Scandinavian cookbook captures Christmas spirit


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I'm not Scandinavian, but I love the idea of having a Scandinavian Christmas.

"Scandinavian Christmas" is the title of an absolutely lovely new cookbook that might have you wanting to have one, too.

Perhaps because that part of the world is so very close to the North Pole, its cuisine seems to capture the classic spirit of the holiday, from spicy baked goods such as Pepper Nuts to warm (or hot) drinks such as glogg to rich dishes such as Slow-Roasted Duck and Slow-Cooked Goose with Apples and Prunes. This is the stuff of Santa's tables!

Just published in the U.S. by Sterling (it's $19.95 and was published in Britain last year), the book is by Trine Hahnemann, who is Danish; she's written five cookbooks in that language and two in English -- "The Scandinavian Cookbook" (gorgeous) and "The Nordic Diet." A one-time caterer to the stars (such as Bruce Springsteen), she now lives in Copenhagen where she writes for publications in Europe and the U.S. and at trinehahnemann.com.

She introduces this book by writing that with it "I have opened up a window into my Christmas," which she admits she gets "a little crazy" with. "It is fairly traditional, though with some new twists and turns, but also very emotional, because the season tends to heighten and amplify itself. I hope you will enjoy my recipes and ideas, and remember that a lot of them can be useful all through the winter months."

She mentions the Danish concept of hygge, which "encompasses comfort, camaraderie, and good food and drink." That infuses these chapters, which group together recipes for Advent, "Festive Brunch," "Christmas Party," "The Christmas Eve Feast" and "Christmas Day Smorgasbord."

Most of the recipes are pretty simple, too. Inside is a sampling that would work throughout the winter.

Pulla bread

"In Scandinavia, December is the time for white, glossy, rich bread, unlike the rye bread we favor for the rest of the year," writes Trine Hahnemann. "Christmas is not the time for health food! This lovely loaf is best eaten the day it is baked, though after that it makes great toast."

2 ounces fresh yeast (or 3/4 ounce dried yeast if you really have to!)

Generous 1 cup lukewarm whole milk

7 tablespoons salted butter, softened, cut into small pieces

2 eggs, lightly beaten, plus 1 more to brush

5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more to dust

1/2 cup superfine sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cardamom seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle

Scant 1/3 cup raisins

1 cup blanched almonds, chopped, plus more to sprinkle

Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk in a large mixing bowl, then add the butter and eggs. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt and cardamom. Mix this into the yeast mixture with the raisins and almonds. Now knead the dough on a floured counter for 5 minutes.

Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Now punch down the dough, and let it rise again for 30 minutes. Divide the dough in 2. Roll each piece into a rectangular shape, then cut each rectangle into 3 long "fingers." Plait 3 strands of dough together to form a braid, pressing in the ends, then repeat with the other 3 strands. Place both loaves on a cookie sheet lined with baking parchment, cover once more with clean tea towels, and let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the loaves with beaten egg, sprinkle with a few more almonds, then bake in the hot oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden. Let rest on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes, then serve plain, or spread with butter and jam.

Makes 2 loaves.

-- "Scandinavian Christmas" by Trine Hahnemann (Sterling, Oct. 2013, $19.95)

Pork with apples and Jerusalem artichokes

Trine Hahnemann added to this "classic at Christmas" pork loin the apples and Jerusalem artichokes. I couldn't find the latter and made half the recipe without and it was still delicious.

-- Bob Batz Jr.

2 large pork tenderloins

11 ounces Jerusalem artichokes

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 onions, sliced

3 apples, cut into wedges

3 sprigs thyme

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Chopped parsley, to serve

Cut the tenderloins crosswise into steaks about 3/4 inch thick. Rinse the Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbing well and cut them into slices.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the pork for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and keep warm. Add the artichokes and onions to the pan and saute for 5 minutes. Add the apples and thyme, mix well, and saute for 5 minutes more. Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper and cook for 5 minutes.

To serve, cut the largest pork steaks in half and place them all on a serving dish with the fruit and vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley to serve.

Serves 12.

-- "Scandinavian Christmas" by Trine Hahnemann (Sterling, Oct. 2013, $19.95)

Turnip and bacon gratin

Trine Hahneman writes that hers is a rustic version of a classic. Even if you think you don't like turnips, the bacon and cream will change your mind.

2¼ pounds turnips, tops and bottoms cut off

Salt

11 ounces bacon, in one piece, or thickly sliced

Generous 3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Freshly ground black pepper

If the turnips are big, halve or quarter them, but do not peel. Boil in salted water for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender, then drain. Meanwhile, cut the bacon into cubes and fry in its own fat until golden. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the turnips in an ovenproof dish. Mix in the bacon and its fat. Bring the cream to a boil in a pan and simmer until it thickens, then add the nutmeg and salt and pepper. Stir this into the turnips and bake in the hot oven for 10 minutes.

Serves 8.

-- "Scandinavian Christmas" by Trine Hahnemann (Sterling, Oct. 2013, $19.95)


Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.

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