Cold Oven Grøt

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The Norwegian grøt that our family enjoys eating needs a lot of loving to make it come out all creamy.  This is because we carefully make sure each grain has soaked up all the milk it can without burning any on the bottom.  It is similar to making risotto where your labour of love makes the flavour that much better.  However, sometimes there just isn’t enough time in a day to stir grain around a pot for an hour or so.  Hence, risengrynsgrøt kokt i kald ovn or cold oven grøt.

This grøt is first prepared on the stove and then left in a cold oven to do the work on its own.  As the recipe uses some water instead of all milk, we find the creamy flavour isn’t as strong as our regular risgrøt, but the texture turns out wonderfully soft and delicate.

3.5 dl of grøt/pudding rice
8 dl of water
1.5 L of whole milk
1 teasp. of salt
Vanilla essence for flavour

Mix the rice and water in a non-stick pot on the stove.  Bring to boil and then simmer for about 20mins, stirring a little now and then to make sure the rice stays separated.  Warm the milk and mix into the rice and water.  Cover with the lid and let cook for about 1 minute, but don’t let it over boil or burn on the bottom.  (However, if some does burn or some sticks to the bottom of the pot, don’t scrap it off.  Let it stay there because otherwise the burnt stuff will flavour the rice and you don’t want that.  And, don’t worry if some does get stuck on the bottom – that is absolutely normal!)   Don’t take the lid off, but put the pot with lid into a cold oven.  Leave for about 3-4 hours, or more.  Warm the grøt before serving.  Add salt and vanilla to taste.

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Serve with sugar and powdered cinnamon, almonds, raisins, clementines, stewed apples or just a nob of butter.

We served ours with a mix-in of dark chocolate and raisins, and a topping of sugar and cinnamon.

The pot is easy to clean afterwards (even if you have lightly burnt the bottom).  Just let it sit overnight or until cooled and then you can easily peel off the layer.

cold-oven-grot-cleaning

Julebukk

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Julebukk has a long tradition in Norway and even though its form and meaning has changed over time, the symbol of julebukk remains to this day – bringing the community together at Christmas.

In old Norse tradition the julebukk (yule goat) was originally the goat that was slaughtered during romjul, the time between Christmas and New Years.

The julebukk became the symbol of the pagan julebukk ritual.  It was a spiritual being that dwelled in the house during Christmas, overlooking the preparations and celebrations.  It later became personified and during the darkest nights of the year, a man or men from the community dressed in a goat mask and fur cape to represent the ghosts of winter night.  They travelled from door-to-door receiving gifts from the towns folk to thank them for protection and keeping the winter ghosts at bay.  They also gave warnings, especially to children, to be nice.

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When Christianity appeared the pagan rituals of julebukk were replaced by the children’s activity, also called, julebukk, which is very similar to Halloween.  Children walked from house-to-house singing carols at the doorsteps of friends and neighbours.  They wore costumes, particularly masks to hide their identity, and often gave gifts as well as receiving them.  Afterwards the tradition progressed onto serving the poor children in the community.  They dressed in costumes and visited the wealthy, singing carols and receiving food or money, so they could also have a happy Christmas.

Some of the elements of today’s Santa Claus seem to come from the traditions of the julebukk such as giving presents, receiving sweet treats, picking out who is naughty and nice and, of course, magic.

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Today in Norway:

The figure of the julebukk is used as a Christmas ornament.  It is often made out of straw with braided horns and a red ribbon around its neck.  Julebukk straw figures are usually placed under the Christmas tree.  A popular prank is to smuggle the julebukk into the house of a friend or neighbour and place it somewhere to surprise.  Once found, the neighbour must do the same to the next family;  and so the julebukk travels from house to house.

In some places in Norway children still dress up and travel door to door singing, but often they are the ones who give out gifts and sweets.  Their costumes are usually made of old woolen clothes, likely to symbolize the charitable giving to the poor children in the nordmenn times.

In the west of Norway, it is popular in some small communities for adults to dress up, go door to door and drink to Christmas.  The masked julebukk tell funny stories about themselves and the hosts must try to guess who they are.  When a julebukk is correctly identified they must take their mask off.

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A few facts about julebukk:

It is thought outside of Norway that the activity of going from door to door is called ‘julebukking’, however, in Norway it is called gå julebukk, ‘to go julebukk’.
The treats or sweets given/taken are not lollies and sugary things but baked goods, clementines and nuts.  In older times it was usual to share leftovers of Christmas dinner.
You ‘go julebukk’ in old clothes, not expensive costumes and party attire.  Christmas in Norway is a time of decadence, however, the julebukk is a charitable act of visiting, giving, singing and being thoughtful of each other.

Sadly, julebukk is slowly fading away because this community tradition is not suited to big city environments.  Parents and small children feel more confident going to places where they know the people and in big cities it is less common for neighbours to know each other.  The tradition is more common in smaller communities where friends and family live close together, and where communities still socialize with each other.

