Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Denmark's Sophi Enholm Cafe: a cake road trip

One of the sweetest joys of travel is having the time to venture beyond bucket lists and guide books and live as a local.  For those of us who enjoy discovering the nooks and crannies of a destination, this type of exploration enchants us.  And for those of us who love to travel with food in mind, visiting off the beaten path bakeries prompts more excitement than gazing at famous landmarks.
Finally-in-season strawberry tart, rich chocolate cake (gateau marcel), and fragilité with mocha butter cream.  The cafe served all of these with a fresh rhubarb compote. (The ingredient is the star of many dishes during the Danish summer.) 

During my time as a temporary Copenhagener, many bakery hunts were powered by bicycle. So when some Danish friends suggested hopping in the car to explore uncharted bakery hunting territory, it was an even more exciting hunt than usual.  Just 30 minutes outside of Copenhagen's city center, Sophi Enholm Cafe in Lyngby is a spot outsiders would be unlikely to stumble upon.  Naturally, we ordered one of each cake on the menu that day so we could share them all. 

Like every cafe in Scandinavia with outdoor seating, visits are best enjoyed during spring or summer.  This is particularly true here, since you can take advantage of lakeside scenery and a stroll through the nearby gardens.  

It's not hard to find beautiful nature in Denmark, but still I marvel at the beauty you can access with a quick side trip away from the city.  Despite the slight chill in the air hinting at fall, it was much too lovely to sit inside, and cafe visitors enjoyed the surroundings along with playground goers, row boaters, and picnic gatherers. 

For winter visits, there's a cozy indoor seating area that will do the trick.

And there's plenty of bike parking if you're interested in the full Danish experience.  As excited as I was for a bakery road trip, pastry exploration by bike usually means 1/2 the guilt and double the fun!

I'd like to give a special thanks to my favorite Danish cake partners in crime, Lone and Dorit, for showing me this cafe!  Next time you're in Denmark, take a little journey outside the city and make a stop here (just don't forget to bring a group of cake appreciating friends with you.) 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Restaurant Radio in Copenhagen: the first of the farewell meals

With only a few days left living in Copenhagen, I made a lunch reservation at Restaurant Radio.  It was to be the first of many farewell meals in this city, my home away from home for the past 15 months. Time spent here as a working expat among the Danes (plus a four month exchange in college) means that Copenhagen will always be a part of me.  The Danish food culture is inherently connected to that, and I've done my best to explore and appreciate it wholeheartedly.

This year has led me to some great meals, many that have happened in the homes of Danes who welcomed me in and graciously took the time to help me learn about their food traditions.  As I look back on so many treasured moments of immersing myself in their food culture, so many of these meals flash through my mind like the scenes of a Perennial Plate episode: tasting the fresh venison hunted by my former Danish host family, savoring the crunch of flæskesteg (a traditional pork dish) washed down by strong schnapps at Christmas time, and learning how to make "snegls" (cinnamon rolls.) And one can't forget the bakery scents wafting down the bike path during my morning commute. I'm hanging on dearly to these snapshots of food exploration and hoping they never fade.

Radio was a great chance to add another scene to the episode.  With a menu based on locally farmed, seasonal ingredients, they also have a table bread that I would dare say is one of my favorites in any bread basket. The butter served alongside the bread, placed atop a small wooden platform, was flavored with what I suspected to be caramelized onions-- but I was too caught up in the moment to confirm.  This meal was not one for taking lots of notes-- it was a chance to have a great dining experience, and to celebrate a great friendship made during my time here.  (Everyone knows the best way to say goodbye to a fellow food enthusiast is over a great meal!)

Both my Danish friend and I could not resist choosing the cheese course as our last: a raw cheese from Germany called Deichkäse from Backenholzer.  It was served with sugar beet syrup, and was the perfect course to nibble on with the last few sips of my IPA from local brewery Evil Twin Brewing.  In just a few days, I'll be hopping a flight to LAX, so raw cheese seemed like the choice that would be truest to my philosophy to sample the maximum possible amount of European cheese before entering stricter cheese law territories.

I'm still reflecting on the last 15 months in Copenhagen, but with exactly one week to go until my return to the States, I still have 7 days to take in a lot of new experiences.  For now there's no time to think, only time to be grateful.  With my hard drive much more full of photos, my head full of new memories, my heart full of friends who I'll miss, and my suitcase full of Danish cookbooks to keep the spirit of culinary exploration alive, I'm grateful for all that I'm taking back home with me.

Thanks to Copenhagen, thanks to the team at Radio for making one of my farewell meals a charming and delicious experience, and thanks to all my Danish friends who helped me translate portions of recipes Google translate wouldn't.  Finally, thanks to everyone else in this city, who through big gestures and small kindnesses, made this Californian feel a bit more at home in Scandinavia.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The hunt for artisan koldskål in Copenhagen

If you're a traveler, or you've lived in more than one city in your life, there are inevitably things you miss from your temporary homes.  Some things may even go into the category of items you "can't live without."  (Such is the case for a dedicated cyclist coworker who took apart his entire bicycle part by part before leaving America so he could transport it to Copenhagen.)  But for cherished culinary treasures, sometimes the option of transporting your favorites across the pond is not possible.  This can be a good thing sometimes, forcing you to try new ingredients, new cooking techniques, and develop new recipes.  But sometimes you can just tell you will miss something before it's even gone.

