The Home of Hygge: Talking with Trine Hahnemann, author of Copenhagen Food

Copenhagen on a Winter's evening // Photo courtesy Quadrille Publishing Company

Copenhagen on a Winter’s evening // Photo courtesy Quadrille Publishing Company

Chef and author Trine Hahnemann has become one of Scandinavia’s leading culinary ambassadors at a time when the region’s profile is on the rise. The seasonality and hyper-locality of Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant has changed the way chefs think about food from Tokyo to New York. And the concept of Scandinavian hospitality and comfort known as hygge has been a game-changer here in Minnesota where four to five months a year are spent figuring out how to survive a sometimes stark winter season.

Trine Hahnemann // Photo via Trine Hahnemann's Facebook

Trine Hahnemann // Photo via Trine Hahnemann’s Facebook

Hahnemman’s new recipe book and gazetteer, “Copenhagen Food,” captures her nearly 50 years of experience at the heart of the Danish food story, and uses crisp, arresting images to invite readers to her city and her table.

In the same way that Anthony Bourdain’s shows about food and travel were also stories about history, culture, and politics, Hahnemann’s tour of Copenhagen starts with culinary points of interest but also weaves much larger tales. “Copenhagen Food” is a walking tour of the city’s boroughs, spending enough time in each of them to capture the mood, the history, the architecture, and the feel of each section of town. The book comes on the heels of her similarly chic recipe book “Open Sandwiches,” which came out earlier this year.

Hahnemann is touring the United States in support of her book, and will do two signings in Minneapolis on Monday, October 22. The first will be at Ingebretsen’s at 1601 E. Lake St. in Minneapolis from 1pm–3pm. The second will include a food demonstration and will be at Also Ingebretsen’s/Norway House at 913 E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis from 6:30pm–8pm.

Æbleskiver with jam // Photo courtesy Quadrille Publishing Company

Æbleskiver with jam // Photo courtesy Quadrille Publishing Company

The Growler: “Copenhagen Food” has a really strong sense of geography as you guide us through the city’s boroughs, but there’s also a strong sense of time—how does seasonality influence Danish food?

Trine Hahnemann: Seasons here are not four, like you see in other countries—I think we have almost like 12 seasons, because some of the things, like asparagus, are only around for three weeks. And then you move on to the next thing.

Of course the seasons go from like autumn to winter and so on, but there are things in every month that you can only get in that month. I think that makes it very special and distinguishes Copenhagen.

Are people in Denmark just more respectful of seasons than people in other countries might be?

Yes, I think so. We do have strawberries year round here, but it’s very new—it’s just happened in recent years. Lots of Danes find it really strange to buy strawberries in October. Also, potatoes. When we have the new potatoes in June, it’s something they say on the news. ‘This is the first day of Danish potatoes, and this is the price!’

Strawberries are the same—when is the strawberry season starting and how long will it go for? Are there a lot of strawberries, or not that much? So it is things people really know about. If you are a serious restaurant, even at the mid-range of prices, you wouldn’t serve strawberries in the winter. People wouldn’t be interested.

One of the Scandinavian concepts that has really blown up here in Minnesota—sometimes in a pretty commercial, marketing way—is the idea of hygge, which you invoke a lot in “Copenhagen Food.” What does the word really mean?

First of all, hygge can never have anything to do with anything you buy. It is a word that describes an atmosphere. It’s actually a very egalitarian way to be together. One very good way to describe it in a food setting is […] if you went to a high-end, Michelin starred restaurant with white tablecloths with that very kind of stiff, formal service—that is not hygge. A Dane would say, ‘The food is good and it was very professional, but it wasn’t hyggelig.’

So what really gives something an authentic feeling of hygge?

It’s cozy, it’s relaxed, it’s informal—and there should always be something to eat and drink. Just sitting down at an inn and having a beer after work can be really hyggelig. Going for a hot dog and sitting in a park, you know. So it’s difficult to pin down because it’s a way we describe a lot of everyday things.

