Hygge in Canada

Why not, we’re Nordic…sort of…plus, I've got a Swedish name, and it’s a perfectly comforting way to usher in fall – and dare I say it? – winter. And, should you care about such things, Scandinavian-Nordic culture is having another moment; especially, from where I sit, in the food department. Folks here have been talking about hygge for a couple of years now. It’s sort of Danish for cozy, though not exactly, and it's more than that too. It’s one of those words that doesn’t have an exact English translation.

I wrote about it for The Globe and Mail a while back:

“Hygge is a feeling, a way of being, a wintertime warmth shared by firelight, under furry throws, over mugs of hot, boozy drinks and plates of cardamom-scented nibbles. Hygge is also a style, a way to make a home…more homey. It’s an attitude of embracing the season by going outside for a winter walk or some tobogganing, then heading back inside to enjoy the company of friends, family or even strangers. It’s what gets Nordic people through long, dark, cold winters…”

So, do try this at home! There are no real rules, just some traditions or guidelines: set the mood by dimming lights, building a fire, and lighting lots and lots of candles. There should be plenty of soft, woolly things to snuggle into, floor cushions by the fire, and serve some classic hygge snacks such as pulla, egg butter, picked fish, gravlax or smoked salmon, cheeses, lingonberry preserves, rye bread…you get the idea.

Toronto is blessed with several great Scandi-Nordic shops and bakeries, so stock up if you’re not much of a baker. And if you’re outside of the city center, the food shop at IKEA is nothing to sniff at! But there is also Viking Foods in Toronto, that ships herring, rye crispbread, ginger snaps and imported pickles and jams across North America. [[Here are some more spots to visit: Viking Bakery, The Beaches Bakeshop, The Danish Pastry House, Milbree-Viking, Dark Tickle, Karelia Kitchen, Fika Cafe]]

Hygge is also an emotion, a feeling that comes from camaraderie, conviviality, generosity, hospitality, and love…everything one needs to survive a Canadian winter. Oh, and don’t forget the glogg!

Pulla

It’s a Scandinavian braided bread and it’s ridiculously delicious and fairly easy to make. Cardamom turns up a fair bit in Scandinavian cuisine, and it runs through this beautiful, braided bread like a subtle perfume. Enjoy warm with butter and honey. Makes 2 loaves.

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups whole milk, lukewarm

2/3 cup white sugar

1 Tbsp ground cardamom

2 Tbsp dry active yeast

3 free-run eggs, lightly beaten

6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp kosher salt

5 tbsp room-temperature butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

For tops of the loaves

1 tbsp 35 per cent or whipping cream

1 free-run egg

1 tsp ground cardamom

4 tsp sugar, divided in half between both loaves

1/4 cup sliced almonds, divided between both loaves

1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger, divided between both loaves (optional)

Method

Into the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle, add the warm milk, sugar, cardamom, and yeast; mix well, then allow to activate. Leave it be for about 10 minutes or until it’s nice and yeasty and foamy.

Add eggs and blend well.

Using a dough hook, with the mixer on low, start adding 6 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time. Add salt; mix until a dough forms. If too gummy, add the rest of the flour a few spoonfuls at a time.

Increase speed to medium, knead the dough for about 2 minutes. Add the butter a couple of cubes at a time, making sure it’s well mixed in before adding the next few cubes. Once all the butter has been added, knead in the machine for about 4 minutes.

Lightly butter a large bowl, and transfer the dough to it. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean, damp, tea towel. Pop it somewhere warm and draft-free for about one hour; it should double in size. Punch it down, re-cover, and let it rise again for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C) and line two baking pans or cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Lightly flour counter and turn dough out. Cut it into two equal pieces, then divide each again into three equal balls.

Using floured hands, roll each ball into a rope about 16-inches long. Lay three ropes side by side and, starting at the top, braid into a loaf. Tuck the ends under and pinch. Transfer braid to the prepared sheet pan. Do the same for the second loaf. Cover loaves with plastic wrap or a clean, damp tea towel, and set aside in a warm spot to rise one more time for about 20 minutes or so.

While the loaves rise, in a small bowl, whisk together cream, egg and cardamom. Brush the mixture overtop the loaves, then sprinkle both with sugar, almonds and candied ginger.

Bake one loaf at a time, until golden, about 25 minutes. When done, transfer to a rack and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Here's a recipe I published in the LCBO's Food & Drink Magazine in the winter of 2015...

