Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Ask a Dane: Tanja Trab on romkugler

Today at The Great American Bakery Hunt, we're starting a new series called Ask a Dane.  Throughout this series, I'll interview Danes about their favorite baked goods and culinary traditions.  The series kicks off with an interview with Tanja Trab, who shared with the Great American Bakery Hunt her love for romkugler, a treat sold throughout many Danish bakeries.

Growing up in Vallensbæk, a suburb of Copenhagen, Tanja would buy romkugler from the local baker on her way home from school or gymnastics.  

Romkugler have sprinkles on the outside, and in the middle, a doughy, dense, rich center with a rum flavor.  Some fancier versions are dipped in chocolate, but the treats are most known for the fact that they are cakes made with leftover crumbs from other cakes.

When Tanja was growing up, you could get 5 romkugler for 10 Danish kroner.  Her typical distribution method was to save 3 romkugler for herself and barter away 2 to her brothers. Romkugler were crucial bartering tools in the sibling economy of Tanja's household.  If her brothers were lucky, she would share with them.  But often romkuglers were a powerful tool that could help secure special favors, or guarantee a period of time without the typical teasing that all girls with brothers know too well.  "Do this and I will give you a romkugler" was a phrase typically uttered during these sibling exchanges.
  While romkuglers were a great childhood treat, they did not become Tanja's favorite until she reached her 20's.  One day while wandering the neighborhood of Christianshavn with a friend, they had a half hour to kill and stopped at a Lagkagehuset (a bakery chain in Copenhagen.)  She remembers that the weather was good on this particular day, as exceptionally good weather in Denmark is a rarity to treasure.  They shared some jorbær kage (strawberry cake) and a romkugler, and it was over this meeting that they started to become very good friends.   These days Tanja only buys romkugler from Lagkagehuset because their fancier-than-standard version is produced with a thick decadent outer layer of chocolate and sprinkles.  
But perhaps part of her affection for these romkugler is due to the good memories associated with them: meetings with friends, sharing romkugler and conversation, paired with pots of tea on sunny afternoons.  Plus, she says, with romkugler you get everything-- three treats in one: candy, cake, and chocolate.   While she cannot tell you how many romkugler has she eaten over her lifetime, she does know that she ate between 8-10 in January 2012, and that perhaps minimum consumption for a romkugler aficianado is about once a month.  She has never made romkugler at home, but she has made the very traditional Danish sweet called havgrynskugler--which have a similar texture as romkugler. Havgrnskugler are basically buttery, sugary rounds featuring a mixture of oats, cocoa, butter, and powdered sugar, which are then rolled in cocounut.  So many Danes have this recipe in their back pocket, I'd like to think it is their equivalent of the American chocolate chip cookie, making several appearances in office cookie exchanges during each holiday season.   
Havgrynskugler is a recipe full of nostalgia, and since it is a no-bake treat, some Danes (including Tanja) admit to mischievously scooping a bit of the mixture straight out of the bowl with a spoon instead of taking the time to roll up the mixture into presentable little morsels.  Therefore, I learned that America is not the only place where we have guilty (but wonderful) kitchen moments, sneaking pinches of cookie dough here and there out of our mixing bowls.  And there's nothing wrong with finding some joy in that, wherever you live.   Thanks to Tanja for sharing her story!
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