Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Spending December in the kitchen

December is a month for the kitchen.  A time when your stove and oven serve the dual purpose of helping you create, and helping you keep warm. A time for cookie exchanges, homemade treats, and late night baking inspiration.  A time to buy that giant German candy thermometer you've had your eye on...  Alright, that last one doesn't happen every December, but with so many cooking tools to discover in Copenhagen, I was destined to pick up some culinary souvenirs.  I will warn you, this thermometer looks intimidating upon first glance. Made by TFA Germany, it comes with no particular instructions, just an encouraging but brief toffee recipe on the back translated into 6 different languages. The tool features a sturdy metal encasing that surrounds the actual thermometer so you can avoid the risk of damaging it if it touches the bottom of your pan, a feature that makes it look serious and almost weapon-like. The moment I saw it, it seemed the perfect addition to my kitchen arsenal: guaranteed to combat a sweet tooth. My first project with the new thermometer?  Salted caramels. While the temperatures drop outdoors, my caramels will set overnight in my cozy Copenhagen kitchen as I try not to salivate in my sleep with anticipation.  Here's hoping for good results.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Flickorna Lundgren: Decadent coffee breaks in Southern Sweden since 1938

It's a curious time for the modern traveler.  It's an era where you can visit a bakery tucked away along the Southern Sweden coast, whose charm has been preserved since opening in 1938, and later 'Like' this bakery on their Facebook page.  

So what if hidden gems aren't so hidden anymore?  Gems they remain, even if the internet is making the world feel smaller and less mysterious.  And if a solid web presence means that more people know about Flickorna Lundgren and can savor their hand made vanilla hearts, so be it.  The world is better for it.

These days, many bakeries are social media savvy, tweeting or posting status updates about what's fresh out of the oven.  I happen to love engaging with my favorite bakeries in this way.  But when I entered the beautiful gardens of Flickorna Lundgren, it was a destination with such a faraway, fairy tale quality that it never crossed my mind I would be able to show my allegiance to their decadent creations with a simple thumbs up on my newsfeed.  You get lost in the magic of it all, wandering down the property to see the view of the water, visiting their resident farm animals, admiring the incredible scenery of flowers and fruit trees, and discovering cozy nooks in which one can enjoy pastries and coffee.

One small section of a huge garden 
Peeking through the trees at another garden area
A father carries his daughter's stuffed dog as they make their exit.  I imagine the little girl masterfully attempting to leave it behind on purpose so they would have to come back to retrieve it, and thus eat more vanilla hearts during the rescue mission.
More charming garden views
Walk off your pastries with a visit to the farm animals, who hang out on the land adjacent to the dining areas

And yet technology helped me again when I wanted to translate the history of Lundgren, written in Swedish on their website.  Thanks to Google Chrome, just one click of the 'Translate' button gave me a greater understanding of all that this family business has survived to make it to 2012.  The tough times during the 1930's gave birth to the business, when the family's oldest daughters got the entrepreneurial inspiration to start a coffee house.  Their powdered sugar-covered and vanilla custard-filled heart pastries grew in popularity and fame, irresistible to anyone with a sweet tooth (including, as the story goes, members of Swedish royalty.)  At one time, all baked goods were made and served out of the original cottage.  

Pastries sit on this window, adjacent to the garden.  The cottage storefront is just inside, where you can buy treats to-go.   This setup reminded me of the scenes in old cartoons, when fresh baked pies sat on windowsills, tempting passers by.
Have your coffee break in the greenhouse if it's raining

Eventually needing more space, the business expanded by building a separate bakery area.  Generations later, this place still captures your imagination-- and your stomach.  These hearts belong permanently on any itinerary of  Southern Sweden, much like beignets belong on any worthwhile tour of New Orleans.  Every good traveler knows you can't let a trip pass without sampling the regional powdered sugar confection of choice.  If you need more reasons to visit, they also have cake.

Some of you might be wondering if the traditions of such bakeries will get swept away by modernity, but I wouldn't worry.  Take as a testament the guestbook sitting in the cottage at Lundgren, where visitors can take pen to paper to proclaim their devotion to this coffee and pastry refuge.  

No need to sign up, log on, press a 'Like' button, or write on a virtual wall: just the simple act of leaving your mark on a special place that is sure to leave a mark on you.

Copenhagen Cake Festival

If there were ever a food event for me, it's the Copenhagen Cake Festival, hosted by the Copenhagen Pastry Guild.  The Cake Festival is a part of a larger food festival called Copenhagen Cooking, an event jam-packed with an overwhelming amount of culinary events across the city. 

Cakes from La Glace, the famous Copenhagen cake shop
Beautiful La Glace cookbook
Hanging out with the Copenhagen Pastry Guild
Whimsical festival sign at the entrance of Carlsberg Gardens 

The Cake Festival was held this summer in the gardens of Carlsberg Brewery, where visitors could participate in the perfect combination of tasting cakes from local bakeries, drinking good strong cups of coffee, participating in cooking tutorials, and watching professional demonstrations. 
This chef was doing a live demonstration of sugar sculpture technique.