Seven Sorts – Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies

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Seven Sorts refers to the seven traditional Norwegian Christmas cakes and cookies. However, there is a dispute about which seven are the original. There are actually over twenty to choose from. Below are a few of the most popular Seven Sorts:

seven-sorts-pepperkaker

Pepperkaker (gingerbread)
Gingerbread is a cookie made of dried ginger, syrup and spice. The cookies are often decorated with icing and candy. In Norway it is used to make gingerbread houses and Christmas Tree decorations and there is great debate whether pepperkaker should be added to the seven sorts list.
Pepperkaker Recipe

Ingefærnøtter / peppernøtter (Ginger nuts)
This cookie is similar to a gingerbread dough. They are shaped into little balls and baked until hard – just like nuts.  These are very easy to make but do need time to sit.
Ingefærnøtter recipe

seven-sorts-ginger-nuts

Fattigmann (Poor Man)
These cookies are made with cream, about eight egg yolks and brandy, rolled and then deep fried.  It certainly doesn’t live up to its name.  This cookie is an old recipe that dates back more than 100 years.
Fattigmann Recipe

Krumkaker (Curved Cake)
This is a waffle cookie, cooked in a special griddle and then rolled into a cone shape. They are normally filled with whipped cream. These waffle cookies are nearly the same as waffle cones for ice cream – just smaller and more delicate.

Krumkaker Receipe 1

Krumkaker Recipe 2

seven-sorts-krumkaker

Kokosmakroner (Coconut Macaroons)
These meringue and coconut cookies, which are usually chewy when fresh, are the easiest of the seven sorts to make.
Kokosmakroner Recipe

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Goro (Well off)
These cookies are similar to the Fattigmann cookies but are cooked in a special griddle with a floral stamp. The cookies turn out rectangular and very flat with the floral design cooked into them.
Goro Recipe

Brune pinner (Brown Sticks)
This cookie is cooked as a flat log and then cut into fingers just out of the oven.

200g butter, 200g sugar, 1 egg yolk, 1 tbs light syrup, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp vanilla sugar or a couple of drops of vanilla essence, 300g plain flour.
Topping: egg, pearl sugar, chopped almonds.

Method: oven 175ºC.  Beat butter and sugar.  Blend in the rest of the ingredients.  Knead and split into 4 logs.  Flatten the logs on a baking tray covered with baking paper.  Beat egg and brush on top of logs.  Sprinkle sugar and almonds.  Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden.  Slice into fingers while warm.

seven-sorts-brune-pinner

Tykklefser (Thick flat soft-bread)
This is a very soft cake, more like a pancake, made with sour milk and can be cooked in the oven rather than a hot plate like thin lefse. It is normally made into a sandwich filled with butter, sugar and cinnamon.
Tykklefser Recipe

Hjortetakk (Deer Antlers)
Similar to lefser, Deer Antlers is named after the raising agent hartshorn salt, also called ammonium bicarbonate. It does make the kitchen smell of ammonia while they bake but the cookies turn out delicious.
Hjortetakk Recipe

Serinakaker
A very simple cookie; this one isn’t on everyones list of seven sorts.  It is usually topped with chopped almonds.

150g butter, 250g plain flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp vanilla sugar or a couple of drops of vanilla essence, 100g sugar, 1 egg
Topping: beaten egg, chopped almonds and pearl sugar

Oven 175ºC.  Rub butter into flour, baking powder and vanilla.  Add sugar and beaten egg.  Work the dough together into a sausage.  Cut into equal portions and roll into little balls.  Place balls on an oven tray with baking paper.  Press a little, brush with egg and sprinkle on almonds and sugar.  Bake for 12 minutes or until golden.

seven-sorts-serinakaker

Sandkake (Sand Cakes)
Sand cakes are a simple short cake that is baked in little cup molds. They are sometimes filled with jam, jelly or fruit and cream.
Sandkake Recipe

seven-sorts-sandkaker

Sirupsnipper (Syrup Snaps)
These are similar to gingerbread but with more sugar to make them sweeter and very crunchy. The are dimond shaped and usually decorated with a peeled almond.
Sirupsnipper Recipe

seven-sorts-sirupsnipper

Julestjerner (Christmas Stars)
Christmas Stars are a traditional shortbread cookie.  They are cut into stars and it is custom to decorate them with chopped almonds.  Julestjerner are very similar to Serinakaker.

Christmas Stars recipe

Christmas-stars-1

Berlinerkranser (Berlin Rings)
A shortbread that uses a cooked egg yolk to thicken the dough.

2 hard boiled egg yolks, 2 raw egg yolks, 125g sugar, 300g flour, 250g butter
Topping: egg white and pearl sugar

Oven 175.  Mix hard boiled and raw egg yolks together.  Add sugar, beat well.  Add flour and soft butter, alternating.  Leave to cool for a few hours.  Roll into thin 5 inch long sausages and form into rings, crossing the ends.  Brush with egg white and sprinkle over pearl sugar.  Bake for 10 minutes or until golden.

Kransekaker (Circle Cake)
Kransekaker is a ring cake made with alomonds, powdered sugar and egg whites.  It is decorated with a zig-zag of icing to keep the layers fixed.  As a seven sort it is made into fingers.  Usually left plain, kransefingers can be decorated on the end with chocolate and sprinkles.

