Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness (2016)
Inviting Hygge to the Table
P.S. Krøyer, Hip, Hip, Hurrah!, 1888
Thousands of years ago, we were hunter-gatherers. After catching our food, we made a fire and prepared the meal – and enjoyed it together. The fire became the central place of warmth and light and the culture of togetherness in eating evolved.
Now our hunting for meat takes place in the refrigerator in the supermarket – but we still prefer the social aspects of enjoying the meal together. The feast has become fundamental to our social life.
Talking and evaluating the day around the table was the central part of everyday family life for me. Sometimes my mother, father, sister and I would sit there for a long time, eating and chatting about what had happened during the day. At other times, dinner was replaced by homework and cups of tea. The big dining table in our living room was our primary place of family togetherness.
“Hygge is cooking food with my boyfriend in our kitchen, while our daughter plays on the floor. Or making a picnic basket that we bring to our small boat to eat. Hygge is when I bake a cake or when my boyfriend makes a fantastic dish out of a seemingly empty fridge, when we have unexpected guests.”
Neel Rønholt, Copenhagen
The personal element and wonderful smell of something homemade underlines that what you are about to eat is authentic and unique and far away from mass production.
Investing time and energy in a homemade dinner or a home-baked cake adds a feeling of hygge to a gathering around the table. The food itself doesn’t have to be advanced or fancy. If it's down-to-earth, it adds to the hygge rather than distracting from it.
Aunty Ina’s Thick Pancakes
Ina Schack Vestergaard is sixty-one years old, married to Søren, and is a mother of three and grandmother of five. She lives on Ærø, a small island in southern Denmark with just 6,000 inhabitants. Ærø residents are known to be a proud, seafaring people and are famous for their hospitality and their thick pancakes. Family recipes for the small, oval treats are often passed from generation to generation, and opinions on how to make the best pancakes have been shared loudly for as long as Ina can remember. They must be neither too heavy, too greasy, too airy, too oval nor too round.
“There are as many opinions about how to make thick pancakes as there are about parenting and how to lacquer a ship. Therefore, it is only within the last ten years that I have dared to start making thick pancakes. Like many of Ærø’s young inhabitants today, I thought it was terribly difficult, and I was worried that people would do a double-take at the thickness, shape and airiness of my pancakes. But it’s actually quite easy to make Ærø pancakes. This recipe is my own, but it’s based on inspiration from a local priest’s family’s recipe and Mother Issi’s recipe. Mother Issi is the mother-in-law of my husband’s brother. She was a colourful character, who always made her pancakes while wearing cotton knickers on her head to avoid getting fat in her hair. She even kept the knickers on her head when she got unexpected visitors. It didn’t bother her in the slightest, and when she made pancakes, she made so many she could feed the entire town.
Thick pancakes are good for afternoon tea, evening tea and unexpected guests. The beauty of them is that I can make a lot of pancakes at once and freeze them. When I see people coming to the door, I just heat a few pancakes on the stove, and it’s like they’ve been freshly made. That way I always have something to offer my guests. When my children and grandchildren dock with the ferry on Friday night, coming over for a weekend visit, I have a cup of tea and a pancake ready for them. For the annual accordion festival, I – and sixteen other of the island’s ladies – make 1,600 thick pancakes for the festival’s guests. They work for any occasion.”
Ina Schack Vestergaard
Makes approx. 35 pancakes
· 500ml milk
· 50g fresh yeast
· 8 to 10 eggs (Tip from Else Grydehøj’s grandmother: never skimp on the eggs!)
· 500g flour
· Pinch of salt
· Pinch of sugar
· Lard – plenty (or sunflower oil)
Warm the milk and stir in the yeast. The milk should be ‘little-finger warm’.
Separate the egg yolks and egg whites. Add the flour, yolks, salt and sugar together and mix to a batter. Pour boiling water into a large dish and place the batter in a water bath (to raise the batter and get the most out of it – as is the frugal spirit of Ærø’s residents).
Whisk the whites until stiff and then fold them into the batter while it is still in the water bath. Melt the lard or sunflower oil in a pot. Hold the wooden end of a match in the fat to see if it sizzles – if it does, it is hot enough. With the ladle pour some fat from the pot into the saucepan, filling it up so that it is just over 1cm deep. (Now hold your tongue – and put children and telephones on silent.)
Fill the ladle with batter and pour it into the pan to form five oval-shaped pancakes about 1 cm deep and 8 cm in diameter. The first pancake is turned over when the fifth is properly floating on the fat. It shouldn’t be in the pan for too long. Whenever you start a new batch of pancakes, pour new fat into the pan. It is important that the fat has a depth of just above 1 cm all the time. The pancakes must not touch the bottom or float too high, they should just float easily. (This takes practice.)
