Delightful life

Starting work is a strange matter. A strange matter indeed.

I glanced around me, as I often do when thinking of what to say next, and I now noticed the bowl sitting on the kitchen counter. The bowl holds what is tomorrow’s breakfast (a delicious wheat and barley bread) for some of us and it needed my immediate attention. Breakfast is, when the hours I’ve set aside for sleep are subtracted, only a few hours away. Bread needs kneading.

There, the bread is now sitting quietly on it’s tray. The bubbling yeast has been been reset and it is now trying to fight its way up and out again. The oven is ticking and clicking and making other small noises to quickly increase the temperature. Rufus Wainwright accompanies the noises with a soft, slightly melancholic voice asking me to raise my fists and stay. I’m not going anywhere, but my fingers are needed at the keyboard, and I only sporadically softly clench my fist when I reach for my glass of Bulmers pear. The house is quiet. The kitchen is a mess. I sit and cherish every moment. Breathe in. Breathe out. Life is good.

IMG_0278

Now, back to work. As I said, it is a strange matter. You see, Norwegian teachers are on strike these days. I’m still working, my union is small and work slowly, slowly but efficiently I hope. But my working days are strongly affected by the many teachers who are not working. I won’t venture too much into the politcal aspects of the strike, but I have to point out that this is not a strike concerning the teachers’ working hours or pay, but core changes affecting the entire schooling system that are initiated by not the teachers, nor the politicians, but a third party that should be responsiple only for the economic situation of the various communes and smaller parts of Norway. The strike’s been on since June. Many things aren’t right. It’s strange. A strange matter indeed. And so are my first days and weeks at work.

Still, life is good. The transition has been smooth, from stay-at-home-life to working-life. I suddenly have a whole new load of fantastic people in my life; intelligent, reflected, and enthusiastic people who inspire and comfort me in my new life. The transition has been easy. Now autumn is coming, that transition is harder on me. 17 degrees are not what they were a month ago. But I’m prepared. Boots have been located. Windowsill has lettuce peeping out from dark soil and will bring green goodness for many months to come. Life is good. Do your best to enjoy it as much as I am.

And, by the way, Rufus, Wainwright, is coming here in a few weeks time. What an out-of-the-blue-surprise. Never in a million years had I imagined that he would suddenly turn up here and sing only a few metres away from me. Because now he is. I have tickets. I am looking forward to it with that childish, bubbling enthusiasm that many claim will never survive into adulthood. Yay!

Norwegian cuisine: Fastelavnsboller – exquisite sweet rolls with cream

ChatteringAnne: Norwegian tradition Fastelavn. Sweet roll recipe

Fastelavn is the three days before lent. The word derives from low-German and means the evening before lent, it also tells of Norway’s religious history and influences: lent is a Catholic tradition, while Norway is primarily Protestant, much of the tradition has been brought to the country through German influences. Lent starts seven weeks before Easter, which would be now on Wednesday. Today is the last Sunday before lent. Traditionally the days before lent were days where you could feast before the 40 days of fasting, consequently the days before lent are in Norway called ‘fleskesøndag’ (lard Sunday), ‘fleskemandag’ (Monday) and ‘feitetirsdag’ (fat Tuesday).

The Christian traditions were mixed with heathen traditions of fertility. ‘Fastelavnsris’, twigs from a birch-tree decorated with colourful feathers, are sold by a non-governmental organisation for women’s health in all supermarkets the Saturday before fastelavn. Historically the ‘ris’ was used on married, young women who had yet not born children and to fight of winter. Norwegians might have invented friendly spanking…

ChatteringAnne: Norwegian tradition Fastelavn. Sweet roll recipe Today much of this is lost. The meaning of it is not given much thought, but a combination of the earlier traditions lives on. Today is, by the man in the street, called ‘fastelavn’ or ‘bollesøndag’ (sweet-roll Sunday). The modern tradition involves exquisite sweet-rolls, the dough similar to that of the French brioche, served with cream and a sprinkle of icing sugar. And the tradition still stands strong. Last year my parents visited for ‘fastelavn’ and my mother made the rolls. Here is her recipe:

Makes 12-16 rolls:
3,5 dl whole milk
50 grams of fresh yeast
100 grams of butter
1 dl sugar
500 grams of flour
1 egg
1 t cardamom

ChatteringAnne: Norwegian tradition Fastelavn. Sweet roll recipe

Melt the butter and mix with the milk. Make sure it’s not too hot when you add the yeast. Add the egg and mix with the dry ingredients. Knead the dough and leave to rise until it has doubled in size under a plastic cover (the plastic will keep the moist from vaporising). Roll out and leave to rise while the oven heats up to about 200 degrees Celcius. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and delicious. Try and wait until the rolls are cool before you slice them in two and add whipped cream (mix the whipped cream with custard cream if you feel decadent) and serve with a sprinkle of icing sugar. Many also serve with a layer of jam (raspberry or strawberry) and a thin slice of marzipan.

