Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Julemat - Christmas food in Norway 2.

The reason why I love Christmas cakes is that very often there is a whole story behind them. Let's take for example Germany's Stollen. It's a very rich sweet bread filled with different nuts, dried and candied fruits and marsipan, covered with the mix of butter and powdered sugar. In the old days, when people started to make this kind of cake, the rules of religious fastening were much more respected than today. During the Advent time, it was prohibited to eat anything of animal origin, eventhough Stollen tasted much better with the butter on top. According to the legends, Germans had sent a commitee to the pope with a little sample of Stollen - with and without the buttery frosting. After the pope had tried both and constated that the cake tasted much better with butter on top, the Germans had got a permission to make and consume Stollen with butter and sugar on top even during the Advent period.
Well, I doubt that I can tell something like that about all the numerous Norwegian Christmas cakes and cookies, but after last time's Christmas Eve dinner review, I decided to dedicate another entry to Christmas baking.
Let's start with the one that is (in my opinion) maybe the most remarkable. It is called kransekake, meaning 'wreath cake':

They usually consider this cake as something traditional Norwegian but the Danish had a very similar recipe already before their Northern neighbours (the Danes often form a horn out of the rings that they fill with candy - it's called overflødighedshorn in Danish, meaning the Horn of Plenty). The kransekake is not only a Christmas cake - they make it for numerous important occasions: weddings, birthdays, May 17 (the national day of Norway)... As you can probably see, it takes a lot of time and effort to make a cake like this. Traditionally it has 18 rings (this is supposed to bring luck for the bride and the groom on their wedding day) and you have to bake and decorate each ring separately. Then you want to add some ornaments like flags, flowers, candy... If you don't have the time to make it, you can also buy it deepfrozen.

According to the tradition, if Norwegians want to be well-prepared for Christmas, they need to bake not less than seven different småkaker (cookies; literally 'small cakes'). What's more, the proportions are strictly set, too. One third of the baked goods should be iron-baked, one third oven-baked and one third deepfried.

How can something be iron-baked? For the preparation of the goro they use a utensile called gorojern ('goro iron') that will give this crispy cake really nice patterns. The cake man called kakemann is a delicious cake with a hint of cardamom. The decoration is optional, however, it's common to make an icing of chocolat or edible red paint. Also krumkaker is an iron-baked dessert - you use a krumkakejern ('krumkake iron') to give it patterns and then shape it into cones while it is still warm. You can have it either plain or with whipped cream or other fillings. The sandkaker are another type of cake that (in my opinion) is craving for filling, however, they often just enjoy them plain. You need special molds that look like little baskets to give the almond-based dough this special shape.

From left to right: goro, kakemann, krumkaker, sandkaker.
I don't know the actual connection between the berlinerkrans and the German capital, but the berlinerkrans (literally: Berlin wreath) is certainly not the same thing as the Berliner (which is a jam-filled doughnut). It's quite a work to make it (due to its tricky form), but the end result is worth the struggle: many consider this as the best Christmas cookie. The smultringer is more like a doughnut (which for me is rather a Carnival food). For me, honestly, these 'fat rings' (they are baked in fat) are really nothing special. The fattigmann is (according to its name at least) a poor man's cake. I think though that a cake that has brandy and cream in it, and then cooked in fat is everything but poor! The sirupsnipper is a molasses cake that has a whole range of spices and smells so much like Christmas!

From left to right: berlinerkrans, smultringer, fattigmann, sirupsnipper.
Last but not least there is the pepperkake (ginger bread) which has an extra importance in Bergen. The second largest town in Norway has a tradition started in 1991: the children in local schools and kindergartens make gingerbread houses, churches etc. that are put together to a huge ginger bread town. The pepperkakeby of Bergen is the biggest and (according to them at least) nicest ginger bread city of the world. 

Well, the next step would be to pick seven of the småkaker mentioned above and prepare them... or just buy them hjemmelaget (home made) on a julemarked (Christmas market) that can be found everywhere in the December weekends in Norway. 

Anyways, no matter how many types of cakes you make, I wish you a beautiful preparation time for Christmas!

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