I spent most of Christmas Eve at our kitchen bench, drinking tea and reading the paper, watching my mother cook. It was a different kitchen, a different city, from where I grew up, but sitting at that old, scratched bench it felt like home. It was where I had breakfast and after school snacks, where I made Christmas cookies with friends, where I perched for a last cup of tea and piece of cake when the house was dark and quiet.
Open on the bench was a copy of The Cooking of Scandinavia, for the split-pea soup recipe. It is a borrowed family tradition: the Swedish have pea soup on a Thursday, we have it on Christmas Eve. A thick yellow soup, flavoured with ham, onion and a few cloves, always served with a dollop of sharp mustard in each bowl. It has nothing to do with Christmas except that it is whole and hearty, good preparation for the onslaught of rich food ahead.
Leafing through the book and laughing (not unkindly) at the old-school food styling, I remembered some of the Scandinavian Christmas traditions I have bumped into: one Christmas Eve with a friend’s family, we had Danish risalamande, or rice pudding with whipped cream and flaked almonds. The person who found the whole almond won a small marzipan pig. This year on 13th December, or Santa Lucia, a Swedish friend brought us gingerbread stars topped with a bit of blue cheese, a surprisingly delicious combination. I have also been following Fanny Zanotti’s dreamy photos and recipes from a snowy Christmas in Sweden.
Then I found a comprehensive section on Danish pastries, which the Danish actually call Wienerbrød, literally ‘bread from Vienna’, which is where flaky breakfast pastries actually originated. Hence viennoiserie in as a general term in France. The recipe is pretty similar to croissant-making, but with egg and milk and fragrant cardamom in the dough, and slightly different folds.
This variation, the abrikossnitte, translated as ‘apricot slips’ are little rectangles of dough – layered with apricot jam – that look like they have been twisted or plaited. I was curious to try the shape, much easier to make than it is to describe. Or draw: my original drawings made my mother laugh for how vulgar they looked. A laminated dough is not difficult, once you know how, but it does take time. (A good holiday project.) So I spent Christmas Eve alternating kneading, rolling, and reading while the dough rested. They were ready for breakfast the next day: flaky twists, sticky and sweet with a crunch from the pecans on top. Perfect with a pot of strong coffee.
Abrikossnitte (Apricot-pecan twists)
adapted from The Cooking of Scandinavia, by Dale Brown and Time-Life Books
Scandinavian buns are often flavoured with cardamom and may be filled with jam or almond paste as well. This variation look like little twisted rectangles, layered with apricot jam, but the dough can be used for many different shapes or flavours. Try with Nutella instead of jam, or even cheese and mustard.
The whole process will take a minimum of 6 hours (most of which is time in the fridge). Or it can be done over 48 hours, depending on your schedule: just leave the dough in the fridge between steps. If at any point the dough feels too soft or sticky to roll – pop it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to solidify the butter, then carry on. The dough can also be frozen at any point (up to a month) and defrosted overnight in the fridge, before continuing as before.
260g plain flour
35g caster sugar
5g / 1 tsp salt
5g / 1 tsp fast-acting yeast
10 cardamom pods / ¼ tsp ground cardamom
1 egg (50g)
125g butter, cold
100g apricot jam
to decorate: a little milk + coarse sugar + chopped pecans
Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. (If using whole cardamom pods, remove seeds and grind them in a mortar and pestle.) Make a well in the centre, add the milk and egg and bring everything into a dough with one hand. Add a splash of milk if too dry or a touch of flour if very wet – although it should be a bit sticky at the beginning. Knead for 10 minutes on the counter until smooth and stretchy. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Prepare the butter slab: place butter in the middle of a large piece of baking paper. Fold it around the butter, like wrapping a present, to make a parcel about 15x20cm, A5 size. Tap butter with a rolling pin to soften, then roll out to fill the paper parcel, of an even thickness all over. Chill until firm.
With a lightly floured counter, roll out the dough to about 20x30cm. Carefully unwrap and place the cold butter on the top two thirds of the dough rectangle (see picture above). Fold over the bottom third, then the top third with the butter. Rotate the dough 90° (so that it looks ‘like a book’ with the seam on the side). Press down gently on each seam – top, bottom and side – with the rolling pin so the butter can’t escape.
Roll out lengthways to 40-50cm. Fold the narrow ends into the middle, then fold in half – this is a ‘double’, ‘wallet’ or ‘book’ fold. Chill for 30 minutes then repeat the double fold, making sure that it looks ‘like a book’ when you begin rolling.
Finally, roll out one more time, just long enough to fold the dough in half. Chill for 2-3 hours or overnight. (Or freeze the dough at this point for later.)
Roll out the dough block to a thin rectangle, about 20x45cm. Spread apricot jam on one long half (10x45cm) then fold over the bare half. Divide the long strip into 8 rectangles. Cut a slit in the middle of each rectangle, then tuck one end under and pull it through the cut, forming a twist effect (see picture below). Space the 8 twists out on a baking tray lined with paper. Loosely cover in plastic and allow to double in size at room temperature or in a gently warm place (no more than 25°C). Allow for at least an hour. OR refrigerate the tray overnight and carry on in the morning. OR freeze twists until later, then defrost when needed on a tray in the fridge overnight.
Preheat oven to 200°C. When twists have doubled, brush gently with milk, sprinkle with coarse sugar and (optional extra) chopped pecans. Bake for 5 minutes at 200°C then lower the heat to 180°C for another 10-15 minutes, until they are nice and golden-brown all over and underneath. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before eating.