To say that Danish people have a strong food culture would be selling it short. Very short. After living in Denmark for nearly six years now, I have had the privilege of witnessing and taking part in many of their passionate and long-established table traditions, celebrating the seasons through what they eat and vice versa. They are proud, and borderline obsessive about certain aspects of their food, and it is this fervour, this dedication, even if it is often for pork products, that I so strongly resonate with and connect to.
When I first met my husband, it drove me kinda nuts how stubborn he was with his traditional Danish meals: “no, this has to go with that. And you need to eat this on top of this in this special way, then cut it like this and put it on this special plate”. Open-faced sandwiches are actually served on their own teeny wooden boards, and have very specific and time-tested combinations of foods that are not to be contested or fooled around with. No. But many meals are like this. The first day of advent, you eat yellow split pea soup. At Easter you have lamb. And as the weather warms up (if it ever does) you have koldskål. Say what? Directly translated, “cold bowl”.
Koldskål, is a beguiling combination of creamy buttermilk, egg yolk, lemon, vanilla and sugar. I know it may sound a little strange, but trust me, it’s heaven. It is often served with Danish strawberries (which, sorry Ontario, are the best strawberries in the world) and always with kammerjunkere: very crispy little biscuits flavoured with cardamom and lemon. Think of them as Danish biscotti. And they only go with koldskål. That’s a rule.
I tried the real koldskål last summer when I was pregnant and feeling very strong urges to eat dairy products. I have to say, as much as I wanted to be against it, the stuff was insanely delicious. Addictive even. And the mere act of slicing up a bowl of freshly-picked berries, then pouring silky white cream across their blood-red facets struck a deep, primordial pleasure chord. In that moment, a voice called out from inside me and cooed in all of its ancient wisdom, that this was going to taste really, really good.
Needless to say, it did and I was hooked. What is not to love about ripe fruit, tangy, cold creaminess and crunchy crumbled cookies? Right. Moving on. Since that fateful day, I’ve discovered that koldskål is very easy to make and can be tweaked a little to be much healthier than the traditional version (which is why I am calling it something totally different). My twist uses sheep yogurt instead of buttermilk, leaves out the eggs and sweetens with maple syrup. The biscuits are gluten-free and vegan and sweetened with coconut sugar. All things considered, this would make a rather respectable breakfast, albeit with a rather hefty dose of strawberries, as I tend to make it.
Now, if I am all for tradition, why I am messing with a perfect thing? Switching out the buttermilk for goat or sheep yogurt? Well, you know my M.O. is to make things both tasty and healthy. In this case, it’s a small change in flavour for a big change in nutrition.
For one, goat and sheep milk are easier to digest than cow milk due to the fact that the protein molecules found goat and sheep milk are smaller and in fact more similar to the protein found in human milk. In addition, the fat molecules in goat and sheep milk have thinner, more fragile membranes – half the size of those in cow milk. This leads to an average curd tension that is literally 1⁄2 that of cow milk (36 grams for goat milk and 70 grams for cow milk). Curds from milk form in the digestive tract or during cheese or yogurt making (anywhere that the milk is subjected to acid). Having less curd tension means that the milk is less “tough”, and easier to digest. Dr. Bernard Jensen (my personal hero) showed that goat milk will digest in a baby’s stomach in 20 minutes, whereas pasteurized cow milk takes 8 hours. The difference is in the structure of the milk.
Goat and sheep milk boast twice the healthful medium chain fatty acids than that of cow milk, such as capric and caprylic acids. These fatty acids are highly antimicrobial. Capric and caprylic acids are used today in dietary supplements to inhibit the growth of Candida albicans and other yeast species. They also boost the immune system and enhance energy.
To serve koldskål in our house, we slice up a large amount of berries and divide them among the bowls. Then each person pours their own cream (obviously, because this is the most fun part) and crumbles the biscuits over top, or leaves them whole according to their liking. The cream must be very cold. The strawberries must be very ripe – none of those ones picked before they are ready and that are still white in the center – no! The red juice must run into the cream as you eat it, swirling about and staining the whole concoction a delicate, blushing pink by the end. Guh. I also like to sprinkle fresh elderflower over the top for fun, since I love eating flowers too. This is totally unnecessary, and completely divine.
Danish Summer Cream
2 cups / 500ml sheep or goat yogurt
1 ½ Tbsp. maple syrup or honey (or more to your taste)
zest of 1 small organic lemon
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1. Stir all the ingredients together, right in the yogurt container if you like. Sweeten to taste. If the yogurt is too thick to pour, add water, a little at a time until the desired consistency is reached (you are aiming for thick cream) Enjoy very cold over strawberries with Lemon Cardamom Biscuits.
Lemon Cardamom Biscuits
Makes approx. 80-90 biscuits
3 cups / 300g rolled oats (gluten-free, if desired)
1 tsp. ground cardamom
¼ tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 tsp. baking powder
zest of 1 large organic lemon
½ cup / 75g coconut sugar
½ cup / 125ml unsweetened applesauce
3 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
brown rice flour for dusting (any flour will work)
1. In a food processor pulse the oats until you have a rough flour. Add the baking powder, cardamom, salt, lemon zest and coconut sugar. Blend for a few seconds to combine.
2. In a measuring cup, measure out the applesauce, then add the coconut oil and vanilla, whisk to combine. Pour the wet ingredients into the food processor and pulse until fully incorporated. The dough should be sticky and wet, but not pasty. If it is too wet to work with, add a little more oats or oat flour. Preheat oven to 350°F/175°.
3. Dust a large, clean working surface with flour. Empty dough out on to the floured surface and gather into a rough ball shape. Divide dough into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, roll dough into a log, approximately 10”/25cm long. Then slice log into ½” / 1¼ cm rounds. Place on a lined baking sheet.
4. Bake biscuits for 10-12 minutes until just turning golden on the bottom, then turn the oven off and let the cookies sit in there until the oven is cool (this step simply helps dry the biscuits out). Once cool, store biscuits in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
1lb / 500g organic strawberries, sliced
1 batch Danish Summer Cream, very cold
handful of Lemon Cardamom Biscuits
elderflowers for garnish, if desired
Place sliced strawberries in each bowl. Let each person pour their own cream. Drop biscuits in or crumble them up over the top. Take a deep breath. Enjoy.
If I have learned anything during my time here in Denmark, it’s that traditions exist for a reason. That certain foods taste best with other certain foods and that is just the way it is, no reason trying to fight it. In this case, strawberries and cream and cookies are best enjoyed together, and I am certainly willing to uphold this tradition for the good of us all.