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FOOD&DRINK

Five classic Danish cakes you need to try

You may have tasted kanelsnegle, romkugler and tebirkes, but have you tried these hard-to-find cakes yet? If not, you're missing out.

Five classic Danish cakes you need to try
"Napoleonshatte" and other cakes on sale in a Danish bakery. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Napoleonshat

Literally translating as “Napoleon’s hat”, this pastry, which consists of a ball of marzipan baked on top of a shortbread biscuit, folded in the shape of a tricorne hat and dipped in dark chocolate, dates all the way back to 1856.

In the early 19th century, Denmark sided with France in the Napoleonic wars, which proved to be a bad idea: the UK bombed Copenhagen, stole the Danes’ entire naval fleet and Denmark was forced to concede Norway to Sweden following the Treaty of Kiel in 1814.

At least the Danes got a pastry out of it: and the triangular marzipan-flavoured pastries – somewhere between a cake and a biscuit – are still popular in Denmark as a great afternoon treat with a cup of coffee.

napoleonshat should not be confused with the equally delicious napoleonskage, which is a cake similar to a French millefeuille, a dessert consisting of two layers of puff pastry filled with cream and raspberry jam and glazed with white or brown icing.

Kartoffelkage

 
 
 
 
 
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Despite the name, you’ll be pleased to know that a kartoffelkage (literally: “potato cake”) does not include potatoes, with the cake instead getting its name due to its resemblance to a freshly-dug potato.

Kartoffelkager are a classic Danish cream cake or flødeskumskage, consisting of choux pastry (vandbakkelse) filled with crème pâtissière, known as kagecreme or “cake cream” in Danish.

They are then topped with a disc of marzipan and dusted with cocoa powder, giving them the appearance of a muddy potato fresh out of the ground.

Best eaten as fresh as possible and using a fork, it’s easy to understand how this cake, with the bitter cocoa powder, smooth vanilla-flavoured kagecreme and obligatory marzipan has become a classic.

Kajkage

The kajkage. Photo: Kjersti Hjelmen/NF/Ritzau Scanpix

From one classic to another, the kajkage is an essential Danish cake which you’re unlikely to find in hip Copenhagen bakeries.

This cake, shaped like a frog and covered in lime-green marzipan, is easier to find outside of Denmark’s larger cities, where you’re likely to see it in the shop windows of smaller local bakeries who aren’t too snobbish to stock the less-than-elegant pastry.

Originally referred to as a simple frøkage (frog cake), legend has it that an enterprising baker in Holstebro in western Jutland started marketing the cake under the name kajkage in the 1980s, after Kaj the frog, from popular children’s TV series Kaj og Andrea (Kaj and Andrea).

kajkage consists of a macaron-style base, known as a mazarinbunde in Danish, where marzipan (yes, the Danes love marzipan if you haven’t already figured that out), is mixed with egg, flour, sugar and butter and baked into a thin cake.

This is then cut out into rounds and topped with a layer of raspberry jam, then a layer of buttercream, which is then covered in green marzipan. A slice is then cut into the marzipan for the frog’s mouth with an optional red marzipan tongue, and two googly eyes are piped on to finish the cake.

Understandably popular with children, you should try a kajkage at least once in your life – if only to impress any Danes you know from more rural areas of Denmark with your local cake knowledge.

Medaljer

 
 
 
 
 
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Another classic, medaljer (medals) are the first cake on this list which do not include marzipan.

They have fallen somewhat out of fashion in recent years, but join kartoffelkager as one of the essential flødekager, which became popular at the turn of the 20th century when new technological advances made it possible to keep dairy products cold.

Medaljer, unlike kajkager, are extremely elegant, consisting of two discs of shortcrust pastry filled with a ring of either whipped cream or crème pâtissière, filled with some sort of compote or jam, usually a sour flavour to cut through the rich cream like raspberry or apple. They are then topped with icing or dark chocolate, and some sort of decoration, like a piped blob of cream or some fresh fruit.

Despite their often simple appearance, medaljer are surprisingly difficult to make, as the texture of the cream and compote filling must be stiff enough to ensure it can hold up the biscuit on top, while not being over-whipped.

Gåsebryst

 
 
 
 
 
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The final cake on this list, invented in western Sjælland at the beginning of the 1900s, is a gåsebryst (goose breast).

It gets its name from the domed shape and texture of the white marzipan topping. When marzipan was still made and rolled-out by hand, it was difficult to get it completely smooth, with the texture ending up similar to the feathers on a goose’s breast.

gåsebryst is a somewhat old-fashioned cake which you are more likely to find at a konditor than a standard bakery.

