The four weeks leading up to Christmas have always been my favorite, more so than the actual day of Christmas. The anticipation of the celebration to come with all its preparing; the baking, cooking, cleaning, decorating and holiday parties, is a very special time in Norway and when everyone deviates from their normal routines to celebrate and enjoy themselves. This period is called “adventstid” (time of advent).
What is advent? The word “advent” comes from the Latin word Adventus (Redemptoris) and means “the Lord’s arrival”, and has been used as a name for this time period all the way back to the year 400, according to the website “Aktiv i Oslo“.
Historically, the month of December was traditionally a hectic time in Norway. People were busy with everything that had to be prepared in order to properly celebrate Christmas, and not a time for fun. In the old times, this period actually used to be a time for fasting. Around the year 480, it was decided that every Monday, Wednesday and Friday people were to fast during this time. This was to spiritually prepare for the birth of Jesus Christ. Many Catholic countries still practice fasting, but in protestant countries such as Norway, this tradition hasn’t had much meaning since the 16th century. Still, among farmers in the country, there were significant restrictions around food during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
All the “good stuff” were to be saved for Christmas; not like today where we munch on ginger cookies and drink “gløgg” (a special Scandinavian mulled wine recipe) during the entire month of December. The norm was to use as little “pålegg” (toppings) on sandwiches as possible, and prepare simple dinners, with fish being the center piece. Perhaps this is why we still eat “lutefisk” (a special fish prepared in lye) on Christmas Eve? People would feed their children a lot less food during the time of advent, so that they would really look forward to, and appreciate everything that belonged to Christmas! Perhaps we should employ a little more of this habit today, when we bask in so much luxurious food leading up to the holiday, that we are almost too full to properly enjoy the big dinner on Christmas itself?
Today. the time of advent, or the 24 days leading up to Christmas Eve, is a much bigger celebration than it used to be. Ever since the 19th century, it has been customary to put out a wreath with four candles, and to light one candle for each Sunday. You will find these wreaths in kindergartens, schools, hospitals, office buildings and private homes all over Norway during this time. Some wreaths are decorated with branches of spruce and pine cones, live candles or some have electric wreaths or advent stars hanging in their windows.
Image from citat-uglen.dk
Another tradition is putting up an advent calendar for the kids – these can be purchased across stores in the country. This is a special treat and exciting for children, as they will get to open one “door” for each day leading up to Christmas, and behind the door is either a piece of chocolate or a toy. These are traditions that are relatively new in our country. People have gotten very creative with their calendars in recent times, I’ve even seen calendars for grown ups (one beer for every day for the fathers, for instance :).
This weekend, I was thinking I should make my own wreath to decorate with in our house, as there are none to be bought in stores in the U.S., because it is not an American tradition. Then I thought – hey why not make an edible one? My mother-in-law is visiting from Houston this week for Thanksgiving, and I always enjoy baking and cooking much more when I have guests that can actually enjoy all my food 🙂
I wanted to share a traditional recipe for this edible “adventskrans”, or advent wreath, with you, my wonderful readers. I highly recommend this as a breakfast bread, or serve a piece of this delightful pastry with your afternoon coffee or tea for guests. It’s slightly sweet, similar to perhaps a brioche, and flavored with either saffron or turmeric (I used the latter as I had run out of saffron), giving it a nice depth of flavor. Some people fill the wreath with marzipan and additional butter, but I like it less rich, so mine just has some raisins in the dough, topped with some sliced almonds and a little confectioners glaze. The “adventskrans” is really easy to make dairy free and without eggs, and comes out delicately soft, fluffy, juicy and super delicious. Happy baking!
1 stick of butter (about 113 grams)
1 1/2 cups plant based milk
1 packed dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
100 grams (3.5 oz) or 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp saffron threads or ground turmeric
1 flax egg (1 tbsp ground flaxseeds mixed with 3 tbsp water)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 cup confectioners sugar, mixed with 3 tbsp water or until desired consistency
about 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (about 600 grams)
1 tbsp butter plus 1/4 cup plant based milk melted, for brushing dough
Combine the butter and milk in a small pot on the stove, and gently heat up. It should be between 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure it’s not too hot, or you will kill the yeast.
Combine the flour, yeast, sugar and saffron or turmeric in the bowl of a stand mixer, and with a dough hook attached, combine. Start adding in the butter-milk mixture, then add in the flax eggs. Knead for about 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let rise for about 1 hour, until double in size.
Place the dough on a clean work surface sprinkled with a little flour, add in the raisins in the dough, and knead for a few minutes with your hands. Divide the dough in half, then roll out into two equal sized links, about 20 inches (50 cm) long.
Braid them together and form them into a circle like a wreath, and place on a prepared baking sheet.
Cover with a towel and let rise for another 40 minutes. In the mean time, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celcius).
Brush the dough with the melted butter/milk, and top with the chopped almonds.
Place the wreath in the oven in the middle rack and bake for 25 minutes or until golden on top. Pull out and let cool off, while you prepare the confectioners’ glaze (this is optional- leave out for a less sweet pastry). Drizzle with the glaze when cool enough and enjoy!