Mix all ingredients in a big bowl except the butter. Combine until you get a dough shaped, and continue kneading slowly for five minutes, then five minutes rapidly. Place the dough on a flour dusted work surface and cover with plastic. Let rise for 15 minutes. Grab a rolling pin, and roll out the dough until you get a rectangle measuring 25 x 40 cm (10 x 16 inches). Place the dough on a parchment paper lined baking tray and place in the freezer. Turn the dough around carefully after 20 minutes and let it sit in freezer an additional 25 minutes.
Place the butter on the cold dough so that you are able to fold the two longest parts over the butter. Press lightly together on top and press the edges of the rectangle together, so that the butter gets enclosed in the dough. Roll out the dough on a floured work surface until you get a rectangle measure 10 x 40 inches, and about 2 1/2 inches thick. Brush off the flour and fold the dough into three. Place the dough on a tray lined with parchment paper and leave in fridge to rest for 20 minutes, until next rolling out.
Roll out the dough again to a new rectangle measuring 10 x 35 inches and 2 1/2 inches thick. Brush of flour and fold the dough in three again. Shape lightly with the rolling pin and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and place in fridge for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough one more time until you get a thickness of about 1/8 inch. Brush off flour and cut the dough into 20 squares.
Fold the squares like an envelope. Place them with the fold down on to the baking tray (the opposite of when you make wienerbrød). Let the pieces rise for about an hour covered by a kitchen towel.
Lightly push down on the middle and brush with an egg that has been lightly whisked. Bake for about 15-20 minutes (convection is great) at 380F until nice and golden. It’s important to let them bake well so that they don’t fall apart when removed from the oven.
Cool on a rack. In a bowl, combine some vanilla custard and raspberry jam, and mix in some heavy cream. Divide the buns in half, and fill with the vanilla/raspberry jam/whipped cream and top with the “lid”. Top with some melted chocolate.
Image Source: Boligliv.dk