Havrekjeks – Norwegian grandmothers’ favorite cookie

It’s the 4th Sunday in advent today, as well as my birthday, so I figured I would go out with a big bang ending my Christmas preparation baking with some of my favorite cookies (next to kransekakestenger). These cookies are so simple, yet  just so heavenly, and for some odd reason only baked (for the most part) during Christmas. The thing is, once you’ve got a taste for it, these are cookies you will want to bake again and again…

havrekjeks2

Many Norwegians remember visiting their grandmother and her serving these up alongside a pot of hot black coffee… The traditional “havrekjeks” do not contain chocolate pieces, but rather are enjoyed with a slice of the special brown cheese Norwegians make (brunost or geitost, read more about that tradition HERE).  While these cookies seem almost like peasant food because of their simple ingredients (with the exception perhaps of the generous amount of butter), they are simultaneously regarded as a special treat, which is why I find them so fascinating.

havrekjeks1

The addition of chocolate pieces have proven to be particularly popular among children, so that is why you will see the more modern versions of this cookie made with chocolate.. (I’m a kid at heart, what can I say).

Thought I would leave you with this wonderful recipe as a last “hoorah” before we enter into Christmas week! Happy baking!!

HAVREKJEKS MED SJOKOLADE  (Oatmeal Biscuits with Chocolate)

1 tbs ground flaxseed

3 tbs water

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 stick vegan butter (or about 113 grams)

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark chocolate chip

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup oatmeal

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Dress a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl, add the vanilla extract and set aside.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy and light. Add in the flaxseed mixture and combine well. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in the oatmeal and chocolate chip in the end.   Using a medium cookie scooper, scoop spoonfuls of the batter onto the cooking sheet – you should get about 30-32 cookies.

Bake for about 10 minutes. Cool off and enjoy!

Havrekjeks

 

havrekjeks3

Saffron Rolls To Shine a Light On Santa Lucia Day

Today , December 13th, we celebrate Santa Lucia Day in Scandinavia. This tradition stems from  a combination of the celebration of Saint Lucia and the Norse “lusse” celebration.  There are many theories behind why we celebrate this day,  I will shine a light (no pun intended) on a couple of them here in this blog post.

Saint Lucia,  a rich, Roman virgin, was born in the year 283 in Sicily, Italy and was killed (most likely in the year 304) because of her faith  during the crusades in the Roman Empire in the 4th century.  Lucia was Christian and faithful in her belief, but she was engaged to a man who didn’t believe in God.  Her father was dead, but her sick mother wanted Lucia to marry rich, but Lucia didn’t want that.  After Lucia’s prayers to the holy Agatha,  Lucia’s mother miraculously got well and canceled her wedding.  As thanks, Lucia donated her entire fortune to the poor.

When Lucia’s fiancee found out there would be no wedding, he told the emperor about Lucia’s Christian faith.  During this time, Christians were being persecuted, everyone was to worship the emperor.  She refused to do so and remained faithful to her beliefs. As punishment, she was given a death sentence by burning.  The tale goes she died holding a burning candle in her hands.  The name Lucia, is a female version of the Latin name Lucius, which means “light” or “brightness”.  Very early on, people started building bonfires and holding a festival of light in Sicily to honor her name .

santalucia

The tradition of letting a white clad Lucia spearhead a parade with girls dressed in white with candles in their hands and hair, started in Germany after the reform in 1536. In Norway this tradition really only began just a couple of decades ago, while this celebration has a much longer history in Sweden.  It is believed the “Santa Lucia” celebration has became more popular as of late in Norway because of the number of Swedish people moving there to work.

santaluciatog

In older Norwegian farmer tradition, this day also went by “Lussidagen”, “Lussinott”, “Lussimess” or “Lussi langnatt” (Lussi long night).  It was regarded the longest night of the year; when water turned to wine, and the animals in the barn were able to talk.  People complained that this night was as long as two nights put together. there were a lot of trolls and other evil creatures out during that night, so people were to stay indoors.
All the major work for Christmas had to be done by this day. If somebody was still baking or brewing bear, Lussi, a female troll, would appear and yell down through the chimney:  “Don’t brew or don’t bake, don’t keep big logs on the fire. If you do, your dough will divide in two,  your grinding stone in seven, and your baking/work table in fifteen pieces” (this sounds a little better in Norwegian, haha!).  She would then punish the people who were still working.   Young women were believed to be able to see their future husband if they fasted, and trolls went from house to house to make sure everything was prepared for Christmas.   So in short, this night was thought to be long, dark and dangerous, and was named after Lucifer, the devil, and not Lucy, the saint.

