Even if you have hygge fatigue, let the gløgg and smørrebrød prevail!
I know that hygge, the Danish cultural concept of cozy contentment, has gotten a lot of play lately. But things become cliche for a reason, and usually the reason is that there is ample merit in the first place. So, for example, while the world may not need another hygge-chic how to – lambskins draped over every surface! Cozy candles! Socks! – I am still all in for beautiful Scandinavian inspired food. And especially for the holidays. Because if anyone has mastered the art of winter festivity, it’s the people who embrace hygge and koselig and logam and all the other cultural traditions that make living in those northern European kingdoms enviable. So as those of us in the United States are battling elves on shelves and mindless consumerism, the idea of adding some old-school tradition by means of Scandinavian flavors seems like a lovely way to savor the spirit of the holidays.
While all of the Scandinavian countries have variations in name and recipe of gløgg (pronounced gloog), the bottom line is that spiced mulled wine is basically liquid hygge – as you can see in the photo above. I’ve tasted more different flavors in gløgg than I can count – it’s kind of like punch that way – but the basics are red wine, orange, a bunch of warming spices, raisins, almonds, and something more for kick like aquavit or other spirits. I love this recipe from chef Marcus Samuelsson because A) he is Swedish and B) he has a brilliant way with flavors. See it here: Marcus Samuelsson’s Swedish mulled wine.
This decadent take on rice pudding is made extra festive with heavy cream and a warm cherry sauce. Yum. No wonder 90 percent of Danish households serve it on Christmas Eve! It also involves a game with a hidden almond. As Danish chef Trine Hahnemann explains in the how-to video above, in Denmark, instead of Santa they have a nisse, a “little naughty elf” that demands good porridge. If he isn’t satisfied, he “won’t leave presents for you, and he will tease you, and he will eat your cookies and your food.” So fight the naughty elf, get making some risalamande.
cyclonebill/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
In third grade I brought smørrebrød (pronounced smuhr-broht) to school to accompany the “family heritage oral report with snacks” project. I’m really not sure what my 8-year-old Los Angeleno classmates thought of pickled herring and the strange caramelized goat “cheese” known as brunost, but I couldn’t get enough of the fun open-faced sandwiches that are a signature dish throughout Scandinavia. (And I feel certain that smørrebrød was the inspiration for the many breeds of avocado toast that grace hipster menus today.) Unlike the monstrous sandwiches of the U.S., smørrebrød (meaning butter and bread) starts with dense rye bread topped with butter and a number of various ingredients. Traditional takes include herring or smoked salmon, but you can put anything you want on top, which is a great way to use up leftovers. For inspiration, this Serious Eats story maps things out.
Hasselbackspotatis is the brilliant Swedish approach to roasting potatoes – and as “hasselback potatoes” have been ogled aplenty on too many food magazines and blogs to count. The dish was invented in the mid-20th centrury at the Hasselbacken Restaurant, now in central Stockholm. This may not be the potatoes to serve with every day, but what a beautiful preparation for the holidays. (Or, ok, maybe every day, shhh.)
Struva, also known as rosettes, are a Scandinavian holiday traditional treat that are perhaps more donut than cookie but whatever you call them, they are delicious. If you have never seen them made before, you will probably recognize the iron used in their preparation and once you see the recipe and method above, everything will make sense. They may look challenging to prepare, but there’s a certain ease that comes with not employing the oven for baking.
Nothing says hygge like kanelbullar! Ok, maybe that’s a mouthful for us English speakers, but it sounds so much more inviting than “cinnamon buns.” Although, come think of it, cinnamon buns sound pretty good too. And while kanelbullar might be a part of fika all year round, they make a particularly nice way to celebrate the holidays. And honestly, not as intimidating to make as they might seem; see recipe and method in the video above.
7. Ginger cookies
All praise the ultimate holiday treat, the ginger cookie! Known as pepperkaker in Norway, pepparkakor in Sweden, and brunkager in Denmark, the mixture of warm tingly spices in a beautiful brown dough is the stuff of Christmas dreams and yes, little sweet people that we decorate and then eat. Each country has its own variation, but even just the basic as shown in the video above is guaranteed to activate the hygge.
Ok, so rømmegrøt is a fancy way of saying sour cream porridge. And sour cream porridge is a humble way of saying a bowl full of dairy fat – but still, it’s the holidays! If you’re ever going to eat a bowl full of dairy fat and flour, now is the time. Traditionally, this holiday dish (which is pronounced as “roomy groot” … er, kind of) is served with smoked fish and/or cured meat, but it is also a lovely way to start Christmas morning, for example, with some poached fruit in place of the meat. This recipe comes from Sons of Norway; and since the sour cream must be high in fat and free of stabilizers, step one shows how to make your own.
1 ⅔ cups 35% fat sour cream (or 1 cup whipping cream and 2 Tbsp. buttermilk, see step number one)
1 ¼ cups flour
5 cups full fat milk
¾ Tsp salt
1. If making your own sour cream: Heat 1 cup whipping cream to 95 F, almost body temperature, then whisk in 2 Tbsp. buttermilk. Let stand at room temperature at least 8 hours, until thickened.
2. Simmer sour cream, covered, about 15 minutes.
3. Sift over ⅓ of the flour. Simmer until the butterfat begins to leach out. Skim off the fat.
4. Sift over the remaining flour and bring to a boil. Bring the milk to a boil and thin the porridge to desired consistency. Whisk until smooth. Simmer about 10 minutes, and season with salt. Serve with the fat, sugar and cinnamon.
And once you’ve mastered the Gløgg and Risalamande and Kanelbullar … there are always gnome crafts for the final frosting on the hygge cake.