Don’t Mess With Danish Christmas Dinner

This will be our third Christmas in Copenhagen. Wow – really? Yes. I know. It’s crazy. But true. And when you land in a country like Denmark at the beginning of December, Christmas becomes an iconic bookmark of sorts for your experiences here. This isn’t so bad. Danes love Christmas. Good thing I do too. And I truly love Danish Christmas.

Tonight I met a Dane who also loves Christmas. To be honest – I haven’t met a Dane that really doesn’t like Christmas yet, but Trine Hahnemann REALLY loves Christmas. Trine is a professional cook and cookbook author and tonight she shared stories, recipes and tastes of her own Danish Christmas. Thank you to Isabella Mousavizadeh-Smith, owner of Books and Company, an international book cafe in Hellerup, Denmark for hosting an evening with Trine to learn about her personal Scandinavian Christmas traditions.

2017 UPDATE: Meet Trine this season at Books & Company on Wednesday, December 6th from 19-21. RSVP for the event here. 

Trine loves celebrating Christmas. For her it is more than the religious holiday. Like many Danes, holidays here have a rich and historic tradition that goes back even further than the arrival of Christianity to this part of the world. For her, Christmas is a way to celebrate the year that is ending. New Year’s is more of a look to the year ahead. But Christmas – this is a time to stop and take a pause. She believes that almost all cultures have a way of marking an end to each cycle. A natural way of stopping. Christmas is that for her. And for many Danes. And stop Danes do. Christmas takes up a full three days here. Shops close. The streets are quiet. People are together.

By the time December rolls around here in Denmark – it is dark. For me, it’s really dark. I’ve spoken of it before. There still a few weeks left before school lets out for our winterferie, or winter break. My children are now rising before the sun and coming home in the dark. By the winter solstice on December 21st, there will be only seven hours of daylight. Celebrating and feasting and communing is necessary and has been done at this time in Scandinavia since the Vikings and probably before. I might celebrate too if Ragnar Lothbrok was coming to my feast. (Sorry – I just started watching the HBO series, the Vikings. I’m a tiny bit obsessed. With the show people. Not Ragnar. But if Chris Hemsworth would ever make an appearance as Thor – put a fork in me. I’d be done. What a present. Merry Christmas and Glædelig Jul. Oh sorry, I digress.)

Christmas is a perfect time for being present in the ritual of celebrating the end of every year. Trine believes that we need to celebrate each year. Even the bad years. “Life is a roller coaster,” she says. We should enjoy the ride. Even the downs. And of course the ups. Christmas is that for her.

Her ritual, not unlike many Danes, is steadfast. She has a plan. A Jule template if you will. And it starts the four advent Sundays before the 24th of December. That is Danish Christmas you know. But what about the 25th you may wondering? Here, that is known as 2nd Christmas, when you visit the other side of the family. And the 26th is for 3rd Christmas – I guess a day dedicated to the familial outliers and outlaws or, as we refer to them in our family, the “in-law-in-laws.”

There is no “boxing day” here in Denmark. Only more ritual, tradition and FOOD. Lots and lots of rich and very specific food. For each part of it. Each day. Trine reminds us how much emotion we tie to specific food. And what eating that food can do to create community and connection and reinforce culture and tradition. Dare I say hygge. She doesn’t stray from recreating those quintessentially Danish Christmas foods every year. Her children know by now that they…

Don’t mess with Mama’s Christmas.”
– Trine Hahnemann

And why should they? It’s good. We got to sample some of Trine’s own rugbrød with hjemmelavet rullepølse. Homemade rolled pork. It is one of those things that I see in the shops often and am always a little squeamish and slightly suspicious of. What exactly IS in rullepølse? Tonight, I didn’t process it so much or think about it too intently. I just tried Trine’s. It was delicious. Especially when served on her chewy, dense, dark malted rye bread with a little mustard and pickled asier. Also known as marrow in the UK, asier is a member of the zucchini family available only for short time during late summer.

This gives you a small sense about how much planning goes into the traditional Danish Christmas meal. You have to start preparing and preserving and pickling when ingredients are in season. Luckily for you and me – if you didn’t know all the dishes necessary for each Danish Christmas days in advance – you can still buy most of the items from your local market. Even Trine will admit that the importance in attempting your Danish Christmas is to keep it fun. She wants you to enjoy the whole process. Keep it hyggeligt. So if this means prioritizing only some of the recipes, while including some ready made items, she is all for it. For you. She won’t be doing it. But she won’t judge you.

