Wienerbrød, the classic Danish pastry that is considered to be “Viennese” in Denmark, has a life of its own in the pockets of Danish-Americans in the US. It is known by the name given to the pretzel shaped version — kringle — and is in fact the official state pastry of my home state of Wisconsin. (Narrowly beating out the cream puff, but that’s another story.) You may think that we have better things to do than to vote for a state pastry, but I might point out that at the moment there is a poll being conducted by Food Minister Dan Jørgensen to determine the Danish “nationalret”. Promise me you won’t vote for spaghetti with meat sauce.
“Kringle” has evolved from its wienerbrød origins into something that is uniquely American, and in fact often doesn’t even have the pretzel shape it is named for. As part of the celebration of the debut of Eat Smart in Denmark, our culinary guide to Danish cuisine, we decided to host the North American Kringle Competition. The last one that had been held was in 2005, sponsored by the now-defunct Danish-American Dana College in Blair, Nebraska.
That competition was won by Kirsten’s Danish Bakery of Burr Ridge, Illinois (near Chicago), much to the chagrin of the bakeries in Racine, Wisconsin. Not only is kringle the state pastry of Wisconsin, but Racine calls itself “America’s Kringle Capital”. Several bakeries in Racine make kringle that is shipped around the country, and sold wholesale to grocery stores and big box retailers. Racine had a lot riding on the September 14, 2014 competition that we held at HotelRED here in Madison, Wisconsin.
There were twelve kringle entered, representing five states, including one from the community of Solvang, California, as well as Elk Horn, Iowa (known in Denmark from the Danes on the Prairie TV program on DR). We even had a “Cajun Kringle” from New Orleans, which featured a praline filling. A panel of four judges, including a professional pastry instructor, a food journalist and a Dane from the University of Wisconsin Scandinavian Studies Department, tasted all twelve before choosing the winner. The entries were of course labeled by number only, with no indication as to where they came from.
The general public was then invited to select a “people’s choice” kringle, and over 150 votes were cast. We’re happy to say that those attending also purchased over 70 copies of Eat Smart in Denmark, which will be the first introduction for many of them to the wonders of Danish cuisine beyond the familiar kringle.
Both the professional judges and the book debut attendees selected kringle #7, which was revealed to be a Sea Salt Caramel Pecan Kringle from Uncle Mike’s Bake Shoppe in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Uncle Mike’s has only been making kringle for one year, but their dedication to using all fresh ingredients — including 3/4 lb. of European-style butter in each kringle — paid off. Their entry would not necessarily be familiar to those raised on Danish wienerbrød, but it was uniformly declared to be the most delicious.
This set off a bit of a firestorm of response in Racine, the town that thinks of itself as America’s Kringle Capital. But one of the bakeries there pointed out that their kringle is vegan, meaning of course that there is not butter used in making it. Danish pastry without real smør? Unthinkable.
We had the pleasure of going to Uncle Mike’s to deliver their trophy in person, and it was fun to see how excited Mike and Mary Vande Walle (yes, they are of Dutch and German extraction, not Danish) and their staff are about winning. They’ve set up a new web site already in order to be able to ship their kringle around the country, and we even plan to bring one with us when we come to Denmark for the Danish debut party for Eat Smart in Denmark. That party will be at Restaurant Kronborg in Copenhagen, and will undoubtedly feature delicious smørrebrød — made with real Danish butter, of course.
Carol and Katrina
PS At the debut party for Eat Smart in Denmark at The Copenhagen in New York last month, Consul General Jarl Frijs-Madsen kindly said “This is a book that every tourist should get when they arrive in Denmark, because it will make their enjoyment of Danish food so much better.”