One of the chief joys I anticipated when I started this blog devoted to a region of the world was the chance to review cookbooks! I like to read and collect cookbooks, but I’ve never had a good opportunity to review one over at The Fictional 100. Now is my chance! It was an easy decision to select Trine Hahnemann’s Scandinavian Christmas for my first food review. Hahnmann is a very accomplished food author and teacher, as well as a former caterer to touring rock stars! Copenhagen is her home base, but her work reaches well beyond Denmark. I’m so glad that several of her books are available in English.
Scandinavian Christmas is a beautiful book. From the crisp red, white, and silver of the cover to the gorgeous full-color photography inside to the clear, attractive design of the recipes, this book was a joy to page through and learn from. The pictures felt close-up and immediate and carried me right into the sunny, snowy world of a Scandinavian Christmas, with its bright decorations, savory roasts and tangy fish, earthy root vegetables, and abundant sweet baking.
Hahnemann introduces the book with a Danish welcome–Velbekommen!–-and explains that Christmas in Scandinavia “celebrates life and ‘hygge,’ a Danish term that is almost untranslatable, but encompasses comfort, camaraderie, and good food and drink.” It is also “all about baking,” she says. Her chapters reflect these two themes and carry the reader through the season with “Christmas Baking,” “Gifts from the Kitchen,” “Advent: A Whole Month of Christmas,” “Christmas Party,” “The Christmas Eve Feast,” and “Christmas Day Smörgåsbord.”
Let’s get right down to the indispensable baking! Breads such as Lucia bread and Pulla bread are made with white wheat flour for a softer, more refined texture at holiday time than the many hearty rye bread variations that are the daily staple. The most appealing cake for me was a Spiced Christmas Cake baked in a heart shape and decorated with piped hearts of white chocolate icing. The Honey Layer Cake with Orange Mousse also looked amazing and quite straightforward to make. And then there are the cookies, lots of cookies, in many shapes and flavors. Here is her picture of the Crisp Cinnamon Cookies with a link to her recipe for them.
As intriguing as the baked goods are, some of the other dishes are what makes the Scandinavian Christmas menus seem distinctive: Roast Duck with Turnip Gratin, Caramel Potatoes, drinks with lingonberries and elderflowers, red cabbage cooked with spices and black currant cordial, and many varieties of winter salads (here are three).
Meatballs, served with pickled beets or lingonberry jam, are such a necessary item at the Smörgåsbord that she offers them up in four languages: “frikadeller” (Danish), “köttbullar” (Swedish), “kjøttkaker” (Norwegian), and “lihapullat” (Finnish). Her meatball recipe combines pork and veal with sage, juniper berries, and rolled oats.
I learned that there is a specific order for eating the offerings at the Christmas Smörgåsbord: first, the cured herring (often pickled); second, hot fish (flounder breaded in rye flour and fried like veal cutlets looked good); third, cold fish–all of these served with good rye bread. Then diners take a new plate and dig in to the hot meats (this must be the place for the meatballs!), and then finish with cheese and various homemade candies.
I like what the author wrote about the zest for life at this time of year, even as temperatures drop. For example, she suggests:
Celebrate one of the Advent Sundays outside. Play in the snow: Remember there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Serve hot drinks, salmon sandwiches, and “nisse” (elf) cake, make a stew and bake bread over an open fire.
Don’t forget to leave some rice porridge, topped with butter, sugar, and cinnamon, in the attic for the “nisse”–then, as she informs us, “he won’t eat your cookies or hide your favorite things; instead he will leave little presents in your boots.” I especially liked the recipe for this simple comfort food and, equally, the one for sweet Rice Pudding with Hot Cherry Sauce. I know I will want to make them, with or without elves in the house.
I recommend this book highly for anyone who collects international cookbooks or holiday cookbooks. Most of the recipes didn’t seem too difficult, but simply called for that extra bit of care that one wishes to put into a food gift or a special recipe for holiday meals and entertaining.
You can read more about Trine’s life and activities at her beautiful website, which features a very nice selection of her recipes.
You can read more about Smörgåsbord and Julbord (the Swedish version of Christmas lunch) here.