Scandinavian Ingredients – Recipes for an Authentic Pantry
August 27, 2020
In Norway the storehouse is called a stabbur. My ancestors would have worked throughout the warm months to prepare and preserve food to last through the winter. In a country with just three percent arable land, it was essential to their survival. Today’s Nordic pantry holds a much different purpose, and mine is a well-curated assortment of items to round out the recipes beloved by many. While you can buy many Scandinavian ingredients, today I’m featuring a number of recipes for an authentic Scandinavian pantry.
Pickled beets with bay leaf and juniper add a jolt of color and flavor to a variety of dishes. Crème fraîche figures heavily throughout the recipes, and making it is as easy as can be. Homemade butter elevates each bread recipe to something incredible. One of my favorite Scandinavian ingredients is the homemade vaniljesukker; Scandinavian vanilla sugar is different than American vanilla sugar, and this recipe saves money and effort for those who don’t have easy access to Scandinavian import stores. While it’s easy to substitute vaniljesukker with vanilla extract, doing so loses a bit of nuance, especially in recipes as simple as my pannekaker.
The modern Norwegian pantry is no longer necessary as a means of survival. But it sure is delicious.
And now, for the recipes for Scandinavian ingredients you can make at home:
I wrote about this punchy little condiment on the blog recently, and I encourage you to head over to the recipe and check it out. It’s as simple as can be, with only six ingredients (including the salt and pepper!). Pickled beets go well with everything from sjömansbiff (Swedish sailor’s stew) to meatballs.
Homemade Crème Fraîche
Sometimes recipes that look too simple intimidate me. Maybe it’s the lack of control that I’ll have, sitting back and letting science work its magic. That was certainly the case with crème fraîche for a long time. For one, I wasn’t sure how I felt about letting a dairy product sit at room temperature for an entire day. Then when I tried it the first time, I found myself not entirely believing that it would work. But it did, and the results are so much better than the crème fraîche one will find at the store.
Similar to sour cream, homemade crème fraîche is delicious with a variety of sweet and savory foods. I’d recommend making it it a day before you plan to serve salmon or cod for dinner, as it provides the lightest yet flavorful dill sauce (find my recipe here). While not necessarily something on a list of traditional Scandinavian ingredients, it certainly fits right in. Use it as a garnish for soup, add it to mashed potatoes, basically almost anywhere you might use sour cream. You can also add a dollop to fresh berries or add it to whipping cream when whipping up a topping for a dessert. Here’s how to make it:
Pour 1 cup heavy cream and 2 tablespoons buttermilk in a pint-sized jar. Cover with cheesecloth and fasten it with string or a rubber band. Let sit at room temperature, around 70 degrees, until thickened, about 24 hours. Give it a good stir until smooth, then refrigerate. This will yield 1 cup.
So I’ll be honest, I like to keep things simple when it comes to food. If I can buy a really good quality product—like jam for example—I’m generally going to do that rather than making my own. But sometimes it’s fun to make something from scratch, and when it comes to homemade butter, it really is a different thing than the butter one buys at a store. So when you’re making a really awesome bread (like cardamom buns or the honey-kissed oatmeal bread on page 18 of my book Modern Scandinavian Baking), or even just building an awesome smørbrød like the ones here, here, and here (the smør in smørbrød translates to butter, after all), consider giving this homemade butter a try. It’s fun to make, and the results are quite creamy and delicious.
Place 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a lidded jar. Tightly close and vigorously shake until the cream separates into a solid and liquid—butter and buttermilk. Be patient through the process—it can take up to a half an hour. Throughout the process, the cream will first turned into whipped cream, a state it will remain at for a while. Be patient and don’t give up, eventually with enough shaking, it will separate. Strain and discard the buttermilk or reserve for another use (this buttermilk is thinner than the conventional kind).
Vanilla Pastry Cream (a Homemade Substitute for Vanilje Kakefyll)
The packets of powdered kakefyll available in Scandinavia—and at import stores in the United States such as Scandinavian Specialties—make a fine start for a creamy cake filling. (Sometimes when I’m making a somewhat involved recipe, like Kvæfjordkake, it can be nice to have a shortcut for one of its elements. Plus, the recipe that the cake’s ambassador gave me some years ago actually included such a packet in its ingredient list, so there’s no shame in using it.) But when I’m going all out and making everything from scratch, which I usually do, I still want it to taste authentic, like the kakefyll that those who use it will recognize. This recipe is it. Use it for the Kvæfjordkake, bløtkake, and any other time you need a good pastry cream. Find the recipe here (scroll down toward the bottom of that post).
Homemade Vanilla Sugar (Vaniljesukker)
A number of Norwegian baking recipes call for Scandinavian vanilla sugar (vaniljesukker), and it’s important to note that this product is unlike anything we have in the United States. Rather than granulated sugar infused with vanilla, the Scandinavian version is the consistency of powdered sugar with a distinct flavor and aroma that varies a bit from the vanilla we typically think of. Vaniljesukkar is made with synthetic vanillin—which is made from a petrochemical precursor called guaicol—instead of real vanilla. While that may not sound appetizing, it does lend a distinct flavor to recipes, particularly in simple recipes like my pannekaker. So while one can substitute a bit of vanilla extract in a pinch, the flavor won’t be quite the same.
You can find this and other Scandinavian ingredients at shops like Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle, if you have one nearby or can order online. Otherwise, it’s incredibly easy to make your own. I learned to make homemade vaniljesukker from my friend Christy, who shared her recipe in The Norwegian American a few years ago.
In a clean pint-sized lidded jar, measure in 1 cup of powdered sugar. Use the tip of a sharp knife to split one vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and add to the sugar, giving it a quick stir. Tuck the pod inside too, screw on the lid, and give it all a good shake. Continue to shake it every few days for a month, at which time the sugar will be richly fragrant. Of course, if you need to use it beforehand, it will still be good. This should last indefinitely. Yields 1 cup.
Spiced Lingonberry Jam
This is more of a guide than a recipe to follow precisely. If you have access to fresh or frozen lingonberries (I buy frozen ones from Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle), it’s easy to customize your own lingonberry jam. Simply start with approximately 2 1/4 cups lingonberries and 3/4 cup water. Combine these in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a low boil, uncovered, for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add honey and/or sugar (add sparingly at first, as you can add more as needed), 2 tablespoons aquavit, and a pinch of salt, and cook for two more minutes. Taste and adjust the sweetener if needed to suit your tastes. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use. (Note: This recipe is not written for canning.) Optional: Try adding clove, cardamom, cinnamon, or allspice to the mix! Just be sure to remove any whole spices you might use.
As you likely know, lingonberry preserves are a key item to add to your list of Scandinavian ingredients. But if you happen to come across fresh or frozen ones, now you have a guide for customizing your own.