Kringler. Nordic pretzels of various forms of sweet, salty, filled, crispy and soft. But one kringle stands out as one of the most well-known in Norway and it hails from Bergen. It also happens to be a permanent fixture on the 17 Mai (Grunnlovsdag) table, as it finds its place alongside spekemat (cured meats) and rømmegrøt.
Bergen is known in Norway for their vannkringler, a traditional pastry still consumed today. The recipe is simple: flour, water, yeast and salt. The technique is masterful, as the dough is rolled out thinly and then tossed and twisted around before being sealed with a gentle blow. Before being baked until a golden brown, they are placed in a hot water bath, hence bestowing them the name vannkringler, or ‘water ring’.
This tradition is thought to be influenced heavily by Dutch and German salesman operating in the area of Bryggen, the old trading wharf of Bergen. Being easy to store and with a long shelf-life, vannkringler was purchased by many fisherman, who would take them along their journeys. It is said that empty caskets would be used as storage for the vannkringler by northern Norwegian fisherman as they headed back home.
It’s clear the hands of a baker can achieve many great things. Fingers which dance with dough, creating a delicate balance between shape and weight. I seem to lack such artistic ability on days when Norway experiences weather anomalies which bring high temperatures, cool breezes and an inmost desire to do nothing but be outside, relax and take in something refreshing. So, you will understand why each pretzel of mine, created during this anomaly, has a shape of its own and a thickness of its own. I like to think of them as sure signs of homemade goodness; not uniform mind you, but tasty nonetheless. And something I did get to enjoy while basking in the sun. Perhaps yours will be shapelier, more in sync, crispier. Bake them as you wish and by all means, enjoy them as much as every fisherman ever did.
(Makes around 20 pretzels)
- 1 ½ cups (360 ml) lukewarm water
- 40 g fresh yeast
- 1/4 cup (56 g) butter or margarine, melted & cooled
- 4 1/2 cups (540 g) all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast into the water. Add the butter, salt, and enough flour to make a firm dough. Knead and place back into the bowl and allow the dough to rise for 20-30 minutes.
Divide the dough into equal parts and roll the dough out into thin sausages. Shape into a pretzel.
Preheat the oven to 220° C / 425° F. In a large pan, bring water to a boil and place the pretzels in the water. When they float to the top, take them out and place on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until they are golden brown on top.
Let them cool slightly and serve alongside cured meats, rømmegrøt, and butter (or anything else your heart desires).
∗Interesting video on the history of, and how to make, vannkringler from NRK TV (video is in Norsk)
∗Vannkringler recipe based on a few different websites with the same measurements