anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Archive for the ‘Scandinavian’ Category

Silltårta // Pickled Herring Cake

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I was in Sweden celebrating midsummer a few years ago, and someone brought a pickled herring cake to the dinner. Beautifully decorated and pairing all of my favorite midsummer flavors in one dish, it was an instant favorite. Ever since, I’ve been making my own to add to the midsummer dinner spread.

If you’re a little weirded out by the idea of a herring cake, think of it more like a glorified open-faced sandwich. The bottom is a layer of sweet, dense rye bread which is then topped with herring, chives and eggs. Traditionally, the herring is mixed together with sour cream and cream cheese or quark, and then gelatin is used to firm it up. I never have any of the above on hand in my kitchen, so my twist is to use yogurt, straining it first to thicken it and make a kind of labneh, that is then mixed in with the herring.

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Written by Anna Brones

June 20, 2019 at 09:25

Swedish Semlor

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Semlor, the treat you need for a Fat Tuesday fika.

Semloryeasted buns filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream, also called fastlagsbullar or fettisbullar—are a Swedish treat for Fat Tuesday.

The tradition dates back centuries, and the first documentation of this style of pastry dates back to 1250, when it was featured in a painting. In the early days, semla did not include whipped cream or almond paste, but was simply a bun served in a bowl of hot milk, called hetvägg. On the evening of Fat Tuesday in 1771, King Adolf Frederick enjoyed a banquet of lobster and Champagne, and rounded things off with 14 hetvägg. Things didn’t end well—he died that night of indigestion.

Obviously we can all consume a more lagom amount of the culinary indulgence, and they are perfect to pair with a cup of coffee or a mug of tea, so get a batch of these going today and enjoy the lovely cardamom smell that will fill the kitchen. Johanna Kindvall and I featured this recipe in our book Fika: the Art of the Swedish Coffee Break (signed copies here!) and I figured I would share it here today so that you could partake in this wonderful custom.

Semlor
recipe from Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break

makes: about 12 to 16 buns

buns
7 tablespoons (3.5 ounces, 100 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (240 milliliters) milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 eggs
1/4 cup (1.75 ounces, 50 grams) sugar
3 1/2 cups (1 1/8 pounds, 495 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 teaspoons whole cardamom seeds, crushed

filling
2 cups (10 ounces, 285 grams) blanched almonds
1/4 cup (1.75 ounces, 50 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 to 1 cup (120 to 240 milliliters) milk

to finish
½ to 1 cup (120 to 240 milliliters) heavy whipped cream
powdered sugar

In a saucepan, melt the butter, then stir in the milk. Heat until warm to the touch (about 110ºF/43°C). In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 2 to 3 tablespoons of the warm liquid. Stir and let sit for a few minutes until bubbles form on top.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1 of the eggs with the sugar. Pour in the remaining butter and milk mixture, along with the yeast. Stir until well blended.

Mix in the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom. Work the dough until well combined. Transfer dough to a lightly floured flat surface, and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 3 to 5 minutes. The dough should feel a little wet but if it sticks to your fingers and the countertop, add a little flour. Place dough in a bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and let rise at room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Grease a baking sheet or line with a silicone baking mat. On a flat surface, divide dough into 12 to 16 equal pieces and roll into balls. Place them with 2 inches (5 cm) between each bun. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes. (To test when they are ready to bake, poke your finger gently into one of the buns; the indent should slowly spring back, about 3 seconds).

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

When you are ready to bake, beat the last egg with a fork and brush the top of each bun. Bake 10 to 15 minutes until the tops are golden brown. Remove the buns from the oven and transfer to the counter. Cover with a tea towel and let cool completely.

To make the almond paste, in a food processor grind the almonds until finely ground. Add in the sugar and almond extract and pulse until mixture sticks together. (You can also buy almond paste if you can find it at a specialty store.)

Cut a circular “lid” off the top of each bun and set aside. Cut a circle along the inside of each bun, leaving about 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) for a border, being careful not to cut all the way to the bottom. Scoop out the cut portion and place in a bowl along with the almond paste. Mix together together and add enough milk to make a filling that’s thick and smooth filling.

Fill each bun with the filling then top with whipped cream. Gently place the “lid” on top and dust with powdered sugar.

Brew some coffee and serve immediately.

Note: Semlor doesn’t store well, so if you are not planning to eat them all in one go, I suggest you only prepare as many as you need. Freeze the rest of the buns as soon they are cool.

Written by Anna Brones

March 5, 2019 at 08:17

24 Days of Making, Doing and Being: Digital Advent Calendar 2018

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I’m not sure where the idea originally came from, but sometime towards the end of November last year I decided to take inspiration from my childhood advent calendar and make a digital one. The goal was to offer a daily prompt or short essay themed around the topics of Making, Doing and Being. The challenge was to create a little space for slowing down, consuming less, and being more present during the holiday season.

