When the snow is here, even the sea is silent and the boats sleep together, nice and warm, at the marina.
One thing I have learnt about coming to Norway is that bread and cakes turn out much better when you do as the Norwegians do. I’ve tried many times to bake my Australian bread recipes and for some reason they never quite turn out the way they should. I don’t really know the reason why – it could be the weather, the fact that they use sugarbeet instead of sugarcane here, or maybe it’s some kind of magnetic shift with being so close to the North Pole, and all? Whatever it is, when I bake Norwegian bread with Norwegian recipes, it turns out perfectly. Go figure?
I baked the traditional Norwegian Julebrød for the first time this Christmas, using the Julebrød recipe from the Christmas pages, and I must admit, I am very pleased with how it turned out.
The Christmas Star flower, more commonly called poinsettia, is found in nearly every Norwegian home during Christmas. Its star-shaped petals and deep red colour make it a popular holiday decoration. It also thrives in low-light conditions, making it ideal for Norwegian winters.
The tradition of using this flower at Christmas actually originated in Mexico in the 16th century. The legend says that a little girl, too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday, picked weeds from the roadside and placed them in front of the church altar. To everyone’s amazement, beautiful crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias. Later, Franciscan monks in Mexico started including the flower in their Christmas celebrations.
Just like the Gulf Stream that travels from Mexico to warm up the waters and land in Norway, the Christmas Star is treasured as it brightens up the homes of Norwegians during the dark Winters.
Pepperkaker (gingerbread) makes an excellent decoration for the house at Christmas time. We make lots of different types of pepperkaker – some for hanging on the Christmas tree, some for hanging in the windows, some to give away when we go carolling and others sit on the table for grazing.
One of my favourite activities at Christmas is decorating the pepperkaker. The whole family sits around the kitchen table to talk and laugh, while we get creative. We always need twice as much pepperkaker as a lot of it ends up in our tummys.
Hanging Your Pepperkaker
If you want to hang your pepperkaker on a tree or in the window make sure you create a hole in the dough before cooking – and not too close to the edge. For small Christmas tree decorations we use an empty pen cylinder. For larger decorations, a bigger hole is needed. A soda bottle cap is good to use for larger shapes (the hole will usually close over a little during cooking so it is better to make it slightly bigger, just in case).
We use curling ribbon to hang the smaller decorations but usually a thicker width material is needed for the large decorations so it doen’t cut through the pepperkaker.
Even if you don’t plan to hang your pepperkaker, a hole will enable you to tie ribbons and bows around it for decoration too.
How to Make Glaze Icing
To make the glaze icing all you need is some icing sugar, water and colouring (you can also use cocoa powder for a brown colour, if you like). In a bowl heap in a cup of icing sugar then mix in a little bit of water at a time until you have a smooth, thick, silky texture. The icing must glide off the spoon and ribbon in the bowl. Too wet and the icing won’t harden and can smudge off.
To colour the icing just add a couple of drops of liquid colouring. The colouring might thin your icing a little so add a tad more icing sugar, if needed. If you are using cocoa powder, just add enough for the colour you want. You will most likely need to add a little more water too. Some people use a little bit of milk instead of water to make a more creamy texture.
How to Decorate
Spoon the icing into the corner of a freezer bag. Snip a little off the corner of the bag to create the thickness and stream you want. The more you snip off the quicker and thicker the stream will be. For best results you want your stream as small as possible so you have more control.
Just squeeze the icing straight onto the peppercaker, making patterns, writing words “God jul” or use as a glue to stick sugar lollies on such as sprinkles, jellies, or even thin shapes of coloured marsipan. We also use smarties, silver balls and a special food paint to colour winter landscapes on the marsipan.
No need to wrap the pepperkaker in anything like plastic as it is meant to sit open in the atmosphere. Pepperkaker lasts the whole season. In fact, when we were decorating the Christmas tree today, Farmor pulled out the old pepperkaker that we made last year! We are not going to eat it though…lol.
Usually on the last day of Christmas, (13th January) when ‘God jul’ is said for the last time, the decorations are put away and the trees are burning in the fireplace, the pepperkaker is taken down for eating. If you are lucky, you might have a handful left, but I wouldn’t count on it!