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.
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.