The base of the Danish Christmas menu is pretty standard across the board, as evidenced by the prevalence of the following items in EVERY grocer, butcher and market across Denmark. And while Trine will concede that there are some potential tweaks to the ritual menu even between different Danish families, she doesn’t stray from year to year. Does your family serve risengrød (rice porridge) to start? Or risalamande (a creamy sweetened rice pudding) served cold with warm cherry sauce and almonds for dessert? From what I have gleaned – it’s an either or for the Danes. And nary the tween shall meet – you don’t serve both. Your choice, tradition and conviction about where and what type of the rice porridge to serve is almost as serious as the consternation you’re sure to receive when you forget to put down the divider on the conveyer belt at the grocery store.

So what does Trine serve her family EVERY Christmas? Seriously. She isn’t joking. I told you she loves Christmas. Don’t mess with Mama’s Christmas.

 

TRINE HAHNEMANN’S TRADITIONAL DANISH CHRISTMAS MENU

Roast Duck
Roast Pork with Crackling
Caramel Potatoes
Sautéed Red Cabbage
White Potatoes with Gravy

Risalamande with Hot Cherry Sauce
Christmas Cookies
Marcipan Chocolates
Gløgg

TRINE’S ADD ONS:

Brussels Sprouts with Clementines
Kale Salad with Pomegranate

She knows that the menu is rich and not exactly health conscious. But the Danes have an “everything in moderation, including moderation” approach when it comes to the holidays. Especially Christmas. This is a once a year meal. And she thinks it is worth waiting for. Enjoying. And sharing. This is julehygge. Cozy Christmas community. Danish style.

LESSONS LEARNED

I had to laugh at her explaining the process for the caramel potatoes chastising those who thought you could leave this seemingly simple side dish to the end like an afterthought. Oh no. She said. Oh no. I thought. Cringing a bit in my folded chair, was she literally talking to me? How could she know about my last Christmas dinner? Gah. Ok. Ok. I admit it. I seriously messed up the caramel potatoes. Unrecognizable. To any Dane. For sure.

Now before you judge – I will tell you that I feel fairly adept at the roast pork now and can fashion a mostly moist and tasty duck. If you know me, you know I love to roast a duck.* I can handle the cookies and the chocolates and definitely the gløgg. Even the rice and red cabbage seem right. But the potatoes. Those christmassy caramel ones anyway. Utter FAIL.

Last Christmas, my darling Danish guests were sweet and took tastes. They wondered, out loud, if this was my American addition to their Danish meal tradition – the rest of which I’d apparently been successful at administering. Um. No. I said. Those are brunkartofler. Caramel potatoes. Nej. No they aren’t. Not really. Now I know. This year I’ll do better. I’ll prep and prepare and stir and stir and layer and layer. The golden buttery sugary layers of caramel for my Danish Christmas potatoes. Thank you Trine! Tusind tak!

Want Trine’s recipes for your own? You can pick up her Christmas cookbook at Books and Company in Hellerup along with her other titles focusing on Scandinavian Baking and Scandinavian Comfort Food. She is charming, effusive and engaging. If she comes to your town on tour, I recommend seeking her out. I can’t wait to try some of her techniques and more than one of her recipes.

TRINE HAHNEMANN

Scandinavian Christmas

Scandinavian Baking – Loving Baking at Home

Screen Shot 2016-12-08 at 00.41.02
Photo: Columbus Leth

Scandinavian Comfort Food – Embracing the Art of Hygge

WHERE TO BUY in COPENHAGEN:

BOOKS AND COMPANY
International bookshop and café
Sofievej 1, 2900 Hellerup, Denmark
+45 3930 4045
info@booksandcompany.dk

Have you attempted the Danish Christmas dinner? Ok. Back up. Are you a Dane? Unfair advantage. Oh you aren’t? Have you? You have? How did it go? I’d love to hear your trials and tribulations around your Christmas table. I shared mine. Please do yours. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

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Untold Morsels
*Roasting Ducks is somewhat of a hobby for University of Washington alumni. Especially this year. GO HUSKIES! WOOF!
Don't Mess with Trine Hahnemann's Danish Christmas Dinner Traditions | Oregon Girl Around the World
Tips, techniques and tales from Danish cookbook author Trine Hahnemann