Swedish Christmas always involves advent calendars, whether they are in paper form or something larger. The tradition of printed advent calendars dates back to the early 1900s in Germany. Growing up, I had a particularly special advent calendar, one that my mother had woven, filled with 24 pockets, each to hold a small note. It hung outside my bedroom door and every night, she or my father would write a note for the following day and slide it in. When I woke up, it was the first thing that I checked.

Sometimes the notes would be about a holiday task to do that day, like baking cookies or decorating the tree. Other times it was just a prompt for taking a little extra time to make an ordinary activity a bit more magic, like listening to music or reading a book. It made all of December – not just Christmas – special.

This can be a difficult time of year for many reasons. Family relations can be strained, social expectations can be crippling, stress levels run high and money might be tight. At the same time, there is also so much potential for magic and wonder. But we have to actively create it, and we have to show up for it.

December means the arrival of the solstice, and in the Northern Hemisphere, winter begins. Perhaps just like we’ve lost the meaning of the holidays—trading experiences and togetherness for mass consumption—we’ve also lost the winter way of being. We have forgotten how to slow down, how to hibernate. Instead we sprint as fast as we can to the “big day” and then count down the days to the New Year when we can give ourselves the gift of a blank slate.

Think of all the advertising and marketing that happens at this time of year; so much of it is focused on selling a cozy, slow image. Why? Because that’s exactly what we’re craving. Here’s the secret to that kind of living: you can’t buy your way to that feeling, you have to create it yourself.

The goal with this advent calendar is to do just that; create a little magic every day during the month of December, so that’s it’s not just a countdown but an everyday celebration. It’s a focus on slowing down, finding balance and contentedness. The calendar is created as an antidote to the consumer frenzy that has come to define this month, a challenge to ground yourself wherever you are and reconnect with both yourself and the people around you.

Of course, the joke in my family all of last December was that while I was busy writing about slowing down, I was cranking out the newsletter on a daily basis, often in quick bursts between other projects. There were nights when I was up late because I realized I had forgotten to schedule the next day’s post (my parents tell a similar tale of all those years spent writing notes for my advent calendar), and there were even a few “morning of” emails, all crafted while wondering why I had committed to this thing in the first place.

But inevitably in those moments of insecurity, of wondering if perhaps I could have chosen a better use of my time, someone would send me an email to thank me for bringing a little light into their day, and I would feel a sense of immense gratitude.

The whole endeavor ended up being one my favorite things that I did last December. It turned out that I needed it as much as everyone else did. So much so that I decided to do it again.

If you want to receive the Making, Doing and Being digital advent calendar, all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter. Every day, you’ll receive a morning email. It might include a recipe, a quote, a prompt. Whatever it is, it’s always paired with an original papercut illustration. There will be some Scandinavian inspiration as well, and this year, even some input from friends and colleagues who I think embody this concept of Making, Doing and Being in their own personal and professional practices.

There’s no paywall and you’re not required to buy any of my books or work to receive the digital advent calendar; it’s 100% free. I want to keep it that way, accessible for everyone, because I want to share without expectation, create art and magic and put it out into the world just because. In a world gone mad, that feels like the one sane act that I can contribute. That being said, putting together this work takes time and effort, so if you feel like making a donation to sponsor the advent calendar you can do so here.

It all kicks off on Saturday December 1, 2018, so if you want to receive the advent calendar, be sure to sign up for my newsletter.

Written by Anna Brones

November 29, 2018 at 07:35

Swedish Cinnamon Buns (with Apple Filling) to Celebrate Kanelbullens Dag

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Swedish cinnamon buns are so iconic that they get their very own day: October 4th. That’s right, today is the official Kanelbullens Dag. And you know what you should do to celebrate? Make a batch of cinnamon buns and invite a friend over for fika.

I don’t make kanelbullar very regularly, so when I do it’s a special affair. (Quick Swedish lesson: kanelbulle is singular, kanelbullar is plural.)

For the uninitiated, kanelbullar carry a lot of importance in Swedish food culture. It’s a staple of fika, and baking them at home is a special affair. Thinking about kanelbullar and my own connection to them makes me think of this passage from my friend Sara Bir’s book The Fruit Forager’s Companion:

“It would be wonderful to make and eat pie every day, but that is unrealistic for most of us… As it stands, I do not make pies for special occasions, but allow the pie itself to be the occasion. That way, if someone asks me how I am, I can simply say, ‘I ate piece today,’ and they know I am well.”

The way Sara feels about pie is how I feel about kanelbullar. You don’t need a special occasion to make them. Instead they turn an ordinary day into something much more exciting. Baking kanelbullar is an act of celebrating the everyday.

While I certainly enjoy the pure, unadulterated version, I often enjoy experimenting with different flours and fillings. My current favorite is to make them with whole wheat flour (I use hard white wheat from Bluebird Grain Farms) and let the dough rise overnight. I find that this slower rise makes for a slightly more interesting taste. To take full advantage of the fall season, these kanelbullar are filled with grated apple. You can certainly go classic and make it without that addition.

