Book Inspiration: Swedish Christmas Traditions

As I plan my Scandinavian Christmas, I’m digging not only into old family traditions and recipes, but also perusing newer books dedicated to the topic. One of those is Swedish Christmas Traditions: A Smorgasbord of Scandinavian Recipes, Crafts, and Other Holiday Delights by Ernst Kirchsteiger.

This book–published by Skyhorse two years ago–features a variety of recipes, from savory dishes such as Ernst’s apple herring (and a pickled vegetable recipe for those not keen on pickled herring) to sweet treats such as white chocolate-coated marzipan medallions and traditional cinnamon hearts. Though the focus is on food, the book also includes crafts for decorating your home Swedish-style and some festive floral arrangements.

Check back soon for more recipes and Scandinavian Christmas books!

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

Sandbakkels–a Norwegian Christmas Cookie–Step by Step


When it comes to Christmas cookies, the Scandinavians do it best. I continually find myself amazed by how a seemingly simple recipe can turn out so delicious, whether it yields the perfect balance of buttery and sugary flavors or a delicate crunch. Sandbakkels fit into both categories, with a flavorful, subtly-sweet dough and a finished product that needs to be handled carefully yet is sturdy enough to be packed into tins until Christmas.

Sandbakkels are the second cookie (the first was serinakaker) in my list of syv slagseven sorts of Norwegian Christmas cookies–that I’m baking this year. These aren’t the sort of cookie you whip together and slice off chilled dough whenever you need a small portion of cookies to serve to last-minute guests. Rather, these must be made with patience and love, ideally in the company of someone special (in my case, my mom and grandma Adeline).


Each cookie must be carefully formed into a little tart-like shell (the molds are available at Scandinavian stores). While the process is time consuming, it’s simple once you get the hang of it.

The dough comes together like a typical cookie dough: Cream softened butter with a cup of sugar, then mix in an egg and flavoring. Add flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together and separates from the sides of the bowl, and then chill for a while.

The fun starts when it’s time to shape the cookies.

Sandbakkels Step by Step

Here’s how to make them:

  1. To start, pinch off a little dough and roll into a ball about 3/4 of an inch in diameter.
  2. Place into the center of the mold, using your thumbs to flatten the dough into the mold.
  3. Rotating the mold as you go, work the dough out from the center of the mold and up the sides. You’ll want the dough on the bottom to be as thin as it can be while still holding up when baked.
  4. As you work, take special care at the ridge where the bottom connects to the side. Dough tends to collect here, and it’s easy to let this part be too thick. Delicately continue to work the dough from this ring up the sides.
  5. Using your hand, scrape off the excess dough from the top of the mold, and set aside while you form the rest of the cookies.
  6. When it’s time to bake, arrange the sandbakkels on a cookie sheet (if you’re using different shapes of tins, try to keep the like tins together in a batch so they cook evenly) and place in a preheated oven.
  7. Watch closely as the cookies bake, as they quickly go from done to overdone. When they’re just starting to take on a slightly golden hue, remove from the oven and take the molds off the cookie sheet to cool.
  8. Allow the cookies to cool for a while, and then carefully remove from the tins. This is done by inverting the molds onto your work surface and giving a little tap. The cookies should pop right out.

Sandbakkels Step by Step

Some people serve sandbakkels as tarts, with fillings such as sweetened whipped cream and fruit preserves, while others serve them plain, arranging them upside down to showcase their shape.

My family has always preferred to serve them plain, as a cookie rather than a tart. How do you enjoy yours?


Adeline Halvarson’s Sandbakkels

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and almond extracts and stir until combined. Add flour and salt and mix until incorporated and the dough comes together. Gather the dough together, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for 15 minutes.

Shape cookies according to the details above, preheating oven to 375 degrees partway through the process.

Bake until cookies just start to take on a slight golden hue, then remove the tins from the cookie sheet and allow to cool. To remove cookies from tins, invert the molds and tap them on your work surface. The cookies should pop out easily

Yield: About 5 dozen cookies, depending on size of tins

Apple Pie of Generations

Apple Pie

Let me tell you a little about my grandma Adeline. That’s her on the right in the photo down below. She’s one of my biggest culinary inspirations, and the one who’s been teaching me to make lefse, krumkake, sandbakkels, and all sorts of other Scandinavian and family specialties. We’re spending the time leading up to Christmas baking through many of her favorite desserts and dishes. One of her specialties is apple pie.


