Norwegian Coffee Treats: A taste of love at Nordic Heritage Museum
A baking class at Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum combines cookies, waffles, and fun
When we bake with love, that’s when beauty comes into our creations, I told a sold-out crowd of students at the Nordic Heritage Museum on a recent Saturday. They were there to learn how to make a variety of Norwegian coffee treats, each one of the recipes beautiful or intricate in its own right. My objective in teaching is for students to leave a class with the confidence and ability to recreate the dishes at home. Teaching the steps of a recipe is only part of the equation. One of the most important parts is the heart.
But until that Saturday in January, I hadn’t been able to fully articulate what makes a recipe work. Butter, sugar, flour, eggs—I had been playing around with that mix of ingredients in the weeks leading up to the class, making heart-shaped waffles (vafler), prince cake (fyrstekake), and sandbakkels. I had studied how a handful of simple ingredients could yield such dramatically different results with just a few variations of ingredients.
In class I kept encouraging the students to just give it a try. Just put the batter in the waffle iron and practice—you’ll soon get a feel for how much to spoon in and how long to cook the waffle. Just make sandbakkel after sandbakkel, getting used to the feeling of pressing the dough into the crevices of the little tins until it’s as thin as you think it can be. Then when it was time to talk about the fyrstekake—an almond cake with a shortbread crust baked in a tart pan—I assured everyone that it really is easy.
Don’t stress out, I told students as they oohed and aahed over the cake. Baking isn’t fun if you do. When it comes to crafting the crisscross or lattice topping that gives the fyrstekake a hint of elegance, you can get frustrated when the soft dough warms up too much and sticks to your work surface as you cut it into strips. Or you can roll with it, doing the best you can, and putting your heart into what you’re doing. Nothing about Norwegian cooking is fussy, as far as I’m concerned. Even the beautiful fyrstekake allows for grace, the filling puffing up into the top layer and rounding out the rough edges.
When you bake with love, that impacts the way you approach the food. It works its way into each cup of flour measured, the care taken in beating sugar into eggs, the way the dough is manipulated into something of beauty. I’m as much of a perfectionist as the next person, but when it comes to baking, I do it because I love it, because I love people. I do it because I love watching a few simple ingredients transform into something that feeds and nourishes others—their stomachs and their souls. Sure, care and precision are important. But love is essential.
Thanks to each of you who attended the class last month—it was a joy to teach you to make some of my favorite Norwegian treats. I enjoyed meeting each and every one of you, and I hope I inspired you to work some of these recipes into your own homes.
If you’re in the Seattle area and interested in learning more about Nordic baking, be sure to check out the rest of the Nordic Heritage Museum’s coffee treats series. I kicked it off last month with Norwegian coffee treats, and the museum continues with recipes from the other Nordic countries in the months to come.
Adeline Halvarson’s Sandbakkels
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and almond extracts and stir until combined. Add flour and mix until incorporated and the dough comes together. Gather the dough together, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for 15 minutes.
Shape cookies in tins, preheating oven to 375 degrees partway through the process:
• To start, pinch off a little dough and roll into a ball about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.
• Place into the center of the mold, using your thumbs to flatten the dough into the mold.
• Rotating the mold as you go, work the dough out from the center of the mold and up the sides. You’ll want the dough on the bottom to be as thin as it can be while still holding up when baked.
• As you work, take special care at the ridge where the bottom connects to the side. Dough tends to collect here, and it’s easy to let this part be too thick. Delicately continue to work the dough from this ring up the sides.
• Using your hand, scrape off the excess dough from the top of the mold, and set aside while you form the rest of the cookies.
• When it’s time to bake, arrange the sandbakkels on a cookie sheet (if you’re using different shapes of tins, try to keep the like tins together in a batch so they cook evenly) and place in a preheated oven.
• Watch closely as the cookies bake, as they quickly go from done to overdone. When they’re just starting to take on a slightly golden hue, remove from the oven and take the molds off the cookie sheet to cool.
• Allow the cookies to cool for a while, and then carefully remove from the tins. This is done by inverting the molds onto your work surface and giving a little tap. The cookies should pop right out.
Makes about five dozen cookies, depending on size of tins.
Daytona Strong is the voice of Outside Oslo, a blog exploring her Norwegian heritage and love of great food. Check out the blog at www.outside-oslo.com and follow it at www.facebook.com/OutsideOslo and @daytonastrong on Twitter. This recipe was originally published at Outside Oslo and is reprinted here with permission.
This article appeared in the Feb. 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.