A Festive November

As I sit writing on this quiet November afternoon, I’m amazed that so much time has already elapsed since my last monthly roundup. It’s been a good month, although it’s gone by quickly. I spent much of it cooking my way through Norwegian and Swedish recipes and giving you some early ideas for how to add a Scandinavian touch to your holiday plans.

There were the first of the syv slags kaker…




…and sandbakkels.

Scandinavian Almond Bars

There were the Scandinavian almond bars I grew up eating…


…and a graham cracker twist on pepperkakor.

Lingonberry Cake with Walnuts

Lingonberry walnut spice cake would be perfect for last-minute holiday guests or as a hostess gift…

Norwegian Pancakes

…and Norwegian pancakes would make a delicious Christmas day brunch item.

Kale Salad with Lemon, Almonds and Cheese

Kale salad with lemon, almonds, and Nordic cheese is a delicious way of enjoying fresh vegetables amidst the rich and creamy foods often served this time of year…

Rødkål Red Cabbage

…and the traditional rødkål conjures up memories of Christmases gone by for many people with Scandinavian backgrounds.

Orange and Nut Bowl

We talked about ways to add a festive touch to your home with fruit and nuts

Scandinavian Christmas Book

…and got inspiration from various books including Scandinavian Christmas, Christmas baking, and Swedish Christmas Traditions.

Apple Pie

We made an apple pie

Macy's Christmas Star

…and talked about traditions.

I’ve enjoyed hearing about your Christmas traditions and memories as well, and I’m looking forward to sharing more ideas with each other in the coming weeks!

Scandinavian Kitchen Inspiration: A Handful of Recipes


I’ve been having a great time cooking and baking my way through some Scandinavian Christmas recipes to share with you here. There’s a lot more in store in the coming weeks, so be sure to follow Outside Oslo on Facebook,TwitterPinterest, and the feed! if you don’t already.

In the meantime, as I’ve been getting my bearings back after being sick, I want to share with you some links to delicious-looking Scandinavian recipes I’ve seen recently. Enjoy!

Fyrstekake (Norwegian Cardamom-Almond Tart)
Bon Appétit

Signe Johansen’s Kringle
The Independent

Trine Hahnemann’s Honning Hjerter (Honey Hearts) and other Christmas Cookies
The Observer

Marzipan Biscuits with Walnuts and Chocolate
The Independent

Caraway and Sea Salt Crackers
The Globe and Mail

Pepperkakor? No, Homemade Graham Crackers!


On one hand, my son is a discriminate eater (he’s too young to be labeled picky, as he’s still learning about flavors and textures). But on the other, he’s showing signs of becoming quite a food-lover, just like his mama. I have to be careful in the kitchen, as he zeroes in on the cinnamon and the large plastic bottle of vanilla extract, opening the baking cupboard, finding those two containers, and carrying them around. Out of all the substances that children have spilled on their train sets, I would suspect that vanilla extract has rarely been one of them, except in our house.

The other day when I was rolling out a batch of homemade graham crackers for him, he reached forward from his high chair–which I had positioned so he could “help” me make the crackers–and swiped some of the dough. He truly is his mother’s son. And he liked it. Then he swiped more. Before I knew it, I was actually handing some of it to him–and eating some myself. It contained no egg, after after all.

I realized that since I was cutting the dough into snowflakes, these crackers would be a nice alternative to the abundance of cookies offered this time of year (they look remarkably like h). Of course, one should be able to eat cookies–don’t get me wrong, it is Christmastime after all–but I enjoy them most when I consider them a treat, something to be enjoyed on occasion. For those times when one just wants a little snack, these crackers have a delicious slightly-sweet flavor that’s reminiscent of the graham crackers I used to eat out of a box, with a crunch that’s just right. But I know exactly what’s gone into them, so I have no reservations when feeding them to my son. And with a fun shape such as a snowflake, what’s not to love?

Homemade Graham Crackers
Adapted from Weelicious

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients in a food processor. Add butter and continue to pulse until you have a mixture with a consistency resembling coarse meal. Add honey and water and continue to mix until well combined.

Shape the dough into a disk and roll between two pieces of parchment paper until it’s 1/4-inch thick. Cut into simple rectangles or get creative with fun cookie cutters. Place the crackers on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and place the crackers on a wire rack to cool; they will continue to firm up while they cool.

Store in a covered container at room temperature.

