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Klejner Recipe – Danish Doughnuts

Klejner Recipe – Danish Doughnuts


My favourite Christmas baking of all time!

Except they’re not baked, they’re fried.

Which, of course, explains why they’re my fave.


Please help yourself, just be wary of the little guys dressed in red.

They are nisse men — one of a family of mythical creatures from Scandinavian folklore.  These small, elderly men, no more than a few inches high, were believed to take care of a farmer’s home and children and protect them from misfortune, in particular at night, when the housefolk were asleep.

Despite his smallness, the nisse possessed an immense strength. Even though he was protective and caring he was easy to offend.  Farm workers swearing, urinating in the barns, or not treating the creatures well would be soundly thrashed.  Some stories tell how the Nisse could drive people mad, or bite them. The bite from a Nisse was poisonous — as the story goes, a selfish girl who didn’t save any of her morning porridge for her farm’s nisse man was bitten, then withered and died before help arrived.

Now that’s my kind of Christmas elf! None of this “You were naughty, you don’t get a present this year.”  Nope, instead, naughty Scandinavian kids consider themselves lucky to make it through the night without teeny-tiny men, some with a single cyclopean eye, climbing all over them to inflict painful, possibly deadly, bites.


As you may have guessed, I come from Danish stock.  At the age of 18, my maternal grandmother landed in Montreal with her father.  They worked for months to raise enough money to bring the rest of the family over, and eventually everyone settled on a farm outside of Calgary.

My mother remembers her first early winters on the farm, sleeping in the big bed with a dozen or so of her cousins.  Her grandmother was a somewhat harsh, practical woman who doled out the sweeties once a week, directly after Sunday lunch.  Perhaps she learned an early lesson about sharing from the Nisse.   More likely, there were simply no more sweeties to go around.  It was the early 30’s after all.

klejner danish-donuts

I can remember standing on the stool in my grandmother’s kitchen to help her twist the dough.  I can also remember doing the same with my mom, so you can only imagine how many of these little donuts were around at Christmas time!  These really are best when you eat them a few hours within cooking, which is why I suggest freezing the twisted dough, then frying them in smaller batches as you need.

I fried mine in my wok, just like my Mom does.  You only need about 3″ of oil in the bottom of the wok to fry 6-8 at a time, so it really does save on oil.

Danish Klejner Recipe ( Danish Twists)
Yield:  about 8 dozen

1 cup softened butter (or margarine)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs ( I sometimes use 3 eggs)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
5 cups flour (approx)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Vegetable or peanut oil for deep-frying

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until well combined.  On low speed, add the milk and dry ingredients, alternating the milk and flour until the dough is still slightly sticky but clears the side of the bowl.

Divide the dough into 4 parts — cover and refrigerate 3.  On a lightly floured surface, roll the remaining quarter into a rectangle about ¼” thick.  Cut lengthwise strips about 1 ½” wide, then cut at an angle to make diamonds (see photo).  Cut a slit in the middle of the diamond shape and pull one end of the diamond all the way through the slit to make a twist.

(At this point, the twists can be individually frozen on cookie sheets, then stored in a covered container for up to 2 weeks. Fry directly from frozen.)

Heat the vegetable oil to 350° F in a large pot over med-high heat.  The oil is hot enough when a single twist dropped in rises to the surface within 3 to4 seconds.  Deep fry about 6 or 8  twists at a time until light golden.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Best when eaten the same day, but you can keep in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.



  1. Stephanie
    December 21, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Those look like they’d be nice and chewy on the inside. They kind of remind me of picarones — Peruvian fried doughnuts. Now I’m craving some!

  2. Kristi
    December 21, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    Wow! Those look amazingly yummy! I’m going to have to try making those!!!

  3. Alisa
    December 21, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Nisse sound terrifying…but they would definitely keep everyone polite (and not urinating anywhere but the outhouse ). I can imagine they kept the children in line as well. I wonder how many mothers got up to soothe their children’s nightmares? The myth is quite interesting…poisonous bites could explain all manner of old world maladies.

    The recipe looks fabulous! Another I’m itching to try :)

  4. Evan @SwEEts
    December 22, 2010 at 6:18 am

    What a great story..the Danish make their elves way cooler than Americans! These donuts look fabulous and the twisting is so cool! I hope you have a wonderful holiday :)

  5. TiffKey
    December 22, 2010 at 9:02 am

    What a fun shape! I love when food is connected to family. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Trix
    December 22, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Eek! I promise not to urinate in the barn! And save some porridge for someone-or-other! And share the klejner! Anything to avoid the nisse.

  7. Jess Fraser
    December 22, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Theresa and I grew up together – best friends living just a few blocks away from each other. I must say that all my associations of Christmas at the Carle’s centred around the Klejner. I would ride my 5 speed over to Theresa’s house…lay it on the grass in the back yard…and come in the back door hoping to smell what undoubtedly meant the arrival of Christmas. We would sit and eat them one after the other while playing ATARI – and yes, the elastic band on our rugby pants also helped in this festive celebration of food, family and friendship.
    Merry Christmas one and all.

    • Theresa
      December 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm

      Atari? Rugby pants? I think that’s more than anyone wanted to know! Merry, Merry right back at ya. Theresa xo

  8. RavieNomNoms
    December 22, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I love the donuts, they are so much more creative than donuts you see everyday!

  9. Janice
    December 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Wow- got to try them!

  10. fooddreamer
    December 24, 2010 at 3:59 am

    Wow, um the Nisse men are kinda scary. A far cry from the Elf on the Shelf! I am now a little afraid to take one of your danish donuts. But I still will. Because they look delicious!

  11. Belinda @zomppa
    December 24, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I love how these are shaped!! Look fantastic. Happy holidays!

  12. Sid Munkholm
    January 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Saw the Klejner recipe, and had to read the story, since I am also Danish, and then to see the name of your blog, hmmm. I grew up on Vancouver Island. I usually make a batch of these at Christmas, but have never tried to freeze the dough, something I will try. If I bring a batch with me to a gathering, they generally disappear in a big hurry.
    We always fed the Nissemen some Risengrød Christmas Eve, topped with a knob of butter and with cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top to keep them happy for the next year, and with the hope that they wouldn’t play tricks on us, sour the milk, or make the fat pigs lean. (I still do it, feed the nisse that is)

    • Theresa
      January 3, 2011 at 11:02 pm

      Thanks for stopping by — those Nisse are little ba*tards, aren’t they? ;)

  13. Maeghan
    November 30, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Growing up my grandmother used to make these and I used to make them with my mom. I believe my mom used whipping cream. We would put the powdered sugar on them when they were still warm so it kinda melted…so yummy. I tried to make them a few years ago but I used lard…..I will not do that again. Maybe peanut oil this year.
    Thanks they look just like I remembered.

  14. georgina weber
    December 23, 2012 at 10:12 am

    priceless how clans around the world are so similar in their traditional foods. this is exactly how i make sweet fried bannock minus the vanilla (which i will now start to add) and, of course, for regular fried bannock no sugar. love it! btw, sure miss you! xg

  15. Sandi
    December 6, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    All these years of being friends with Danish people never knew the Nisse were so nasty they look so cute my Santa village is filled with them and now I find this out …Shocked :D

  16. Jessica
    December 22, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I have made these since I was a little girl. The same recipe has been passed down generation to generation. Everyone always asks me to make them at Christmas. They are a Christmas must in our family.

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