The finished fried pancakes are immediately placed on newspaper, to absorb the excess fat.
Tip: Serve with gooseberry compote, jam or stewed apple/rhubarb.
The two porcelain dogs in the background can be seen on windowsills around the island. The story goes that when the man of the house is home from sailing, the dogs face inwards, but when the man is out sailing, the dogs face outwards. Whether they are scouting for their masters or a sign that the woman’s lover can come to visit is hard to know.
Alfred, Ina’s youngest grandson, is three years old. He doesn’t talk when he eats his pancakes and he can eat at least four in a row. Alfred has a trick for the jam, too – he licks the jam off first. That way he can spread more jam on his pancakes and have twice as much.
Palle’s Morning Rolls
Palle is married to Edith and has been for over thirty years. Together they have four children, and for a large part of their lives they have worked together at a Danish boarding school in northern Jutland. When you know each other as well as Palle and Edith do, and have shared both life’s sunny and dark sides, you know that it is important to continue to make each other happy in everyday life. Even if it’s just by baking fresh rolls, Palle says.
“Normally, I’m not a person who spends much time in the kitchen. I am far better at eating food than making it. But I like to bake bread, and I do it often. It’s the only time I feel at home in the kitchen apart from when I’m doing the dishes or peeling potatoes.
When I bake rolls, I make the dough the evening before. It takes maybe twice as long as brushing your teeth, so it’s not long. In the morning, I wake up a bit before the alarm goes off, typically around six a.m., and then I get up, put on my slippers and go into the kitchen. Edith likes to sleep a little longer, and while I get up as soon as the alarm goes off, she sleeps on soundly. We’re different that way.
Within ten minutes I’ll have shaped the rolls, sprinkled sesame seeds on them and put them in the oven. Then I make coffee and set the table as I listen to the radio. It has become a morning ritual that I like very much. Just like Dan Turell (a Danish poet), I like the everyday. Its repetition. In a life where everything moves quickly, and you have to be on top of everything, it’s nice to have a morning routine. Something I just do without having to think about it too deeply. It gives me peace of mind to know exactly what I am going to do in the day’s first hour and, actually, I believe it’s healthy.
When the smell of freshly baked rolls has drifted to the bedroom, and I call, Edith wakes and comes down to the living room. It is wonderful to start the day together over a freshly baked roll. We both benefit from it. When you have lived together for thirty years, you know what the other person thinks before they say it aloud and vice versa. Sometimes you take each other for granted, and it’s not always possible to think beyond yourself. But if you want to live together for many years, you have to continue to see each other. I know very well there is no art in baking rolls but, sometimes, I think of it as a way to show Edith that I am grateful to her and for what we have together, and that I like doing things that can make her happy. When we meet the day together in the morning before we head off in different directions, it affirms our cohesion. We are alive in relation to each other, and share something special together right there in that moment.”
Palle Fogh, Aalborg
Makes 10 to 12 rolls
· 15g organic yeast
· 600ml cold water
· 1 tbsp sea salt
· 50g cracked wheat
· 50g cracked rye
· 400g wheat flour
· 150g spelt flour
· 50g coarse organic oatmeal
· 1 tbsp cold-pressed olive oil
· Sesame seeds to sprinkle on top
The evening before, dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the salt, cracked wheat and cracked rye. Add all the flour and the oatmeal a little at a time. Mix the dough and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, set the oven to 210º C. You don’t have to knead the dough. Using two tablespoons, shape the dough into rolls. Brush them with oil and sprinkle them with sesame seeds, then bake for 22 minutes.
Serve warm to someone you care about. Enjoy them, for example, with butter and cheese, an optional piece of red pepper or a blob of jam on top.
Louise’s Potato Sandwiches – With Crunch
“When I was a child the whole family often gathered around potato sandwiches at lunchtime and we still eat them together when we go to my family’s farm in Sweden during the holidays and at weekends. Potatoes, homemade rye bread, radishes, butter, mayonnaise and chives are all placed on the large kneading board – a wooden board that is found under the kitchen table in many Swedish farms. Then the kneading board is carried out. We always eat outside when we are in Sweden, even in rain and sleet. We sit together under the overhang from the little farm and we butter, build and eat our potato sandwiches. Very hyggelig to me.
Potato sandwiches are also a sure-fire summer classic when I invite my girlfriends home. They are a classic of traditional Danish smørrebrød – open sandwiches – and I value good ingredients that are not available throughout the year, but are especially delicious and fresh in certain seasons. In winter, we have to make do with the chalk-white, dull potatoes. But then suddenly they are here: the fledgling new potatoes. Along with the strawberries and rhubarb and everything else that blooms in early summer. I am one of those people who always buys an over-priced tray of the first new potatoes in May, because I just can’t wait any longer.