65 thoughts on “Don’t Mess With Danish Christmas Dinner

  1. Does Trine take complete strangers into her house at Christmas for feasting? How about 4? I’d bring amazing wine. Loved this post Erin and seriously.. don’t mess with Christmas or the caramelised potatoes!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Thank you for reading Tanja! I really enjoyed hearing the Danish perspectives about Christmas! And it was soo tasty! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  2. Oh my god that menu: Roast Duck, Roast Pork with Crackling, Caramel Potatoes, Sautéed Red Cabbage, White Potatoes with Gravy – it’s like someone tried to define the word “comfort” using food. I think that would be my death-row dinner. Sorry that’s not a very Christmassy thought but that is one incredible meal.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Haha! That meal might send you to death row – good thing the Danes bike most everywhere to work some of it off! Yes – I love the pork the best. You don’t get that cut of pork in the States, so I had never tried before I came here. SOOO good. Cheers from Copenhagen and glædelig jul! Erin

  3. My mother is spending Christmas this year with her husband’s family who live in Copenhagen (half Danish/half English) and right this moment I am super jealous!! The entire meal sounds delicious but caramel potatoes??? I have died and gone to heaven. I am going to ask my mother to take photographs of the meal now!!! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Oooh – hope she enjoys! If prepared well – the meal is really tasty! Tell her ‘god jul” and to embrace the hygge! Cheers, Erin

  4. This sounds so good it’s not true! I love how Trine tackles Christmas and wish I could share it with her!!!! We have a Danish friend in our village who invites us around for some form of Danish Christmas celebration most years and it’s such fun, but not quite on this scale. I want to jump on a plane and be in Denmark right now for some of that seasonal hygge. #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I’m trying to soak it all up because once the lights come down after New Years – its basically JUST DARK around here – unless it snows. I hope it snows. A sunny cold day with the city under white is equally as magical. Can’t make it to Denmark – light some candles, a LOT of candles, turn on the jule tunes, pour yourself a glass of gløgg (a sweeter vin chaud) and make some cookies with your loved ones. Hygge beyond borders. It is translatable! Glædelig Jul from Copenhagen, Erin

  5. Great post & so true! I get the same way here in Germany! When we have our “American” Christmas, dinner is always the same. And I have to keep telling my German family to TRY the food because it will be the same every year and I;ll never change anything or leave anything out! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      We keep a few of our American recipes – I make spritz cookies from a press every year that everyone requires or it just isn’t Christmas. And my husband makes a homemade egg nog from scratch that was my Dad’s recipe. We do a roast beef tenderloin and rosemary potatoes, but have been reserving that for our New Year’s feast since moving here! Would love to hear what is traditional on your table at Christmas – I think for Americans it has much more variety – accounting for how many immigrant influences we have encorporated over the years as well as regional cuisine influences and taking advantage of what is sourced near you. – Erin

      1. Nothing too historical in my books, just what y family has made: turkey, green bean casserole, stuffing, cheesy bacon potatoes… no family recipes sadly 🙁 One thing I miss the most is Egg Nog, and I’ve been wondering if there was a way to make my own, now I’ll have to look for a recipe! mmm

      2. oregongirlaroundtheworld

        Oh yes. You can definitely make egg nog for yourself. Ours is a high octane and adult only version. Something to cut the decadent creamy thick Christmas in a glass. I would share it with you, but then I would have to kill you. And that’s not very Christmassy. Just kidding. Kind of. Heavily guarded family secret recipe. 😉

      3. I figured! That’s why I didn’t ask! And I have my own Christmas cookie recipes, not family traditions but recipes Germans don’t know about so I don’t share them otherwise they would make my Pinterest finds haha

  6. That spread sounds amazing! We attempted our first Christmas abroad last year, and it was also my first time roasting a turkey, in our tiny UK oven. It came out acceptably, but I’ll be happy to be back in America with my Mom’s Christmas dinner this year.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes our oven isn’t very big here either – it definitely takes some planning on how to master it all! Enjoy your travels back and soak up all those American Christmas traditions while there! Glædelig Jul from Copenhagen!

  7. Mmmmmmmm this does sound delicious- I love reading about the traditions from around the world. Caramel potatoes are a new one for me though! But I’m a big fan of tradition at Christmas, whatever yours may be. #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      They aren’t so strange to me as we do “candied” sweet potatoes for our Thanksgiving and sometimes Christmas – ummm. Me too – I love learning new traditions and will try almost anything once! Cheers and thanks for engaging with #FarawayFiles!

  8. aandj8804

    Squee! How awesome that you got to meet Trine Hahnemann! I have her book Scandinavian baking, but I’ve never attempted any of the recipes in it. Now that I’ve read your post I can’t wait to get started! Also, I had no idea she had a second book out with comfort foods. Do you know which book came out first?

