That’s the way the krumkake crumbles

Making passable krumkake is harder than it looks

Photo courtesy of Eric Stavney
Starting the delicate rolling process.

Eric Stavney
Mukilteo, Wash.

As someone presses play on the cassette player and the “Charlie Brown Christmas” album starts turning, the kitchen cupboard door is thrown wide. This is a regular Christmas tradition with me and my children: first the music, followed by the archeological dig to find the krumkake iron.

From deep in the bowels of the cupboard, in the box with the spritz maker and other less used (useless?) items, the Nordicware krumkake irons are eventually unearthed. Sandbakkel molds, Bundt cake pans, bumpy rolling pins, and lefse sticks litter the kitchen. Since I’m such a sucker when something distinctly Scandinavian turns up at Goodwill, we have three irons. It’s a matter of national pride; I can’t just pass one of those up.

Then comes the search for the krumkake roller, that cone-shaped wooden implement we use to reduce burnt fingers. In a pinch, we’ve used a one-inch dowel, but the rolled cones just aren’t, well, cones when we’re done. Bad form. So, when the cone roller is discovered, it is paraded around the kitchen to the rolling station, a cutting board pulled out from below the counter.

As the krumkake iron is set on the stove, inevitably someone says, “Dad, why can’t we use that electric krumkake thing that the lady at the lodge uses? It’s got to be a lot simpler.” “No, no, that’s just not authentic,” I say. And basically, it’s just not fair, either. We undergo this monumental effort to make these delicacies the “old way,” and here somebody else makes krumkake effortlessly with some gussied up version of a modern waffle iron? Nei, takk. Not us.

Photo courtesy of Eric Stavney
Adding the eggs.

As someone mixes up the batter, we discuss for the nth time why we’re using such and such krumkake recipe this year, because last year’s recipe failed to make proper krumkake. Honestly, there’s a zillion recipes out there, including multiple versions across my several Norwegian cookbooks: is it two, three, or four eggs? 13, ½, or ¾ cups butter? ½ cup or 1 cup sugar? 1 or 1 ½ cups flour? Milk or no milk? Cardamom, vanilla, or both?

Yes, I know that recipes are really about the ratios of butter to eggs, and it all depends on how big a batch you want. But it also depends on how much more you want to tempt fate: I’ve been told repeatedly and found it to be strangely true that making a double batch of a recipe often doesn’t turn out the same as doing two separate batches, one after another. How come recipes aren’t always scalable without causing problems? Another mystery for the nisse to help us solve. Do real Norwegians have this problem?

Photo courtesy of Eric Stavney
Adding a tablespoon of batter to the iron.

But never mind—once the batter is poured on the iron and it is shut, the timer is started, and we all stare at each other in pensive anxiety until beep-beep-beep it’s time to flip the iron by rotating it on its ball-shaped tip.

About now the Vince Guaraldi Trio starts playing “Linus and Lucy” on the Charlie Brown album, and we start to dance a little … until the timer beeps again. Now it’s go-go-go, rushing over to the rolling station, opening the iron, and dumping out the product. My kids, who are always willing to take one for the team, suffer burnt fingers trying desperately to roll the krumkake before it sets.

Photo courtesy of Eric Stavney
Batter overflows the krumkake iron.

The first krumkake is usually too pale and underdone—something like a communion wafer. Fortunately, it tastes somewhat better than that, and is quickly gone for the sake of science.

As we pour more batter onto the iron, I offer to switch the music to something that might inspire better results, like Sissel Kyrkjebø’s “Strålende jul” album.

“No—don’t you dare dad! It’s gotta be Charlie Brown or the krumkake won’t turn out.”

Are we superstitious? Maybe a little. No more than putting dragon’s heads on your stave church to scare away evil spirits.

At some point early on we use too much batter and it oozes out of the iron onto the burner, or the gas stove, depending on which year we’re talking about. Of course, that prompts a brilliant grease fire, which then sets off the fire alarm. That often coincides with the timer beeping to remove the cooked krumkake. Quick! Sorry—gotta borrow your stool so I can bop the fire alarm or rip off the lid and extract the battery; the thing is absolutely crazy-making.

Why we don’t take out the battery before we start is a mystery to me. That grease fire is a regular thing almost every Christmas.

The second attempt to make a krumkake usually yields something browner but so buttery and greasy that it starts to unroll. My kids have to put a weight on it to keep it rolled until it sets.

And so about three hours later we have nine krumkaker. Of course, we had made 24 krumkaker, four were too pale and had to be eaten. Five of them just wouldn’t stay rolled and had to be eaten. Another six looked a little iffy and had to be eaten.

The remaining nine remind me of that Salvador Dali painting with a clock drooping from a tree branch. Would our krumkake hang limp like that if they unrolled? I’d rather not think about it.

Assembled in the circular Christmas tin lined in wax paper, the cones look kind of lonely … but that becomes a proud Christmas present for one lucky somebody. Think of all the work that went into those nine! The recipient had better be grateful.

Should we start again tomorrow and make another fifteen? No, that will have to wait until next year.

By the way, does anyone want an old krumkake iron? I have two extras. I’ll trade you for an authentic, bulletproof krumkake recipe.

Photo courtesy of Eric Stavney
Finished!

This article originally appeared in the December 13, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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