The Danish Christmas is a whole month of celebrations, not only on Christmas Eve and the days after. We really mean business when it comes to Christmas, so we celebrate all four Advent Sundays before Christmas also.
Every year, I have a Sunday afternoon party on one of these Sundays, where I serve homemade Christmas doughnuts that we call æbleskiver and a hot drink called gløgg, a kind of mulled wine.
Both æbleskiver and gløgg part of Danish food history
The æbleskiver has a long history as part of our food culture. As the name suggests, they are slices of apples in a kind of pancake batter fried on both sides in a pan.
Nowadays, most æbleskiver are bought frozen and heated up in the oven, and because of that they all have the same taste of artificial cardamom and vanilla.
I must admit that for years I bought these frozen ones until I realized I actually never ate them myself. I did not like them. So I found our old family recipe and started making them, and that has become part of my Christmas repertoire. It’s important to continue with tradition so the original and regional ways of baking and cooking do not disappear. When we end up with too many premade industrial products, we start forgetting what things originally tasted like, and unfortunately people start only to like the bland, premade products.
The recipe for æbleskiver varies from region to region in Denmark. In some areas you still bake them with slices of apples inside. My Auntie Sarah, who now is in her 90s and lives on the Island Ærø in the southern part of Denmark, made them with prunes when she was still cooking. The baking of æbleskiver is in general a famous Christmas tradition. Hans Christian Andersen wrote about them in one of his fairytales describing Christmas, “At Manor House.” (You can find the story here.)
Hot alcohol drinks accent Danish dishes
The gløgg is of course part of an old European tradition to drink hot alcohol drinks in the winter. The French drank cognac with sugar, and the Greeks in ancient times drank hot red wine with spices — a bit similar to the Scandinavian drink.
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Swedish alcohol factories pushed gløgg heavily around 1900, when they started making it into a product marketed at Christmas with particular Christmas themes and colors. That worked. It helped gløgg to become widespread and very popular.
The butter-fried æbleskiver doughnuts are cooked in a special pan that has 7 to 9 ball-like indentations; the pan is sold on the Internet and in shops around the U.S. Noma serves the æbleskiver as a savory with a whole anchovy inside. There are many cookbooks about æbleskiver and how to make them in many different ways. Here is my family’s recipe:
For the æbleskiver:
2 teaspoons dry yeast
3½ cups lukewarm milk
3 cups plain wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cardamom
2 whole vanilla pods
2 tablespoons caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 stick of butter for frying
1. In a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk. In another mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt and cardamom.
2. Slit the vanilla pods lengthways, scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife and add them to the dry ingredients along with the sugar.
3. Whisk the egg yolks into the milk mixture, using an electric mixer if possible. Add the dry ingredients and beat to make a dough.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold them into the dough.
5. Leave the batter to stand for 40 minutes.
6. Heat the æbleskiver pan over medium heat. Put a little butter in each indentation, and when it has melted pour in some of the batter. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden underneath, then turn the doughnuts over so they form a ball.
7. Continue frying for about 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining batter.
8. Dust with a little icing sugar and serve the æbleskiver in a serving dish. Serve icing sugar and raspberry jam on the side.
Hot mulled wine
For the extract:
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick, smashed
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 lemon in slices
1 orange in slices
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cardamom pods
1 cup sugar
For the gløgg:
2 bottles red wine
2 to 4 tablespoons caster sugar
1 cup aquavit or vodka (optional)
2 cups raisins
1 cup blanched almonds, chopped
1. Make the extract by combining the water, cinnamon stick, cloves, lemon, orange and cardamom pods in a saucepan and bringing it slowly to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave to stand for another 15 minutes before draining the mixture through a sieve.
3. Discard the spices and save the liquid.
4. In a saucepan, combine the spiced liquid extract, red wine and sugar and bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add the aquavit or vodka, if using, the raisins and almonds and simmer gently for 5 minutes, but do not let it boil. If you prefer a sweeter drink, add more sugar.
6. Serve in tall glasses with spoons so you can catch the raisins and almonds.
Top photo: Gløgg, a mulled wine. Credit: iStockPhoto