Monday, August 31, 2009

Sweet family

Every Christmas Eve – and most special events in our family – we have Krumkake, a Norwegian cookie, served on the dessert buffet. Krumkake translates to “crumble cake.” Krumkake is made with a whipped batter, flavored with butter and cardamom. The cookies are cooked on a specially made iron and rolled over a wooden mold to set (traditionally a broom handle). Similar to waffles, they have an imprinted design, but the krumkake iron has a very shallow indented floral design. Store-bought waffle cones don’t compare. Krumkake is very delicate, thus the crumb reference in the name. Our family serves them plain, though many people carefully fill them with whipped cream and fruit or chocolate.

I had the honor of making them with my Aunt Barbara recently, our family’s Christmas Eve host and the most common krumkake baker. She was making krumkake for my cousin’s bridal shower. The night before the shower, we burned our fingers to great results. This reminded me of the ladies in a San Francisco Chinatown fortune cookie factory. The cookies came down the line and they quickly folded them while hot. One lady smiled and handed me a cookie, still too hot to eat. That was the beginning of my affinity for fortunes.

It turns out that Norwegian baking is featured in the Iowa State Fair 4-H tent. They had a number of Kransekake cakes, which are addictive towers of chewy almond cake. The rings are baked in special molds, then assembled after cooling. White frosting is used to add decoration, sometimes candied fruit or small Norwegian flags. Kransekake cake is the traditional wedding cake in Norway, but can be served at a graduation, birthday, or holiday. Our family serves this cake at Christmas, as well as at weddings. Should you be inclined to try Norwegian sweets, I recommend these two baked goods. The iron for the cookies and the molds for the cake tower are sometimes hard to come by, but you can make the cake by rolling out rings by hand. In this manner, the tower cake can also be made in its dismantled form – in single serving sized rings.

Almond Tower Cake - Kransekake

1 lb ground almonds
1 lb confectioners' sugar
3 egg whites

I adjusted this recipe for greater ease. Trader Joe's sells ground almonds in 1 lb bags, ready to go. If you have a food processor, pulse the ground almonds with the confectioners' sugar. If you don't have a food processor, sift the ground almonds and confectioners' sugar together into a bowl. Add the slightly beaten egg whites in two parts and mix well. If the mixture is too moist, add a little flour. Let the dough sit for 10 minutes.

Without using Kransekake rings, take the dough and roll it out into thin strips, then attach the ends to form a ring. I like to make mine uniform 2 - 2 1/2" in diameter and serve like cookies. Place rings on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 300°F. Check after 20 minutes to see if they are finished. The rings should be very lightly browned.

If you are using Kransekake rings, grease them well with unsalted butter or vegetable oil. Roll out dough into thin strips and press into rings. Follow the same baking instructions above. When nearly cool, carefully remove the rings from the pans.

Standard icing:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 egg white, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp. white vinegar or lemon juice

Stir egg white and vinegar into confectioners' sugar until a thick paste. Using a tube cake decorator (or a plastic bag with a tip cut off), decorate the rings with a zigzag pattern.

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