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.
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.
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.
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.
Makes around 20 buns.
for the raisins
a handful of raisins
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.
This Swedish pepparkakor recipe isn’t one that comes with many traditions. It was in fact created on the very first weekend of advent earlier this month after days of formula research and calculations.
We had just brought upstairs two cardboard boxes labelled hastily JUL 2015 [Christmas 2015] from our förråd [storage] and there were candles lighting our house to the most beautiful shade of gold; the sharp and intense smell of resin diffusing through every room, like a morning promenade through the forest.
I had just unpacked a small pink plastic basket, filled to the rim with pepparkaksformar [cookie cutters] that I’d found last summer at a garage sale at one of the houses we’d cycle by every morning.
After a quick run under warm soapy water, I left them to dry over my favourite torchon [kitchen cloth], the light grey one with nid d’abeilles [honeycomb] fabric.
Later that night, we used them to cut through the dough we’d made the night before. And as I pressed each and everyone of them through the softly spiced pepparkaksdeg, I couldn’t help but think about the many Christmases these cutters had known. And just like that, a tradition-less recipe actually perpetuated one that I suspect lasted many decades and created a new tradition for us to hold over the coming years.
Here is to the next first of advent!
I chose to make the lighter kind* of pepparkakor, one of many really. In some houses, the dough calls for whipping cream or baking powder. Muscovado sugar and treacle syrup. A pinch of cinnamon and a fat tablespoon of ground ginger.
That day, I made the pepparkakor that I’d knew I’d love. Light and crisp with just enough bite to hold well when dipped in a cup of coffee – something I can only warmly recommend.
I might try, next time I make a batch, to replace the caster sugar with light muscovado sugar or even brun farinsocker, a sugar that we have here in Sweden, and which is almost halfway between dark and light muscovado sugars; if you choose that road, you could most definitely substitute the caster sugar in the recipe below with 125 g dark muscovado and 100 g light muscovado.
I will also perhaps replace the golden syrup for chestnut honey, as a reminiscence of my childhood pain d’épices (which I also need to tell you about).
* Nowhere as light as they appear to be in the pictures I took here. Yes, I am still in dire need of figuring out this whole winter lighting thing.
Makes around 100 small biscuits.
75 g water
105 g golden syrup
225 g caster sugar (read note above)
175 g unsalted butter
1 heaped tbsp ground cinnamon
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 tsp ground cloves
480 g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
Bring the water, syrup, and sugar to the boil in a small pan. Off the heat, add the butter and spices, and allow to cool down to around 30-35°C.
In a bowl, mix the flour, bicarbonate and salt.
When the syrup has cooled down enough, slowly pour over the flour, and mix with a silicone spatula until a loose dough comes together.
Place the dough onto a large piece of clingfilm, and flatten it into a square using the palm of your hand. Cover tightly with clingfilm, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to a month.
When you’re ready to bake your pepparkakor, take out your dough from the fridge and leave it at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C.
On a slighty floured surface, roll the dough to 3-4mm thick and cut out into the desired shapes. If you wish to hang your pepparkakor, make sure to cut a small hole before baking them.
Arrange them onto baking trays lined with baking paper, and do not to mix the larger biscuits with the small ones as they won’t bake evenly.
Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of the pepparkakor, or until the edges start to turn golden brown.
When cooled down, decorate with royal icing if you wish, and store in an airtight container for up to a month.
More Christmas adventures in the north of Sweden on Instagram: #fannysjul <3