Kransekaker fingers

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kranse-kaker-stick-plater

It is common to serve seven sorts on a tier tray in the middle of the table during festivities at Christmas.  They are used to accompany coffee or as a daily nibble.  Many of the cookies such as pepperkaker, peppernøtter, macaroons and kransefinger can sit out for several days.

seven-sorts-tray

It is fun to have a good selection of seven sorts but making seven batches means a lot of time and a lot of cookies.  What we do is set aside two hours of ‘make and bake’ time as a family activity.  We only make 1/4 recipes.  It means we make only six to eight cookies of each variety (instead of the standard 24).  Many of the recipes use the same ingredients so if you plan it well you can share almonds, eggs, yolks and cream.  The order that works best for us is:

We make sirupsnipper, ingefærnøtter, sandkaker and serinakaker and put them outside in the snow to cool.  Recipes say leave over night but we find that isn’t necessary.  They are out in the cold until we are finished cooking the other cookies first.  If you don’t have an Arctic winter outside then the fridge is perfectly fine too (we just find we never have room in the fridge this time of year!)  Next, we make the krumkaker and berlinerkranser because they need to rest for 30 minutes to thicken.  Then we make brune pinner and the easiest, macaroons.  After, the cooled doughs are rolled and baked.  We call these our seven sorts of eight!

That doesn’t mean we miss out on the other seven sorts – usually we have already made pepperkaker by the first Sunday of Advent for our Christmas tree decorations, so there is no need to bake more here.  And kransekaker is such an everyday cookie/cake that it is easier to buy the ready-made dough, roll and bake.  Goro wouldn’t be the same without the iconic print, and since we don’t have the special griddle, we don’t bother as the dough/flavour is very similar to krumkaker anyway.  Later on in the season we may make smultringer and hjortetakk together as they need frying.  The one we would normally skip is fattigmann because that needs 8 egg yolks and cognac!

One thing that you may have noticed about the seven sorts is that there is no chocolate.  The light cookies are the short breads and the dark cookies are the ginger breads.  Chocolate is not a traditional Norwegian ingredient or treat at Christmas.  It is a modern addition but has not moved into the seven sorts arena.

There are also several cakes and treats that have become Christmas usuals in Norway, and we will certainly be making them too!

Nisse Season: Picking the Fjøsnisse from the Julenisse

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Nisser are everywhere!  Little men or women that hide in your barn, looking after the animals and the farm; playing tricks on you if you don’t look after them properly, like giving them a bowl of grøt and a beer for Christmas.

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Nisser are the traditional Norwegian Christmas elves that extend back to the nordmenn times, so instead of one jolly old fellow, there can be a whole barn full of little elves – men, women, children, aunties, uncles…

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They are called Fjøsnisse, literally meaning barn elf, (nisse for short), and are little magical creatures that hide out in the barn using their powers for good or bad, which depends of the care you give them.  They are seen as tricksters; so if your axe is not where you left it or the tractor has been moved to another field without your knowledge, it must have been the barn elves.

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They shouldn’t be confused with Julenisse, which is the modern-day Santa Claus – the guy that now drops off presents to children in his sleigh.  The traditions don’t cross in Norway, however, Julenisse and fjøsnisse are beginning to look a lot like each other through cross-dressing the traditions.

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The usual way to tell them apart in the stores is by their clothes.  Norwegian nisser use traditional sweaters with knitted designs, or perhaps fur, and grey is the prominent colour.  Sometimes nisser have a red cloak but if the pants are grey or brown, you’d think it is meant to be a barn elf.

These are definitely julenisser:

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However, it seems that julenisse is starting to steal fjøsnisse’s style and colour, as Norwegians prefer natural fibers and designs.  Julenisse is beginning to drop it’s all red suit and go for grey, fur and Norwegian patterns instead.  So to tell them apart we need to look at his accessories; if he is carrying a sack full of toys or wearing glasses it is likely he is meant to be a julsnisse.  With a walking stick, skis or a traditional sled, it is likely a fjøsnisse.

Definitely a fjøsnisse:

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Norway used to be a place where most people lived on farms but now, as the population moves into modern living, the barn elf tradition is slipping away.  It is sad to lose traditions, but when farms and barns are not a part of everyday living anymore, it is also natural.  Traditions change, just like language and ideas.  However, even though the American idea of Santa Claus is becoming the norm in Norway, Norwegians are making the jolly old fellow their own by taking away his unnatural red clothes and flying sled with reindeer (as Norwegian know that reindeer shouldn’t fly) and giving him a natural, earthy makeover, with skis and a sack full of clementines and raisins to give out to children.  Julenisse doesn’t slide down the chimney when everyone is asleep, he knocks on the front door to visit with the family and hands out presents in person so the children can say thank you, usually with a Christmas song.  He might stay for grøt or a game, but he is quickly off to visit the neighbours.  You just might say, Norway is reinventing Santa Claus!

Link:

Decorative Christmas Elves

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