I once heard a chef say that the fewer ingredients there are in a dish, the less you have to compromise on the quality of the raw materials. That’s my starting point when it comes to potato sandwiches. Here, I allow myself to splurge a little extra on good rye bread from the bakery, and I like to make mayonnaise from the eggs of hens that have lived well.
Hygge has a curious nature. It often occurs when I combine something I have done many times before with a new place. For example, having a potato sandwich in one of my favourite places in Copenhagen – the gunboat sheds on Holmen, enjoying it with my legs dangling in the water and the sun warming my skin.”
Louise Kjeldsen, Copenhagen
· Rye bread (or another dark bread, preferably homemade)
· New potatoes, cooked and cooled
· Chives or the top of a spring onion, chopped
· Something crunchy: bacon or root vegetable crisps
· Something to decorate, such as sorrel or pansies
For homemade mayonnaise
· 2 egg yolks (at room temperature)
· Pinch of salt
· A little lemon juice
· A little mustard (optional)
· About 120ml of neutral-tasting oil (grapeseed oil or sunflower oil)
Beat the first four mayonnaise ingredients with an electric mixer, then add the oil a little at a time while beating until the mixture has the right consistency.
Now, butter a piece of rye bread. Slice the potatoes and spread them out on the bread. Slice the radishes and put them on top of the potatoes. Top with the mayonnaise, and sprinkle chives or spring onion on top. Add the crunch and the decorations. And enjoy!
Camilla Plum’s Rødgrød Med Fløde (Summer Compôte)
Rødgrød med fløde is a classic Danish dessert (and the name of the recipe is a classic tongue twister for foreigners).
This wonderful and famous compôte is basically a summer pudding without the bread: an intensely flavoured, lightly set compôte of mixed berries, with raspberries stirred in as it cools. Strewn with flaked almonds, then eaten with a thick blob of rich cream and a sprinkling of sugar to add crunch, this dessert is heaven on a long, light summer evening, and so special to the Nordic summer.
This is the recipe from the Danish chef Camilla Plum and her book Cook Scandinavian.
· 500g strawberries, hulled
· 500g black- or redcurrants and/or gooseberries
· 250–450g sugar
· 3 tbsp cornflour
· 500g raspberries (stir these in at the very end, when you remove the rest from the heat)
· 50g almonds, halved
Put the strawberries and the currants or gooseberries (don’t bother topping or tailing these) into a wide non-corrosive pan. The amount of sugar needed varies enormously with the berries, but try 250g to start with. Add absolutely no water! Heat the pan gently and boil until the berries begin to release their juices. Lower the heat and let the fruit bubble away until the strawberries become jammy and the whole thing tastes like heaven.
Adjust the sugar: the compôte should be sweet, but still a little tart, and you must allow for a crunchy sprinkling of sugar when it’s eaten. Dissolve the cornflour in a little juice from the berries and stir into the compôte, making sure that it is evenly distributed. Boil for another 5 minutes, remove from the heat, then stir in the raspberries and leave to cool.
When the compôte has cooled a little, pour it into a beautiful bowl and sprinkle generously with sugar to prevent a skin forming. When it is cold and set, decorate with the almonds. Eat cold with cream.
Oatmeal with Caramel Sauce, Apple and Roasted Almonds
Lasse Skjønning Andersen has revised the Danes’ view on porridge by creating the artisan porridge boutique GRØD in Copenhagen. He has updated the plain porridge we know from our childhood and made it into a delicious treat.
“Oatmeal with caramel sauce, apples and roasted almonds is the hyggeligste porridge for me because it has followed me since 2011, when I started GRØD. While other porridges have been changed along the way, that one has been there all along as my faithful companion. Customers like it, and I like it. It’s a bit like a good friend you never grow tired of.”
Lasse Skjønning Andersen, creator of GRØD in Copenhagen
For the oatmeal
· 1½ cups rolled oats
· 1½ cups water
· 1½ cups milk
· A bit of water
For the caramel sauce
· (This will give you loads of caramel sauce, which you can keep in the fridge for 3–4 weeks.)
· 4 cans of condensed milk
· ¼ cup boiling water
For the topping
· 40g almonds
· 1 apple, chopped
Put the cans of condensed milk into a saucepan and cover with water. Let the cans simmer for 4–5 hours. Top up the water if necessary so that the cans are always covered. After removing the cans carefully from the saucepan, run cold water over them until they have cooled down. Open the cans and blend the caramel liquid with a little boiling water until it has a creamy consistency.
Roast the almonds in a pan over a medium heat until they’re completely crisp and have a golden-brown colour. Chop the nuts before serving (you can roast more than you need and keep them in an airtight container).
