Sunday, July 15, 2012

Old recipes on a Scandinavian Sunday

 My favorite memories in Denmark often involve afternoon coffee and tea.  During my first few weeks back in Denmark, we drove out to the country to enjoy some time in the rare Danish sunshine and warm weather.  I was accompanying my Danish family on a trip to grandma's house, one of the many family gatherings they generously welcomed me to join ever since I showed up on their doorstep as an exchange student many years ago.  On this particular day, we were visiting my host mom's mother-in-law.  As you can see, it was a charming affair with homemade almond cake.
The cake, we learned, was from a very old recipe book.
 So old, in fact, that a dated grocery list discovered inside its covers brought comedy to our day.  Old prices unearthed from these pages were just a fraction of what Danish consumers pay today.
We nibbled on slice after slice of the almond cake, talking English and Danish throughout the afternoon-- the kind of lazy Sunday where coffee turns into a beer or two.  Just when we thought all the cake was all gone, more slices appeared from the kitchen. 
We had coffee next to a small pond, attached to the family porch.  Far from the city, this neighborhood was peaceful and filled only with the sounds of sheep grazing nearby.  
Inside the house, an old blacksmith's workstation, representing the trade of the family in earlier times.  This area was later converted into the family living room.
The seemingly endless supply of almond cake lasted all afternoon.  Recipes like this need to be shared...
 While the adults focused on transcribing food tradition, grandchildren enjoyed the carefree fun of fishing in grandma's pond.  Every twenty minutes or so, she counted out loud for the adults, ceremoniously exclaiming the number of every captured fish so those in the audience could provide impressed reactions. In my opinion, this is definitely the most entertaining way for a foreigner to practice learning Danish numbers.

And finally, we caught a glimpse of grandma's homemade jam collection, all created from the fruit trees in her garden.
The perfect Scandinavian Sunday!


"Hjemmelavet", or "homemade", is a word you'll see everywhere around Copenhagen.  People here don't shy away from making things from scratch, which is probably why there are so many more varieties of flour here than in your average American supermarket.  Since I'm a huge advocate of from-scratch cooking and baking, you can imagine my delight when a coworker delivered some homemade koldskål to share one morning.  It appeared one morning in this big beautiful jar, which, naturally, was transported to work via bicycle.  Tart, sweet, and just plain delicious, this treat is a staple of the Danish summertime.   Then, just a few days later, these delicious carrot scones appeared, compliments of another work colleague.
And below, some rhubarb cake, which was a gift from Lone, my Danish host mother from my days as an exchange student here in 2005.  She packed up a few slices of this to take with me on my train ride back to the city after a Sunday dinner at her home.  (Rhubarb is another classic summertime treat here in Denmark.)
It's a collection of photos like these that make me remember that I am the luckiest bakery hunter in all the land.  And they also remind me that if you're in need of some inspiration to cook things "hjemmelavet", you just have to spend a little time with the Danes. 

My love letter to the Hindbær Snitter

In almost any traditional Danish bakery, you can find the perfect teatime treat: the hindbær snitter.  The casual observer might call this pastry a sort of sophisticated pop tart, though that comparison does not begin to do justice to the hindbær snitter.  In its best form, it has two layers of buttery, fresh dough that hug a middle layer laced with raspberry jam.  The top layer is completed with a blanket of sugary sweet confectioner's sugar icing and playfully scattered with a decorative topping, usually multi-colored sprinkles.  If you've ever had a linzer cookie, you might consider the hindbær snitter a cousin to that-- but instead of a light dusting of confectioner's sugar on top, you are rewarded with an aggressively sweet ridge of frosting and a crunchy dose of sprinkles in each bite.  It's the kind of treat that makes you feel like a kid again. 
I knew the hindbær snitter had become a permanent favorite when I was tempted to try every version of it I could find while passing through Copenhagen's bakeries (the above version is from Bodenhoff bakery.)  But like most treats that become a part of my regular cravings, I had to determine how this one was made.  So I got to work on a batch of hindbær snitters for my coworkers to enjoy.  It's a treat so Danish that a Dane described my home baking efforts as "true cultural immersion."  Aside from improving my Danish, baking seems like the next best gesture I can think of as I assimilate into Copenhagen life.
Luckily, you need very little ingredients to whip up a batch of these treats.  When late night baking inspiration struck,  I had everything I needed but the sprinkles.  Since you must let the dough chill for about an hour before rolling it out, I was able to sneak in a last minute sprinkle purchase to my corner grocery store with satisfying efficiency. Once baked, I took a moment to appreciate the giant snitter on the counter before cutting it into more manageable pieces.  Having just moved into my new apartment here, I realized I had nothing to store the snitters in to transport them to work.  So I fashioned a makeshift hindbær snitter receptacle out of the cardboard box that previously held my first big purchase when I arrived to the city: a Bodum french press.  You wouldn't know it, but an 8 cup Bodum french press box is the perfect size to fit inside a bike basket for safe transport into the city center of Copenhagen.      
Below, you'll see another hindbær snitter from Laura's Bakery, located in Torvahallerne (a gourmet food market.) This particular snitter is all dolled up with some pink icing.
The hindbær snitter at Holm's Bageri has perhaps the loveliest presentation, with dehydrated strawberries and pistachio sprinkled on top.
I dare say that hindbær snitters are to Danes what chocolate chip cookies are to Americans:  a little morsel of comfort that you really cannot live without.  I'll be taking this recipe home with me, at least in spirit-- as I don't think the Bodum box will fare as well during air transport.