Lingonberry Walnut Spice Cake

Lingonberry Cake with Walnuts

First of all, I want to explain the silence here this past week. Remember when I said I would be posting some inspiration and ideas every weekday leading up to Christmas? Well, I didn’t factor in how disruptive illness can be. I got sick suddenly last Tuesday while Mom and Grandma were over to bake spritz as part of our weekly baking sessions. We were having a great time, and then I started feeling cold so turned up the heat. My back started aching. I got that nagging yet indescribable feeling in my throat and upper chest that I might be getting sick. By the end of the night I was curled up in a blanket on the sofa, shivering with my laptop on my lap, trying to meet a deadline for an article while waiting for my husband to get home. I thought about my goal for writing here, but I just couldn’t do it. With the recipe I have to offer you today, I hope that the wait was worth it.

Lingonberry Spice Cake with Walnuts

Today I want to tell you about lingonberry-walnut spice cake. It’s a twist on a recipe from Beatrice Ojakangas, the queen of Scandinavian-American cookbook authors. Her book Scandinavian Feasts ends with a section on recipes for the Christmas coffee table, concluding with a recipe for lingonberry jam cake. After I made it recently, I got to thinking that it might lend itself well to some adaptations. Wanting a more pronounced lingonberry flavor but not necessarily feeling the need to mess with the quantity of preserves in the recipe, I picked up some frozen lingonberries at the local Scandinavian store and added a healthy portion of those along with some chopped walnuts. The result, I must say is perfect.

Lingonberry Walnut Spice Cake

This is the sort of cake that you whip up with ease and then slide in the oven before going about your business trimming the tree or wrapping presents. It bakes for about an hour, leaving you plenty of time to get things done around the house or perhaps to take a shower before heading out to a Christmas party (for which this bread might be your hostess gift). And then when it’s done, it keeps incredibly well, staying moist for days if properly wrapped. And while I haven’t tried freezing it, Ojankagas says it lends itself well to storage that way too.

The only thing that might make this recipe any better would be a cream cheese frosting, adding a sweet, creamy touch to the top of each slice. But then again that might just be excessive. Some things, when made just right, should be left alone and allowed to shine.

Walnut and Lingonberry Spice Cake

Lingonberry Walnut Spice Cake
Adpated from Beatrice Ojakangas’ Lingonberry Jam Cake in Scandinavian Feasts

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup lingonberry jam
3/4 cup frozen lingonberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prep an 8.5-by-4.5-inch loaf pan by greasing and flouring it.

Cream the butter, sugar, and eggs in a large mixing bowl until the mixture becomes light and fluffy. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then stir the sour cream and lingonberry jam together in a separate bowl. Add the flour mixture and the lingonberry-sour cream mixture to the batter and mix just until incorporated and smooth. Add lingonberries and walnuts and stir gently to combine.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake in the center of the oven for about one hour. You’ll know when it’s done when you insert a toothpick into the center and it comes out clean. This probably goes without saying, but err on the side of early when checking the cake, as you don’t want to overbake it. The result should be perfectly done and deliciously moist.

When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool in the pan for about five minutes before removing it from the pan and allowing it to finish cooling on a wire rack.

Makes 1 loaf.

Simple Christmas Decorations: Fruit and Nuts

Orange and Nut Bowl Who says that Christmas decorations have to be elaborate and cost a lot? Sometimes the simplest ornaments can be the prettiest. Don’t get me wrong, I love walking on December evenings through neighborhoods that collectively decide to outshine all the rest with their Christmas lights. And I love it when people with an eye for decorating put together a winter wonderland that exudes all the warmth and joy of the holiday season. But I also appreciate the elegance that goes along with simplicity–something I’ve seen in so many Scandinavian settings.

With that in mind, I’d like to leave you with some ideas that I hope will inspire you as you plan your Christmas decorating. All it takes is some citrus, cloves, nuts, cranberries, glassware, and a few ornaments to put together a lovely centerpiece or an arrangement for an entryway. And don’t forget the lovely scent of clove-studded orange pomanders. Here are some photos to get you started. I’d love to see what you come up with–you can post photos of your Scandinavian-inspired Christmas decorations to my Facebook page!

Cranberries, Oranges, and NutsMaking an Orange Pomander

Orange and Clove Pomanders

From My Childhood: Scandinavian Almond Bars

Scandinavian Almond Bars

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions over the past few months. It started with the onset of autumn, which seems to be the most sensual of the seasons, with its crisp, quiet mornings and spice-laden drinks. A wealth of pears resulted in a few being sliced and used to line the base of a Swedish chocolate cake while rest of them simmered on the stove, breaking down into a luscious, sweet sauce with the right amount of sweetness and a pale pink hue.

Thanksgiving is still a week away, yet my focus has already transitioned from autumn to Christmas as I come up with ideas for holiday baking, block out periods of time to pick out a Christmas tree and celebrate holiday-season birthdays, and make a list of traditions I want to be sure to nurture.