Bring the ingredients to the boil over a high heat. Then bring down to a medium heat and let it reduce to a nice consistency. (Takes about 7–8 minutes.) Season with salt.
Serve the porridge in soup plates or bowls and top with a tablespoon of caramel sauce, chopped apples and roasted almonds.
Homemade, surrounded by nature, light, warmth and good company – enjoying snobrød is a classic hygge moment and the making of it stimulates all our senses: smelling the bonfire and the chilly summer night, seeing the dancing flames, and feeling the warmth on your face.
Snobrød – twisted rolls – is a way of making bread by twisting some dough round a stick and baking it over the embers of a fire, perhaps twisting it round a sausage for a more filling meal or just eating it plain with jam.
Makes 10 snobrød/twisted rolls
· 300ml full-fat milk or simply water
· 25g yeast
· 1 tsp salt
· 500g flour
· A little bit of sugar and cardamom to sweeten
· 10 sharpened sticks with the ends stripped of bark
Gently heat the milk or water until it is lukewarm. Add the yeast and dissolve it. Add the salt and little by little add the flour, then a pinch of sugar and cardamom. Knead the dough then let it rest for 30 minutes. (You can strip the bark off the sticks and sharpen them while you are waiting for the bread to rise.)
Make 10 small sausage-shaped pieces out of the dough and twist each one round a stick. (If you go for the sausage version, wrap the dough around the sausage.) Leave the dough to rise for a further 20 minutes.
Bake the rolls over the fire until they are golden. Enjoy them as they are or with jam and butter.
People from other countries notice that Danes often bring homemade cakes and buns to birthday celebrations in school, to work when we leave to go on holiday, or when we prepare for a moment of hygge after a piece of work.
For many years now, I have been known among my friends as the one who always brought her own snacks. I always had something sweet in my lunch box at school. Later on it became a snack in the handbag. To me, snacks equal hygge! But quite soon I discovered that I would be in trouble if I kept hygg-ing the way I did, snacking like that several times a day, whenever I had a hygge-moment.
Hygge … and Health
Danes are the second highest sweet-eating nation in Europe and the reason is hygge – according to Heidi Boye, a consumer specialist and researcher, who has investigated how the phenomenon of hygge influences the Danes’ relationship with food and sweets:
“When I say to my four-year-old son that we will really hygge ourselves tonight, he’s not thinking of carrot sticks and broccoli florets. For the vast majority of Danes hygge is closely associated with drinking and eating, and it is often quite unhealthy treats that are set on the table. Treats are a ritual that communicates a transition from a hard-working weekday to well-earned leisure time. The busier we are – the more shopping lists there are to be written, bills to be paid and emails to be answered – the more we strive for hygge. Hygge is the antithesis of the rat race. We deserve a break from the demands of work and the advice of health experts and, therefore, we consume sweets in hygge’s name without that much of a guilty conscience.”
A couple of years ago I met Michelle Kristensen, who is an expert on food and training, and who charms the whole country on morning TV several times a week. She was my personal trainer for a film role I had to get in shape for and we discovered our mutual hobby – transforming favourite snacks into healthier versions.
Michelle’s snack speciality is her healthier version of a Snickers. It is so delicious, and I even prefer this version to a normal store-bought one:
For the base:
· 250g almonds
· 150g raisins
· 4 dates (stones removed)
For the caramel:
· 16 dates (stones removed)
· 2 tbsp coconut oil
· Pinch of vanilla powder
· 2 tbsp boiling water
For the topping:
· 80g salted peanuts, chopped
· 150g dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa)
To make the base, process the almonds in a food processor for about 1 minute until they reach a fine texture. Set the almonds aside in a bowl. Process the raisins and dates in a food processor until they form a smooth paste, add the almonds and process the entire mixture. Place the mixture between two pieces of greaseproof paper and, using a rolling pin, roll it out until you have a square that is 1 cm thick.
To make the caramel, blend the dates, coconut oil, vanilla and water in a blender until it becomes a uniform caramel-like mass. It shouldn’t be runny, but should hang easily on a spoon. Add a few additional dates or put it in the fridge if it is too runny – just be aware that it solidifies quickly.
Smooth the caramel over the base and sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie and pour it over the caramel. Let the chocolate cool, then cut the mixture into 14 pieces and place them in the fridge.
The bars can also be frozen. Yum!
How to Bring Hygge to the Dining Table
● Think like Lady and the Tramp – backyard, low-key, simple, good food, a candle, and lots of love and togetherness.
● Invite friends to hygge in your home. Cook or bake something simple or make it easy for yourself and let everybody bring something to share.
● Make your own personal book with your signature dishes and the recipes that mean hygge to you.