Now, the world doesn’t need another recipe for apple pie. But my world does. It needs to know exactly what went into the pie Grandma and I made last month, standing side by side in the kitchen, creating something delicious together. Because each ingredient that went into that pie serves as a part of the memory of that evening.

Apple Pie CollageIt started with a straightforward pie crust from the The Silver Palate Cookbook. I mixed the dough together and put it in the fridge to chill while we worked on baking an old-fashioned recipe for Date Balls, which came from her days in North Dakota over a half century ago. The dough chilled, we got to work forming the crust and making the filling. Pies are one of those those things that come naturally to Grandma. Back in the old days in North Dakota, she baked countless pies morning after morning for a restaurant, and I don’t think she would even consider sticking to a recipe, choosing rather to go by sight and intuition.

Apple Pie

But this time as we worked together, collaborating on how much of each ingredient to use, I measured everything and kept notes, wanting to remember just how Grandma would put it together.

As I said, the world doesn’t need another recipe for apple pie. And now that I have a recipe created step by step with Grandma, I don’t need another one either.

Apple PieApple Pie of Generations

For the crust:

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
6 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, chilled
5-6 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

7 1/2 cups apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks (we used Gala)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2-2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2-3 tablespoons tapioca
Up to 1/4 cup butter
1/8 teaspoon salt

To make the crust, sift the flour, sugar, and salt together into a large mixing bowl, then add the 8 tablespoons of butter and the shortening. Cut the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender, your fingertips, or perhaps even a food processor, until you have a mixture that looks like coarse meal. Mix in the ice water, 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, as needed to finish the dough, then turn it onto a clean counter or cutting board. Now you’re going to smear the dough away from you using the heel of your hand, working with about 1/4 cup at a time, before collecting all the dough into a ball and covering and refrigerating it for two hours.

When the dough is chilled, roll it into 2 disks, each 1/4-inch thick. Pile the apples in one crust and top with the remaining ingredients. Place the remaining dough on top, crimping the edges. Pierce multiple times with a fork. Bake about 2 hours, masking the edges as necessary, until crust is golden and pie is baked through.

Kale Salad with Lemon, Almonds, and Nordic Cheese

Kale Salad with Lemon, Almonds and Cheese

When it comes to holiday meals, people generally think of rich, creamy, and calorie-laden  foods, but I don’t see why food has to be heavy in order to be festive. I found proof of that in Trine Hahnemann’s new book, Scandinavian Christmas, which includes a recipe for a raw kale salad with pomegranate, with the bright red seeds adding a decorative touch to the richly-colored greens.

Taking cues from Hahnemann as well as my sister- and brother-in-law’s restaurant, which is currently serving a kale salad with sunflower seeds and dried currants, I decided to come up with my own version. The raw kale leaves have a toothsome texture that is accented by the soft crunch of sliced almonds. The salad is given a fresh, silky touch with the flavors of good-quality olive oil and freshly-squeezed lemon juice, and is finished with some grated Nordic cheese to round it all out.

I hope you’ll give it a try in the weeks to come. It’s simple enough to put together for a weeknight dinner, but I think it’s special and festive enough to serve with a holiday meal as well. Enjoy!

Kale Salad with Lemon, Almonds, and Nordic Cheese

7-8 ounces (10-12 cups) kale leaves, stalk removed and leaves torn into bite-size pieces
Juice of 1 large lemon (5 tablespoons)
4 tablespoons good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Pepper to taste
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 cup Scandinavian cheese such as Herrgård or Västerbotten, grated

Put the kale leaves in a large salad bowl. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper until emulsified. Add the dressing to the kale and toss to combine. Add almonds and cheese and gently toss a little more until all ingredients are combined. Serve immediately.

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Sweet-and-Sour Red Cabbage (Rødkål)

Rødkål Red Cabbage

Do you remember when I shared my grandma Agny’s recipe for surkål–Norwegian sauerkraut–a few weeks ago? That’s just one type of Scandinavian cooked cabbage that has been part of my family’s holiday menus in years past. Another is rødkål, a sweet-and-sour red cabbage that’s prepared basically the same way and with similar ingredients yet yields very different results.

Rødkål Red Cabbage

Whether your Christmas meal involves roast pork or medisterkaker–Norwegian pork meatballs–rødkål will add a festive yet homey touch to your Scandinavian holiday menu.

