South Sound women keep their Scandinavian holiday customs alive

December 15, 2010 

During the long, dark winter in Norway and Sweden, Christmas cookies and sweet breads play a shining role in brightening spirits and satisfying sugar cravings of snowbound Scandinavians.

Norwegian-born Astrid Karlsen Scott of Olympia and Swedish immigrant Jeanette Wiggins of University Place know this well.

They still bake the winter holiday goodies they’ve enjoyed since childhood.

For Wiggins, that means preparing her family’s cinnamon ring recipe and the ubiquitous Saffron Buns served at St. Lucia celebrations in December.

Scott makes marzipan-embellished cakes and at least seven kinds of Christmas cookies, just as her mother did.

“I can remember piles of cookies,” said Scott, who immigrated to the United States when she was 16. “They stored them in airtight cans. The reason they made so many is that when people came in January or February, the cookies were still good and they could serve them.”

Holiday foods and customs from Scandinavian nations often overlap. Norwegian and Swedish bakers, for instance, both use “pearl sugar,” tiny flecks of crystallized sugar to finish cookies and breads with a snowy, rock-salt appearance.

THE NORWEGIAN WAY

Scott produces books and DVDs on Norwegian culture, including several on cuisine and Christmas traditions in one of the world’s most northerly nations.

She writes from research and experience. When her three children were young, Scott saw to it that the family celebrated Christmas the Norwegian way, a practice that continues today when the grandchildren and great-grandchildren visit for the holidays.

Santa, aka Scott, secretly set up the Christmas tree and decorations the night of Dec. 23, the date Norwegians call Little Christmas Eve. The kids awoke the next morning to a holiday wonderland. Evergreen streamers, laced with bells and Santa figures, hung from the ceiling and presents sat under a yule tree adorned with ornaments and stamp-sized flags of Norway and the United States.

After opening presents in the evening, the family moved the tree to the center of the room, everyone held hands in a circle and sang Norwegian Christmas songs. Each year, a man clad in a Norwegian-patterned sweater, black knickers, red knee socks and a Santa mask visited the house. “He always says the same thing: ‘Are there any good children here?’ Then he comes with one gift for each of them,” said Scott, 75.

The day ended with hot chocolate for the kids, coffee for the adults and cookies for all.

“Norwegians make seven cookies at Christmas,” Scott said, “and there isn’t a soul who can tell me why it’s seven.”

Opinions vary on which cookies should be on the must-make list of seven, but perennial favorites include Sand Tarts (Sandkaker) and Cardamom Cookie Cones (Krumkaker).

Krumkaker are thin wafers rolled into a cone that’s often filled with whipped cream and fruit. The wafers incorporate cardamom, an aromatic spice that’s key in Nordic baking.

Making the wafers requires a krumkake iron, a hinged, metal device akin to a waffle maker that’s available online or in Scandinavian import stores. Bakers pour batter into the iron, close the two sides and heat it. Once you have the iron, Scott said, “It’s not hard to do at all.”

Royal Pepper Cookies (Kongelige pepperkaker) made with gingerbread man- or heart-shaped cookie-cutters are another Christmas favorite. Though the recipe includes ginger, a half-teaspoon of black pepper provides extra bite.

Cookie Stacks (Bordstabelbakkels) frosted with almond meringue add another dimension to the cookie plate. Thin, flat and rectangular like miniature boards, the cookies are served in stacks similar to the frame of a square log house.

Most of Scott’s recipes were passed down from her mother, who received them from her mother.

“The Norwegians stick to traditions,” Scott said. “It’s very important to them.”

LUCIA BRIDE

Wiggins emigrated from Sweden when she was 6 years old, but she still remembers the country’s huge Saint Lucia Day celebrations honoring the patron saint of light.

Born to a Swedish father and Norwegian mother, Wiggins has remained close to her roots. She returns to Sweden every few years to see her father and speaks Swedish. The connections were helpful in operating the Strictly Scandinavian gift shop in Gig Harbor for five years, until sluggish sales forced her to close the store in August and move the business online.

St. Lucia Day festivities typically feature a procession led by a Lucia bride, crowned with an evergreen wreath of candles on Dec. 13. Girls holding candles and Star Boys wearing cone-shaped hats decorated with stars follow the bride.

Wiggins’ granddaughters recently participated in a similar St. Lucia procession at Pacific Lutheran University.

The event rekindled memories for Wiggins, who, as a child, would serve Saffron Buns and gingerbread cookies to her parents to start St. Lucia Day, as tradition demanded.

