Christmas Stars

Christmas Stars, or julestjerner in Norwegian, are one of the many seven sorts Christmas cookies. It is essentially a butter biscuit or shortbread. It is custom to decorate with chopped almonds.

250 grams of sugar
2 eggs
375 grams of butter
650g of plain flour
1 teaspoon of hornsalt*

topping
1 egg
chopped almonds

Half the sugar into two portions. Beat the two eggs with one of the sugar portions until the colour has whitened. Add in the butter and the rest of the sugar and beat until whitened again. Put in the flour and hornsalt and mix until a good dough forms.

Roll out the dough thin and use star cookie cutters to cut out the dough.  Put on a baking paper on a baking tray.

Beat egg and brush on a little over each cut dough shape. Sprinkle on the chopped almonds. The egg will help the nuts stick on the cookie.

Bake in the oven at 175 degree celsius for about 9 to 10 minutes or until lightly golden.

Serve on a platter with other seven sorts cookies or with coffee.

*Hornsalt is also called hartshorn salt. It is a raising agent that was especially used in early Norwegian cooking.

Darkness

Even though I have lived in Norway for over five years now, I still can not get used to the dark season.  I live in the Arctic North where we don’t see the sun for two whole months over Christmas.  There is light during the day, but only a sleepy blue light that mimics dusk for an hour or so.  The rest of the day is spent in darkness.

The snow does make the landscape a little brighter in the darkness and snow clouds help as well, but when the sky is clear, darkness consumes everything.  It is the perfect time to see the Northern Lights, if they decide to make an appearance and there are not as many stars shining back at us this far north it seems.

In the darkness everything is smaller and closer.  We are trapped by the boundaries of our lights.  In the house the family is fluttering around the lamps like moths.  People outside walk along the street lit paths and welcome candles invite them into stores and restaurants.  The darkness limits direction and speed.  It closes the world in.

At times it is suffocating.  You become claustrophobic.  Your body screams for freedom.  Your mind wants the weight lifted off.  The burden is heavy and then you realize you have another month and a half to go before you see the sun again.  You begin to mourn the sun.  You force yourself to get outside because you know it is good for you but all you want to do is curl up in bed and just lie there until the sun returns.  You remember the happiness when the sun was with you 24 hours of the day and you don’t know how you can wait so long to feel that happiness again.

Sighs become deeper, pauses become longer and pretty soon your mind doesn’t want to do anything.  Your body just wants to lie, your mind just wants to be entertained by flashy colours and melodic sound from the TV.  This is the time when you think ‘I don’t know how much more I can live like this’.  You have to remind yourself of the beauty, the significance, the amazingness of living where you live.  That, for the time being, carries you but it won’t be long before you start second guessing your Arctic choice.

Every year I go into the dark season with the idea that I will beat it, but every year I am at its mercy.  The Christmas season is coming and the first celebrations are in full swing.  It is no wonder that the traditions of Advent, St Lucia, Christmas Eve, Julebukk and New Years are still around today – they bring light into the night and the spirit of goodwill which chases away the darkness.

Gledelig jul! and may this Christmas season bring you light.

Lighting of the Christmas Tree in Alta

The lighting of the Christmas tree in the city is a tradition all over Norway.  The community gathers to sing songs, dance around the Christmas tree and see julenisse (Santa Claus) for the first time in the season.

Not all Lighting of the Christmas Tree events around Norway are the same.  Some light the city decorations at the same time, some don’t.  Some have a big stage and concert, some don’t.  Some have their own city Christmas song, and some don’t.  And some have such big trees they have to be flown in by helicopter, and some don’t.

This was our first Lighting of the Christmas Tree in Alta.  It wasn’t as grand as the ones we have been to in Tromsø, but it was perfect for Alta.

