Norwegian Christmas Specialties - Krumkake, Fattigmann & Spritz
My grandma's name is Joy. It's her real name, the one she's had all her life, but if you didn't know that, you would think it was just one of those incredibly apropos nicknames like a tall guy named Stretch. My grandma could truly not be more filled with joy. She is vivacious and ebullient with the kind of exuberance that is instantly contagious. And what seems to bring her the most joy is her large, closeknit family, something she expresses thanks for every time we are in her presence.
My grandma Joy is also the most fantastic and prolific baker I've ever come across (sorry Martha, you too Dorie). But isn't that the case with everybody's grandma? When it comes to baking, grandmas just have it down. I spent years studying Martha and Dorie and even Julia, until I finally realized that my best source was someone I've known all my life. I didn't have to search for baking excellence, I've already seen it in action and tasted its bounty.
Another thing I've realized is the incredible power of food to comfort people and to unite us with common feelings and memories. Any type of cuisine involving the prefix 'neo' or 'nouveau' sorely misses the mark in this respect. And don't even get me started on 'molecular gastronomy' or 'fusion'. The best recipes are not from Bon Appetit magazine or the French Laundry Cookbook. They are the ones that have been in use for decades, that have possibly been passed down through generations, the ones with butter stains on them and a consistent dusting of flour.
My are you guys in for a treat. Yesterday I spent the day in my grandma's kitchen getting an education on her signature Norwegian Christmas specialties. My grandma is of Swedish descent, but these recipes are from her mother-in-law who presumably brought them when she emigrated from Norway. I'm sure these recipes have been modified here and there through the generations, so I can't vouch for their strict authenticity, especially with their lack of definite measurements ('add enough flour to make a stiff dough' leaves a lot of room for interpretation). But I can certainly assure you of their delicious simplicity and the joy inherent in making them.
makes about 6 dozen
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
scant 1 tbsp cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift together flour and sugar. Make a well in the center and drop in egg yolks, butter and vanilla. Mix until it becomes a smooth dough adding a little less than 1 tbsp cream near the end of mixing to thin the dough slightly. Add more flour if dough becomes too soft. It should be pretty firm. Using the star-shaped attachment, force the dough through a cookie press into wreath shapes onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8 minutes until the spritz begin to color just the slightest bit. Remove from the baking pan directly after baking and let cool on a flat surface. Cooled Spritz will freeze beautifully.
The Spritz are Brian's favorite, hands down. I'm not sure I'll be able to give any away as gifts, he may eat all 6 dozen on his own. My favorite has always been the Fattigmann which translated means 'poor man' in English. It is basically fried dough peppered with lovely bits of cardamom. I have always loved desserts that are not-too-sweet and this one is a winner.
Separating the cardamom from the pods and crushing it by hand takes some time, but the result is well worth it. The taste is so much more vibrant and fragrant than pre-ground cardamom.
Fattigman, like doughnuts, are deep fried. We still have a couple weeks until our New Year's resolutions kick in, so go ahead and indulge. But, I'm not going to lie, I nearly had a heart attack when I saw my grandma drop an entire container of Crisco into the deep fat fryer. She also adds a teaspoonfull of apple cider vinegar to the mix which she says keeps the Fattigmann from absorbing all the oil and becoming greasy. I am skeptical, but will choose to believe her on that one. But it's true, these guys aren't greasy or heavy, they are floury and aromatic and lovely.
makes about 3 dozen
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
6 egg yolks
3 egg whites
8 oz whipping cream
cardamom seeds from about 8-10 pods, crushed
flour to make a stiff dough
Cream the butter and sugar together. Add beaten eggs and cardamom seeds. Add the cream and flour alternately until the dough is stiff. Chill the dough for a few hours. Roll the dough a handfull at a time onto a generously floured surface until about 1/4'' thick, keeping the rest of the dough in the fridge so it doesn't get soft. Add flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Cut the dough with a knife or roller (pictured above) into diamond shapes and make a slit in the middle. Scraps can be re-rolled. Fold the top of the diamond through the slit and deep fry. It only takes about 10-20 seconds. Keep turning in the oil until light golden brown on all sides. Cooled fritters will keep in a cool place for about 2 weeks.
Last, but not least, we made Krumkake, a delicate, buttery waffle cookie that is wrapped around a cone. You can fill them with whipped cream and berries if you like, but we traditionally eat these crisp little cookies plain and they are delicious on their own. My grandma recently acquired this handy electric Krumkake iron which makes the process much easier, more consistent and faster than the traditional stovetop iron (which my grandma is modeling in the photo at the top of this post).
makes about 3 dozen
1 cup sugar
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup cream
3/4 cup milk
2 cups flour (about)
1.5 tsp crushed cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1 cup butter, melted
Mix all ingredients, alternating cream/milk and flour until well combined. Add the melted butter last. Bake in a krumkake iron about 1 tsp at a time turning halfway through (about 15 seconds per side) until lightly browned. Slip cookie off with a knife and immediately wrap around the cone-shaped roller to form a little cornucopia. Cooled cookies will keep in an airtight container for a couple of weeks.
Thank you Grandma for sharing your secrets with me (and whoever else may be reading this) and for the perfect, lovely day we shared yesterday. The smell of cardamom on my hands and in the treats I brought home had me smiling all evening long.
I hope some of you will try one of these recipes. They really are something special. You may make similar Christmastime specialties of your own, especially if you are of Scandinavian descent, but feel free to adopt these recipes and start a new holiday tradition of your own.