tussikatt

This story might be more in line with another popular belief, that most likely started in Germany around the 17th century.  The story goes that on this night, the devil, in form of a cat, would give naughty children a beating, while Jesus, in the form of a child, would hand out rolls to all the good children.  Since the devil was scared of light, the rolls (lussekatter) were colored with the bright yellow spice of saffran to keep him away.  Lusse is the name for Lucifer, and “katter” is Norwegian for “cats”.

So a lot of stories around these lovely saffron buns, wouldn’t you agree? I could go on and on, as stories vary from country to country, but I have to have some material for Christmas of 2016 as well, right? 🙂

In the mean time, I will leave you with my recipe for lussekatter, as always dairy free and eggless, but nonetheless just as delicious as (and healthier than) the traditional recipe!   We enjoy these straight out of the oven, preferably accompanied by a cup of rich, hot chocolate while watching the snow fall outside…. Happy baking and Happy Santa Lucia Day!!

LUSSEKATTER

100 grams (about 1 stick) butter plus extra for brushing dough

1 cup plant based milk

1 packed dry yeast (about 2 1/4 tsp)

1 gram saffron

100 grams granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cardamom

about 3 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup raisins

Melt the butter in a small pot on the stove, add in the milk and stir together, set aside. The temperature of the liquid should be around 120 degrees Fahrenheit.   Pour the liquid into the bowl of a standmixer and sprinkle in the yeast. Let sit for a couple of minutes. Attach the dough hook and add in the sugar, saffron, salt and cardamom. Slowly add in the flour (start with 3/4 of the amount) and add in more flour as needed. The dough should be smooth and firm.   Cover the dough with plastic wrap, place in a warm spot and let rise until double in size, about 1-1 1/2 hours.

On a clean, lightly floured work surface, divide the dough in four equal pieces, then divide those again in four, so you have 16 pieces. Roll each piece into links about 6 inches (15 cm) or longer. Shape them any way you want, here is an example of different shapes you can try out:

saffronbuns

Image  from Julbaket/receptfavoriter.blogg.se

Here are some of my shapes (as you can see, I need to perfect my skill, lol):

lussekatterpre1

 

lussekatterpre2

 

Place them on to two baking sheets dressed with parchment paper, cover with a clean towel and let rise for another 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (250 degrees Celcius).

Stick raisins in the dough /creases of the shapes, brush the rolls with melted butter and place in oven. Bake for 6-8 minutes until golden on top, fluffy and moist on the inside. Enjoy!!

lussekatter1

 

lussekatter2

 

lussekatter3

Julebrød; a “must bake” Norwegian Christmas Bread

I wanted to rush to the computer straight after I baked my veganized version of “julebrød”  yesterday (also called “Julekake” meaning Christmas cake) because I simply couldn’t wait to tell you all how fluffy, juicy and flavorful this  bread turned out!!  This is, if I can be so bold, the best version of julebrød I have made and tasted to date, and I don’t say this lightly!

Delicate, slightly sweet with a subtle, welcoming flavor of the traditional cardamom spice used in Scandinavian baked goods, I am sure this will be your new favorite bread if you haven’t already tried it.  No eggs needed here, they turned out absolutely perfect:

julebrod2

The history of baking this Christmas bread can be traced back to pre-Christian, norse times and was one of the traditions Norwegians carried with them.  The bread was made from one of the last corn husks in the fall, and the bread was placed in the homes as decoration through the entire Christmas period.  The bread was not to be eaten, and was packed away and put in a special chest where people would store corn over the winter. The bread was brought out and unpacked when the spring harvest started.  When the plowing started, it was divided between the workers and the horse.   Some of the bread was also mixed into the seeds that were to be planted, as a form of fertility magic. Another interesting fact, is that the corn husk seems to stem from old rituals surrounding fertility, and several priests in Norway and Sweden tried to ban this “Un-Christian” tradition.

