Påske (Easter) is only a few weeks away and Norwegians are undoubtedly preparing for the days preluding påske and the days following. Påske is one of the biggest holidays in Norway – a full week off from work and school and whatever else occupies one’s time. Setting the religious aspects of the holiday aside, there are certain elements that need to be present in order for it to be a truly Norwegian påske. Two of these elements are oranges and chocolate.
There’s a long tradition of consuming oranges during påske. Oranges have been imported into Norway for over 100 years, offering an exotic treat during celebrations, but it was after 1956 when there was a free import on citrus fruit that oranges really took off and became widespread in the Norwegian household. They would arrive during the Mediterranean season for oranges, which was around Christmas time and up until just after påske. It tended to be the case that the last of the oranges were often the sweetest and best, perhaps the reason they became an ideal treat at påske. It’s been estimated that Norwegians consume around 20 million oranges and no less than 5,000 tons during the Easter week alone. All that orange consumption means a lot of peels. Peels that can easily go into the compost for the upcoming spring planting or -better yet- be turned into something sweet and edible.
As far as chocolate goes, one bar continues its reign as the most quintessential påske chocolate and that is Kvikk Lunsj “quick lunch”. Kvikk Lunsj is similar to the English/American Kit Kat bar. These crispy wafers sandwiched between layers of chocolate that break off from each other are intrinsically linked to påske and have been since the 1930s. It’s common for Norwegians to go to a hytte (cabin) for the week, take a few last ski trips (or hiking trips if the snow has melted), and reward themselves with a juicy orange and Kvikk Lunsj pulled straight from their backpack as they gaze out across the mountainous terrain, fresh air filling their lungs, looking forward to the coming of spring. A high on top of a high.
Påske is koselig. Every element coming together to create a feeling of peacefulness, coziness, nostalgia, warmth, inspiration, relaxation, and comfort. A trek across the open mountains – where the body and mind connects with nature – followed by a flickering fire in the cabin and a good conversation. Crime stories abounding, bowls of oranges on the table, and plenty of meals featuring lamb and eggs. It’s the culmination of a long winter and the looking forward to what lies ahead.
I adore making homemade baked goods during this time; where the scent lingers and lures a gathering around the oven. Things like boller (sweet buns) that are simple to make and a delicious treat to have around. For special occasions, I like to use my boller dough base, fill it with luscious ingredients befitting the holiday, and then braid the dough and form a swirl giving it the name “flettekrans” in Norwegian, meaning “braided wreath”. It can be served on the table (pulled apart with eager hands or sliced, whatever your mood) or even packed in a bag and handed out as a reward following a mountainous trek.
To capture the Norwegian admiration for chocolate and oranges during påske – while using up all those orange peels – I pair them with a soft and hearty dough with a hint of cardamom. I prefer to use dark chocolate and my go-to boller (sweet bun) dough with some whole wheat flour to give it a heartier texture that can hold up to the chocolate shavings and pieces of candied orange peels. The outcome is sweet, but not overly so, with gooey chocolate complimented with bursts of orange. The top crust appears slightly burnished due to the chocolate, but it’s delicate and soft with every bite.
Candied peels are very simple to make and can be stored, but plan on making the peels at least 1 day, preferably 2 days, ahead of time. This recipe also makes 2 large wreaths, so feel free to halve the recipe or freeze one for another day.
Whole Wheat Dark Chocolate and Candied Orange Peel Braided Swirl Bun — (Grov-flettekrans med skjokolade og kandiserte appelsinskall)
Makes 2 large wreaths (each wreath serves about 8 to 10)
For the candied orange peels (prepare 1 to 2 days in advance):
- 3 large oranges
- 1 ½ cups (360 ml) water
- 1 ½ cups (300 g) sugar
For the dough:
- 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (150 g) butter
- 2 ½ cups (600 ml) milk
- 2 ounces (50 g) fresh yeast or 2/3 ounces (17 g) active, dry yeast
- ¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 2 ½ cups (300 g) whole wheat flour (preferably coarse)
- 5 cups (600 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated orange peel
For the chocolate filling:
- 1 cup (200 g) sugar
- ½ cup (40 g) cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons cardamom
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (200 g) butter, room temperature
- 7-ounces (200 g) good quality dark chocolate, chopped finely
- 1 egg, beaten
Plan to make the candied orange peels 1 to 2 days ahead. Start by cutting the ends off of each orange. Cut the peel of each orange into 4 vertical sections. Gently peel off each section from the orange flesh. Cut the sections into long thin strips about ¼-inch (3/5 cm). Place in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes over medium-high heat. Drain the peels and rinse thoroughly with cold water.
In the same saucepan, heat the sugar and 1 ½ cups water over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until dissolved. Lower the heat slightly, add the peels and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes, or until translucent. Remove the peels with a slotted spoon and place on a cookie rack to dry out completely for 24-48 hours. When dry, chop the peels into small pieces, set aside. *Be sure to reserve the delicious, leftover orange syrup (after removing the peels) for another use – like my Aquavit Cocktail coming soon to the blog! Just store the syrup in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.
Make the dough by melting the butter in a small saucepan, add the milk and bring to lukewarm. Pour into a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add the yeast, sugar, flours, cardamom, salt, and orange zest.
Knead on medium-low speed for 8 minutes.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a tea towel and let rise for 1 hour.
In the meantime, prepare the filling by combining the sugar, cocoa powder, and cardamom in a large bowl. Add in the room temperature butter and combine to form a smooth paste (a food mixer with the whisk attachment works wonders for this or you can use a fork and combine by hand).
When the dough has finished rising, divide it into two equal pieces. Take the first piece and roll it out into a large rectangle approximately 18 x 22 inches (46 x 56 cm).
Using a rubber spatula, spread half of the filling evenly across the dough and to the edges. Take half of the chopped dark chocolate and sprinkle on top, followed by half of the orange peel pieces. Roll the dough lengthwise, and with a sharp knife cut the log in half lengthwise. Braid the two halves together and pinch the enda together to seal. Take one end of the braid and roll it inwards tightly, creating a circle shape. Tuck the other end under the dough and pinch to seal. Repeat with the other piece of dough, using the remainder of the filling, dark chocolate, and candied orange pieces.
Divide them among two prepared baking sheets (or one baking sheet if large enough) and let rise 40 minutes, covered.
Heat the oven to 375° F / 190° C.
Push any candied oranges that are on top down into dough before baking, otherwise as they bake they can become really hard (burned even) and biting into one will not be pleasant for any tooth!
Brush the tops of the dough with the beaten egg. Place in the oven and bake for 27 minutes or until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Serve while still warm and the chocolate is cool but melted.
To store, place in an airtight container or plastic bag at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. If serving after freezing, allow to defrost at room temperature then place in the oven at 400° F / 200° C for a couple of minutes or until warm throughout.