Rødkål Red Cabbage


1 (2 pound) red cabbage
1 apple
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons currant jelly
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons salt

Core the cabbage and shred using the slicing disc of a food processor. Core and shred the apple (it’s okay to leave the skin on).

Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot, then add cabbage, apple, and remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 90 minutes to two hours, until the cabbage has softened. Serve.

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Pancakes for Christmas Morning

Norwegian Pancakes

Having a baby really got me thinking about what Christmas traditions I want to keep in my family. Last year we started a new one: having a Christmas brunch at our home with a simple meal of pannekakor, or Scandinavian pancakes.

Norwegian PancakesI grew up eating Swedish pancakes, but it was always at restaurants or at the Norse Home, where my Grandma Agny lived for a while, so didn’t grow up with a family recipe. Last year my husband and I made a batch based on a New York Times recipe, and while they were tasty, they weren’t what I had in mind. So when I found a recipe for Norwegian pancakes (I’m not sure what makes them Norwegian or Swedish–if you do, please let me kknow) in Andreas Viestad’s Kitchen of Light, I was excited to try it out.

We enjoyed the recipe this past weekend, and I’m happy to announce that I think we have a winner. These pancakes are exactly what I would expect them to be: perfectly dense yet light, hearty yet delicate. Served with sweet-tart lingonberry preserves to balance out the richness of the buttery pancakes, this is just the recipe for a relaxed holiday morning.

What are your Christmas morning traditions?

Norwegian Pancakes

Norwegian Pancakes
Adapted from Kitchen of Light

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus more for cooking and serving)
Lingonberry preserves for serving

Stir flour and salt together in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and sugar to break up the eggs a bit and combine the ingredients. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a fork or whisk until the batter is light and smooth with no lumps. Add the butter, stirring to incorporate, and then let the batter rest for 30 minutes while you prepare the pan and set the table.

Preheat a cast-iron pan over medium heat. Swirl a little butter in the pan to help avoid sticking, and then when you’re ready to start cooking, pour 1/3 cup of the batter into the pan, lifting it and swirling it around so the batter evenly covers the bottom. As the pancake cooks, you’ll notice the top begin to set, starting with the center and working out. When the whole thing is set and it becomes easy to lift up the sides, flip the pancake–it should have a nice, spotted brown color–and cook the other side for a couple of minutes. Remove to a plate and keep warm while you repeat the process with the remaining batter, stacking the pancakes on the plate as you go.

When ready to serve, roll the pancakes and top with lingonberry preserves. Serve with additional lingonberry preserves in a small bowl and softened butter so guests can customize their pancakes to their tastes.

Serves 2-4.

Update: Thanks to those of you who given your insight into the differences between the types of pancakes. The Transplanted Baker also offers great information if anyone is interested!

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Book Inspiration: Scandinavian Christmas

I have been a fan of Danish cookbook author Trine Hahnemann for a while (her Scandinavian Cookbook and The Nordic Diet are two of my favorite Scandinavian cookbooks). So I was excited to find out that she was publishing a cookbook this fall dedicated to one of the favorite topics of Scandinavians: Christmas.

Simply yet appropriately titled Scandinavian Christmas, Hahnemann’s newest book is full of recipes that would be perfect for anyone hoping to add a Nordic touch to their holiday table. You’ll find everything from an assortment of Christmas cookies and traditional savory dishes to new interpretations of classic dishes, such as the salted cod bruschetta that Hahnemann has created as a nod to lutefisk.

It’s a beautiful book full of delicious recipes and gorgeous photos. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I do!

Scandinavian Christmas Book

Scandinavian Christmas Book

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Syv Slag (Seven Sorts) #1: Serinakaker


What better way to kick off a season of Scandinavian Christmas inspiration than by offering you a recipe to add to your list of Christmas cookies? As I plan my holiday activities, one tradition I’ll be following this year is that of syv slag, or seven sorts of traditional Norwegian Christmas cookies. In Norway, it’s just not Christmas without a spread of at least seven types to serve friends and family.

Growing up in a Norwegian-American home in the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t hear about the syv slag tradition per se, but I did reap the benefits of elder generations who must have known all about it. On both sides of my family, Christmastime was full of cookies–traditional Scandinavian sandbakkels and krumkake alongside family specialties such as caramel balls, gumdrop cookies, and molasses cookies. I never knew to count to make sure there were seven types.

As I’ve been learning about the tradition, I’ve discovered that people have varying opinions on the syv slag. To some, there is a defined list of seven cookies. To others, it doesn’t matter what one makes as long as there are at least seven varieties.

