It is December and the days in Denmark are getting shorter and darker: a good excuse to partake in a bit of hygge, defined as everything from ‘cosiness’ to ‘the art of living well,’ a concept that has become something of a cultural export over the last years. Hygge means different things to different people, but there are a few recurring characteristics that most Danes would agree are essential to it. Hygge is often a social affair, shared with friends or family; more often than not it involves food and drink; another factor is to light a few candles.
With these three essential components in mind, the Advent celebration (observed on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas) is one that lends itself particularly well to some good old-fashioned hygge. At the heart of it all is the lighting of the four candles on the Advent wreath: it starts on the first Sunday of Advent, with one more candle lit on each subsequent Sunday until just before Christmas, when all four of them bathe the room in their warm glow. Wreaths come in many shapes and sizes, the traditional one being woven with evergreens and hung from the ceiling with red ribbons. Today, however, some just stick to tasteful arrangements of square candles and perhaps a sprig of holly or fir, some may opt for a simple yet stylish designer candelabrum. No matter the arrangement, the candles remain the essential and immutable component of the Advent celebration. Advent hygge also implies something delicious to eat: the Danish yuletide treats known as ‘æbleskiver’, a fluffier, sphere-shaped cousin of the crêpe, have been a fixture of Advent and other festive get-togethers for generations. Although few people today prepare them with the apple slices that gave them their name, they are still cooked in a traditional, designated æbleskiver pan. Æbleskiver are eaten with sugar and preserves, and they are washed down with a warming cup of gløgg, the Scandinavian version of mulled wine.
The æbleskiver recipe:
300g wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking soda
Butter or oil for frying
1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl
2. Separate the yolks and whites of the eggs, and retain both
3. Stir the egg yolks and buttermilk together in a smaller bowl
4. Pour the wet ingredients into the larger bowl and stir well
5. Whip the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff
6. Fold the whipped egg whites in the batter carefully
7. Fry in the æbleskiver pan with a little butter/oil
8. When the batter starts letting go of the sides of the indentation in the pan, flip the æbleskiver and heat until they’re cooked through.
9. Serve with icing sugar and jam – and gløgg, of course!
Expert tip: use a knitting needle to flip the æbleskiver. If you don’t have an æbleskiver pan, try a blini pan.
1 bottle of red wine
50ml blackcurrant cordial
Zest of 1-2 clementines or 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
Small piece of fresh, peeled ginger
1. Place the spices in a tea bag
2. Pour half of the wine into a large saucepan and add 50ml sugar, along with the almonds, raisins, zest and the bag of spices
3. Cover and heat until nearly boiling. Remove from stove
4. Leave to stand for 30 mins, then add the rest of the red wine
5. Reheat the gløgg until nearly boiling. Add more sugar to taste
6. Add the port and serve hot