Next Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday, the day the whole country goes mad for pancakes ahead of the Lenten fast (even if most of us don't observe the fasting part).
However, today in Denmark is Fastelavn. Now I don't know a whole lot about Fastelavn, so I wrote an email to my aunt asking her to tell me what she could about it. Her reply is below.
Fastelavn has 2 days. It's held on Sunday before Lent begins and very often they'll have a special service for children that day and "slog katten af tønden"... In the old days a cat was in a barrel - nowadays there are sweets... The children take turns to make a swipe at the barrel and the one who makes the barrel burst is the Cat King/Queen. In the schools etc. this is done on Monday. Often the local county council will have arranged a barrel banging contest in the town square and you'll see queues of freezing kids waiting to swing their clubs. They're all in fancy dress of course and there are often prizes for best outfit etc. also. The barrels also vary in size and strength according to the age groups that are swinging their cudgels.
You may be interested to hear that when Granny was a little girl she took a terrific swipe bringing the club well back behind her head to strike at the barrel - so well that she gave herself an almighty crack on the skull and a minor concussion. But she used to say it gave great bonus 'cos the others gave her some of their sweets....
Fastelavnsboller are popular and have been on sale this year anyway almost since the 2nd Jan. Ridiculous! Says the old auntie. In Sweden they make "semlar" (spelling?) A dryish bolle with marzipan in the middle. You put it in a bowl and pour warm milk over it. If you're lucky they serve whipped cream with it also. There's saffron in it somewhere along the line. I quite like them but some people find them dull.
Does that help? It's not authoritative but the best I can do.
So if you're feeling a little international this week, why not celebrate with Fastelansboller, they taste just like hot cross buns and are great with a cup of tea or coffee in the afternoon.
As with the other Danish yeast baking that I've done previously (Kanelsnegle and Tebirkes) the first thing that needs to be done with this recipe is to set up the yeast.
Measure out the milk and add the teaspoon of sugar. Heat the milk and sugar in the microwave for 50 secs until warm. Sprinkle the dried yeast over the top of the milk and leave to stand to one side until it becomes foamy.
While you're waiting for the yeast to activate, measure the flour out into a mixing bowl and add the butter. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Measure in the sugar, raisins and peel.
Add the spice and mix together. I used my hands but you can use a wooden spoon if you prefer.
It's now time to return to the yeast beast. By now the yeast should've foamed up in the jug. Add the beaten egg to the yeast and stir thoroughly.
Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl containing the dried ingredients and mix together until they form a soft dough.
Turn the dough out on to a well-floured board or counter top and knead for 10 mins until it is smooth and elastic. I like to stick on a bit of music to knead too as it makes the time go faster to know that you're done after about 4 songs.
Lightly oil a polythene bag or a piece of cling film large enough to encase the dough. Put the dough into the bag or Clingflim and leave to rest for 10 mins.
Once the dough has rested, divide it into small balls weighing about 40g each. You should get 10 - 15 balls (or boller) from this recipe. Place them onto a well-greased tray, cover with Clingfilm and put in a warm place to rise. This should take about 40 minutes.
You should probably be a little more careful than I was in making the buns and tray and make sure they have smooth tops as otherwise they come out a little wonky when baked. My second attempt produced much more uniform buns.
While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 200°C. Once the buns have doubled in size, put them into the hot oven and bake for 12 - 15 mins.
When the buns have turned golden brown, remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. As you can see, due to my lack of care in forming the buns, they came out looking less than perfect. However, they still taste delicious!
Once the buns are cool, put some large grained sugar into a small dish or bowl. I used a special type that I got in Denmark called Pearl Sugar, but crushed sugar lumps would work perfectly as a substitute.
Smear the top of the buns with a little butter and roll through the sugar until the top is evenly coated.
Enjoy plain or split in two with more butter and jam.