Between now and Christmas, I’ll be baking through some of the many cookies typically included in the traditional list. The first is serinakaker.


As with most traditional recipes, opinions abound on the proper way to make them. Some recipes direct bakers to roll them into balls and then flatten them slightly while baking, either with the tines of a fork or with a thumb, while others suggest rolling the dough into logs and chilling them before cutting them into thin wafers. I’ve tried both the ball and log approaches and prefer the latter. The ingredients in this recipe are based on this recipe, but the technique is my own, developed through research and trial and error.

Do you follow the tradition of the seven sorts? What seven cookies are on your list?

Serinakaker Dough


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons hornsalt*
1 cup cold butter, diced
1 egg, lightly bean
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar**
1 egg white
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1/8 cup pearl sugar

Combine the flour and hornsalt, either with a whisk or by giving it a whirl in the food processor. Add the butter, cutting it in a pastry blender or food processor until you have a mixture that resembles small breadcrumbs. Add egg and combine to form a soft dough, then mix in the sugar and vanilla sugar. Roll into logs about 1 and quarter inches in diameter, cover in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 and transfer the logs to the freezer while you set up your baking station. Giving yourself plenty of room to work, set up a cutting board, cookie sheet (ungreased or lined with a silicone baking mat), and bowls containing the egg white, the chopped almonds, and pearl sugar. When you’re ready to go, take a log out of the freezer and cut it into thin disks, a little less than a quarter inch in diameter. Place on cookie sheet, spacing at least an inch and a half apart, as they will spread significantly during baking. Brush each with egg white and then liberally sprinkle chopped almonds and pearl sugar on top. Return unused dough to the freezer while the first batch bakes. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes on the center rack of the oven, rotating halfway through to ensure even baking. Cookies will be done when they are slightly golden. Cool slightly on the cookie sheet until crisp enough to transfer to a plate or wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.

*Hornsalt, also known as harshorn or baker’s ammonia, is an ingredient commonly used in Scandinavian baking. It is available at Scandinavian stores such as Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle. If you can’t find it, baking powder is sometimes used as a substitute. Hornsalt has an ammonia odor, which you’ll notice as the cookies bake, but it does not impact the flavor.

**Like hornsalt, vanilla sugar is a common Scandinavian baking ingredient and can also be found at Scandinavian specialty stores. You can make your own the next time you bake with vanilla bean by mixing the unused pod with some white sugar and storing it for a while. Alternately, the original recipe says you can substitute 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract.

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Get Ready for a Scandinavian Christmas


Christmas preparations are already underway at my house. You wouldn’t know it from the looks of it, but I’ve been perusing recipe books for things to cook and bake, getting ready to inventory our supply of Christmas lights, and transferring the decorations from storage to an easily-accessible chest bench near our main living area.

It is November 1, after all, and I know from experience that the time between Halloween and Christmas somehow seems to pass more quickly than most other times of the year. Christmas is a big deal in Scandinavia, and I’m tapping into my Norwegian roots this year as I plan an entire two months worth of holiday posts for you. From traditional and modern Scandinavian treats to some of my family’s own traditions, Outside Oslo will be full of inspiration for you as you add a touch of Scandinavian warmth and hospitality to your own Christmas. Check back here every weekday for recipes, traditions, DIY Christmas decorations, and more! Or better yet, subscribe via e-mail or follow Outside Oslo on Facebook,TwitterPinterest, and the feed!

A Delicious October

Pears and TomatoesCan you believe it’s already the end of October? It’s been a delicious month here at Outside Oslo, so I thought I’d take a moment to revisit the recipes I’ve featured here over the past few weeks. Enjoy!

Scandinavian Autumn Fruit SoupScandinavian Autumn Fruit Soup
An original recipe published in Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine

Kladdkaka VerticalKladdkaka (Swedish Gooey Chocolate Cake)


Surkål (Norwegian Sauerkraut with Caraway)

Lamb with Anchovy Dill Butter

Pan-grilled Lamb Chops with Anchovy-Dill Butter and Brussels Sprouts

Smorrebrod with Anchovy Dill ButterSmørrebrød with Anchovy-Dill Butter, Green Leaf Lettuce, and a Hard-Boiled Egg

Baked Apples with Vanilla CreamAlmond-filled Baked Apple Halves with Vanilla Cream

Orange-Cardamom CaramelsOrange-Cardamom Caramels
An original recipe published in the Norwegian American Weekly

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