“I was the oldest so I got to wear the crown. It was battery-operated. We would go to the neighbors and sing the Lucia song, and we’d go to church. The other kids had to follow along. It was always a big tradition for us.

“It’s so dark there in the winter that the crown of lights brightens things up.”

Wiggins, 43, reminisced as she kneaded a batch of Saffron Buns dough on the granite countertop in her University Place home. “I like the dough just a little sticky,” she said. “Don’t use too much saffron because it will make it hard. Don’t use too much flour, either.”

She hand-flattened the dough, cut it into strips, then hand-rolled each piece into slender ropes about 10 inches long and as thick as a dime. Curling the end of each strip into opposite directions, she gave the buns their distinctive S shape.

“This is a recipe that would be fun with kids,” she said.

The cinnamon ring, or wreath, made from her mother’s recipe adds another festive touch to holiday gatherings.

It’s not the kind of gooey cinnamon roll dripping with a sugary glaze that shoppers would find at a mall. Instead, it’s a moderately sweet roll that Swedes serve with coffee.

While it looks showy, it’s not complicated to make, once you see how it’s done.

After using a rolling pin to roll out the dough, Wiggins spread softened butter and a generous sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon over the flattened dough, then rolled it up like a carpet. To form the wreath shape, she smoothed the two ends together with her fingers.

Then, with knife in hand, she cut the ring into 1-inch slices, taking care to stop the blade about a half-inch from the bottom.

Next came the trick to giving the wreath definition: She pulled one slice toward the inside of the ring and gently flattened it, pulled the next slice toward the outside and flattened it, continuing to alternate the slices around the ring.

“This is a real traditional thing,” Wiggins said of the wreath. “You can make it ahead of time, and put it in the freezer.”

Thaw it out for holiday guests and say, “Oh, I worked all day on that,” she joked.

Only you and Santa will know.

Debby Abe: 253-597-8694 debby.abe@thenewstribune.com

During the long, dark winter in Norway and Sweden, Christmas cookies and sweet breads play a shining role in brightening spirits and satisfying sugar cravings of snowbound Scandinavians.

Norwegian-born Astrid Karlsen Scott of Olympia and Swedish immigrant Jeanette Wiggins of University Place know this well.

They still bake the winter holiday goodies they’ve enjoyed since childhood.

For Wiggins, that means preparing her family’s cinnamon ring recipe and the ubiquitous Saffron Buns served at St. Lucia celebrations in December.

Scott makes marzipan-embellished cakes and at least seven kinds of Christmas cookies, just as her mother did.

“I can remember piles of cookies,” said Scott, who immigrated to the United States when she was 16. “They stored them in airtight cans. The reason they made so many is that when people came in January or February, the cookies were still good and they could serve them.”

Holiday foods and customs from Scandinavian nations often overlap. Norwegian and Swedish bakers, for instance, both use “pearl sugar,” tiny flecks of crystallized sugar to finish cookies and breads with a snowy, rock-salt appearance.

THE NORWEGIAN WAY

Scott produces books and DVDs on Norwegian culture, including several on cuisine and Christmas traditions in one of the world’s most northerly nations.

She writes from research and experience. When her three children were young, Scott saw to it that the family celebrated Christmas the Norwegian way, a practice that continues today when the grandchildren and great-grandchildren visit for the holidays.

Santa, aka Scott, secretly set up the Christmas tree and decorations the night of Dec. 23, the date Norwegians call Little Christmas Eve. The kids awoke the next morning to a holiday wonderland. Evergreen streamers, laced with bells and Santa figures, hung from the ceiling and presents sat under a yule tree adorned with ornaments and stamp-sized flags of Norway and the United States.

After opening presents in the evening, the family moved the tree to the center of the room, everyone held hands in a circle and sang Norwegian Christmas songs. Each year, a man clad in a Norwegian-patterned sweater, black knickers, red knee socks and a Santa mask visited the house. “He always says the same thing: ‘Are there any good children here?’ Then he comes with one gift for each of them,” said Scott, 75.

The day ended with hot chocolate for the kids, coffee for the adults and cookies for all.

“Norwegians make seven cookies at Christmas,” Scott said, “and there isn’t a soul who can tell me why it’s seven.”

Opinions vary on which cookies should be on the must-make list of seven, but perennial favorites include Sand Tarts (Sandkaker) and Cardamom Cookie Cones (Krumkaker).

