Kavring, the Swedish summer classic

As written on June 20th, 2017:

I didn’t mean to be gone for so long; from the winter solstice to the summer one. Yes, now a few days shy of midsommar, half a year has gone.

Can we pretend that winter is barely over?

In many ways it is. At least for us in the North. Snow has creeped into our sky way into June, and it’s only been a couple of weeks since the birches’ foliage flourished into the lush mantle that now covers every forest. We celebrated the first summer rain a few days ago; and sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how something so mundane can cause such thrill, if it wasn’t for the fact that we almost skipped spring this year, or that our winters are most silent, with the world around us resonating in a felted echo.

Kavring

I come to you today with a Swedish summer classic: kavring. A soft, slightly sweet bread, traditionally eaten over Midsommar with sill [pickled herring] or gravlax, and even for Easter and Christmas. Yes, in Sweden, the holiday table stays rather unchanged throughout the annual festivities, with only slight variations, like a stronger focus on meat (köttbullar [meat balls], game, julskinka [Christmas ham]) for Christmas, while Easter and Midsummer are all about herring.

I would love to delve into kavring‘s origin and history, but then I would probably have to wait for a year or two before I’d be able to share this recipe with you. One that I’ve worked on for the past few weeks as we changed the menu at the café.

A good starting point, however, is the etymology, which I find especially helpful when it comes to the Nordic countries, where different languages and cultures have inextricably intertwined over the past centuries.

From Svensk etymologisk ordbok, Elof Hellquist (1922)

In E. Hellquist’s 1922 Swedish etymology dictionary (Svensk etymologisk ordbok), the origin of the word kavring is a complex one, dating from the early 1500 with the Russian kovríga that became the Danish kavring, which the Swedes embraced with a minor orthographical variation until recent times: kafring.

“Kavring (in the southern Sweden folk dialect), a sort of twice-baked sourdough rye bread or an oven-dried loaf. Kafring, in early modern Swedish, dated from 1544, possibly originating from Norwegian, while the word kavring was first encountered in the early 16th century in the Danish language from the Russian kovríga, a round bread, literally ring or circle in old Russian.”
ー Svensk etymologisk ordbok, Elof Hellquist (1922)

The etymology tells us more than the origin of the word itself, it tells us the story of a bread that travelled through the Nordic countries. Originally a crisp rye bread (which it still is in Norway), kavring then morphed into the soft, sweet and fragrant loaf in the late 1800, mostly in southern Sweden according to Å. Campbell’s The Swedish bread (Det svenska brödet, 1950), a wonderful read that gives an insight into the cultural contrasts in pre-industrial Sweden through bread traditions in its regions.

While I’m not surprised to see two spellings that eventually became one, I find it interesting to note that the Norwegian-originated spelling kafring was used in Swedish as late as 1915, like in this issue of the Idun newspaper where “Folket stegade till drängstugan för att öppna sina byttor och korgar och förtära sin enkla måltid, surmjölk, kafring och smör.” The people hurried towards the workman’s hut to open their boxes and baskets before consuming their simple meal made of sour milk, kavring and butter.

Kavring

Kavring

While extremely easy to make, this recipe necessitates a few ingredients specific to the Nordic countries, namely: rågsikt [sifted rye], brödsirap [bread syrup], and filmjölk [sour milk].
However, I can only think that these can be substituted as follows.

Rågsikt is a blend of plain flour and sifted rye flour, usually 60% plain flour and 40% rye flour.

Brödsirap is a mix of 80% molasses and 20% malt syrup, with a little salt thrown in. The closest I could think of is to mix 40% golden syrup, 40% black treacle and 20% malt extract.
Back when I lived in London, my favourite malt extract came from Hollands and Barretts, a small jar with a mustard yellow label.

Filmjölk, a cultured milk that is usually eaten for breakfast or mellanmål [literally “a medium meal”, snacks], can be replaced by cultured buttermilk, kefir, or even a runny yoghurt, unsweetened of course.

