Posted tagged ‘Icelandic’

Scandinavian cookery

February 6, 2010

Scandinavian Cookie Recipes

“But Doris, towelled from the bath,
Enters padding on broad feet,
Bringing sal volatile
And a glass of brandy neat”.
T.S. Eliot
(1888-1965)  Poems.  1920

Spoken Norwegian can sound musical and lilting but the
phrase potet klub makes me cringe.    Well, I guess
potet klub sounds just as good as the English word
dumpling.   I wondered whether, when my small, white,
rural Minnesota Lutheran church planned its first
potet klub feed,   Some people might show up not
knowing that one or two dumplings (klubber?) served
with bacon on the side makes the average diner feel
like he/she is going to tip over.  I also questioned
the wisdom of calling it a feed, which brings to mind
faces chowing down at  a trough with no utensils.  But
the advertising was already on its way, and so I
turned my thoughts toward side dishes.  Let the
Norwegians take center stage but perhaps the other
Scandinavian cultures…Swedish, Danish, Finnish and
Icelandic….could be represented by lighter side
dishes:  soup, salad, bread, dessert.  (Have I
mentioned that the batter for potet klub has the heft
and consistency of wet concrete?)  My idea lost
something in the translation and it was printed in the
parish newsletter that the other item on the menu
would be Scandinavian pastries.  The word went out for
volunteer bakers.  Apparently there are five
recognized varieties of cookies:  spritz, krumkaker,
thumbprint cookies, sandbakkels, and fattigmann.
Anyway, those were the choices on the list.  I put my
name under krumkaker.

I was committed, I guess, but I had second thoughts
about krumkaker.  Everyone makes those.  It might be
fun, I thought, to research the subject of
Scandinavian cookies and bake one kind to represent
each country.  I sat down at my computer and typed
Danish cookie recipes into Google.  I found kringle,
fattigmandskager, smørfingre, fruekager, macroner, and
other suspiciously familiar sounding names.  So much
for that.  I tried Swedish cookie recipes.
Fattigmann, sandbakelser,  pepperkakor.   The
Icelandic site admitted that most of the recipes
originated in Denmark but had “acquired Icelandic
citizenship”.   The assurance that every Icelandic
homemaker bakes piparkökur for Christmas parallels the
Swedish claim to these gingerbread cookies with a
pinch of black pepper added.  (Try them with some
smörkrem.  Or try translating this:

The Finnish recipes seemed more promising at first,
but giving myself a short course in basic culinary
Finnish I found a similar set of cookies based on
cream, butter, cardamom, almonds, rum, and ginger.   I
mean, piparkakut?  Talonpoikaskakut?  Finno-ugric and
Nordic languages may be worlds apart but they do
borrow from one another.  And it doesn’t take a
linguistics expert to get a picture of what a pannu
kakku looks like.  What I am trying to say, and saying
it very badly, is that it was impossible to find
recipes that were ethnically unique.

By the time I was through with research, I felt as
weary as though I had already baked and eaten all
these cookies.

Then, a memory from my childhood crept into my
consciousness.  My grandfather took a trip to visit
relatives in Sweden on the maiden voyage of the
Lusitania.  I  have inherited some of the souvenirs
from that trip.  When I was  ten years old, we (my
aunt and my mother and I) baked the cookies that were
made for him as a guest in his relatives’ homes in
Ostergotland.  We laughed and laughed, and vowed never
to make them again.   However, I have to admit those
were about the most delicious morsels I have ever

The unique ingredient was hartshorn salt.

The name hartshorn is from a Saxon clan invited to
England by the Angles  to fight the native Picts and
Scots, after the fall of the Roman Empire.  The
hartshorn clan carried deer antlers on a pole as their
tribal emblem.  The historical significance of
hartshorn is that it is not just a deer antler but the
source of ammonia.  Another name for ammonia is
Spirits of Hartshorn.  Or, in other words.  smelling
salts.  Perhaps the early distillers of ammonia from
the scrapings of antlers were regarded as healer or
wizards for they could appear to bring the dead back
to life.  To this day there is a town named Hartshorne
in south Derbyshire, England, established upon the
land given to the Saxons by the local Angles as a
reward for their help.

Those cookies smelled strongly of home hair permanent
while baking.  It was an odor, believe it or not,
worse than lutefisk.   But were those cookies  ever

Another name for the leavening agent is ammonium
bicarbonate, or baker’s ammonia.  And as smelling
salts, sal volatile.  Ammonium bicarbonate was
replaced by sodium bicarbonate in modern times but the
old recipes of many cultures, including Scandinavian,
German, Russian, Sicilian and others mention
“ammonia”, which imparts a unique crispness to the
baked product.