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Written by Anna Brones

October 4, 2018 at 08:45

Happy Birthday Fika!

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Three years ago today, Fika The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break came into the world. Over the last three years, it has been so much fun seeing all the places that this book ends up. I love hearing from readers when they bake a recipe or give the book as a gift to a friend. I think we could all use a little more fika in our lives, and I am happy to see so many of you doing exactly that.

In honor of Fika‘s third birthday, I am doing a special giveaway of signed copies of both Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break and my latest book, Live Lagom Balanced Living the Swedish Wayas well as an original fika-themed papercut (unframed).

This fika papercut was done as a sample for some new templates that I made for Paper Artist Collective (if you’re in the mood to try your hand at papercutting, you can snag them here) and I think it deserves a space on someone’s wall!

How to enter? All you have to do is subscribe to my newsletter. I’ll draw a random winner next Friday, April 13, 2018 so you have a week to get yourself signed up and entered.

Written by Anna Brones

April 7, 2018 at 04:00

Sliced Rye and Almond Pepparkakor

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Growing up, we always made a recipe out of the classic Swedish baking book Sju sorters kakor, called Franska pepparkakor, French gingersnaps, for Christmas. Why they were French I am not entirely sure. I have lived in France and never encountered anything similar.

A more apt name is skurna pepparkor, sliced gingersnaps. I like making these because they take much less time than rolling out and cutting traditional pepparkakor but still use the same iconic seasonal spices. This year, I adapted the recipe to be a little less sweet and also be made with 100% rye flour. I like making whole grain cookies, because they are far more robust in flavor than baking with traditional all-purpose flour.

These cookies are great on their own, but also pair very well with a little blue cheese. And a mug of glögg of course.

Sliced Rye and Almond Pepparkakor

Ingredients:

1 cup (5 ounces, 140 grams) almonds, coarsely chopped
1 cup (8 ounces, 225 grams) butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (1.75 ounces, 50 gram) sugar
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) molasses
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
4 teaspoons cardamom
2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon black pepper
Zest of one orange
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups (8.75 ounces, 250 grams) rye flour

Preparation:

Chop the almonds and set them aside.

Cream the butter, sugar and molasses, then mix in the spices and orange zest until well blended.

Mix the baking soda with the flour, then add to the wet ingredients. Work the dough together (it will be quite sticky).

Form the dough into cylinders, about 12 inches long and wrap in parchment paper or a tea towel. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Note: the dough lasts for a few days in the refrigerator so if you don’t get around to baking them right away it’s totally fine.)

Grease a baking tray and cut dough into thin slices. Place the slices on the tray and bake at 375ºF (180ºC) for 10 to 12 minutes.The cookies don’t spread out very much, so you can put them pretty close to each other.

Written by Anna Brones

December 22, 2017 at 07:36

Jólabókaflóð

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When it’s cold outside, there’s the gentle call of curling up with a book and a mug of tea or coffee (or even a glass of wine or a beer). Reading is wonderful any time of year, but if I was going to pick a reading season, winter would certainly be it; when it’s cold and dark, we want to curl up with a good story.

Maybe it’s the cold darkness of the north that has led to Iceland’s popular Jólabókaflóð, otherwise known as the “Christmas book flood.” Not only are many new titles released this time of year, but the majority of Icelandic book sales happen at this time, everyone prepping to gift a book come Christmas.

The tradition has its roots in World War II, when many imported items were heavily regulated, but paper remained fairly inexpensive. The book became the holiday gift of choice, and it still is today.

It all kicks off when the Iceland Publishers Association distributes a free copy of Bokatidindi  – the annual catalog of new book releases – to every single Icelandic household. It’s a season of book buying and book giving. “It’s considered a total flop Christmas if you do not get a book,” Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurðardóttir told Read it Forward. Just imagine if children (and adults for that matter) were upset because they didn’t get a book as opposed to whatever new version of iGadget was on their list.

Having a culture of books and reading comes with many benefits. 93% of Icelanders read at least one book a year, compared with only 73% of Americans. (To put that another way, one of of four Americans isn’t reading at least one book a year.) Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world, and one out of 10 Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime.

For those of us who don’t live in Iceland, how about creating our own book flood this holiday?

Start by visiting the library. Find a book you didn’t know you wanted to read.

If you read and feel inspired to write, do so.

And finally, in the spirit of not consuming (although, if you are going to buy presents, books are a pretty good option, and remember to be sure to support your local independent book retailer), here’s one final prompt for today to kick of your own Christmas book flood:

Go to your bookcase. Find a book that you loved reading, but are willing to part with. Think of someone who would enjoy reading it. Package it up, and take it to the post on Monday, or gift it to them in person. If there’s one thing better than reading a good book, it’s sharing one with someone else.

This post originally appeared in my 24 Days of  Making, Doing and Being advent calendar. To receive it, sign up for my newsletter

Written by Anna Brones

December 12, 2017 at 10:03