I’ll write both recipes down, in case you live as close to the polar circle as we do. If you try the “Anglicised” recipe, please let me know how it turns out <3 For the spices I decided stayed close to the classic trio of fennel, caraway and anis, only leaving the anis out, although I've seen recipes that call for cloves, ground ginger and even bitter orange zest, so it would be interesting to experiment with different flavours. I'm thinking an orange and lingon limpa [loaf] would be wonderful on our Christmas table.

Also, my recipe makes two loaves, because trust me, you’ll want to have one on your counter and one well-wrapped in clingfilm in your fridge where it will keep for up to two weeks.
A few ways to eat kavring in the morning: butter and thinly sliced cheese (comté is a favourite). Butter and a seven-minute boiled egg. Butter and orange marmalade. Butter. You get it!

Kavring

Makes 2 loaves


Kavring with Swedish ingredients
25 g fennel seeds
25 g caraway seeds
500 g rågsikt
360 g plain flour
20 g bicarbonate soda
20 g salt
275 g brödsirap
1200 g filmjölk

coarse rye flour, to sprinkle


Kavring with English ingredients
25 g fennel seeds
25 g caraway seeds
660 g plain flour
200 g rye flour
20 g bicarbonate soda
24 g salt
110 g treacle
110 g golden syrup
55 g malt extract
1200 g filmjölk subsitute
(read more above)

coarse rye flour, to sprinkle


Preheat the oven to 175°C/fan 155°C. Butter and line two 1.5L loaf tins with baking paper.

Crush the seeds in a mortar and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, crushed seeds, bicarbonate and salt. Whisk together to combine. In another bowl, mix the syrup(s) and filmjölk; pour over the flour mixture and mix using a silicon spatula until barely smooth.

Divide between the two prepared tins and generously sprinkle with coarse rye flour.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1h30, at which point the core temperature of the loaf should read 96-98°C.

Allow to cool down in its tin for 10 minutes, then unmould onto a rack and leave to cool down completely to room temperature. Wrap in clingfilm.

The loaves will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for a month or two, although the latter tends to make the crumb slightly drier.

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A special Christmas surprise

Harrods Christmas hamper

I’m writing this on the first day of winter as defined by the astronomical calendar. In my heart, though, winter started early morning, on the second of November. That day, we walked through the old town; snow on the ground, snow twirling down, snow on the roofs. We were completely alone and really, I couldn’t not believe the beauty before my eyes.

Today, a little under two month later, days have stopped getting shorter and on Sunday, we’ll be sitting at the foot of our Christmas tree, opening the presents we wrapped a few days ago in brown paper and red ribbons.
There is a gorgeous wicker basket too. One that came all the way from London, not unlike the best care package I’ve ever gotten.

And mostly, there is something so wonderful and comforting about the thought of opening it on Christmas morning to the sound of wrapping paper and Christmas carols.

Yes, we were lucky enough to receive a beautiful hamper from Harrods. The one we chose was made in collaboration with Cartwright & Butler, which products I’ve always loved both for their inspired packaging and deliciously old-fashioned recipes.

It was the first time I ever got a Christmas hamper. And really, after peeking through this one with my eyes full of stars, I intend on making it a new tradition in our home. Very much like a Christmas concentrate, this hamper feels like the only thing we need for the perfect Christmas day along with the people we love. There is coffee and tea, and even hot chocolate pearls. Biscuits and cakes, and more preserves than you can count on your fingers. And mostly, there is something so wonderful and comforting about the thought of opening it on Christmas morning to the sound of wrapping paper and Christmas carols.

Harrods Christmas hamper

We’d make a pot of coffee and eat a slice of fruit cake for breakfast, with the innocence of two children who like to play make-believe. Perhaps we’d fall asleep, lulled by the soft sound of snow against our windows. And when we’d wake up, it would already be dark outside, and our vintage baubles would twinkle under the tree’s blinking lights.

We’d open the fridge to a bottle of Champagne, a block of Västerbottensost [Västerbotten cheese], crème fraiche and löjrom [Kalix roe]. And before we’d know it, we’d have the most glorious dinner: cheese on tomato thins with a dollop of chilli chutney, marmalade on toast (because, really, is there anything better than breakfast for dinner?), cheese wafers topped with crème fraiche and roe, and of course, one too many chocolate oat crumble. And maybe even a caramel waffle or two.
Yes, it all sounds like a dream, but unlike many others, this one will get true; in the way only shooting star wishes do. A dream I am resolved to have on repeat for the Christmases to come.