Marzipan Log

A paste of almonds and sugar, marzipan has taken a long and winding route to the Canadian table—from Persia in the 10th century, through Europe, to the U.K., then across the pond. Here’s our version of Banketstaaf—a traditional Dutch Christmas pastry. Make it easy and use store-bought pastry and chocolate-covered marzipan bars; it is the holidays, after all! If two logs are too many, wrap the extra one well—before baking is best—and freeze. It can be kept frozen for up to a month, though we suspect it might be gone by New Year’s Eve!

Ingredients

All-purpose flour for dusting 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions 4 dark (semisweet) chocolate-covered marzipan bars, 4 oz (125 g) each, finest quality 1 free-range egg 1 tbsp (15 mL) water ¼ cup (60 mL) sliced almonds

Method

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Lightly flour the counter and rolling pin; lay out the thawed pastry and lightly flour it, too. Roll out into a rectangle of roughly 11 x 13 inches (28 x 33 cm). With the tip of a very sharp knife, cut in half, down the middle, lengthways. You should now have 2 pieces about 5 x 13 inches (13 x 33 cm). Lay the chocolate-marzipan bars, end to end, 2 bars per log, onto the puff pastry—a little off-centre— about 1½ inches (4 cm) in from one edge. In a small bowl, whisk egg with water and brush all around the edges of the puff sheets—this is your glue. First, fold the corners of the ends of the pastry up and over the ends of the marzipan bars—just like giftwrapping a box; press down a little to make it stick. Then, starting at the edge closest to the marzipan bars, begin rolling the pastry into a log with a marzipan centre. Lay on the parchment, seam down. Pop the cookie sheet into the fridge for about 20 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Brush the tops and sides of cold logs with the remaining egg wash. Sprinkle with sliced almonds—the almonds will stick if you sprinkle them carefully. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes; pastry should be puffed and lightly golden. Allow to cool completely before slicing, or it will just squish, not cut, under the knife.

To serve, bring to the coffee table—room temperature is best—on a large platter or board with a bread knife, and let folks help themselves.

Makes 2 logs; serves 8 to 10

Glögg

Pronounced glurg, this Scandinavian mulled wine is strong in both flavour and fire-power. There are quite a few ingredients but it truly is easy to make, either on the stovetop or in a crock pot or slow cooker where folks will be gathering. Makes about 8 cups (2 L)

Ingredients

2 large, firm, thick-skinned oranges

10 small green cardamom pods

2 750 mL bottles dry red wine

1/2 bottle of ruby port, about 1 1/2 cups or 375 mL

1 cup (250 mL) aquavit or vodka

1/2 cup (125 mL) coarsely chopped dried figs

3/4 cup (175 mL) dried cranberries

1/2 cup (125 mL) sliced almonds

1/3 cup (80 mL) honey

2 star anise pods

1 tsp (5 mL) pink peppercorns

4 whole cloves, optional (cloves are traditional, but not everybody’s cup of…glogg)

3 4-inch (10 cm) cinnamon sticks

Method

With a fancy bar tool, vegetable peeler, or sharp paring knife, peel off thin strips of orange peel from the washed oranges. Try to avoid the bitter white second layer or pith. Then juice the oranges – you should end up with about 3/4 to a cup of juice – and strain out the pulp.

With the bottom of a sturdy cup or side of a heavy knife, bash the cardamom pods just hard enough to crack open.

Add all ingredients into a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, or in a slow cooker or crock pot set on high. Bring up to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside for about two hours.

When ready to serve, strain glogg through a cheesecloth-lined sieve or colander to remove solids. Add back to the pot or crock, and gently re-heat.

Finnish Egg Butter

Richer than rich, this traditional cold-weather dish is not for the faint of heart. Might we suggest a satisfying day of log splitting in sub-zero temperatures to justify all that butter? Serve with dark rye bread or crackers. Makes about 3 cups.

Ingredients

8 free-run eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup + 1 tbsp (125 mL + 15 mL) cold butter, cut into small chunks

1/4 cup (60 mL) fresh, finely chopped chives

1/4 tsp (1 mL) sea salt or more to taste

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Method

Cover eggs with cold water and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Boil for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside, still in the pot with the hot water, until cool enough to handle.

While eggs are cooling, put butter chunks, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Peel and add eggs.

Using a pastry knife, potato masher, or fork, mash butter and eggs together. The warmth of the eggs will soften the butter and let them blend beautifully.

Stir in the chives. Taste; adjust salt and pepper.

Keep covered and chill before serving.

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© 2016 by Signe Langford