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.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Terrace dining in the Copenhagen summer sunlight

As a native Californian, I have experienced the romance of excellent weather throughout my life. But summer in Copenhagen, where I've spent many months as a temporary resident, has a magic all its own.  No ray of sunshine is taken for granted by Copenhageners after the months of grey, wintery weather.  The city comes alive with music festivals, outdoor activities, and ecstatic park goers and sunbathers.  People rejoice at the sight of the season's first strawberries, first rhubarb, first day the public harbor baths are officially open for swimming.  The summer buttermilk dessert called koldskål is sold by local supermarkets like it's going out of style.  And friends gather over picnics in the park, potlucks in gardens, and finally heat up their backyard grills after the long winter hibernation.  It was on one such sunshine- filled day that one of my favorite Danes invited a group of us for a terrace picnic overlooking the Copenhagen lakes.

Brought together by a passion for international travel, this group of friends knows how to cook up a great meal.  I am thankful for many things in my life, but one of them is having a good friend who can fry up a tastier than imaginable Spanish tortilla from her time living in Madrid.  Few recipes are better suited for an intimate after-work gathering such as this.

True to the magic of a Copenhagen summer day, the many hours of sunlight allowed our noshing and conversation to last far into the evening.  Though my days living in this country are numbered, the memory of this terrace dinner is one I won't soon forget.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rhubarb Tuesday

As the sunlight ran out above Copenhagen's Kongens Have (King's Garden), I had one thing on my mind: what to do with the rhubarb in my fridge.  The Danish summer is for enjoying the transient sunshine, so I couldn't rush home to bake without taking a little stroll in the garden with a friend first.  People were gathered everywhere camping out underneath the trees, and it was the perfect time to be outside for no particular reason other than the good weather. While we were sitting just feet from the Danish crown jewels, we sat and talked like it was any old public park.  Funny how with time you can get used to your surroundings, from royal regalia to hopping on a bicycle home with all the Copenhagen commuters.     

This month will present a rush against time to explore as many Danish ingredients and recipes as possible before I hop back on a plain to the United States.  (Ideally, the results will be shared with friends in one of Copenhagen's many beautiful public parks.)  

 To begin the rhubarb experiment, here's my version of Claus Meyer's rhubarb muffin recipe.  This recipe is quick enough that you can still take time to enjoy a leisurely walk in the sunshine after work, but still have muffins ready for a friend's dinner party the next day.  I love having recipes like this in my back pocket!

Below, one muffin is conspicuously missing...because every baker deserves a little reward.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ingredient Impulse Buy: Rhubarb

 You know that cooking is in your blood when you walk past a green grocer and it stops you in your tracks.  All you can think of is recipes, possibilities. The ingredients dance around in your brain and time stops-- so much that you forget your bike shop is just a few doors down, and that it's closing in 15 minutes with or without you recovering your newly repaired ride. You can't help but pick up that bundle of rhubarb and wonder if you have enough butter in your fridge for some tart dough.

Maybe I'd be a more efficient shopper without all of these constant culinary temptations, but I think there's some value in letting the mind wander a bit in these contexts.  Besides, rhubarb season in Denmark is a celebration of sorts. It's well-loved status is due not only to tarts (a favorite of mine), but to rhubarb's role as a symbol of the summertime and a reward for the many months of cold and darkness endured.  It's just one of the many new beginnings you can experience through the change of seasons.  Maybe it's when you make a big rhubarb pie for your loved ones, or maybe it's when local bakeries start their first offerings of rhubarb muffins and tarts.  One thing is for sure, this transition to the season of sunshine and a kitchen full of rhubarb is something to savor. So here I am with a bundle of rhubarb, in search of the perfect recipe. While this is a typical case of an ingredient impulse buy, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.   

