Submitted by Redbeard
The spectacular kransekake, meaning "ring cake" or "wreath cake", is a distinctly Scandinavian beast rarely seen outside of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Norwegians in particular cultivate a deep pseudo-romantical relationship with this treat of almonds and sugar, and any great feast that is deprived of one just doesn't feel, well, quite the same.
It is cheap to make - eggs, almonds and powdered sugar - but rather difficult, not the least to do well, and as such, this recipe is best suited for cooks on an intermediate-to-advanced level. Therefore, if you haven't baked a lot of cakes before, chances are you're out of your league on this one. Sorry.
Total time required is about four hours, spread over two days, for a pair of nimble hands.
- A set of kransekake moulds. These can be bought online for a ridiculous amount of money. Go for the non-stick (or, more correctly, less-sticking) variety; you'll need all the anti-stickage you can get. Trust me on this.
- An almond grinder, or a similar tool which allows you to grate nuts finely and gently.
- A heavy-bottomed pot
- A stiff, heat resistant spatula (not rubber)
Ingredients (for a medium-sized kransekake of 18 rings)
For the kransekake paste/dough
- 500 grams almonds
- 500 grams powdered sugar
- 3 ea egg whites (medium-sized eggs)
- 10 drops almond essence
- 20 grams bitter almonds
Note: all the above can be substituted by buying pre-made kransekake paste. I don't believe what is called "almond paste" in English-speaking countries is a functional substitute, as it seemingly dispenses with the egg whites. Under any circumstance, I guarantee for the authentic consistency and flavour of the above recipe, provided the instructions are followed.
For the construction
- 100 grams plain dark chocolate
For the frosting
- 1 ea egg white
- 1 drop almond essence
- Powdered sugar quantum satis
- Party crackers, candy (Basset's Liquorice Allsorts is traditional), stupid little Norwegian flags on pins, whatever tacky stuff you can find. I'll use some flag-coloured bands because I hate little flags that you prick yourself on.
Note: the recipe calls for no flour at all, this is no coincidence. Numerous recipes abound on the Net for a dough-like kransekake paste using butter and flour in addition to sugar and almonds. However, this (original) version is, in the long run, just as easy to make. Forget the tempting prospect of spritzing the dough into the rings, the egg and butter dough is likely to be just as difficult to handle, and besides, kransekake paste made this way is smooth and easy to roll out.
Kransekake paste from scratch
- Put a kettle of water on the boil, three litres or so should suffice.
- Meanwhile, start grinding half the almonds finely. Do not use pressure on the nuts as you grind, as you'll run the risk of them rendering their oil.
- Set the ground almonds aside in a good-sized baking bowl. Don't worry if there's a few large bits that go through the grinder, they just add to the consistency. If you're using bitter almonds, grind these now as well.
- As soon as the water boils, empty the other half of the almonds into it.
Note: The reasons why we do this are twofold: first, we want a nice, tan-coloured kransekake paste, so we use half-half of blanched and plain almonds. Second, the heat treatment intensifies the flavour of the almonds, and they will absorb a little of the boiling water, lending moisture to the kransekake paste, which again makes for a more succulent kransekake. Note that we're not blanching the other half - this is because we also want some of the flavour in the skins.
- The water will turn red-brown - this is nothing out of the unusual.
- Once the almonds start floating to the surface, take them off the heat and leave them to soak for two or three minutes.
- Rinse them in a colander with cold water.
- The skins will have loosened from the flesh and can easily be pulled off. The easiest way to do this is to lightly pinch them at the end - careful, they can get quite a velocity when they shoot out.
- Once the almonds are de-skinned, put them on a clean towel and leave them to dry fifteen minutes under very slow heat in the oven, until the water on their surface has evaporated more or less. Do not let them roast.
- With the blanched almonds dried, proceed to grind these as well.
- Once they're all well ground, add the powdered sugar to the combined almond flour and mix thouroughly. Then, GRIND IT ALL ONE MORE TIME! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAAA! The reward for this Sisyphosian effort will be a smooth, sticky, delicious kransekake, so hang in there and get to the grinding.
- After you're done, pour the sugar/almond flour into a heavy-bottomed pot.
- Separate the three egg whites and pour into the pot, along with ten - one-zero - drops of almond essence if you didn't use bitter almonds. Count the drops carefully.
- Knead it all well into a sticky paste. Don't worry if it seems a little too moist, we're about to set that all right.
- Put the pot on slow heat.
- Knead the dough until it is almost too hot to touch, scraping the stuck dough from the bottom of the pot diligently with the (heat-resistant) spatula.
This takes a little while, and it's meant to. The point behind this is somewhat similar to why we knead bread dough; we want the protein fibres to string and become elastic, making the paste deliciously chewy when it's baked. Also, it makes the cake rings less brittle and thereby easier to take out of the moulds when they're done.
- Once the dough is sufficiently hot, put it back in the bowl and dust lightly with a thin layer of powdered sugar.
You'll notice it has become noticeably more elastic and stiff. Good job, now cover that bowl with cling film and put it in the fridge to rest for at least six or seven hours, preferrably overnight.
Baking the drat thing
Right, so you got the kransekake paste together. If you prod it, it'll feel stiff as stiff as a frozen moose, which is all good. If you want to chicken out now, you can roll this dough into cakes about as long and thick as your finger and bake in a medium-hot oven (180 degrees Centigrade) until very slightly brown. They'll taste great, but not as great as the sweetness of megalomaniacal success.