A sister and brother pictured in Oslo in 1905 with a Christmas tree and “Julenek” (resembling corn) or wheat husk in preparation for Christmas:

juleforberedelser

Photo by Anders Beer Wilse/ Oslo Museum

In old Denmark, Christmas bread was believed to cure headaches and snake bites, so if you find yourself with a migraine, perhaps try this recipe out … If your headache still doesn’t go away, your taste buds will at least thank you!!

julebakingstiftendk

Image from stiften.dk

This bread is wonderful as a special treat for breakfast during Christmas, but equally appropriate to serve up in the afternoon or evenings for friends and family. You can top it with cheese or jam, as is customary in Norway.   The traditional recipe includes “sukat”, or candied citrus peel, in addition to raisins – but I clearly remember meticulously picking those small green pieces out of my bread each and every time I had a slice growing up, so I decided not to include them (as most people do) in my recipe. If you would like to add sukat, just add equal amounts to raisins.

I hope you will try out my eggless recipe, you will not be disappointed,  I promise!!

JULEBRØD  (Julekake)

1 stick butter (about 125 grams)  plus extra for brushing dough

2 cups almond milk or other plant based milk

1 packet dry yeast

2/3 cups sugar

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

3-4 cups all purpose flour (start with 3, then add more as needed)

2/3 cups raisins

Melt the butter in a small pot on the stove, add in the milk and stir. The mixture should be around 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and drizzle the yeast in, let sit for a couple of minutes until the yeast starts to bubble (This way you know it’s active and working).

Attach the dough hook, and add in the sugar, ground cardamom and flour.  Knead the dough for several minutes until the dough releases from the bowl and you have a smooth, firm dough.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size.

On a clean work surface sprinkled with a little flour, divide the dough in two equal pieces, and knead in the raisins equally into both doughs. Roll out to a big “bun”, flatten them a little into oval shapes, and place on a prepared /greased baking sheet.   Cover with a towel and let rise for another 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brush the top of the breads with melted butter and place in the oven on the bottom rack. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden on top.  Cool the breads on a cooling rack, slice and spread with butter and enjoy with a cup of hot coffee, Norwegian style! 🙂

julebrod

julebrodskiver

 

And finally, add two pounds of pepper….

While I wouldn’t suggest you do this when making the popular Norwegian Christmas cookies “pepperkaker”, the Norwegian word for “ginger bread cookies”, there is a famous “pepperkake” song by famous Norwegian playwright and children song writer Torbjørn Egner that goes something like this (It rhymes in Norwegian, so won’t sound as good in English!):

“When a pepperkake” baker bakes pepperkaker

He first grabs a saute pan

and two pounds of margarine

In the pan, the butter melts

And the next thing he must do

is to whisk the butter with two pounds of sugar

and while the butter and sugar is foaming

he adds 8 egg yolks 

which he swirls around in the pan

with two pounds of flour

and in the end he adds a small teaspoon of pepper

and whisks the batter around

and dumps the dough on a cutting board

Now the story goes, if you want “double peppered” ginger breads, you add only one teaspoon of sugar, and two pounds of pepper… but let me tell you, that is a lot of pepper!!!

While I like a lot of spice in my cookies, I also want them to be slightly sweet, but perhaps not as sweet as say, a chocolate chip cookie.  These cookies are a perfect companion to the Norwegian version of mulled wine popularly called gløgg in Scandinavia (read more about it and get my recipe here) and is equally popular among kids and adults.  The common tradition is snacking on pepperkaker and sipping on som gløgg while decorating the Christmas tree on the day before Christmas eve, and also creating and decorating ginger bread houses. Nothing is as festive, and between the gløgg and the pepperkaker, the smell coming out of the kitchen is nothing short of amazing.

gloggogpepperkake

The “must include” ingredients in Norwegian ginger bread cookies, include syrup (in the U.S. you can use maple syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, or light or dark corn syrup to substitute), ginger, cinnamon and cloves.  Cardamom is also commonly used. Pepper, despite the name of the cookie, is not a necessary ingredient in the cookie.

pepperkakegalleriet.no

Image from pepperkakegalleriet.no

Image from pepperkakegalleriet.no

Ginger bread cookies are probably the most traditional of Christmas cookies found in Norway, and arrived in Norway around the 17th century.  Household stoves didn’t become common until the 19th century, so most of the ginger bread cookies came from professional bakeries or big farms that had ovens.  Ginger bread houses are also very popular, and the city of Bergen has claimed the title to have the biggest gingerbread town in the world for about 25 years now!

