In 1999 Ellen received a unique birthday present. After we got back from an upscale dinner Bill had Ellen come into the dinning room and there on the table was a kransekage,a tall Danish birthday pastry that looks something like the Play School stacking rings only much taller. Bill had exiled Ellen from the house in the afternoon, and told her he needed eggs. She said that there was nothing he was authorized to do with eggs in her kitchen and tried to figure out what he was up to, but no luck, she was truly surprised. The 88 Danish flags visible in the dining room may also have added somewhat to the shock value.
Ellen had seen a kransekage during the Captain's dinner on her childhood voyage to Denmark and it made a big impression. It took Bill several months of work to arrange for one to show up in C-U. Parts of this strange story appear in the email messages below to and from a friend in Denmark:
August 18, 1999
Yes, I think I know what you mean by kransekage birthday. You see, for that purpose, kransekager are formed and baked as rings with increasing diameters. The biggest ring forms the bottom and the smallest one is at the top, the rest is piled in between in accordance with their decreasing diameters. The result looks like a mountain (on children's drawings). The kransekage mountain is decorated flags, not candles. I will see what I can do about it. I will ask the local bakery in Risskov (I think you know that bakery from your time here?) whether they will fulfill the task. Kransekager are fragile so they have to be sent with professional care, especially when they are supposed to form a mountain. Kransekager remain fresh for quite a while due to all the sugarstuff, so that shouldn't be a problem. You will hear from me again when I have done some research on this issue.
NB: It is very difficult to bake kransekage-rings. In my family, only one aunt is able to do so. She is like a kransekage expert. Even though the remaining female members of the family do bake an awful lot of cakes and cookies, they never do the kransekage rings. It is serious business, not for amateurs.
August 19, 1999
I have now done some research on the kransekage-issue. I have phoned several bakeries in the city and asked whether they would send a kransekage to the U.S. None of them will because kransekager only remain fresh outside the refrigerator for 3-4 days, at best. (I was wrong about this yesterday, sorry.) The bakery ladies I have talked to, have sounded almost alarmed by this suggestion. After this disappointing information, I did a routine search on the internet on "kransekage"-- and I actually found a place in the U.S. that announces Swedish Kransekager, I also found a nice picture of a pile of kransekager and a recipe in English. I have faxed all this information to you today. I see two possibilities: One, you contact this guy in Forest Lake with the hope that he means it seriously (see my fax for phone number etc.). Second, if this does not work out, I can send you some industry-made kransekage cookies with long keeping qualities (some of them taste fine, but not as good as fresh made ones, of course, and you will not be able to pile them because they don't come in rings). I can also send you some freshbaked kransekage-bars wrapped in plastic, and we can hope for the best with respect to durability. However, a real kransekage pile will be very difficult to send (look at the picture I have faxed), I think it would all be in pieces at arrival. And maybe it would taste mouldy as well. Clearly, the best idea is to go for the guy in Forest Lake and his "Swedish" kransekager. Let me know what happens.
Sept 2, 1999
It was sweet of you to remember my Kransekage hunt and warn me that you would be away next week.
It has been quite a chase. First I tried calling the Euro Pastries place in Minnesota that you found on the Web. Their phone has been disconnected so no go there. After that I did a full Web search on "Kransekage" I came up with 6 Bakeries in the DK (scattered all over--Helsinger, Karup, Vedbaek) that had email addresses. So I sent them all email messages but didn't receive a reply from any of them (all the sites were in Danish and my weird message was in English so that may have been part of the problem). [Note added later--a few days later Bager Bech in Elsinore, DK (email email@example.com) came through and offered to ship to the US.]
Then I had to drop everything and fly down to North Carolina to get my mother moved from a Skilled Care Unit to a much better Assisted Care Room. This trip actually overlapped the first day of classes here so the last week has been chaotic.
When I surfaced from getting my life back together several days ago I realized the clock was ticking on Ellen's birthday. I talked to her and we agreed to timeshift her birthday from next Tuesday to next weekend. Then I tried a new ploy. I searched the Web for the more general term "Danish pastry". After working my way through 111 hits I found 5 sites with email addresses. I sent email to all but received no responses. I was planning to send you a warning message today telling you that things were not going well and that we might have to resort to the backup plan. Then, when I opened my mail I found your message saying that you were going to be out of town starting on Monday I went into panic mode since I realized that if you were going to help me with the backup plan you would probably have to ship the Kransekage tomorrow before the weekend.
Before asking you to go out of your way to do this I decided to call all of the Danish Bakeries in the USA that I had telephone numbers for to see if they made Kransekager and if they would ship. Finally I hit the O & H Danish Bakery in Wisconsin who said that they made Kransekager and would ship it.
[Note added later:
O & H Danish Bakery
1841 Douglas Ave., Racine, WI 53402-4611
Web page: www.ohdanishbakery.com]
So the plan is--they will make it on next Wed ship it UPS one day delivery to arrive at my office on Thur and then I will present it to Ellen on Sat. (The smallest I could get was a 10 ringer--you want some of the extra :-)
The lady at the O&H bakery said I would have to do the frosting. She said she would send me instructions and the recipe you sent by fax also gives frosting instructions so I am probably OK there. However, I need one last bit of cultural knowledge. The nice lady at O&H said she would be including little Danish flags so clearly she thinks they are part of the presentation. So do I just stick in some flags on the top ring? on some of the other rings? on the base? (she said I would be getting some Kransekage bars for the base I think.)
I really appreciate your willingness to be my back up plan if all else failed but if O & H come through the Great Kransekage Hunt has succeeded! (Though getting Danish Kransekager to Illinois turned out to be harder than setting up a ride in a hot air balloon.)
Picture of Ellen and her Kransekage
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Last updated May 7, 2000 by EFB