Making kransekake: Norwegian almond wreath cake

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).

Kransekake

  • 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.

Making marzipan for the almond prize

It’s a rainy Boxing Day in Rome, but I had a nice long walk earlier. Armed with my police declaration form, I walked around the very quiet neighborhood. No police spotted, but lots of people with strollers and dogs. We are having a very nice Christmas, all things considered. It’s hard not being home, but interesting to see Rome this time of the year. The fresh pasta shop downstairs had massive lines (socially distanced) the last days before the 25th, with time slots to collect pasta orders. They had two small refrigerated trucks to store all the orders. Trays of tortellini, ravioli, mmm…… I collected my order of two small lasagnas, on Christmas Eve morning: one with salmon, and one amatriciana (tomato, guanciale). We are technically allowed two guests a day, but are being careful, so very little socializing now and the fridge has been stuffed (as have we).

On Christmas Eve one friend came over and we had a lovely evening. Bramble gin cocktails and smoked salmon paté (super easy, great recipe from the Guardian). Then Norwegian pinnekjøtt with mushy peas, red cabbage, potatoes, Christmas-spiced meatballs and Canadian meatpies with chutney. We never even made it to dessert (riskrem) or coffee and cookies. However, yesterday we had a bracing walk and an afternoon watching “Miracle on 34th Street” and managed to make a dent in the Christmas cookies. We made shepherds pie with leftovers, and finally had the riskrem.

Traditionally many Norwegians have risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge) on Christmas Eve, served warm with cinnamon, butter and sugar. A blanched almond is hidden in the porridge, and whoever finds it wins a small marzipan pig. The cold leftover porridge is mixed with whipped cream to made riskrem for dessert the same day, served with red cherry sauce, sometimes with a new almond added and a new marzipan pig prize (there were a lot of small children to keep entertained……). Here in Italy, they grow beautiful almonds and Sicily is famous for amazing marzipan. But could I fins any marzipan in Rome? No. Well, I only tried my neighbourhood, but eight shops later I gave up and made my own marzipan. Really not that hard.

Marzipan

  • 250 gr blanched almonds
  • 250 gr icing sugar
  • 1 raw eggwhite

If you need to blanch the almonds, do it the day before so they dry. I have a small manual almond grinder but a food processor would work too. Grind the almonds once alone, then mix with the icing sugar and grind again. Keep some of the dry mix aside ad you may not need it all, that depends on the size of your eggwhite (I had maybe 1/3 cup extra, it will be used in some dessert soon.) Add the eggwhite and knead firmly until you get a smooth firm paste. Voila! Homemade marzipan!

We have some silicon sheep molds crafted by my husband, and pressed the fresh marzipan into them.

Wrap well or stick in a plastic bag) and store in fridge, invert when needed and serve to the lucky almond-finder. This made plenty of marzipan, next time I would scale it down to 100 gr almonds. But the extra marzipan is now safely stored in the freezer labeled XMAS 2020 in case I have an urgent marzipan need.

I hope you are all having a good Boxing Day!

Improvised aubergine and almond rigatoni

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Living in Rome, you might think we stroll to the market in the morning, lovingly selecting the perfect vegetables for dinner. Well, that is often true on the weekend, but weekdays I swing by the Egyptian fruttivendolo on my way home, and buy something from the cheaper section outside. One euro a kilo, slightly battered: last time I bought aubergines, to make Nigel Slater’s Grilled Eggplant with Creamed Feta. Delicious! We oven-roasted the aubergines, grilled would have been even better. Great with the feta and yoghurt. But we had lots of roasted aubergines left the next day, so what to do with it? Roll it with ricotta, bake it with cheese, hmmmm? There were also some wrinky cherry tomatoes lurking in the fridge, and I fancied pasta, so I tossed in some almonds and hoped for the best.

This is my humble Fiesta Friday 35 offering this week: a humble weeknight pasta dish, but quick to make, and tasty enough to serve friends. Thanks as always to our hosts: this week, Angie, Prudy and Naina. I already have my eye on those tasty apples pies, mmmmmm…..

Improvised aubergine and almond rigatoni
One red onion, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
250 grammes cherry tomatoes
400 grammes leftover sliced roast aubergines
50 grammed unblanched almonds
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
400 grammes rigatoni, or pasta of your choice
Optional: grated parmesan, and basil to garnish

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Put your water for pasta on the boil, and cook pasta while you prep the sauce. In another pot or pan, gently fry the chopped onion in the olive oil until it softens. Halve the cherry tomatoes, then tip them in with the onion and let them cook for a few minutes.

In the meanwhile, using a food processor (or excellent knife skills), roughly chop the almonds. Add the slices of roast aubergine to the food processor with the almonds, and chop roughly. Now, tip in the tomatoes and onion, and process until it is smoother but not enturely homogenous. You should still feel the slightly gritty almond buts. Add salt and pepper to taste. It may not look pretty, but see how you like the flavours..

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Drain pasta, ladle sauce over, and enjoy! Add parmesan if you like (we do) and basil leaf for garnish if you have some.

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Notes: I had seen a recipe for aubergine walnut pasta, with hard boiled egg yolks and tomato sauce, but was too hungry to boil eggs as well. I would have added sage, but the sage on our balcony died in the August heat and has not yet been replaced. With in-laws arriving in two weeks, reviving the balcony boxes is a project for this weekend. That, making sure we have enough tea bags to make endless cups of builder’s tea, and scrubbing the kitchen. “They will not mind!” says my husband, but I do. You could make this with less tomatoes and add olive oil, but we wanted to keep this light. More fresh basil could be nice too. A great weekend to all!
Fiesta Friday