There’s a love for all things Scandinavian these days. We aren’t sure whether it’s our current political situation that has some longing for utopian socialist democracy or simply the timeless appeal of concepts like hygge, especially as the winter sets in (hello, first snowfall of the season!), but it is all around us. One of our favorites is the Icelandic tradition of spending Christmas Eve tucked up in fresh sheets with a new book and a box of chocolates, a plan which gets a lot of play on social media starting about December 1 every year–and which we have yet to execute, but we continue to aspire to it. And yes, we fact-checked it with our Icelandic friend Edda to make sure it’s not just a Buzzfeed myth.
But there are a couple of cold weeks to go between now and Christmas Eve, so in the meantime we’re bringing the warmth to you with Saint Lucia’s Day, a lovely Scandinavian tradition that marks the beginning of the holiday season on December 13. St. Lucia is a saint whose story actually involves food: she is celebrated in Christian tradition for bringing food to 3rd-century Christians hiding from persecution in Roman catacombs. Because it was so dark, she used a candle-lit wreath on her head to light her way and free her hands to carry as much food as possible. Today, Swedish girls march in a procession wearing white robes and these pretty wreaths.
While the traditional Swedish Saint Lucia’s treat is an S-shaped saffron bun called lussekatter, we’ve used the holiday as inspiration to bring you an unusual gingersnap recipe–absolutely off-limits to vegetarians or people keeping kosher, though if you’re dairy free this one is perfect for you!–as well as a recipe for that über comfort food, Swedish meatballs. Though these are light-years better than the ones in the IKEA cafeteria, the lingonberry jam they sell is definitely the perfect accompaniment.
This classic dish really stands the test of time. It’s a warming weeknight dinner served over egg noodles or equally delicious as an appetizer at a holiday party.
2 slices white bread
1/2 cup milk
1 cup finely minced onion
1 lb ground chuck
1 lb ground pork
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
3 tbsp butter
For the sauce:
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups beef or chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Lingonberry jam to serve on the side (optional)
Tear the bread into small pieces and place in a bowl. Pour the milk over the bread.
In a large bowl combine the ground meat, egg yolks, onion, milk soaked bread, salt, pepper, allspice, nutmeg. Mix with your hands until combined. Roll the mixture into meatballs, about 1 to 2 inches in diameter, 1 inch if you are serving as an appetizer.
Heat 1 tbsp butter in a pan with 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add the meatballs to the pan, but don’t crowd them, and saute until browned on all sides and cooked through, about 6-8 minutes. Remove meatballs to an ovenproof dish and keep warm in the oven. Cook the meatballs in batches adding a tbsp of butter to the pan between each batch.
Once all the meatballs are cooked, decrease the heat to low and melt 2 tbsp butter in the same pan. Add the flour and whisk with the butter and pan drippings until lightly browned. Add the stock gradually, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking often so it thickens as you go. Cook until sauce begins to thicken. Add the cream, mustard, Worcestershire and salt & pepper. Return meatballs to the pan and coat with the sauce. Sprinkle with the fresh parsley and serve with the lingonberry jam.
Swedish Ginger Snaps
Adapted from a recipe in the New York Times by longtime fashion writer Cathy Horyn, the secret sauce of these perfect cookies is bacon fat. While that may sound unappetizing to some, and we were skeptical, these turned out to be hands-down the best gingersnaps we’ve ever made. Please send us your best ideas for how to use all that leftover bacon!
1½ lbs bacon
1 cup/200 grams white sugar, plus extra for rolling
¼ cup/85 grams molasses
1 large egg
2 cups/250 grams all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons/8 grams kosher salt
2 teaspoons/10 grams baking soda
2 teaspoons/10 grams ground ginger
½ teaspoon/3 grams ground cloves
½ teaspoon/3 grams ground cinnamon
2 tbsp/30 grams candied ginger, chopped
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon (probably in two batches) until crispy and the fat is rendered. Remove strips as they cook and save for another use. When all bacon has been cooked (or between batches), carefully pour fat through a sieve into a heat-proof measuring cup, to measure ¾ cup total. Place in fridge or freezer until chilled, then proceed with rest of recipe.
In a food processor with a metal blade, combine all ingredients and pulse or run until a smooth, shiny dough forms. Place in a bowl or roll in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350℉ and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place approximately ½ cup of sugar in a plate or shallow bowl. Using a #70 disher or tablespoon to measure, make balls from the dough, rolling between your hands until smooth, then roll in the sugar to coat and place on sheet, 2” apart.
Bake until cookies are golden brown and flat. Cool for a few minutes on sheet, then carefully remove cookies to a rack to cool fully. They will crisp up beautifully as they cool. Store in an airtight container or freeze.