One of those traditions is baking with my mom and grandmother. We’ve always baked together, ever since I was a child, but as time has gone on, the focus has shifted from Grandma being the primary baker with everyone else providing support to Grandma teaching us the tricks of the trade as she strives to pass on a lifetime of baking knowledge and expertise to the later generations who want to learn.

Scandinavian Almond Bar

While we bake together throughout the year, the holiday season is a particularly important time, as we list the traditional treats our family has enjoyed throughout the years. My goal this year is to get through as many of them as possible–both to give Grandma the opportunity to bake them again, and to give my mom and me the experience and memories of baking these alongside such an amazing woman as my grandmother.

During one recent baking session, we tried out some old family recipes we hadn’t made in a long time. One of them was for Scandinavian almond bars. I remember baking these  when I was a child, joining my mom in the kitchen while we mixed the batter and rolled the cookies into logs before baking, then cut them into slices and drizzled them with icing. They were flavored with almond extract, and just the thing to satisfy a young Norwegian’s tastebuds.

Scandinavian Almond Bars

I’m not absolutely positive where the original recipe came from, aside from remembering a large, full-page photo of the cookies in a spiral-bound cookbook. My mom also has a copy of the recipe that came from a friend once upon a time. They’re all over the internet too, and seem to have an origin with Taste of Home. When we made them recently, we compared notes between two slightly different versions. Now we have a master list of ingredients. That’s one of the things I love about our baking tradition–as we work through recipes, we’re taking notes and compiling the recipes all in one place with plans to create a family recipe book. It’ll be fun to see what ends up in the collection–family classics such as these almond-flavored cookies, to be sure, but perhaps some new ones as well.

What cookies or bars do you do you still make from your childhood?

Scandinavian Almond Bars
Adapted slightly from a variety of sources; if you know where the original comes from, let me know!

For the cookies:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
Milk, enough for brushing on the dough
1/2 cup sliced almonds

For the icing:
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1-2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Prepare the cookies by creaming the butter sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the egg and extract and mix until combined. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to the batter, mixing until incorporated.

Turn out dough onto your work surface and shape into a ball. Divide it into fourths, then roll each section into a log about a foot long. Divide the logs between two cookie sheets. Using the palm of your hand, flatten the dough out until the log is an even 3 inches wide. Brush each log with milk and sprinkle on the almonds.

Bake until the edge start to tun golden, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly, until still warm but cool enough to work with. Cut the cookies diagonally into slices 1 inch thick, and then transfer to wire racks and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the icing by combining the confectioner’s sugar, almond extract, and milk in a small bowl until smooth. Drizzled over the cooled cookies.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

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Book Inspiration: Christmas Baking

Since we’ve been on the topic of Scandinavian Christmas books lately (here and here), I’d like to share with you another one that’s inspiring me as I plan my holiday baking: Christmas Baking: Fun and Delicious Holiday Treats. This newly-published book from Swedish pastry chef and food writer Mia Öhrn features a variety of candies, cookies, and other baked goods.

Though the book is on the thin side with only 38 recipes, it’s full of so many photos (which provide inspiration in and of themselves) that this will be a book I’ll return to time and time again for ideas. Some of the recipes I’m considering making this holiday season include lingonberry toffee, “Mozart Almond Chocolates” made with homemade nougat and almond paste and covered in dark chocolate, sugar-coated gingerbread sticks (made with leftover pepparkakor dough), and rice pudding pie. Enjoy!

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Full disclosure: A review copy of Christmas Baking was sent by the publisher.

The Traditions We Keep

Macy's Christmas Star

I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions lately. As I watch my life transition from being the child to being a parent with a child of my own, I become more and more aware of my ability–and perhaps responsibility–to create moments that will become cherished memories as the years go on.

When I think back to my own childhood, memories of Christmas are filled with warmth and a sweet, happy feeling. Though I was an only child, holidays were filled with people–my parents and grandparents, of course, but also aunts and uncles, cousins, and even-further extended family. Our house would be decked out so festively that it felt like a bit of a wonderland, with flocked greens framing doorways and wreaths and other decorations lining the walls. I would sip hot apple cider from a disposable cup as we wandered the aisles of the local nursery looking for the perfect Christmas tree to bring home and decorate.

I want my son to have the same fond feelings when he grows up and looks back at his childhood Christmas celebrations. Though he will probably remember very little about how we spend the holiday for the next couple of years, I see this as a good time to get started. He will enjoy helping his parents pick out a Christmas tree and watching us decorate it. The Christmas lights on neighborhood houses will seem enchanting. He has fun playing with his grandma and great-grandma as we get together weekly to bake Christmas treats. And most of all, the time he spends with his dad and mom, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins–and all those dear to him–will fill him with a sense of warmth and love.

What are some of your most cherished Christmas memories?