This is especially true for the European dairy products that have entered your palette's personal hall of fame (mimolette cheese, anyone?)  Mimolette's recent brush with scandal reminded me that I soon won't have instant access to the abundant supply of freshly made Danish koldskål in Copenhagen's supermarkets.  This Danish summertime treat made of buttermilk, egg yolk, sugar, fresh vanilla, lemon, and "ymer" (Danish 'soured milk') is apparently not easily replicated in the US.  While Danes have encouraged me that koldskål is easy to make, the trick is in the mysterious ymer ingredient.

Multiple sources confirm my fears that one cannot find ymer in the US.  Initial internet searching even reveals an entire thread about this elusive ingredient on a message board.  One user laments, "No, I am devastated...also cannot believe there aren't more misplaced Danes worldwide quietly making this their mission."  Well, I will go on the record reassuring this dejected ymer searcher that I am on the case!  I may not be a misplaced Dane, but my love of Danish koldskål surely rivals that of a native eater.  Take this photo documentation as proof:          

This was the beginning of what I thought would be a long friendship between my sweet tooth and koldskål, a relationship now doomed towards separation!  (This koldskål is from Thise dairy and is my favorite supermarket version thus far.)

Since realizing my dilemma, I have made it my purpose to investigate the best versions of koldskål in Copenhagen.  Perhaps I'll never get my chance again!  I've tried almost all of the supermarket versions, but I was curious to see what else was out there. (Perhaps trying only the Danish koldskål from the supermarket is a little like coming to America and sampling apple pie for the first time from a vending machine? The horror!)  As a non-native explorer of Copenhagen's koldskål landscape, here is what I discovered: supermarket koldskål can actually be quite delicious, and in fact, it often sells out on summer days.  But there are some special versions out there worth trying.  So for the sake of research and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I had to invest some time and Danish kroner into trying a few luxury koldskål brands.  

So I made it my summertime mission to seek out some small batch koldskål-- a 'last hurrah' as I prepare to journey back to the US. After getting a hot tip about a dairy shop that makes fresh small batches of koldskål every Friday, I called ahead mid-afternoon on the big day to see if I could get a bottle. Success!  Rasmus Sprotte, the chef at Unika Arla, sold me one. 

 My enthusiasm and photo-snapping prompted the intrigue of a couple of Danes passing by, who also ended up buying a bottle.  A good decision!

 Chef Sprotte very kindly tipped me off to the fact that I could buy some accompanying kammerjunkere (cookie topping) just a few steps away at Cafe Rosa (both are located within the glass market retail space Torvahallerne, near Nørreport station.)

I pedaled fast on my bike ride home to ensure the koldskål would be in optimal condition for the tasting!  A short bike ride home later, the jar had survived the bumpy bike basket transport and all was well. 

The Unika boutique's koldskål was delicious, and unique for its use of cardamom pods (which floated in the koldskål and gave it a bit of a kick!)  

It was a mostly classic version of the dessert with just a little bit of a cardamom twist, and the ingredients tasted very fresh. The kammerjunkere was crumbly and delicious-- with the quality of homemade cookies, a welcome change in texture from the mass-produced store-bought versions (which also can be good, but in a different way.) After discovering this koldskål, my quest to try more versions continued.

  The very next day, I found myself biking over to Løgismose, a food specialty store near the harbor.

Løgismose sold a version with lime, making for a slightly more tart, less traditional koldskål, but still a refreshing treat nonetheless. 

If you're in the area to see the famous Little Mermaid statue, then you're just a stone's throw from Løgismose.  You can buy some kammerjunker, some koldskål, and partake in a little taste test by the  harbor.  In fact, there's a whole bunch of traditional Danish food items here, so if you're a culinary traveler, you can check a few items off of your list in this one-stop shop (including Nordic licorice, if you're brave enough to try it.) 

If you're like me and you have no idea where in the world to find "ymer," then make sure to put koldskål on your food souvenir checklist when you pass through Copenhagen. 

Once you've slurped every last drop of your fancy koldskål, the jars are perfect for storing homemade iced coffee (with homemade vanilla sugar too!)

*Koldskål is most popular during the summer season, but you can find versions during the rest of the year too.  If you're not dropping by Scandinavia anytime soon, you can also make a homemade attempt at koldskål by omitting the ymer.  Online versions from blogging Danes are everywhere, and if the Danes themselves say an adaptation is okay, then it must be!

Recipe links:
Nilsson's Ambrosia: Koldskål and Kammerjunker
My Danish Kitchen: Homemade Kammerjunker
Adapted recipe sans ymer from unknown Dane at Yahoo Answers (this is a more common problem than I thought!)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Let the kaffebord begin: a private pop-up bake shop in Roskilde, Denmark

For many months I have been trying to plan a collaborative baking day with Lone, a talented baker from Roskilde, Denmark who has made several appearances on my blog.  (Lone was my host mom when I was an exchange student in Denmark, and Roskilde was my temporary hometown.)  Lone and I set up a date for Sunday morning with a few recipes in mind.