Samples at the demonstration tent
A chef reaches out her piping bag to give the audience a quick finger lickin' taste

Entrance to the festival earns you a cake of your choice and one cup of Estate Coffee. I chose this licorice flavored cake from Johansen's Konditori.  The cake had flavors of almond, licorice mousse, and a crunch of Danish rugbrød/rye bread.  It also included apple and havtorn (sea buckthorn). 

The soundtrack for the day was provided by live string instruments, which made stuffing one's face with cake an even classier affair.  The players were hidden way in this alcove at the back of the garden.  

Eating sweet treats at a cake festival is only half the fun, in my opinion-- better to get your wrists deep in marzipan, butter, flour, chocolate, and icing to get the full experience.  

Thankfully, the Copenhagen Cake Festival did not disappoint in this regard: the festival entrance (150 Danish kroner, approximately 25 USD) included the chance to get small group skills sessions led by professional chefs.  

Trying my best to follow the Danish directions, I piped chocolate and icing and made marzipan flowers with the best of 'em.  And once the instructors realized my Danish was limited, they were nice enough give me some pointers in English.  
Once you felt you had worked hard enough honing your baking skills, you could enjoy a coffee or a beer in the garden

Clouds loomed in the sky over Carlsberg Gardens.  The weather was lovely for the most part, perfect for having your cake and eating it too.  
Before and after: sunny skies transitioned to rain, which led all the festival participants to huddle under one big cozy cake demonstration tent.
The view from the cake demonstration tent
During this portion of the event, local politicians engaged in a cake decorating competition! Onlookers enjoy the fun while trying to stay out of the rain.  
The young audience member on the left side of the picture is particularly enthralled with the cake competition.  

I would definitely recommend the Copenhagen Cake Festival to any cake lovers who might be visiting Scandinavia.  People here know how to make a great cake, so if you attend a cake festival in any city, let it be Copenhagen. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Park your bike at the Nordisk Brødhus

Beware the urge to ride your bike too quickly down the streets of Copenhagen.  It's easy to get swept up in the flow of traffic in this city of cyclists.  But ride your bike too speedily down Rantzausgade street in Copenhagen's Nørrebro neighborhood and you might miss the Nordisk Brødhus
When I wandered inside one recent Saturday morning, I was greeted by Lennart, who explained the day's selection of breads and the 'dagens kage,' or cake of the day.  Meanwhile, Camilla, who creates the pastry selection of the Brødhus, gave me a friendly nod.  Their welcoming nature extended beyond the bakery, when they gave me some local farmer's market tips and suggestions about experiencing the city's coffee culture.  It's no mistake they chose the name Brødhus, or bread house.  The warmth created by the oven, and by the people preparing the dough, makes even a wandering expat bakery hunter feel right at home.  When I started asking questions about how the bakery got started, both Camilla and Lennart spoke with passion about their work. 

 Lennart explained that on this particular day, the pastry selection was small because of the sunny summer weather.  When it's nice out in Copenhagen, he said, people stop by the shop less and eat less pastries.  The weather also affects the way the loaves of bread turn out, so day by day each loaf will be a little different.  
Part of the joy of living in a new city is establishing the places you become a regular-- the bakeries, coffee shops, and bookstores that claim a permanent place in your routine.  The Nordisk Brødhus, with its magnificent wood-fired oven and reverence for bakery culture, is promising to become a regular destination for me.  

I tried the cake of the day, a cinnamon cake, and also sampled the day's bread, which they served with a generous slab of butter, and homemade jam.  

(Later that day, my Danish roommate explained to me that this large slab of butter is called 'tooth butter', because it covers the length of your tooth when you bite into it.)  When I commented on how delicious the butter was, Camilla smiled enthusiastically.  "We have the best butter," she said.    
The best part of the Brødhus is how intentionally they thought about each element of their bakery.  Close attention is given to the relationship between each ingredient that goes into their baked goods and the final product.  Excellent bread is paired with equally excellent butter.  Coffee aficionados can count on a good cup, sourced from Just Coffee, a roaster based in Roskilde.  

Homemade jam is served along with fresh slices of crusty bread.  Before opening this March, they put thought into each detail, each gram of flour, and each part of their customer's experience.  A detailed mural (created by a Swedish artist) decorates the wall of the bakery and draws customers in, telling the story of how their bread is made:

If you're ever visiting Copenhagen, go and listen to the good people at the Nordisk Brødhus talk about their life's work and try a piece of bread.  You're sure to hear how passionate they are about what they do, and you won't be able to resist just once more slice.  And if you live in Copenhagen?  Ride your bike slowly past this one, because you don't want to miss it.