Krumkaker are thin wafers rolled into a cone that’s often filled with whipped cream and fruit. The wafers incorporate cardamom, an aromatic spice that’s key in Nordic baking.

Making the wafers requires a krumkake iron, a hinged, metal device akin to a waffle maker that’s available online or in Scandinavian import stores. Bakers pour batter into the iron, close the two sides and heat it. Once you have the iron, Scott said, “It’s not hard to do at all.”

Royal Pepper Cookies (Kongelige pepperkaker) made with gingerbread man- or heart-shaped cookie-cutters are another Christmas favorite. Though the recipe includes ginger, a half-teaspoon of black pepper provides extra bite.

Cookie Stacks (Bordstabelbakkels) frosted with almond meringue add another dimension to the cookie plate. Thin, flat and rectangular like miniature boards, the cookies are served in stacks similar to the frame of a square log house.

Most of Scott’s recipes were passed down from her mother, who received them from her mother.

“The Norwegians stick to traditions,” Scott said. “It’s very important to them.”

LUCIA BRIDE

Wiggins emigrated from Sweden when she was 6 years old, but she still remembers the country’s huge Saint Lucia Day celebrations honoring the patron saint of light.

Born to a Swedish father and Norwegian mother, Wiggins has remained close to her roots. She returns to Sweden every few years to see her father and speaks Swedish. The connections were helpful in operating the Strictly Scandinavian gift shop in Gig Harbor for five years, until sluggish sales forced her to close the store in August and move the business online.

St. Lucia Day festivities typically feature a procession led by a Lucia bride, crowned with an evergreen wreath of candles on Dec. 13. Girls holding candles and Star Boys wearing cone-shaped hats decorated with stars follow the bride.

Wiggins’ granddaughters recently participated in a similar St. Lucia procession at Pacific Lutheran University.

The event rekindled memories for Wiggins, who, as a child, would serve Saffron Buns and gingerbread cookies to her parents to start St. Lucia Day, as tradition demanded.

“I was the oldest so I got to wear the crown. It was battery-operated. We would go to the neighbors and sing the Lucia song, and we’d go to church. The other kids had to follow along. It was always a big tradition for us.

“It’s so dark there in the winter that the crown of lights brightens things up.”

Wiggins, 43, reminisced as she kneaded a batch of Saffron Buns dough on the granite countertop in her University Place home. “I like the dough just a little sticky,” she said. “Don’t use too much saffron because it will make it hard. Don’t use too much flour, either.”

She hand-flattened the dough, cut it into strips, then hand-rolled each piece into slender ropes about 10 inches long and as thick as a dime. Curling the end of each strip into opposite directions, she gave the buns their distinctive S shape.

“This is a recipe that would be fun with kids,” she said.

The cinnamon ring, or wreath, made from her mother’s recipe adds another festive touch to holiday gatherings.

It’s not the kind of gooey cinnamon roll dripping with a sugary glaze that shoppers would find at a mall. Instead, it’s a moderately sweet roll that Swedes serve with coffee.

While it looks showy, it’s not complicated to make, once you see how it’s done.

After using a rolling pin to roll out the dough, Wiggins spread softened butter and a generous sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon over the flattened dough, then rolled it up like a carpet. To form the wreath shape, she smoothed the two ends together with her fingers.

Then, with knife in hand, she cut the ring into 1-inch slices, taking care to stop the blade about a half-inch from the bottom.

Next came the trick to giving the wreath definition: She pulled one slice toward the inside of the ring and gently flattened it, pulled the next slice toward the outside and flattened it, continuing to alternate the slices around the ring.

“This is a real traditional thing,” Wiggins said of the wreath. “You can make it ahead of time, and put it in the freezer.”

Thaw it out for holiday guests and say, “Oh, I worked all day on that,” she joked.

Only you and Santa will know.

Debby Abe: 253-597-8694
debby.abe@thenewstribune.com

RECIPES

Lucia Buns – Saffron Buns

Yield: Makes 60-70 Buns

10 ounces butter (2-1/2 sticks)

4 cups milk

3 packets active dry yeast

1 gram of pure saffron

1-1/2 to 2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

12-13 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg to brush the buns before baking

Set oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in a pan, add milk and heat to 98.6 degrees.

Stir in the yeast, making sure it dissolves completely.

Grind saffron with a mortar and pestle, adding some of the milk mixture to create a loose paste.

Add saffron paste to milk mixture.

Add sugar, salt, whisked eggs and 7 cups of the flour to the milk mixture. Stir until ingredients are well mixed and form a dough.