I try to call it all the little things you do to make life nice for yourself. By yourself, or with a group, or with your family. Even at work, people will say, ‘Oh my God, it’s Friday and it’s raining outside, let’s have a hygge time.’ All of sudden, somebody is making coffee, and somebody is getting a cake, and someone has a candle in their drawer that they put on somebody’s desk in the office… so in that sense, it is really, really incorporated in our culture.

What’s the food scene like when it comes to be Christmastime in Copenhagen?

We go crazy when Christmas gets here. Truly crazy! In December, any cafe you go to will serve gløgg, which is the warm, sweet, spiced red wine. And that will come with some spiced brown cookies, and then there’s a lot of different things we do in December. We have Christmas lunches at work. You have Christmas lunch with your family. And then we have the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve where families have lots of traditions about getting the tree, making cookies, making homemade chocolates, all kinds of things preparing for the food they’re going to eat when Christmas gets nearer. And lots of people go out, especially for open sandwiches.

Is there anything special happening on the beer side of things during the holidays?

All breweries will make a special Christmas beer, which is kind of a pale ale but with spices in it. All celebrations about the day, Christmas beer will be out, and then we call it smorgasbord at Christmas where you eat a lot of different things—special open sandwiches, Christmas herrings, salmon. And when I say Christmas spices, I mean all the Indian warm spices like cardamom, coriander, juniper berries […] and nutmeg and cloves; we use them in other things, but in Christmastime we use them in the drinks, in the baking, in the stews, in roasting the pork.

A lot of the recipes in “Copenhagen Food” have a direct connection to your life, and your story. Tell me about one of your personal favorites.

One of the most personal ones is actually the marzipan chocolate bars. I grew up in a… my parents were hippies and very active on the left wing in the ’60s and ’70s, so we were kind of running a bit wild. We lived in a commune. These marzipan covered in dark chocolate bars were my favorite when I was a kid and I loved to go with one of the people who lived in the commune with me because he was building a boat.

I didn’t really want to go to school because I had to take the bus so far, so instead I would just go to hang out with him to his workshop while he was building the boat. So we would get these marzipan chocolate bars all day and not a lot of other food—as a kid you don’t really seem to have problems with that—so of course, this is something that I really love. It’s interesting that there are these things you loved as a kid and when you feel you need something comfortable, you always seek them out. They are somehow in your DNA.

Chocolate Marzipan bar // Photo courtesy Quadrille Publishing Company

Chocolate Marzipan bar // Photo courtesy Quadrille Publishing Company

The famous chocolate marzipan bar recipe

From “Copenhagen Food”

When I was a child, I would hang out where the boats were built. Often, the grown-ups would give us fizzy drinks, or marzipan chocolate bars from Anthon Berg, wrapped up in pink paper.

Makes about 12

For the marzipan
350 grams [2¾ cups] blanched almonds
100 grams [¾ cup] icing [confectioner’s] sugar, plus more to dust
50 milliliters [3½ Tbsp] water

To finish the bars
200 grams [7 ounces] tempered dark [bittersweet] chocolate, 60% cocoa solids

For the marzipan, whizz the blanched almonds in a food processor and keep whizzing until they become a paste. Add the icing sugar, whizz again, then add the water and whizz again. Take the marzipan out of the food processor and knead it on a work surface dusted with icing sugar. Form it into a big brick-like shape and leave to rest in refrigerator for two hours or overnight.

To temper the chocolate: For this you will need a sugar thermometer. Melt 140 grams [5 ounces] of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water; make sure the bowl does not touch the water. When the chocolate has reached 50ºC [122ºF], remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining 60 grams [2 ounces] chocolate. Mix well until melted. Gently heat in the same way as before until the chocolate reaches 31ºC [88ºF]. Now it is ready to use. Keep the chocolate’s temperature at a steady 31ºC [88ºF] while you are working with it.

To finish the bars, while you temper the chocolate cut the marzipan into 12 even-sized rectangular bars. Dip each bar in the tempered chocolate, making sure they are covered, then place on a wire rack until the chocolate has set.