Here is a photo of it :

Bergenpepperkaketown2

Image from visitbergen.com

I have heard there is perhaps competition to be found in Minnesota, and would love some of my readers to contribute to photos if anyone has any!

In Norway, gingerbread houses are made to serve first and foremost as Christmas decorations during the holiday, but when Christmas is over, it gets eaten by the kids 🙂

I naturally had to experiment with a recipe that contains no eggs or milk, and as always – it is super easy to eliminate these animal foods and create just as tasty of a product with plant based alternatives. I’ve included my recipe below, which I really hope you’ll be tempted to try out!! The cookies turned out perfectly imperfect looking, just as I like them – because that is the sign they are home made and not made by a factory or bakery – the best kind!!

PEPPERKAKER

1/3 cup canola oil

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup molasses or maple syrup

1/4 cup plant based milk or soy creamer

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp cinnamon

Sift together the dry ingredients in a bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the oil and sugar for a couple of minutes.  Add the syrup, milk and vanilla extract. Add in the dry ingredients until a stiff dough is formed. Dump out onto a surface and pat down to a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and place in fridge for several hours or overnight.

When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and lightly grease two cookie sheets.   Roll out the dough until it’s about 1/4 inch thick and cut out shapes with your cookie cutters.

pepperkakeshapes

Place on prepared baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes.

pepperkakerubakt

The cookies might seem soft, but will quickly harden up once they cool off. Mine turned out not perfect, but oh so tasty! 🙂

pepperkaker

If you would like to decorate the cookies, just mix 1 cup of confectioners sugar with 2-3 tbps water until desired consistency, add into a pastry bag and decorate away! 🙂

 

The Only Food You’ll Be Happy Is Burnt

As a Norwegian having lived in NY for 20 years, I have perhaps become more American in many ways than Norwegian with the times.  But there is a time of year where I am definitely still 100% Norwegian and when homesickness strikes hard, and that is around Christmas.  Nobody keeps up their traditions as well as Norwegians, it is simply what unites us as a country and makes us feel connected to our homeland.

norskjulenissemotiv

Food is naturally an important part of tradition, and when the aromas of “brente mandler” (literally translated as ‘burnt almonds) and gløgg (a delicious mulled wine flavored with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger and orange rind, get my awesome recipe here) enter the room,  you know that the Christmas celebration is in full swing.   This snack is also commonly seen and made in other Scandinavian countries as well as Germany, while in other European countries people eat burned almonds all year round. Of course, the taste is not as special when you eat it during the hot summer months (unless it’s with a glass of nice, dry sherry perhaps sitting by the playa in Spain).. but I digress…

The recipe for “brente mandler” is super simple – equal parts raw almonds to sugar, mixed with a little water, place in a pan and bring to a boil, then keep stirring until the sugar caramelizes and coats the almonds with a nice, sugary glaze.  You can make a big batch of these, put them in mason jars and decorate with a nice bow and give away as wonderful edible Christmas presents for a nice, personal touch.  Or.. like I did this time around, just keep the entire thing for myself and place out on the table when guests come over for cocktails.  I will also save a container to munch on with mugs of gløgg for when we are decorating the tree!

mandlerno

Image from mandler.no

This was inspired by a recipe from the Norwegian food website godt.no by Elin Vatnar Nilsen.

Have fun “burning” your food – on purpose this time!! 🙂

BRENTE MANDLER (Burnt Almonds)

500 grams (2 cups) raw almonds

500 grams (2 cups) granulated sugar

about 1/2 cup water

Directions:

Rinse the almonds well beforehand. If you want to pour hot water over them to remove some of the “shell”, you can but it’s optional.  In a large pot over medium high heat, add the almonds, sugar and water and let the water evaporate into the almond sugar mixture.  The sugar will start to crystallize and the mixture will become dry. Turn up the heat and start stirring vigorously.  The sugar will now start to melt and coat the almonds and give them a nice golden color.  Make sure you stir well so that the bottom almonds don’t blacken.  Pour the almonds onto a silicon mat or oiled baking sheet and make sure you separate the nuts apart before they cool off completely and stiffen up.

brentemandlergodtno

Image from godt.no