Transfer the dough to a floured pastry board and work in the rest of the flour.

Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a cloth and leave to rise for 40 minutes.

Knead the dough and divide into six pieces.

Take one piece of the dough, flatten it by hand and cut into 10 pieces. Hand-roll each piece to about 10 inches. Shape into a “twirly” letter S. Place a raisin at the center of each twirl.

Place the buns on a greased baking tray, cover with a cloth and let rest for 30 minutes.

Brush with beaten egg. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until you like the color.

Source: Catarina Lundgren Astrom and Peter Astrom - Swedish Christmas in America

Royal Pepper Cookies (Kongelige pepperkaker)

5 cups flour

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1-1/8 cups butter

1-1/4 cups whipping cream

1-1/8 cups sugar

1-1/4 cups Lyle’s Golden syrup, good measure

1-1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

1-1/2 tablespoons ginger

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons cloves

1 small egg, slightly beaten

Mix flour and baking soda together.

Cut in butter with pastry blender or finger tips until pieces are the size of small peas.

Whip the cream well, add sugar, syrup, spices, and egg.

In a large bowl work the flour mixture into cream mixture until smooth and pliant.

Roll dough 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured surface.

Cut into desired shapes (Hearts, pigs, gingerbread men, and round ones are the most popular).

Place on greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees, 5-6 minutes.

Let cool before removing from cookie sheet.

Source: Astrid Karlsen Scott – Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Foods

Superb Christmas Bread (Superb julekake)

Yield: Makes 2 loaves

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

2 packages active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

2 eggs, beaten

5 cups flour, sifted

2 teaspoons cardamom, freshly ground

1-1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup citron

In a small saucepan, heat milk just until bubbles form around edge of pan; remove from heat.

Add sugar, butter, salt; stir until butter is melted; cool to lukewarm.

Sprinkle yeast over water in large bowl, stir until dissolved. Stir in milk mixture. Add eggs, 2 cups flour mixed with cardamom. Beat with wooden spoon until smooth. Add raisins and citron. Stir in enough of remaining flour (2-1/2 to 3 cups) to make a soft dough. Cover with towel; let rest for 10 minutes.

Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic – about 8 minutes. Place in lightly greased large bowl; turn to bring up greased side. Cover with towel; let rise in warm place (85 degrees), until double in bulk. Punch down; divide in half.

Shape each half into ball. Cover, let rest 10 minutes.

Shape each ball into 2 round loaves, place on greased cookie sheet. Cover and let rise until double in bulk – about 1-1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake loaves 20 minutes, place piece of foil over top of each loaf, bake 25 minutes longer, or until deep golden brown.

Cool on racks.

Source: Astrid Karlsen Scott – Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Foods

Cookie Stacks (Bordstabelbakkels)

2 egg yolks

1-1/3 cups sugar

2 tablespoons whipping cream

1-1/8 cups butter, softened

3-1/2 to 3-7/8 cups flour, approximately

Grated peel of 1 lemon

Almond Meringue

1-7/8 cups almonds, ground

2-1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Grated peel of 1 lemon

4 egg whites, beaten

Beat egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in whipping cream. Mix grated lemon peel with flour and add to mixture alternately with the soft butter. Mix fully. Let dough rest 1 hour. On lightly floured surface roll out a thin dough, (many say the thickness of a blade of straw), and cut out lengths 6-x-1-inch Grease or cover cookie with parchment paper and bake cookies in the middle of 355-degree oven for 6 minutes.

Almond Meringue: Grind almonds twice, second time with confectioner’s sugar. Add lemon peel and egg whites and mix well. Add almond meringue in a stripe down the center of the cookie. The meringue swells, so do not put it all the way to the edge. Return to the oven to dry at 160 degrees, leaving the oven door ajar. The cookies are finished when the meringue is set yet still white.

Note: Stabel means pile or stacks. Serve by placing two cookies a few inches apart, with the next two crossing, 1/2 inch from the ends of the first two. Continue stacking until desired height.

Source: Astrid Karlsen Scott – Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Foods

Cardamom Cookie Cones (Krumkaker)

Egg (1 egg makes 9 krumkaker)

Sugar

Butter or margarine (melted)

Flour

Weigh the egg(s) with shell on. To the weight of each egg add the same weight each of sugar, butter and flour.

Mix all together.

Heat Krumkake iron, ungreased, until a drop of water splatters when sprinkled on its surface.

