It's the middle of December, and I should be in the woods. More precisely, I should be in the woods freezing my toes off, quite possibly in the dark, most likely in the rain. And I'm feeling nostalgic.
My family lived in Denmark before we moved to California. Each year, on the first Advent weekend leading to Christmas, we packed up our car with kids, dog and provisions and drove to my sister and brother-in-law's farm, a thatch-roofed cottage nestled in a pine and beech forest in the center of Zealand, the largest island of Denmark. The capital, Copenhagen, was a mere 60 kilometers away, but once we turned off the highway and snaked our way over the pastoral hills deep into the wooded countryside, it felt like light-years from the bustle of the city.
The winter sun is finicky in Denmark. If it shows its face at all, it's austere and reserved, never shining too high or too bright, shimmering like an icy Nordic beauty. More often than not, it rains. Mindful of the elusive daylight, upon our arrival at the farm we would immediately get to the task at hand. Three generations of family would scatter into the forest to forage holly, twigs, pinecones and moss. We had to work fast. The silvery sun, if visible, would begin its cool descent at 3 p.m., and the cold would eagerly creep in, numbing fingers, toes and tips of noses, despite the paddings of wool and fleece.
As darkness descended, we would return to the farmhouse with our bounty, cold, hungry and wet. Fires would be stoked in the ovens, glogg (mulled wine) would be heated on the stove, and we would claim a space, shoulder to shoulder, at the long kitchen table. Our harvest would be piled in the center, and adults and children would get to work making wreaths, tree ornaments and centerpieces.
While we did this, we would take turns making batches of aebleskivers, which we dipped in raspberry preserves and powdered sugar and washed down with mugs of steaming glogg. It may have been cold and wintry outside, but inside, everything was warm and toasty.
Now we live in California, and we continue our family traditions from Europe at Christmastime. We still make many of our holiday decorations, and of course, glogg and aebleskivers. In fact, I just finished a batch this afternoon, and as we sat in front of the fire with a glass of glogg, it began to rain outside. We didn't mind a bit. It was just like Denmark.
Danish aebleskivers resemble doughnut holes and are served as a treat throughout the month of December. While they are sold frozen in the shops, nothing beats the vanilla and cardamom scent and tender texture of homemade aebleskivers. To make them, you will need a special aebleskiver pan, which is a skillet with 6 to 8 round indentations. Cast iron is best.
Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes, plus 1 hour standing time
Yield: Makes about 20
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 envelope dry yeast or .6-ounce fresh yeast (1 cake)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 vanilla bean
2 large eggs, separated
Unsalted European-style butter
Strawberry or raspberry preserves
Heat milk in a small saucepan until lukewarm. Pour the milk into a bowl and add the yeast. Let stand until the yeast dissolves.
Combine the flour, sugar, salt and cardamom in a medium bowl. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the dry ingredients.
Whisk the egg yolks into the milk and then add the milk to the flour and mix to combine.
Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the batter. Let stand one hour at room temperature.
Melt 1/2 teaspoon butter in each indentation of an aebleskiver pan over medium heat. Pour the batter into each indentation, about 2/3 full. Cook until golden brown underneath, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a wooden skewer, turn the aebleskivers over and continue to cook until golden and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes more. Transfer the aebleskivers to a plate lined with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining batter. Serve the aebleskivers with powdered sugar and preserves.
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