The Danes are known for their pastries, but did you know that ‘Danishes’ as we know them actually originated in Austria, and are called Vienna bread, wienerbrød, in Danish? Danish pastry culture is deeply rooted in the history of neighborhood bakeries, and the tradition of having a pastry break with colleagues, family, or friends. The food scene is booming in Copenhagen, due to the development of New Nordic cuisine. Because of this, bakeries are constantly popping up everywhere, with unique takes on the classic pastries, inspiring new cult favorites. We highly suggest embarking on a journey to discover the mouthwatering pastries that are a staple in Danish food culture.
Lent Buns: Fastelavnsboller
Fastelavnsboller are a pastry commonly enjoyed in the month of February, leading up to the holiday fastelavn, which translates to Shrovetide, and is very similar to Carnival. While there are many different types of fastelavnsboller, the traditional pastries are usually rolls filled with jam or custard, and covered with dollop icing. Other fastelavnsboller are made of a fluffy pastry, and filled with whipped cream, as well as custard, jam, or chocolate. The word fastelavn means the night before the fast, and refers to the religious tradition of fasting for 40 days leading up to Easter The fast lost meaning after the reformation to Lutheranism in 1536, however, Denmark continued the fastelavn traditions. Today, children often celebrate the holiday by dressing up in costumes, and celebrating at school with fastelavnsboller. On occasion, some children still go door to door in their neighborhoods singing a song while shaking a little coin holder, in the hopes of getting a few cents.
Spandauer are the pastries that are commonly thought of as a ‘Danish’. The Danish originated in Vienna, and was brought to Denmark in the mid-1800s due to a strike amongst bakery workers that pushed Danish bakery owners to hire from abroad. Among the bakers that were hired, some were Austrian, and brought their own recipes to Denmark, hence the ‘Danish’ being born. They are circular pastries, consisting of dough filled with a little bit of marzipan, and topped with cream or jam. In Denmark, pastries are also commonly referred to as Vienna bread, wienerbrød.
Danish Poppyseed Pastries: Tebirkes
Tebirkes are a classic Danish pastry, made from a buttery pastry dough that is similar to the dough used for croissants. The dough is glazed in whipped eggs mixed with sugar, and topped with poppy seeds, creating a nice crunchy exterior. A tebirkes can also turn into a frøsnapper, the dough is just stretched and twisted instead of being rolled into a bun shape. Tebirkes are perfect for those who don’t have a major sweet tooth, as they have a bit less sugar filling than other popular pastries.
Cinnamon Snail: Kanelsnegl
Kanelsnegl is another yummy classic pastry that can be found at every bakery. The kanelsnegl can be considered the Danish version of a cinnamon roll. The kanelsnegl is also often referred to as a Wednesday snail, onsdagssnegl, and eaten specifically on Wednesdays. The tradition started in the late 1980s, where Wednesday snails were known to be bigger than a regular kanelsnegl, and sometimes sold at a cheaper price. The name was coined by the bakery Skt. Peders Bageri, located right around the corner from DIS, and the concept spread throughout the country. Some say that the tradition of Wednesday snails grew in popularity in the early 1990s, because the Danish national soccer team played their games on Wednesdays, and the eager viewers often paired their excitement of the game with a pastry. Although no one quite knows how this tradition started, it is still common to this day, and a great excuse for a pastry pick-me-up in the middle of the week.
Dream Cake: Drømmekage
Drømmekage was first introduced to Denmark in the 1960s, and is one of the most popular cakes in Denmark. The story goes, that a 13-year old girl named Jytte entered her grandmothers recipe for this cake in a local recipe competition at Brovst Hotel. The margarine company Amo (still on shelves at the grocery store to this day), was looking for new cake recipes. They chose Jytte’s recipe and renamed it, The Dream Cake from Brovst, Drømmekagen fra Brovst. The cake is made of a fluffy sponge-like cake, topped with a crisp caramelized grated coconut. Though not a pastry, this delicious cake is easy to make, and a staple in Danish cake and coffee culture.
If you are vegan, or gluten free, no need to worry! There are still plenty of treats for you. Quite a few vegan and gluten free bakeries have popped up in Copenhagen. Naturbageriet has both traditional, and vegan baked goods, and is located near Nørreport. Det Rene Brød on Kronprinsessegade has quite a lot of Danish vegan pastry options such as kanegsnegle, frøsnapper, and hindbærsnitter. There is also a Det Rene Brød on Østerbrogade, which offers most of the traditional pastries mentioned in this blog post, such as tebirkes, spandauer, and kanelsnegle.