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Enjoying Svaneke ice cream in a charming Copenhagen courtyard

If you have ever been to a European city like Copenhagen, chances are you've caught glimpses of charming courtyards.  Maybe you've been lucky enough to step inside one of them, and maybe not. Like me, perhaps you've even felt that it was a shame you were missing out on their charm. You may have once wished someone would come along and welcome you in, or maybe you've accidentally wandered inside only to discover ominous private courtyard warnings or surveillance cameras. Maybe you've let your curiosity get the best of you and purposely ignored those warnings, only to later play the dumb tourist card when a local catches you snooping.  There's something enchanting about these courtyards, which mostly go undetected-- it's only when a visitor passes by that they sometimes experience this beautiful coincidence of doors opening, enabling them to steal a quick glance of what's beyond. Often hidden behind private spaces, you have probably seen dozens of building exteriors never realizing these magical places of respite from the city exist.

But perhaps, like me, you have caught split second sights of what you're missing, maybe even glanced at beautiful courtyard flower gardens just as an authorized courtyard goer slipped through the door. Perhaps you have seen people sipping wine and making conversation and heard a musician plucking the strings of an upright bass. If you've ever had this experience, you've wondered what's going on behind those doors, who those people are, and whether they'd notice if you slipped inside. Such courtyard affairs are so full of charm that I felt particularly lucky to be an actual guest at one for a traditional Danish Friday bar (when the workplace comes together to socialize with colleagues on a Friday evening.)  On this particular Friday, an ice cream vendor was there to give out flavorful scoops of Svaneke Is, a sweets company based on the Danish island Bornholm.

Of course the ice cream is transported by bicycle!  This is Copenhagen after all.
This person requested guf on their ice cream (a traditional Danish topping that is a bit like creamy marshmallow fluff)
4 flavors to choose from!
Fresh whipped cream anyone?
Ice cream vastly improving the Friday afternoon of Roza, one of my colleagues. 
Special cargo bike basket designed for transporting tupperware containers full of waffle cones!
The last step on ice cream cone day was to grab your cone and walk up these narrow stairs to the main Friday Bar event.  I hope everyone can one day experience the lovely charm of a Copenhagen courtyard (preferably with ice cream.)  Now you know what kind of secret events happen behind those doors, and how tasty they are!

Fødselsdag Fun: Celebrating Birthdays in Denmark

Celebrating a birthday in Denmark means partaking in traditional Danish layer cake.  Topped with creamy frosting and bursting with fresh fruit filling, these cakes are quite the treat. I have been lucky to celebrate two birthdays in Denmark, so I have had my fair share of layer cakes. No Danish birthday (fødselsdag) is complete without one!
This cake was hand-crafted by the one and only Lone, a lovely Dane who I met in 2005 when I was placed as an exchange student in her home.
It didn't take long for us to devour this one.  Yes, it's that good.
Lone and her masterpiece!
Lone can also make a mean batch of bite-sized butter cookies, which are the perfect accompaniment to cake and coffee.  My favorite are the ones on the top right with the large sugar crystals that lace the edges of the cookies.  They are melt in your mouth delicious.
"Tilykke," the phrase on the cake above, is directly translatable to "Congratulations", and "Tillykke med Fødselsdag" is the Danish way of saying "Happy Birthday!" 

The cakes are traditionally adorned with Danish flags.  The nation's flag is used for many festivities throughout the year, and you can purchase small flags for this purpose in just about every market.
Birthday layer cake made by my Danish roommate Sonja, who substituted American stars and stripes in my honor in place of the traditional Danish flags. What a nice touch!
While the baking theme might stop at wedges of layer cake for most birthday celebrations, my friends embraced it full force knowing that baking is one of my great passions. I was lucky enough to receive a selection of baking-themed gifts, including a Meyer's Bakery cookbook, a traditional Danish rye bread recipe and homemade dough starter, many pastries, and vanilla hearts transported to Copenhagen from Sweden's Flickorna Lundgren.  When you have received the cookbook you've been gazing at, a bread starter, and fresh baked goods from an entirely different country, how can your birthday get any better?

I am truly thankful to have experienced two very memorable birthdays in Copenhagen.  And to top it all off, the best part about celebrating your birthday during the Danish summer is that daylight hours continue until around 10 pm.  So you can have your Danish layer cake and eat it in the sunlight too!  
Strolling along the Copenhagen lakes with my trusty blue bicycle, and a heap of baking related treats in my bike basket.  The sun is shining and the winter is long behind us. Life is good.