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I’m pretty sure the Scandi comfort foods is the latest – she had just returned from a 4 week book tour in the States promoting it! Tweet me or tag me on IG if you do bake one of the recipes – would love to see!

  9. Shops close for 3 days??? Wow, in the UK, the country would fall apart, it’s bad enough the shops close for one day and people are filling up their trolleys the next day as if the world was coming to an end! I love that the Dane’s slow down and value this holiday! Now, moving on … to Ragnor Lothbrok, now if he were coming for Christmas dinner … well, I can’t say anymore but I am a huge fan of this show as well (and of Ragnor Lothbrok, I have googled alllll about everything to do with this show!) so if you ever want to chat about the plot, you know where to find me! My apologies, I digress from your fabulous blog post ….. *sighs* homemade pulled pork?? Caramel potatoes?? I’m on the next flight (will have to book myself a double seat for the way home just to fit my fat rear end in though lol) #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I know! Same in the States. We are used to preparing for it now. If you are a tourist at this time of year, there are restaurants and even the Copenhagen classic TIVOLI is open during those days, just limited on the 24th. Some coffee shops and kiosks are open as well – so no one is stranded. But it is definitely QUIET. But that is ok if you’re prepared for it! Yes – Ragnor. We just started watching – still in Season 1 – don’t give me any hints – we’re loving it so far. Fun to live here and understand a little bit of the basis and history for the show. Cheers from Scandi Viking land – Erin

  10. I have to say my favorite part of this post was your pun at the very end about the Huskies and the Ducks. I didn’t go to University of Washington but I grew up in the Seattle area so therefore, I am a Huskies fan through and through. But all joking aside, it looks like the Danes really do Christmas right. I’m not even going to attempt to make a Christmas dinner like that- I’m sure I’d mess it up royally- but I wouldn’t mind being a guest at one! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Haha! Yes – you are probably well aware of the rivalry! I am the worst Oregon Girl – I left Eugene and went to University of Washington – I know! The horror! It happened to be in the early 1990’s – dating myself, but back when the Huskies were GOOD. It has been fun AND hard to see them succeeding this year – I want to be there! Have been able to grab a few games streaming if they aren’t on too late! As for Danish Christmas dinner – it truly is delicious! Glædelig Jul and GO HUSKIES! 😉

  11. Wow! My mouth is watering right now! I will not hesitate to try a Danish feast (I love duck by the way). I feel identified with the Christmas celebration you described. When I was growing up, there was a lot of eating and spending time with family. I will need to check our Danish town here in California. There may be lunch and dinner specials for the season. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Oooh – Solvang! I haven’t been there, but my husband who grew up in Southern California used to go to Solvang every year. I know you can get the traditional meal there and apparently there is a Danish butcher there that does the correct cut of pork for the traditional Christmas roast. But if you see any wooden clogs – those aren’t really Danish. They’re Dutch! A common mixup! Cheers and happy to have you engaged with #FarawayFiles – loved your Deep Ellum post! Erin

  12. Lovely to read about Christmas traditions. I’m intrigued by caramel potatoes though. I have a sweet tooth but I’m not sure I’d want to give up my normal roast potatoes (which I love!). #Farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      So that is why the Danes also do the boiled white potatoes with gravy. It’s all about pork and potatoes around here. Me – I’m a roasted potatoes person myself. Our American Christmas tradition is rosemary roasted potatoes with an herbed beef tenderloin. YUM. Mom is the master. We have been doing that here for our New Year’s feast. Add on pumpkin pie, spritz cookies and home made eggnog and I’m happy. Cheers and Glædelig Jul from Copenhagen! Erin

  13. You have me craving roast pork and crackling now! Seriously, that christmas menu looks delicious, much better than the usual Turkey.

    I have only spent one christmas abroad and I wasn;t a fan of being away from home for the holidays but i’d be very tempted to try a a Christmas somewhere in Europe

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Before moving to Denmark, I’d only spent two Christmas outside the States – both in Australia – on an island in the Great Barrier Reef. Not rough at all. But – so different. Lots of seafood and plum pudding and Santa came in a canoe. So interesting. I know I will be carrying some of these Danish traditions with me wherever I go, it has really sunk in! Cheers and happy to have you join in #FarawayFiles, Erin

  14. Thanks for giving me a glimpse into what Christmas is like at the top of the world. The Christmas dinner sounds pretty amazing, and I love that Danish quote, “everything in moderation, including moderation.” #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      That quote is actually from Julia Child – I just think the Danes wholeheartedly embrace. Just like Julia – they aren’t afraid of cooking with butter, eating rich foods and using the fat. I spent two Christmasses in Australia and remember it being such a different vibe – Santa came in a canoe and we had lots of seafood and Christmas pudding. What’s the main dish on your Christmas menu?

