I have mentioned before that my grandmothers were both first generation American-born, one was Dutch and the other Norwegian. As a result, I had the opportunity to grow up in America but in a family in which European languages were spoken and in which European holiday foods were the norm. I have a very special cookbook that was a gift at the time of my marriage in the 90s, and which is a photo album with recipe cards in which many family recipes were captured in the handwriting of my beloved grandmothers.
Christmas was always the dominant season for being linked back to the mother-land, and my Norwegian grandmother still makes a great bounty of old-world treats for the holiday season. When I first got divorced (although I don’t know why I waited that long) I bought a krumkake baker, the implement required to make the classic Scandinavian Christmas cookie in our household. And yes, these are cookies cooked lovingly one (or two) at a time in a waffle-iron-like device, and not baked in an oven. There are two sorts commercially available (at least in the American midwest, where the Norse expat community dominates proceedings), the traditional stove-top model:
Admittedly my grandmother has gone over to the non-stick electric model with the dual cookie process, but when I bought mine, I was feeling nostalgic for my childhood and I got the stove-top single-cookie model. And it sat in the box for many, many years. Eight-ish. As is made clear by the fact that I got divorced in 2001 and I have just used the thing for the first time.
I am having a holiday party for my team, and as part of our recent bake-off, I promised them Norwegian Christmas cookies. So on the weekend, I broke down and opened this krumkake baker box for the first time. This particularly well-travelled krumkake iron (MN to VA to MN to England) now had the chance to spring into action. I checked in my recipe book, and found to my shock and horror that I had not a single family krumkake recipe in the archives. Picked up my iPhone and called Grandma, who was busy playing Scrabble with one of my cousins, but indulged me in taking a quick break to reveal the family recipe. Which was nothing like the recipe in the krumkake baker package, nor the recipe on Scandinavia.about.com. Let this be a lesson to anyone who thinks the classics are readily available on the internet!
A grave concern of mine was that I would not have a proper wooden roller for making the cookies, which cook flat, into cone shapes. I searched my English town, bought a thin wooden rolling pin at John Lewis, only to discover when I finally opened the krumkake baker packaging that the roller was included. Whoops.
I ‘seasoned’ the baker on Saturday, by cooking it with vegetable fat to make the surfaces non-sticky. And last night I broke down and made krumkake. The most challenging aspect of the ingredients list was cardamom. Cardamom is one of the key ingredients in Indian cooking, being a crucial component of Garam Masala seasoning, but also is the critical element in Norwegian baked goods. And I have no idea why! I was able to find cardamom in pods, but not ground, in my local grocery store, so I had to shell and grind it myself:
I did not add nearly enough, in the end, and now I know this for future attempts at krumkake. But overall, the process worked remarkably well, especially for someone who was channelling her childhood as concerns when to flip the krumkake maker over the heat. The first try along with a later attempt:
And the eventual successes, looking and tasting like actual krumkake even though I can clearly see now that this is best a two-person process:
Lessons learned: I should not have waited so many years to do this, it was remarkably cathartic to try something from my childhood as a 30-something. I only had to make minor adjustments to deal with a British stove and burner size. The results are totally worth standing at the stove for two hours. But I need to up the cardamom levels.