Norwegian pancakes (pannekaker)

December 13, 2010 § 22 Comments

If you are thoroughly swamped and trying to make your way through 5.42 quadrillion deadlines before you take a winter holiday, say ‘aye.’  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  Me too.  I have skads and skads of work, and find myself needing to take little breaks to doodle pictures of chickens and meditating monkeys in order to let my brain turn over and rev up again (this is actually fairly standard practice among a subset of the population who, um, finds drawing chickens and monkeys cathartic).  But, now it’s time to take another little respite.  Come with me if you would, on a little walk down memory lane…

This memory has to do with food, of course.  One of the very, very best foods of my childhood, pannekaker.  Norwegian pancakes are thin, almost crepe like (but more delicious 🙂 ), and like crepes you can put nearly anything you’d like in them.  In Norway they are a dinner food, and while I’m sure my brothers and I would have been quite happy to have them every single night, the time we most dependably ate them was on a very specific special occasion.  When my parents would go out in the summer to visit with friends (and, let me tell you, in Norway a visit with friends can turn into a fest that lasts until 4am!) my uncle would come to watch us and cook us dinner.  He would make us eggy, tender, buttery pannekaker, that we would smear generously with fresh blueberry or raspberry jam.  We accompanied the pancakes with tomato noodle soup that came out of a packet (Scandinavians have the dubious distinction of packing an extremely odd and wide ranging assortment of foods in a packet, from cabbage, to rose hip soup, to mashed kohlrabi, to sour cream porridge.  It sets you up really well if you want to go on a camping trip though!)  The pancake tomato soup combination was an odd one – at least we didn’t actually mix the two together – but we adored it.  It was, after all, undeniably delicious. « Read the rest of this entry »

Kanelkake – cinnamon snacking cake

July 31, 2010 § 10 Comments

We’ve just gotten back from Norway, and already I miss it.  Our visit went far too fast.  The sunlight hours stretch past 11pm at this time of the year, and we made use of all of them, filling them with family and friends, swimming, hiking, fishing, berry picking, determined tanning, and all my favorite treats and snacks.  Admittedly, the weather wasn’t perfect (the front page news story every day concerned itself with whether we could expect sun for the weekend and where to go to find the best weather).  And there was an invasion of burning jellyfishes that turned ocean bathing into an extreme adventure sport.  But, still, it was perfect.  If it weren’t so hard to find iced coffee there (people tend to drink their coffee hot and black, even when hanging out on the beach), I think my campaign to convince Joel we should move to Norway would already be successfully completed.  As it is, it might take one more visit 🙂 .

I have all sorts of plans to show you the wonderful landscape around our cabin, the abundance of food you can forage and eat in the summer, and some of the wonderfully goofy Norwegian people.  But, being who I am, I mostly forgot to take pictures, and I have to wait for my dad to send them to me.  So, instead I’ll start with this lovely cinnamon snack cake that my aunt made for everyone.

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Brown Butter Rhubarb Cake

May 26, 2010 § 9 Comments

When I was just a wee thing, I had a wonderful children’s cookbook (British, I think) with life size color photographs of the recipes – each ingredient as well as the final product.  I would spend private afternoons carefully paging through this book, gazing intently at the cheese sandwiches with faces made of peppers and olives, the scrambled eggs with ham and cheese, the fish stew.  But, I would linger the longest on the cake recipe, a simple yellow sponge cake, decorated with icing and candies in the photograph.  This cake was special.  We almost never had dessert in my family growing up, unless it was a birthday or Christmas.  But, once a year when the little rhubarb plant nestled along the corner of the garden shed was ready, my mother would give the go ahead, and we would cut down a few stalks and bake them into this yellow cake.  It felt like Heaven, this dessert we got to make for no special occasion in particular, except that the rhubarb was ready and I had a cake recipe.