    2. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Apparently the quote is credited to Oscar Wilde first. But I will give Julia accommodation for absconding it – as I love her too!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Right? I love it too! I know if from Julia Child, but apparently it was credited to Oscar Wilde first! Whoever said it – it’s rules to live by in my honest opinion! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  15. Ah – clearly the best potatoes take time! I’d love to try your duck, though. I do like a tasty roast duck, and I’ve never managed to quite master the art myself. I want to sample this Danish Christmas dinner at some point. Sounds delectable. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      i can highly recommend – if prepared well, it is delicious! Do you do a turkey then for Christmas in England?

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I don’t know! If you figure it out – let me know! I find it interesting that that is the traditional English Christmas dinner. Even in the States I haven’t had turkey for Christmas dinner for decades. We do it for Thanksgiving without fail, but then a month later, my mom got tired of the meal repeat. So we moved to an herbed roast beef tenderloin with rosemary roasted potatoes and a pear salad. YUM. Of course with pumpkin and pecan pies and homemade egg nog. Skål from here! Erin

  16. Love hearing about the different menus the world over during Christmas time..don’t mess with Trine..and apparently don’t mess with the Danes! So great that Christmastime marks the beginning of your journey in Denmark..makes it all the more special. #farawayfiles ps – those caramel potatoes sound amazing!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes seriously. Don’t mess with the Danes. At least their traditions! All in good fun. Glædelig Jul from Copenhagen! Erin

  17. I have always loved that people (family and/or friends) get together and celebrate traditions, be it Christmas or any festivities. And where there’s FOOD, it will naturally bring people together and it is so much fun! Although Christmas has become a commercial affair in some parts of the world, I like reading your posts about Christmas in Denmark because they are about celebrating traditions and togetherness – and that’s what makes Christmas wonderful 🙂 Thanks for sharing! #farawayfiles

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  19. I love this sense of tradition and family. Here in Luxembourg, as far as I am aware, there is no “classic” Christmas menu like you describe in Denmark or the roast turkey and stuffing in the UK. Maybe we are “too” mixed up in Luxembourg, a melting pot of traditions and cultures for too long already? Fascinating read, thanks! #farawayfile

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Interesting! I would think that a country small like Luxembourg would hold fast to traditions that make them unique. So it is a free for all? Whatever you prefer for Christmas?

      1. You are correct: in general, Luxembourg does like to cling to (and sometimes exaggerate) its unique cultural differences. But as far as Christmas dinner is concerned? I really don’t think there is anything overwhelming “traditional”. Something to discuss with other parents at the school gates tomorrow, I guess. ;o)

  20. Wow this does sounds mouth-wateringly delicious! 🙂 I’ve never tried Danish Christmas foods but it would be nice one day. I do cook Scandinavian Christmas foods though 🙂 #farawayfiles

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  25. I’ve completely fallen in love with your blog! Thanks for posting this! I’ll be in Denmark for the first week or so of January. Will the Danish Christmas spirit still be lingering? We’d love to experience a bit of it! 🙂

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      So nice of you to say! Thank you kindly! They start to box up the twinkle pretty quickly, but there are ways to experience that iconic Danish hygge all winter!

  26. Heather Olsen MacAdam

    My grandparents came to Canada in 1924, bringing their traditions to Pass Lake in Northern Ontario. The meal you described is what we had for Christmas Eve, although we often had turkey and/or roast pork, as we were 24 family members. The caramel potatoes are the biggest hit having to cook about 1.5 cups of potatoes per person. As a child it was my job to separate the small potatoes from the larger potatoes when we harvested. They are very difficult to make in a pan that is none stick, the sugar and butter has to caramelize and hard to do in non stick. I have made them for many different occasions throughout the year. It is a wonderful time of the year. Our family went to church on the 25th coming home to left overs (hopefully) for dinner. We still do some of the traditions and actually my son now does the dinner for his family. Love your story.
    .

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Love your story! What a wonderful family heritage and cozy Christmas tradition. I know I will carry some of Danish Jul with me when I move on. It’s very special! Skål from Copenhagen!

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