You’ll find a detailed description of the hamper we chose here, although I do believe it is now out of stock. And more Harrods Christmas hampers here.

I wish you all the warmest Christmas. Lots of love, Fanny.

Disclaimer: This hamper was offered to me by Harrods for review; I was not compensated in any other way nor asked to write this post. I chose to tell you about it on my blog because I genuinely fell in love with it and would happily recommend it to friends.

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Glad Lucia, a lussekatter history (and recipe)

Best Lussekatter Recipe

Traditionally eaten for Santa Lucia on the thirteenth of December, lussekatter – also called lussebullar – have a nebulous history. One that’s laced with Christianity and paganism, German and viking heritage.

In fact, even the origin of the Lucia celebrations is quite elusive.

Lussi, an evil figure roamed the land along with her lussiferda.

Lussinatta once coincided with the Winter solstice back in the 1300s when Europe still used the Julian calendar. During that night, the longest of the year, it was said that animals could talk and supernatural events could occur; Lussi, an evil figure (that holds many similarities with the german Perchta or the italian Befana) roamed the land along with her lussiferda, a horde of trolls and goblins, punishing naughty children and casting dark magic. People, forced to remain secluded, would eat and drink in an attempt to fight the darkness.

And as the years went by in the pre-Christian Norden, farmers started to celebrate the return of the light and the tradition of a goddess of lights took roots in the pagan folklore.
It was also the start of festivities of some kind – not to say Christmas, although it is believed that both Christian and heathen traditions started to blend from the 1100s . In fact the very origins of the word jul [Christmas] are blurry, with one occurrence dating back to Harald Hårfager who might have said: “Dricka jul!” [drink Christmas!].
During these celebrations, pig would get slaughtered, both for the gods and for the feast.

The tradition of a feast and offerings is documented in Erland Hofsten’s unpublished manuscript Beskrifning öfwer Wermeland, dating from the early 1700s. And although no further narrative is given, Hofsten believed in a pagan provenance.

The first printed description comes a few decades later in 1773 through Erik Fernows’ Beskrifning öfwer Wärmeland: “Man skall den dagen wara uppe at äta bittida om ottan, hos somlige tör ock et litet rus slinka med på köpet. Sedan lägger man sig at sofwa, och därpå ätes ny frukost. Hos Bönderne kallas detta ‘äta Lussebete’, men hos de förnämare ‘fira Luciäottan’.” And now if you please excuse my poor translation/paraphrase (Swedish is hard enough without having to deal with old Swedish): On that day, we should be up early (otta is an old Swedish word akin to night, but really means the time of the day when the night becomes the morning, around 4-5am) to eat, and for some, a shot of snaps would go down. Then we’d lay on the sofa and would later eat another breakfast. Amongst the farmers this would be known as to “eat Lussi’s bait”, but for the more affluents it was called a “Lucia morning celebration”.

One that spread from Värmland to Västergotland where C. Fr. Nyman encountered the custom for the first time, as described in his unpublished 1764 manuscript: “Rätt som jag låg i min bästa sömn, hördes en Vocalmusique utan för min dörr, hvaraf jag väcktes. Strax derpå inträdde först ett hvit-klädt fruntimmer med gördel om lifvet, liksom en vinge på hvardera axeln, stora itända ljus i hwar sin stora silfversljusstake, som sattes på bordet, och strax derpå kom en annan med ett litet dukadt bord, försedt med allehanda kräseliga, äteliga och våtvaror, som nedsattes mitt för sängarna… det är Lussebete .” That morning he was awaken by songs coming from outside his door. He then proceeded to meet a white-clad lady wearing wings and holding a large silver candlestick, which she placed on the table. And soon after another lady came in carrying a small table lined with cloth and full of food and drinks, which she laid in between the beds. In his story, C. Fr. Nyman, calls it Lussi’s bait, reinforcing not only the heathen terms of the celebration, but also hinting about the origin of the lussekatter.