ChatteringAnne: Norwegian tradition Fastelavn. Sweet roll recipe

Kakemenn – Norwegian christmas cookies

Kakemenn is always a favourite among the kids. It’s sweet, very mild in taste and, like the pepperkaker, they are shaped in various recognisable figures. They are very easy to make and the ingredients are items you most likely already have in your cupboards. Kakemenn is to me important come christmas, and I never go a year without making them.

Kakemenner

The recipe is very straightforward and easy. Just mix all ingredients together (but do feel free to reduce the recipe – we used about half this year):

1 kg of white wheat flour
0,5 kg of sugar
4 teaspoons of horn salt (“Horn salt (also hartshorn) is used in traditional Norwegian baked goods as a leavening agent. Modern horn salt is ammonium bicarbonate.In the USA it can be purchased at the pharmacy” says this site)
85 grams of butter
4 dl of milk

Kakemenn'As with the pepperkake-dough, the kakemenn-dough must also be cold before it’s easy to work with. The dough doesn’t need to be as thin as the pepperkake dough, I would set the thickness of it to double that of the pepperkaker, see this post. The kakemenn are baked at 200 degrees until they get a wee bit of a tan. They should still be white-ish, so about the colour of a Scandinavian in April would do.

Never stand too close to the oven when opening the oven-door, and never get the horn salt too close to your nose. You have been warned! (sneezing and swearing could occur!)

Pepperkaker – Norwegian gingerbread

I bake pepperkaker every year. It’s the Norwegian version of gingerbread and how different it is to it’s cousins around the world I have no idea. It’s an activity everyone should go through before christmas, every year and children young an old seem to enjoy it (children do at least for a short while). Here’s the recipe that will leave you with pepperkaker well into the new year:

Delightful chatter pepperkaker1

150 grams of butter
5 dl sugar

Dice the butter and leave it on the counter until it’s tempered and soft. Whisk it with the sugar until it’s white and fluffy. Then add the remaining ingredients:

2 dl of syrup
2 dl of water
1 T ground cinnamon
1 T ground ginger
1 T ground cloves
1 T baking powder
1,5 litres (850g) of wheat flour

Place it somewhere cold, preferably for a day or two, but a minimum of an hour. This is to improve the dough before working with it, and for the tastes to set properly.

This is my mom’s recipe and it has been used for ages! I think it’s huge, and found out just how huge it is the first christmas I lived away from home. Not having much experience with baking I asked my mom how big the recipe was, she claimed it was just the right size. And indeed it was! if you’re a family of 15!! I was making cookies into the wee hours of the night and filled up so many tins it was not even funny! This year I made about a third of it, which was just about perfect for our family. Recipe then looks like this:

Reduced recipe:

50 grams of butter
1,7 dl of sugar
0,7 dl of syrup0,7 dl of water
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
1 t ground cloves
1 t baking soda
5 dl (just about a pint) of flourDelightful chatter pepperkaker

We filled about four trays of cookies. Son was done after one and a half and we were left with a decent amount to make on our own.

The cookies should be very thin, but not quite see-through. A few millimetres is perfect. Bake for 5-7 minutes at 200 degrees (celcius) and make sure to eat a few while they’re still warm and soft.

Enjoy the delicious ‘pepperkaker’ and the christmassy smell that fills the house.

Lussecats

Thursday was the 12th day of December and following was the night before the 13th day. Logically, yes, indeed, but I only say this because these days are of severe importance to us. You can read more about our traditions here, but another important tradition are the lussecats. Lussecats (lussekatter) are bright yellow baked sweet rolls of fascinating shapes that we only bake once a year.

Delightful Chatter lussekatter

I can not go a year without, and even last year, when I returned home from hospital with a brand new baby this exact date, I still had to bake. This year it was done in a hurry before picking up our Son from kindergarten and heading out on more adventures, but the ‘cats’ were still good and added to this wonderfully important day in December.

Join in on the fun, I’ll allow you to try them out even though it’s a bit late, but next year it’s the night before the 13th day of December (which means sometimes during the 12th or 13th)

Delightful chatter lussekatter Recipe is as follows:

  • 2,5 dl of milk (about a cup)
  • 25 grams of fresh yeast
  • 75 grams of butter
  • 0,5 grams of saffron or 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of cardamom
  • 1 egg
  • about 6 dl of flour (about 2 cups)

Using saffron: Melt the butter and add the milk. Heat the milk a tad bit to have the colour set properly, but then have a cup of tea while you wait for the mix to cool down. When the mix is cold-ish you add the fresh yeast. If the milk is still warm you’ll kill the poor yeast – and the yeast has done nothing to deserve that! Drink tea, don’t kill!

