What to get a friend with impeccable taste for his birthday? Some who like to cook and has Scandinavian heritage? A lesson in making kransekake: a Danish or Norwegian almond-based wreath cake! We finally got organized and did it yesterday. Kransekake is baked for Christmas, the 17th of May, and other festive events. Not complicated, but it can be a little finicky, so I looked up various recipes to cross-check techniques. Some make the dough the day before, some also heat it before resting and shaping. The cake is made from 18 concentric rings stacked to make a tower, decorated with icing and flags. I used kransekake baking rings, without which this would be challenging. If you do not have the rings, you can also make a smaller batch and make finger-length cookies (very nice if dipped in chocolate).
- 250 grammes ground blanched almonds
- 250 grammes ground unblanched almonds
- 500 grammes icing sugar
- 3-4 eggwhites (about 140 ml)
- a little butter for the rings
- a little icing sugar for the rings and for rolling out dough
- icing sugar and an eggwhite for icing
We made two: one with all blanched almonds, and one with 50/50 blanched/unblanched almonds. I like the 50/50 kind, but all blanched almonds will give a paler cake. If blanching almonds, do it at least the day before and dry them spread out in a towel so they dry properly. I have a manual almond grinder, which gives just the right consistency (slightly gritty). Most recipes warn against using a food processor, but if you do use one, do not grind the almonds too fine. A coffee grinder would be better.
Sift in the icing sugar, mix in ground almonds. Start with three eggwhites, and stir the mixture together. Use your hands. If still a little dry, add another eggwhite – I used four medium eggwhites, the second cake had three eggwhites. I had made my dough a few hours before, but the consistency was not dissimilar to the one freshly made. The dough should be pliable, stiff enough to roll out with your hands, with a little icing sugar if it gets sticky. Butter the rings lightly, and dust with icing sugar. Roll out the dough to finger-thick ropes, and crimp the ends so the dough circle is smooth.
Bake in lower part of oven at 200-210C, for 12-14 minutes until lightly golden (this depends on your oven). If using all blanched almonds the cake will be paler so keep a close eye on this. They are very fragile while warm, so be careful when handling them. Do not overbake.
Cool quickly on a rack. Norwegian recipes recommend cooling them in a draft, or by an open window, not in a sunny Roman kitchen at 19C. Decorate with piped icing (here icing sugar and water, though icing sugar and eggwhite is more robust and will be used for for the second cake). Stack gently, starting with the biggest circles. If you want them to look more uniform, flip them upside down with the smoother side up. Keep turning the cake so it does not lean too much one way or the other.
Voila! Just needs tiny Norwegian flags. This should be crisp externally and a little chewy, so keep it air tight. It freezes well. If dry, store in a sealed plastic bag with a couple apple slices to restore internal chewiness.
Kransekake etiquette is key: in Norway, NEVER, EVER take the top ring. That would destroy the integrity of the cake. Foreigners marrying into Norwegian families face an indrawn hiss of disapproval if they are not warned and unwittingly reach for the top ring – it does not happen again. No, kransekake is eaten from the base up: to serve, lift up the tower, remove the lower 2-3 rings and break them up into smaller finger-length pieces scattered around the cake. Once those are eaten, take the next rings from the base, so the tower remains, until enough is gone to do a general demolition.