We’re in Minnesota again, at my parents house, for one of approximately 436trillion weddings that are happening this summer.  I went out to the garden yesterday morning to check…the rhubarb was ready.  I wanted to bake a cake.  I’ve moved slightly beyond my “Child’s First Cookbook” days, I’m slightly sorry to say, but I still wanted to keep it simple, to let the rhubarb shine through in a delicate moist cake.  Then again, I’ve also been becoming progressively more obsessed with brown butter (yes, I know that was totally two years ago, but better late than never, and it still tastes amazing, rich and nutty, even when it’s not one of Food & Wine’s foods of the year), and I had an inkling that browning the butter in the cake to give it a soft caramel undertone would buoy the tartness of the rhubarb to new heights.

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Norwegian Heart Shaped Waffles (Vafler)

May 19, 2010 § 35 Comments

Monday (the 17th) was Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day.  It’s like the Norwegian version of the Fourth of July, except that it’s a waaaaaaay bigger deal.  Norwegians are ferociously patriotic, doncha know.  It’s a day when, as a kid (or even adult), you’re allowed to eat all your favorite foods – even ice cream and hot dogs for breakfast!  There is a parade in every town with the children and the teachers marching in front of the capital buildings (in Oslo you get to wave to the King and Queen!).  And, everyone turns out waving their flags, and dressed in traditional woolen embroidered costumes called bunads.  You sing songs and have parties with neighbors and generally have a grand ole’ time (and if you’re partying in true Norwegian fashion, you also usually get totally wasted, but we won’t go there).

This, kind of amazingly, was the first Syttende Mai I’ve had when I haven’t gone to celebrate with my family.  Luckily, a wonderful band of my friends were willing to come over and parade with me around my neighborhood, sing songs (we even had guitars and mandolin), hear troll stories, and eat all the traditional food I prepared.  I took the day off of working and just stayed home and cooked!  We had a whole smorgasbord of treats from hotdogs, meatballs, red cabbage, and smoked fish, to boller, sour cream porridge, whipped cream cake, and vafler.  Trying to choose which of these foods is my favorite would be like trying to choose a favorite child (er, if I had children).  But, I’m going to share a recipe for vafler, Norwegian heart shaped waffles, with you because they’re just so iconic.

If there were to be an ‘ultimate Norwegian snack food smack down’, I’d pit vafler against boller, and honestly I have no idea who would win.  Both are beyond delicious, and you find them all over the place.  You can get freshly made waffles in many cafes across the country, served plain with butter, or with jam and sour cream.  They’re heaven with a cup of coffee.  Sometimes in the summer, kids will even make waffles and sell them at stands – kind of like a lemonade stand.  Trying to walk past the scent of waffles being freshly griddled without buying one to eat is like torture.  It’s a fabulous business ploy.

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Boller med rosiner (cardamom raisin buns)

March 22, 2010 § 49 Comments

You know how some foods, with one bite or even sniff, can plunge you instantly into a different time and place, immersing you in memories and a flood of sensations beyond just the surface sensory experience of eating that food?  More than any other food, boller do that for me.  The spicy smell of cardamom as I break one open, the pillowy soft texture, the mild sweetness and the bursts of plump raisins as  I eat one, conjures up granite rocks warm from the sun under foot and the salty cold north sea splashing up into my face.  I’m a little girl, scrambling in the mountains of Norway and playing on the beach, swimming and fishing for crabs.  My mom, sitting with an ever present cup of coffee, has just called to us that she has brought boller with her, and we can have a snack if we’re hungry.

Boller are one of the most common and beloved snacks in Norway.  Kind of as chocolate chip cookies are to Americans, boller are to Norwegians.  But, given the choice between a bolle and a chocolate cookie, I’d take the bolle any day!  They are a milk based bread, so they are very soft and chewy.  They’re slightly sweet, but not overly sweet like so many American baked goods are.  And, they are lightly scented with cardamom, the most delicious spice in the whole world, so how can you go wrong?  You can find them fresh baked daily in any bakery and even any gas station.  You can also buy bags of them in the grocery store, which is very convenient for taking to the beach. (Yes, there are beaches in Norway, and as soon as it’s sunny and above 65F it’s a national duty to start tanning!)

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