‘Tis the season for Fastelavnsboller
Technically it’s a bit late for these pre-Lenten treats, but they are delectable any time
Your everyday boller are like a hot cross but much better. First, you don’t have the sticky, overly sweet icing on top, and secondly they are jam-packed with cardamom. I like to pair them with gjetost. In fact, when outsiders, i.e., those who are not Scandinavian or those who are not familiar with Scandinavian food, ask to try some light Nordic delicacy this is what I offer.
But it was during a February visit to Oslo several years ago that I was first introduced to Fastelavn boller. There were a bevy of advertisements showing Fastelavn branches and Fastelavn boller. I asked a Norwegian friend what these things were all about and she enlightened me. And then I did a lot of research. The holiday fascinates me.
In pre-Christian Norse times, the branches were brought in as a prelude to and celebration of spring approaching. Today, decorating spring branches with ribbon, candy, feathers, and anything else your heart desires is one way Fastelavn is celebrated. These branches are known as Fastelavnsris, from which the name of the holiday is derived. Another component is to eat Fastelavn boller.
Fastelavn has evolved into a holiday similar to Mardi Gras, Carnivale, or Fat Tuesday. In my church we have a pancake supper on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The idea is to utilize and eat all rich foods left in the cupboard before you go into the somber days of Lent. Because for 40 days many Christians will give up meat, animal products, or even chocolate. Fastelavn boller fit into this tradition, as their ingredients include rich dairy products.
The most decadent and delicious Fastelavn boller I have ever eaten were outside Oslo at Hollmenkollen, where the ski jumping hill hovers above Oslo. It is a charming train ride to the site. The underground in Oslo turns into an outdoor train, as you chug up the mountain, getting farther and farther from the city. The trees increase and explode into forests. That day the train was packed with children accompanied by their fathers, sleds in tow. I later discovered they would stop at the top, sled down, and take the train back up for another run, very efficient.
At the apex is the beautiful Frognerseteren, a place to dine while enjoying breathtakingly stunning birds-eye views of all below. The building is a tribute to traditional Scandinavian wooden architecture. Inside, there are a few places to eat, either informally at Kafé Seterstua or at their more formal restaurant. I choose the former. It offered a buffet brimming with a bevy of mouthwatering desserts.
And there to my surprise, among the beauties, were the infamous Fastelavn boller—but these were on steroids, puffed up with so much fresh whipped cream that they resembled the bed from the Princess and the Pea. I had a choice of boller dripping with either plump tyttebær (lingonberries) or apricot-hued moltebær (cloudberries). I could not eat two; that would have been too decadent and embarrassing. I have to tell you that this was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my life! I chose the latter. That was a delectable dessert to savor.
But for us mere mortals, why not make it simple? Bake your boller, split them in half, and fill with fresh whipped cream. You will not be disappointed.
This week’s recipe is courtesy of Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum, and was first published in their cookbook, Tasty Traditions. Barbara A. Paquette is the author.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup boiling water
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
Melt butter in water. Add flour and salt, all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook, stirring until mixture forms a ball.
Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until mix is smooth.
Drop from tablespoon two inches apart onto a greased baking sheet. Bake in 450° oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 325° for 25 minutes. Remove with spatula and cool on rack.
When cool, cut side of each puff and fill with heavy whipped cream.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 27, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.