Butter iron slightly for the first two cakes.

Place a generous tablespoon of batter in the middle of the iron and close.

Bake over medium heat until golden.

Remove cake with a fork and immediately roll up into cone shape.

Serve plain, or filled with whipped cream.

Source: Astrid Karlsen Scott – Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Foods

Dalesmen (Doler)

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon butter

2/3 cup sugar

3/8 cup cream

5 teaspoons potato flour

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon vanilla sugar or extract

1 cup almonds or hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift in a little flour and mix. Add cream, nuts, vanilla and the remaining flour. Drop by teaspoonful onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees 10-12 minutes or until light golden in color.

Source: Astrid Karlsen Scott – Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Foods

Sweet Dough Cinnamon Bun (Swedish Vetebrod)

2 cubes margarine

4 cups milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

12 cups unbleached flour

2 tablespoons yeast

Sugar to taste

Cinnamon to taste

Pearl sugar

In medium sauce pan melt margarine and add milk, cool to lukewarm, and then add yeast.

In a large bowl or mixer, combine sugar, salt and eggs.

Add milk to sugar mixture and gradually add 6 cups of flour.

Add approximately 6 more cups of flour until dough is easily handled but not too firm.

Let rise to double size.

Roll out onto floured counter and spread soft butter or margarine on it and sprinkle generously with sugar and cinnamon. Roll up.

You may make this into rolls by cutting them in sections or into a ring or wreath.

Place on greased cookie sheet or into baker’s cups sprayed with cooking spray.

To make a ring, join ends together and then cut about every 1-2 inches with scissors and fold every other one in opposite directions.

Let rise until double (approx. 2 hours).

Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with pearl sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Note: Recipe can be cut in half.

Source: Jeanette Wiggins, University Place

Sundry Cookies (Smkaker)

3 eggs

2-1/3 cups sugar

6 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

5 sticks butter

Beat eggs and sugar until foamy. Add 3 cups flour mixed with the baking powder. Form a dough and put on a board. Mix in butter and remaining 3 cups flower. Chill at least 2 hours, then divide into several portions and add ingredients necessary to make the different cookies as follows:

Wreaths: dip in egg whites and pearl sugar

Serina: add vanilla to taste and roll into small balls, flatten with fork

Sandkaker: add ground almonds or almond flavoring, press into tart pans

Jdekaker: roll out and cut into fancy shapes, such as stars, hearts and Christmas trees, or simply cut into rounds and sprinkle with chipped almonds and sugar.

Bake 10-12 minutes at 350-375 degrees

Source: Astrid Karlsen Scott – Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Foods

Fruitcake (Fruktkake)

For the cake:

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cloves

2 cups raisins

1 tablespoon baking soda

3-1/2 cups flour mixed with 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup nutmeats, coarsely chopped

1 egg

For the glaze

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

For the cake: Put water and sugar into a heavy saucepan and blend. Add cinnamon, cloves and raisins and cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm and add baking soda. Fold in the flour mixed with salt, and add the nutmeats. Blend well, and add 1 egg. Bake in greased and floured angel food or bundt pan for one hour at 325 degrees. Glaze if desired.

For the glaze: Boil brown sugar, corn syrup and water for 2 minutes, remove from heat and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice. If desired, you may make a white glaze with confectioner’s sugar and milk. Pour on cake and let run down the sides. Make dark green holly leaves by coloring marzipan dark green; roll out, and cut in shape of holly leaves. Color a little marzipan bright red; make 3 red berries to place on each large leaf.

Note: A simply delicious and always welcome dark fruit cake. It is different from the American fruit cakes in that it only has raisins, nuts and spices. It make an especially welcome and beautiful gift when decorated with marzipan. However, it is delicious just served with the glaze.

Source: Astrid Karlsen Scott – Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Foods

Sand Tarts (Sandkaker)

1 cup sugar

2 cups butter

1 egg

2 teaspoons almond extract

4-1/2 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar white, add egg, and blend in remaining ingredients. Chill dough thoroughly. Remove a small portion of the dough from the refrigerator. Put small amount of dough in fluted tart pan. Press a thin layer of dough on bottom and sides, turning the tart pan as you are working. Remove excess dough from edge. Place tart pan on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees 12-15 minutes or to a golden color. Cool a minute or two before turning tart pan over. The tart should slide out, but sometimes a tap with a spoon on the bottom of pan will loosen it.

Source: Astrid Karlsen Scott – Ekte Norsk Jul: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Foods

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