It is noted in Nordisk familjebok 1912 that it was common to bake a peculiar bread shaped as a L and called “dövelskatt” [the devil’s tax] in south-western Sweden: “I sydvästra Sverige bakas till L. ett särskildt kultbröd, kalladt ‘dövelskatt'”.
And with different spellings like the Dutch duyvelskat, or the more common Lussebette, it’s hard not to think how the word we all thought meant Lucia’s cats was actually intended to be an offering to Lussi in exchange for her mercy. Or as it’s described in this interview of Anna Freij that the buns were tinted bright yellow with saffron to scare the devil away.

With the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, Lucia no longer coincided with the winter solstice, but the customs of December 13th being the longest night of the year remained strong in the farming community throughout the centuries and up to the 1700s.
And it’s suspected that as Christianity grew in the north, the church tried to associate the pagan tradition with Santa Lucia, mostly based on phonetics and etymology (latin lux: light).

And just like that, the customs of eating saffron bread, something that was once reserved to the higher classes of southern Sweden, started to spread amongst rural Sweden, where wheat buns would be brushed with a saffron-infused syrup; with each province having their own distinctive shaped bun.

I hope that what was intended to be “just a recipe” five or so hours ago, brought some insight into this wonderful tradition, which like many others is a complex maze of cultural and historical layers tangled into each-other like morning hair.

Here are the sources I’ve used to this little research:
http://runeberg.org/svetym/0512.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harald_Fairhair
http://www.firajul.nu/julenstraditioner/ordet-jul
http://www.bageri.se/aktuellt/nyheter/varfor-ater-vi-saffransbrod-till-jul/
http://malinryke.blogspot.se/2014/12/lussekattens-historia.html

Lussekatter
Come early November, every supermarket launches their annual production of lussekatter, which I suspect are loved by many.
As soon as you step in, the sweet scent of saffron gives away the trolleyful of golden buns waiting to be wrapped in small plastic bags. I have never tasted one from the shop, but from what I’m told they tend to be on the dry side.

My lussekatter, although certainly not authentic as their supermarket counterpart, are a dream to work with, to eat warm from the oven, or toasted the next day, to soak in an egg whisked with a dash of cream, milk, and sugar, and then pan-fried until golden, not unlike a French Swedish-toast.

The recipe itself is a simple enriched dough that some would be tempted to call a pain au lait [milk bread]. As with any rich dough, I recommend using a stand-mixer, althought it’s definitely possible to make them by hand, simply follow the instructions given on that post.

A note on the saffron:

If you don’t have any ground saffron, simply bring the milk to the boil and soak/infuse the saffron threads in it for at least 30 minutes. You will have to wait for the milk to be completely cooled down before using in the recipe.

Lussekatter

Makes around 20 buns.

for the raisins

a handful of raisins
boiling water

for the dough

250 g unsalted butter
600 g strong flour
75 g caster sugar
18 g fresh yeast
0.5 g (one envelope) ground saffron (read note above)
7.5 g sea salt
375 g whole milk

Soak the raisins in boiling water and set aside to cool down. This can be done up to three days ahead, in which case, keep the soaked raisins in the fridge.

Slice the butter into thin 2-3mm thick slices. Set aside until needed.

In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the dough-hook, place the flour, sugar, yeast, saffron and salt. Add the milk and mix on medium speed for around 10 minutes or until the dough detaches from the sides of the bowl and feels smooth, elastic and barely tacky. If you take a small piece of dough, you should be able to stretch it into a very thin membrane.

Add the butter, one small piece at a time continuously until all the butter is in – and knead it in for a further 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a large bowl, and clingfilm to the touch. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 12.

Line three baking trays with paper and set aside.

Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide in 50-55g pieces and cover loosely with clingfilm.

Take one piece and roll into a thin snake, approximately 30cm long, then form an S shape, curling both ends into a spiral. Place onto the prepared baking trays, making sure to give the buns plenty of space. And repeat with the remaining dough.

Cover with clingfilm and leave to proof until doubled in size, around 2-3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 20°C/fan 180°C.
Brush the top of the buns with the egg wash and press two raisins into each bun.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden-brown. Allow to cool down slightly.

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