The history of a city has a lot to do with how events are celebrated.  For instance, Alta developed with two main communities either side of Komsa mountain.  Because of this there are two shopping districts and two close-nit communities even though the city has now grown into one big whole.  Every year at Advent, the people in Bossekop gather for the Bossekop Lighting of the Christmas tree  and the people in Elvebakken gather for the Elvebakken event.  Over the last ten years the city centre, which is in between Bossekop and Elvebakken, has surpassed the development of the other two shopping districts, but as yet, it hasn’t brought the people together in one place for the Lighting of the Christmas Tree celebration.  Old traditions die hard but I wonder if there will be a time when the city will one day meet in one place for this event.

We visited the city centre for the Lighting of the Christmas Tree.  There were a good handful of people, considering how cold it was.  With a short countdown the lights were turned on the tree, and around the city, followed by silent claps from the modest crowd.  (It is hard to make a noise clapping when you have two pairs of woolen gloves on.)  We then walked around the Christmas tree singing Norwegian Christmas songs.  No dancing or holding hands together this time – the weather lately has made one big iceskating rink, a little too slippery for dancing.

It is amazing how many people you bump into at events like this.  I managed to meet a fellow Aussie in one of the coldest places on earth.

After some pepperkaker and gløgg to warm up our bellies, julenisse and his helpers came to give out treats – clementines, raisins and chocolates.

The event was short and sweet which was perfect.  It was minus 15 degrees celsius outside!  After collecting our goodies, like everyone else, we made a dash for the shopping centre to warm up.

Alta is now officially prepped, lit and ready for the Christmas season.  God jul!

Krumkaker

Krumkaker are one of the Norwegian Seven Sorts cookies.  They are essentially a light sugary waffle rolled on a stick to create a cone.  They can be eaten on their own or filled with cream, sour cream, jam and berries.

Krumkaker irons have different traditional patterns that mold onto the cooking waffle.  The pattern from our waffle iron is from Osterdal, Eastern Norway.  It is most common now to use an electric iron, however, in the older days people used wood fire irons similar to camping irons.

There are many different recipies form all over Norway.  Some are thicker with cream and others have cardamom and other Christmas spices.  Our recipe is plain and simple and tastes great.

Traditionally the krumkaker was rolled on a stick but now we have a special rolling cone to help the method.  Nowadays it is also popular to make krumkaker into a cup form which is then filled with cream or ice cream and toppings.

Ingredients:
2 eggs
125g of sugar
125g of melted butter
150g of plain flour

Method:
Whisk egg and sugar together until light.  Pour in cooled melted butter and mix.  Sift in the flour and gently fold into the mixture.  Let stand for about 30 minutes.  The batter should seem a little thick but oily.

Warm the iron.  Grease the iron with a little spray oil.  Put a small spoon of batter into the middle of the iron and squeeze shut.   This will flatten the batter for cooking.  You want the dough to become very thin and spread to the edges to cook through.  Cook until golden.

We found that it was better to re-oil between each turn.

When golden, lift the krumkake out of the iron and roll while hot.  It will only take a few seconds for the form to set as it slightly cools.  Watch your fingers as it can be a little warm to the touch.  Some krumkake sticks have a clip so it can hold fast onto one edge as you roll without toasting your fingers.

It is usual to put out the krumkaker on a sweets platter with other Seven Sorts for snacks or after dinner treats.

Molding Krumkaker
We wanted to try forming our krumkaker into a cup for dessert.  It was surprisingly easy.

To make a mold some people lay the krumkaker over the bottom of a glass but we found it better to drop the cake into a decorative ceramic pie form.  This star shape is meant for nuts and goodies but it makes a perfect mold for krumkaker.  When the krumkaker hardens after a few seconds tip it out – no greasing necessary.

For krumkaker basically any filling goes.  It is common to have a creamy texture, like whipped cream, topped with a tangy fruit mixture such as cloudberries.  Below are some of our favourites:

Whipped cream with slightly crushed fresh raspberries.

Whipped cream with a hint of almond essence, topped with shaved almonds and drizzled with maple syrup.

Vanilla whipped cream with a crushed berry mix.  We defrosted some frozen berries from a smoothie mix bag to room temperature.  The berries become soft with a rich flavour and provide their own lovely sauce.

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