It consists of a base made of sponge cake or puff pastry, spread with some kind of fruit compote or jam (usually raspberry, more traditionally prune), and a dome of cream and kagecreme, formed into a long log. The log is then topped with uncoloured marzipan and drizzled with chocolate, then sliced into individual slices so the cross-section of the cake is visible.

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DANISH HABITS

Why do Danes let their babies sleep outside in strollers?

Danish parents often let their babies take daytime naps outdoors in their strollers. The practice can seem odd to visitors, so why is it so popular in the Nordic country?

Why do Danes let their babies sleep outside in strollers?

Denmark trended on social media this week when a Tiktok post, later also shared on Twitter, showed a series of videos of Danish strollers or prams parked outside on streets.

A number of the clips in the video show empty strollers parked outside kindergartens, but others presumably do indeed have sleeping babies in them.

This should not come as a surprise, given it’s common practice in Denmark to put babies and toddlers down for their naps outdoors, usually in their strollers.

Some social media commenters expressed shock at the video, with a fair few calling it bad parenting.

This week’s Tiktok and Twitter posts are not the first time Danish babies napping outside has caught international attention.

Back in 2013, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported that the “BBC is surprised that Scandinavian children sleep outside” in response to an article by the British broadcaster titled “The babies who nap in sub-zero temperatures”.

“The Scandinavian custom of letting infants sleep outside is causing a stir,” the paper wrote.

Research cited in both the British and Danish articles suggests that there may be benefits to letting children sleep outdoors.

That includes a study from Oulo University in Finland based on a survey of parents.

“Babies clearly slept longer outdoors than indoors,” lead researcher Marjo Tourula told the BBC. Indoor naps lasted between one and two hours while outdoor naps lasted from 1.5 to three hours, the survey found.

“Probably the restriction of movements by clothing could increase the length of sleep, and a cold environment makes swaddling possible without overheating,” Tourula said.

Swedish paediatrician Margareta Blennow told the BBC that the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency had found conflicting results.

“In some studies they found pre-schoolers who spent many hours outside generally – not just for naps – took fewer days off than those who spent most of their time indoors,” she said, adding “in other studies there wasn’t a difference”.

District nurse and author Helen Lyng Hansen told newspaper Ekstra Bladet in 2013 that babies sleeping outside “is a tradition we have in Denmark.”

“It’s part of our culture that we have an idea that it is good for children to sleep outside and get fresh, red cheeks. But there’s no evidence to say that it makes children healthier,” she said.

A page on district nursing advice website Sundhedsplejerkse.dk says that “there are not yet any scientific studies that can prove that sleeping outdoors makes a difference. But the experiences of parents and experts suggests that children seem to sleep well outside.”

All experts stress that it is important for babies and small children to be appropriately dressed for sleeping outside.

Newborn infants are not put outside to sleep, with most parents waiting until around five to six weeks of age, particularly in colder seasons. Health service advice says infants weighing under 3 kilograms should sleep indoors. Children who have a fever or are otherwise sick should also not sleep outside, according to general advice.

Temperatures below minus 10 degrees Celsius or very misty conditions are not suitable for outside sleeping and naps outside should not last more than around 2 hours.

In Denmark, the standard outfit for children sleeping outside in winter is a woollen sovedragt or full-length suit on top of up to three layers of their regular clothes or pyjamas. They will also wear gloves, a scarf and an elefanthue or non-face-covering balaclava.

A design of blanket from the brand Voksi, referred to as a Voksi pose (“Voksi bag”) is the most popular choice for outdoors sleeping. The blanket can be folded and fastened to enclose the baby and has a hood-shaped part at the top.

The child is usually then placed under an outer blanket or rug and inside the stroller, which has rain covers pulled over if needed.

These layers are gradually reduced during the warmer seasons.

Although images of prams parked on streets are perhaps the most striking feature of the practice, this is not where most Danish babies sleep. Gardens, balconies and kindergartens are far more common places for parents or carers to put young children down for a nap.

That’s not to say a little one sleeping in a pram outside a café or similar public place isn’t unheard of. When this happens, the parent will be sat somewhere in view or use a baby alarm.

That parents nevertheless feel comfortable leaving children to sleep on the street can seem unbelievable to those witnessing the practice for the first time.

“There’s also something about us living in safe Denmark,” retired district nurse and author Sigrid Riise told Ekstra Bladet in 2013.

“We have always dared to leave our children outside, even though we have begun to keep an eye on them more in recent years,” she said.

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