Using turmeric: Melt the butter and add the milk, mix the two together and take off the heat. Make sure the mix is more cold than lukewarm. Add the turmeric to the dry ingredients.

Delightful Chatter lussekatter2To continue: Add the fresh yeast to the milk. Then add the sugar (this will spike the yeast) and the rest of the ingredients. Knead for as long as you can bother (or have your Kenwood do it for a few minutes). Leave to rise – when it has doubled in size knead it and create lussecats. Here are some of the shapes. Leave them to rise while the oven heats up to about 210 degress (celcius), then paint with a mixed egg (or only egg whites) and decorate with raisins.

Delightful Chatter lussekatter1
Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and delicious. Serve with a glass of milk and eat while clad in white and with candles burning in the background.

Sourdough starter

Making a sourdough starter is among the easiest things in the world. The only challenging part is being able to repeat a two minute action regularly throughout a period of ten days. It has been too difficult for me at times, and thus I have tried and failed several times. I have even tried, succeeded, forgot all about it and had to throw it away. The solution has been to make it as easy as possible, the sourdough is consequently used often, often fed, and never stored away for too long.

What you need – Well, to start, what you need is a container, flour, and water. Simple, yes, but let’s make it a little more difficult (or actually easier for you to succeed). You should find a container that holds about a cup, or a wee bit more, and a lid for said contained. I saw fancy glasses and detailed boxes when other people presented their sourdoughs online, screw that! You need something that’s easy to clean and preferably goes in the dishwasher, and to make it even easier, have two. I use some simple boxes from Ikea. Simple boxes with a press-on lid. Then the flour. For white bread you want wheat, for dark bread you want rye, but don’t mix the two. The flour should be organic and wholegrain (I prefer the finely ground). The reason for this is the pesticides and stuff used on most store-bought flour, which could kill the yeast-spores, or at least mess them up.

Hygiene – I’ve seen people using gloves, sterilising their utensils, and making tents for their sourdough containers to avoid bacterias and germs. Trust me, it’s not necessary! The containers must be clean – hot water and soap will do the trick. As for the utensils you use. And, obviously, you must wash your hands (like you always do when working with food. Common sense will also tell you not to sneeze into the flour (or sourdough), don’t use it anymore if you drop it on the floor, and don’t lick you fingers before you touch the dough. I know you know this, but now I’ve said it.

Procedure – First day you take about half a cup of water (I don’t necessarily mean the measurement type of cup, just any normal cup) and enough flour to create a soggy and sticky lump of dough. Leave it on the counter for a day (24+ hours). The next day you remove half the dough (put it in the fridge and use for baking when you need it) and add a fourth of a cup of water and enough dough to get the same icky substance you had the day before. Continue like this until you see the dough coming alive. (If it starts talking you’ve taken it too far) If the texture changes (Wheat becomes very sticky and will, even if made into quite a dry lump of dough, become quite runny. Rye will rise more and be more sponge-like) or it rises, or bubbles appear, you have signs of life. This will take between 2 to 5 days. When it has come alive make it more efficient by feeding it twice a day for 4-5 days.

Now you have an efficient and fully working sourdough. I’ll be back in a few days with more instructions on how to bake with it. Good luck with your starters!

And please do ask if you have any questions!

Sourdough baking

These little lumps of goo have transformed the breads I bake. I have finally mastered sourdough baking and feel like I have come as far as I want when it comes to breads (what will my next project be?). The breads I now bake rise well, take very little effort, come out of the oven with a crispy crust, are succulent inside, they last for several days in a tea towel; and last, but not least, they taste wonderfully!

Baking with sourdough is an ancient tradition, we’re talking thousands of years and ancient Egypt. There are some who claim to have starters going back to the 18th century (the 17 hundreds). And what this is proof of, is how easy it is to do. There is no magic powder, secret ingredients, or blessings made by wizardy unicorns that gets the process going. What you need is flour (wheat and rye are the most used types), water, and a container with a lid. Flour grains and the air around us have traces of yeast spores in them. This is a natural type of yeast that our bodies digest more easily than the store bought dry or fresh yeast. Keeping flour, mixed with water, in room temperature the yeast is given perfect conditions for fermentation. The yeast takes some time to get going, but as soon as it has started it will quickly get very efficient.

Making your own starter takes about ten days. I have started the process and quit several times as I so easily forget to feed it every day. It takes no more than one minute, it’s just that I am so absent minded and easily distracted that I often don’t remember to do it. But a month or so back I managed, and then I managed to convert half of it from wheat to rye, which means I now have two working sourdough starters.

 

I’ll give you the step by step guide for how to making your own starter in a few days. If you live in the area and would like to have a go at sourdough baking I am very happy to share my own starter with you. Just give me a shout! 🙂