Have you ever heard of knækbrød?

Knækbrød, called crispbread in English, is a staple in many Danish households, and even more so in other Scandinavian countries. When I visit my family in Sweden, it’s guaranteed that I can find knäckebröd (Swedish for knækbrød) in their pantries. Many U.S. stores sells it too. It’s delicious with hummus or cheese and it’s always part of the bread basket when we enjoy a delicious cheese plate for dinner at my house.

So what is it? It’s a dry, crisp cracker, usually baked with some type of rye flour although a number of new varieties have come on the market in the past years. If stored cool and in an airtight container, knækbrød will keep for a long time. This made it extremely useful back in the days when food storage was a lot more challenging than it is today. The tradition of baking knækbrød is actually very old. In Sweden and Finland, it is thought to go all the way back to the Middle Ages! Talk about sticking with tradition!

I love to experiment with bread so this summer, when my sister offered me some knækbrød she had made herself, it piqued my curiosity, but it wasn’t until she made a gluten free version at Christmas that I decided to start making it myself.

Once back in my own kitchen, the test baking began and I must say I was quite happy
with the result. I decided to jump into the gluten free arena and made my knækbrød with seeds, gluten free oats and buckwheat flour. Buckwheat flour, you may wonder – is that gluten free? And the answer is, yes it is! Despite the name, it is in fact related to….. want to take a guess? The buckwheat plant is related to rhubarb! It is the grinded small seeds of the plant that make up the buckwheat flour.

So now this gluten free knækbrød is on my menu. Check it out here under Bread and Breakfast.

 

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Danish Christmas is all about ‘hygge’

Hygge is a word that you can now read books about! It isn’t easily translated into English but the closest word I can think of is coziness. When we ‘hygger’ (it is a verb too), we light candles, create a cozy atmosphere and enjoy each other’s company. There is nothing like it!

Most Danish families have long-held Christmas traditions and of course my family is no different. My mom usually bakes five or six different kinds of cookies, some of which I now offer on my menu. When we were kids, my sister and I loved to help her bake. The smell that filled the kitchen was so delicious and put us all in the holiday spirit.

Growing up, Little Christmas Eve, December 23rd, was the day my parents brought the Danish Christmas TreeChristmas tree inside and we decorated it. We still do this the years we celebrate the holiday with my family in Denmark. Dinner that evening consists of the traditional Danish rice porridge called risengrød. This is a porridge that Danish farmers superstitiously used to bring up to their attics to feed the Christmas elves in hopes that the elves would be good to them throughout the year. The porridge is served with cinnamon sugar and a little pad of butter in the middle. It’s delicious and very filling but later on, there is still room for æbleskiver and gløgg, a spiced drink with almond slivers and raisins that is served hot.

Christmas Eve day is filled with excitement and preparations. If Santa Claus (Julemanden) comes to a home in Denmark, he will often appear in person on Christmas Eve. Strangely my father was never around to see when Santa came to our house… 😉

All the Christmas gifts are put underneath the Christmas tree in the late afternoon, making it a little hard for children to sit through dinner with all those presents on display. Danes – at least the adults – like to sit and savor the food, so a celebratory meal is never quick. When my son was younger, my mom would feel bad that he had to wait, so she would give him one present to open before dinner to which I of course had to protest because my sister and I were never given that advantage! I guess things change when you become a grandparent.

On my family’s Christmas Eve dinner menu is duck, two kinds of potatoes, gravy, red fullsizeoutput_2404cabbage and a green vegetable (something my sister and I have insisted on as we became adults).  Dessert is ris a l’amande which is made from some of the rice porridge we have on little Christmas Eve. This is mixed with vanilla bean, sugar, chopped almonds, whipped cream and a little port wine in the version that the grown-ups eat. The ris a l’amande is served with a warm cherry sauce, not dissimilar from cherry pie filling, but a little less sweet. There will be one whole almond in the porridge and the person who gets the whole almond receives a gift, so whether or not you have room for dessert, you cannot miss the chance to receive the first present of the evening!

After dinner, we walk around the candle-lit Christmas tree, singing hymns and carols. It’s very festive! And then, finally we get to the presents and while they are opened one at the time, coffee, cookies and special candies are served.

It always gets to be a late night, so we take it easy the next morning, Christmas Day. But by late morning, the preparations begin for our big Danish Christmas lunch which is one of my favorites.  We will have many different kinds of herring – some my mom prepares herself and those are among the absolute highlights. There may also be a Swedish dish called Janson’s Fristelse (Janson’s Temptation) with potatoes and anchovies. Afterwards a number of warm dishes will be served and we end the meal with a beautiful platter of cheeses. Obviously, this lunch is enjoyed over many hours, too many for a child who is eager to check out his new Christmas presents, so he gets to take breaks in-between courses.

The second day of Christmas, December 26th, is also a holiday. It’s a day to digest, relax and spend time with family and friends.  I love Christmas because of its traditions and hygge. I love Christmas because of the time we spend with people we love and the time we have spent finding ways to show them. I love Christmas!

 

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Really? There is an expression for that?

When I first came to the United States many years ago, I stayed with a wonderful family in Morristown, NJ, who to this day are dear friends of mine.

Back then I experienced a bit of a culture shock. Coming from Denmark, there were so many things that were different here. A trip to the supermarket alone would provide plenty of examples. Never had I seen so many different kinds of cereal or such big milk containers! And why did most people go food shopping once a week? At home we would go almost every day.

After a few months, I tried my way in the kitchen. My Danish baked potatoes were not a hit (I can’t blame them since they came out almost raw) but when I started baking, I got requests to do it again. This of course made me very happy, until one day I overheard someone comment “she makes it all from scratch.” Yikes! That surely couldn’t be a good thing.

Well I did ask what the expression making something from scratch means and got a surprising answer, at least it was surprising to me. The fact that I did not bake from a box but instead baked by combining all the ingredients myself was natural to me. In fact, I don’t think I had ever seen anyone bake anything from a box.

Back then my baking repertoire was more limited, but I loved it, and so my passion for Danish baking in America was born!  It took a very long time for this passion to evolve into something bigger, something I could share more widely. Something that would earn me the title of “entrepreneur”. But here I am – The Danish Baking Girl!

 

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It smells so good in here!

Whether you’re cooking or baking, hearing those words from someone entering your kitchen is so gratifying!

The smell of deliciously prepared food and freshly baked bread is an invitation in itself. The aroma that fills the kitchen is an irresistibly call for people to taste what you’re making.

When I was a kid, returning home from school and smelling the freshly baked rolls before reaching the kitchen, was an unmistakable invitation to my sister and I to come to the kitchen. We would enjoy some bonding time with our mom while eating rolls with butter that quickly melted because the rolls had just come out of the oven. This lasting memory invokes so much more than a smell and a taste of warm rolls. It recalls treasured family time and what we Danes call “hygge”.

When I make cinnamon rolls at my house, or snegle as they are called in Danish, I don’t need to call anyone to the table. Quite the opposite, I’m asked several times when they will be ready to eat because the smell of cinnamon is simply mouth watering!

Of course there are times when I don’t have the time to bake something fresh. Like when my son comes home from school really, really hungry, or on a weekend morning when we’re off to an early soccer game, or if friends happen to pop by. This is when having a good stockpile in the freezer comes in handy. Baking or warming some fresh frozen bread in the oven, directly from the freezer, still gives us that wonderful smell, and it does so in record time.

Do you want to stock your freezer with a few things that your family will appreciate for a quick breakfast/lunch or for an easy treat? If you’re in Essex County, NJ, or the surrounding area, send me an email and I’ll let you know how I can help. Just click here.

 

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