A deviation from my journey through food in English literature, but after a recent short break in Copenhagen I felt inspired to try my hand at a bit of Danish baking, and blog about it. So this post is more about moving from the pages of the guidebook – rather than those of literary texts – to the plate.
Copenhagen is a very user-friendly capital city. With a city population of just over 1, 200, 000, and an area in size of 88.5km2 (almost half the size of London), Copenhagen’s main sites are easily accessible by foot if you stay centrally. Whilst there are a number of sites to see, Copenhagen is also the kind of city that it is nice – and practical – to wander around in, stopping off now and again for a coffee (and a pastry!).
Interesting sites – literary / culturally – inspired include the following:
• The Little Mermaid statue (in Danish, Den Lille Havfrue), inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy story from 1837 which tells of the mermaid who falls in love with the prince she rescues from drowning and sacrifices her voice for human legs (even though having them sentences her to eternal pain). Failing to win the prince’s love, the mermaid throws herself into the sea, rather than kill the prince which would have restored her to her mermaid self and allowed her to live out a full life in the ocean. However, she is rewarded for her selflessness by being turned into an airbound spirit.
• Christianborg Palace: this building houses all three of Denmark’s branches of government: the Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister’s office. Its nickname is Borgen, also the title of the popular Danish political TV drama which ran for three series and was broadcast in the UK in 2012 and 2013. Borgen tells the story of politician Birgitte Nyborg, leader of the Moderate Party, who unexpectedly becomes the first female Prime Minister of Denmark.
• Helsingor (English: Elsinore), a 45 minute train journey from Copenhagen, is the home of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Whilst it is unlikely that Shakespeare ever visited Denmark, Kronborg Castle conjures up the atmosphere of the opening scenes of Hamlet. As you walk around the battlements you can imagine the terror of Marcellus and Bernard, the soldiers on the night watch, when they encounter the ghost of Hamlet’s father.
But the food in Copenhagen is just as much of a draw, or it certainly was for me. Home to Noma – the restaurant voted number one in the world in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 – Copenhagen offers world-class Nordic cuisine, not all of which will bankrupt you: Noma has to be booked 6 months in advance and the tasting menu (of approximately 20 small plates) will set you back approximately £250. Needless to say I did not eat there; I just stood outside and yearned.
But I still ate well. Among places I visited I can recommend:
• Det Lille Apotek, at Store Kannikestraede 15, is Copenhagen’s oldest surviving restaurant. Founded in 1720, the restaurant – whose name means The Little Pharmacy – was frequented by Hans Christian Andersen of The Little Mermaid fame. It serves typical Danish cuisine, including pickled salmon, herring platter, pork stew and pork schnitzel.
• Frk Barners Kaelder, Helgolandsgade 8A, offers authentic Danish cooking from the mid-20th century. Once again – no surprise – there are plenty of herrings (served on rye bread topped with pork fat – delicious) but also other types of fish and meat dishes.
• Granola, at Værnedamsvej 5, was our favourite breakfast haunt though it also offers lunch and dinner. The Sweet breakfast plate – which includes skyr (Icelandic yoghurt), muesli, cinnamon bread and pancakes – is highly recommended.
• Brod, at Enghave Plads 7, is not somewhere you can eat, but a bakery (Brod means bread in Danish) which sells a huge range of fresh breads, plus rolls, buns and pastries.
After eating so well in Copenhagen, I was determined to try my hand at something Nordic in my kitchen, so I thought I would try to make a version of the cinnamon swirl that I had bought from Brod. It’s a long process, because it uses an enriched dough (a bread dough with added butter and eggs) which slows down the proving process. My dough took 2 hours to rise, and then the shaped swirls another hour, so you need to give yourself a good 4 hours to make them. But they’re definitely worth it.
DANISH CINNAMON SWIRLS
Ingredients (makes 12 buns)
For the dough:
500g strong white flour
7g instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
40g caster sugar
2 large eggs
60g butter, softened
For the filling:
80g butter, softened
120g soft light brown sugar
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
For the topping:
1 tablespoon soft light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl, then sprinkle the yeast and sugar on top.
Heat the milk very gently in a pan until it is tepid. Add the milk, eggs and butter to the dry ingredients and bring together. At this point you can leave the dough to rest for 15 minutes – to allow it to absorb some of the liquid and become less sticky – though this is not necessary.
Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes by hand (or 5-10 minutes in a mixer) until it is elastic and smooth. Set aside in a large, greased covered bowl to rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size. This will take anywhere between 1 and 2 hours.
When the dough has risen, empty it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Knock or press it back down and then roll out to make a rectangle of approximately 50 x 30 cm. Make sure the longer edge is facing you – ie. the longer edge should be the horizontal edge.
Beat together the butter, sugar and cinnamon for the filling, and spread it carefully over the dough rectangle, leaving a very thin (1/4”) margin all the way around.
Starting with the long edge that is closer to you, roll up the rectangle into a reasonably tight roll. When you’ve nearly finished rolling, dampen a finger (or a pastry brush) and use it to stick the remaining long edge to the work surface. That way, when the dough is rolled onto the final edge, it will stick to itself.
Trim a couple of centimetres off each end to straighten up the roll, and then divide the remaining roll into 12 equally sized slices.
Line a baking tray or roasting dish with baking paper, and then place the slices on it, cut sides facing up so that they are close to one another but not touching. Leave to prove for another 45-60 minutes until they are puffed up and just touching. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 180C, fan 160C, gas mark 4. When the swirls are ready to go in the oven, brush them with beaten egg and then sprinkle over the cinnamon and sugar mixed together. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Leave to cool before eating. If you cool them on a wire rack, keep them sitting on the baking paper so the gooey filling does not seep all over your kitchen surface (she says from past experience!).
You could try other variations on the fillings: I’m sure chunks of chocolate would work well, and Ruby Tandoh in Crumb (London, 2014) has a version with blueberries and pistachios which is delicious. You could also use other nuts and dried fruit, including chopped dried apricots.