When I arrived at Lone's house, she said that today we would make a 'Sønderjysk kaffebord' (roughly translated, Southern Jutland coffee table.)  If you are not from Denmark's Southern Jutland region, then I'm certain you're currently wearing the same puzzled expression I was approximately 9 hours ago.  I quickly learned that a Sønderjysk Kaffebord is a regional Danish tradition where Danes in Southern Jutland prepare a massive amount of cakes in different varieties and gather to feast on them as a group. While in our planning of the day, we had only talked about making three recipes, I was delighted to know that we would be producing the equivalent number of desserts necessary to open up our own little private pop-up bakeshop in Roskilde.  When someone presents me with such an opportunity, all I can say is: "Let the kaffebord begin!"

We started the day by preparing the dough for some grovbirkes using the Meyers Bakery cookbook recipe-- a process that includes several alternating steps of folding butter into dough and chilling the dough.  There is nothing quite like a grovbirke in the US, but if you have never tasted one, just imagine a pastry that includes a lot of flaky dough topped with variety of tasty seeds.  According to Lone, some varieties of grovbirkes include a sweet filling, depending on where in Denmark you find them.  We decided to make the savory version, although I am quite fond of thebirkes (the sweeter cousin to grovbirkes.)  All versions are perfect with coffee, a heavenly combination. 

Another Danish friend Dorit helped us all day in the kitchen to keep us on schedule and ensure the bake-shop was a success!  We would have never made our afternoon deadline without her.

To add to the kaffebord, Lone suggested we make brunsviger, a coffee cake with a cardamom flavored dough and an aggressive amount of brown sugar topping.  We used the recipe she once collected for free from a grocery store display--on a shopping trip 40 years ago!

 My recipe nerd self cannot help but adore this!

Lone taught me how to press the topping layer into the dough with a fork, so all the buttery goodness would seep down into valleys of the dough underneath.  We also made more of the butter mixture than the recipe called for, since having a lot of this on the top layer of the cake is what takes a batch of brunsviger to the next level.

And then we topped it with more brown sugar than the recipe stated for the same reasons.  There is something quite magical about the very moist, Danish brown sugar sold here.  When I googled 'why is Danish brown sugar so good?,' the results were inconclusive, but I assure you, it has the loveliest texture and taste.

This cake was probably the winner of the day, if the cakes were in a friendly competition.  Bakery versions of this cake are sometimes dry, so eating the homemade version right out of the oven gives you the experience of eating brunsviger the way nature intended it!

We also made smørkage, a rich Danish butter cake traditionally served with rings of icing.  This was one of my favorite desserts as an exchange student, and I daydreamed about it frequently after I went back to the US.  Below, you can see the steps that you take in order to make the distinctive ring design featured on the top of this dessert. 

 Without a doubt, the best part about this recipe is the layer of vanilla custard waiting for you on the bottom layer (but I have also had excellent versions with marzipan.)

We also made grøn kage, a cake flavored with almond extract and traditionally colored with green dye. 

And finally, to finish things off right, we made vandbakkelser, also known as cream puffs.  We used a whipped cream and raspberry jam filling, and topped the puffs with a layer of icing.  

When it comes to doughs, I've always felt that choux pastry dough (which we used to make these cream puffs) goes through one of the most incredible transformations-- first you prepare it on the stove, then you bake it, and it becomes a puffy vehicle for all sorts of sweet (or savory) fillings. 

While most of these recipes were in Danish, I have become fairly fluent in Danish baking terminology-- and this was another great opportunity to practice my grams and decaliters! 

While we prepared our spread of desserts, we chatted about food and talked about other Danish culinary traditions. Whenever I'm cooking in Lone's household, there are always adventures just waiting for my discovery. I open a cabinet or step into the backyard, and something is waiting to wake up my palette! During the bake-a-thon, we tried fresh peas and tomatoes from her garden and the beginnings of some homemade 'snaps' (one flavored with berries, and one flavored with citrus fruit and coffee beans.)

Of course, once the cakes were done, we feasted on them in the garden!  The customers seemed pretty happy.   

I could not have asked for a better day at the The Sønderjysk Kaffebord Pop-Up Bake Shop.  I learned a lot of new recipes and best of all, spent some quality time with my lovely international family.  Teaching someone to cook is an act of love, so a kaffebord bake-a-thon makes you feel like a particularly lucky student. Not only did I get my very own bake-a-thon, but this thoughtful bunch gifted me three Danish cookbooks so I can practice my Nordic cooking once I return to America.  Amazing!

 The Danish cookbook tally for my suitcase is currently at 4 (Meyers Bageri cookbook not pictured above), and I'm trying to decide how many I can get away with fitting in my luggage.  Most of my new books are in Danish, so I will be sure to keep practicing!  I'm hoping for part two of this private pop-up bakeshop in Los Angeles.  

Thanks to Lone, Dorit, and everyone who joined the kaffebord to make it such a success.  You make my life more fun and more full, and I will think of you each time I make these recipes.