So - let's get this over with once and for all.
- First, melt a little butter slowly, and whip out a baking brush. Lightly coat the insides of the mould with a little butter. If you like, sprinkle with a little semolina to keep the rings from sticking.
- Once the moulds are greased and in place, bring out the kransekake paste and take one quarter or so out of it out of the bowl, leaving the rest under wrap to keep from drying out.
- On a clean, smooth surface, start rolling the dough. Do not use flour against sticking; if needed, you can use a little powdered sugar.
Note:If the dough cracks up while you roll, just squeeze it together and keep rolling. It's elastic and stiff, and quite easy to roll out.
You want to end up with a sausage of kransekake paste about 11 mm / 0.45" in diameter (if you have a .45, use a bullet as a gauge if you like. It's not really necessary, but it's cool.)
- Fit a length of the kransekake paste sausage into a mould.
Note: Don't overfill the mould; let the dough rolls rest well in the middle of each track. The ends are easily spliced with a little nimble fingerwork; don't worry if it isn't all smooth all the way round. The frosting and general awesomeness of the finished product will easily make such small cosmetic concerns vanish.
This is a test ring I made. The paste is rolled too thickly, and I forgot to grease the mould. It got stuck like a Volvo in a tub of butter, but it tasted great.
These look better. Notice how smooth the surface of the sausages are, this makes for a prettier kransekake.
- Continue rolling out and baking kransekake rings until you're out of dough or moulds, whichever comes first.
Note: This recipe will give exactly eighteen rings if you roll the rings out to the right thickness. I rolled out a few a little too thickly, so I'll have to make do with sixteen. Notice how I skip mould tracks to make the rings gradually wider.
- Bake at slow heat - at most 180 degrees Centigrade - in the middle of the oven.
Guard the rings like a hawk while they bake; if they are overdone, the result will inevitably be a dry and sad kransekake. Their colour should only be a light tan; if you are in doubt, take them out of the oven. They will rise to about double their volume; if you've rolled the sausages to the right width, they should not touch after rising.
- Set the rings to cool in a drafty place for a little while.
Do not take the rings out of the moulds at this stage.
- After they have cooled, cover them with plastic and put them in the fridge for a while, to let them set.
Leave them for at least five or six hours, or rather overnight if you can.
Note:if you have kids in the house, now would be a great time to throw them out for a couple of hours.
- Carefully try to pry the rings out one by one using a knitting pin, a knife, or similar.
Note: If you feel they are resisting - Stop, Look and Listen. Think hard about what you're doing; the rings are quite fragile and easy to break (I broke one). The best trick in case of stuck rings is to freeze the entire mould - the rings won't so easily be mushed, but at the same time, they become more brittle (that's how I did it). Just be patient, and let your inner engineer out, and you'll be fine.
Once the rings are (more or less) safe and sound out of their moulds, we can start with the funny bit.
- Mix the egg white with one - 1 - almond essence drop in a little bowl.
- Add powdered sugar, six or seven heaped tablespoons at the least, and stir, adding more powdered sugar as necessary until you have a stiff and elastic frosting.
Note: When it's done, you should be able to dip the spoon into it and write your name in the frosting with what drips off the tip of the spoon, much like the shamrock barmen like to draw into the foam of a pint of Guinness.
- With the frosting good and stiff, spoon it into a plastic bag and snip a tiny hole in a corner.
Note:Pushing the frosting through the hole should leave a strip no bigger than a millimeter or so.
- Melt the crushed chocolate, and make a plastic bag for it likewise.
- Put something pretty on a cake platter, and place the biggest ring on it.
If you are unsure as to which is what, you would be well served to stack them loosely to check first.
- Take a deep breath.
- Next, draw a pretty wave pattern along the ring with the frosting.
Go slowly, take your time, and remember to use your wrist. It's not really that difficult, and you will quickly get the hang of it.
- A little inside the top of the ring, draw a couple of circles with chocolate.
Note: The chocolate is meant to be a cement between the rings, however, most Norwegian recipes call for caramel at this stage. Since I despise the taste of burnt sugar, and find that chocolate does an equally proficient and much more tasty job, I prefer to use that. Also, not having to risk burning your fingers off on napalm-hot caramel adds to its appeal.
- Proceed in the same manner, working leisurely at a calm pace, with the remaining rings, stacking and frosting them, and gluing them together with chocolate.
Note:'Make sure that the rings are stacked as concentrically and evenly as possible. If any of the rings are broken, like I did, use a little chocolate as plaster and assemble the ring in parts. No-one will notice.
At this stage, your heart starts racing as you realize what a magnificent creation you are about to unleash upon the world.
And then, before it even began, you're done. All that remains is the leave it to set in a cool, drafty place for a couple of hours, before we dress it up.
Usually, kransekake is decorated with little Norwegian flags on pins. However, I think this is tacky, so instead, I opted for tying a red-white-and-blue ribbon around it. Also, party crackers are called for. Usually, liquorice candy will be glued onto the cake with frosting or (shudder) caramel, but I chose not too, preferring to let the pretty, tan cake speak for itself. I think it looked the better for it, choosing instead to scatter the candy around it. I also stuffed chocolates down the funnel at the top as a surprise.
And there we are!