Everything you've ever wanted to know about Denmark's sweet treats. And you thought Denmark was just about Danish pastries…
There is a cake for every occasion and every point of the compass in Denmark. Do you know your snegle from your spandauer? Your småkager from your kransekager? Not sure what we’re talking about? Don't worry, we've prepared the most delicious guide to take you through it all, right here.
Are you interested pastries, cakes (including regional cakes) or biscuits? Do you want to know where to find some of the best bakeries in Denmark? Or simply when to indulge in which cake with our Danish cake calendar (yes, we take cake quite seriously)?
Let’s get started with those pastries. There’s more than one type of ‘Danish’ in Denmark – and to make things even more confusing, we call them wienerbrød or Viennese bread, as the inspiration for them came from a trip a Danish baker took to Vienna back in the 19th century. That’s right: Danish pastries aren’t even Danish.
Typical Danish pastries include a snegl, a cinnamon roll-style pastry, a spandauer, a pastry with a dab of custard cream in the middle (you probably know this as a ‘Danish pastry’), and a tebirkes, a pastry with remonce in the middle and poppy seeds all over the top. There are also seasonal pastries and a special pastry just for a Wednesday, the Onsdagsnegl, baked by the oldest bakery in Copenhagen, Skt Peders Bageri.
Pour yourself a cup of coffee – the correct accompaniment to a Danish cake – and get settled in. Danish patisseries create the most mouth-watering cakes and these are just the tip of the iceberg. Start with a flødeboller, best described as soft meringue on a light wafer base all covered in chocolate. It’s like a Tunnocks Teacake, for any Brits reading, but a thousand times more refined.
Any Danish bakery worth its salt sells chocolate cake and carrot cake; they also sell drømmekage (‘dreamcake’) a sponge cake topped with dark sugar and coconut, an Otello cake, a thin sponge cake topped with cake cream, marzipan, whipped cream and dark chocolate icing; and a Sara Bernhard, which is a macaroon, which is topped with chocolate cream and coated with dark chocolate. If you’re in Copenhagen, a couple of great cake shops to check out are Cakenhagen at Tivoli, for its fine individual cakes, and Conditori La Glace, the grand dame of conditoris, for its famous Sports Cake.
Cakes are a serious business in the regions of Denmark. From the north of Jutland to the border region with Germany, the cakes you are served reflect where you are in the country.
South Jutland (pictured above) is the most famous region for cakes in Denmark. Here, you'll find a special type of spicy honey cake spread with apricot jam or buttercream, and also the South Jutland cake table. This tradition is all about preparing a special cake table for a party or an event of 21 different cakes (seven dry, seven soft and seven hard) and has a strong historical connection going back to the Prussian War of 1864. Make sure you bring your stretchy trousers.
Fyn is famous for its brunsviger. This cake is made from soft, yeasty dough and is topped with brown sugar mixed with butter. Traditionally served warm, it’s really popular and available all over the country, but of course best in Fyn.
South Zealand – the area south of Copenhagen – has a series of different local cakes too, from ‘goose breast’, a type of cream cake topped with marzipan that has a round shape like, you’ve guessed it, a goose breast, to ‘palm cakes’, a flat roll flavoured with rosewater and topped with almonds and sugar, just baked for Easter.
Danish biscuits are not as high up on the menu as cakes and pastries. The tin of butter biscuits that you might take home as a souvenir, and then inexplicably store your sewing kit in, are not eaten on a daily basis in Denmark. Instead, you are more likely to come across småkager, small crunchy brown sugar biscuits, hindbærsnitte, a buttery biscuit with raspberry filling and icing, and pebernodder, a small round cinnamon and cardamon cookie served around Christmas.
Not quite a biscuit and not quite a cake, there’s also the romkugle, a delicious bite of rum-flavoured cake made from leftover cake in the bakery.
Pick a special occasion, and there’s a cake for it!
Birthdays: Time to eat a kagemand or kagekone (a cake baked in the shape of a man or woman) or, if you’re over the age of 10, a layer cake (a light sponge cake cut into lots of layers, with cream inbetween and berries on the top).
Christmas: Prepare yourself for a cake fest, with butter cookies, cinnamon and cardamom cookies, brunkager, small round vanilla biscuits called vaniljekranse and much more. The one thing they don’t eat is Christmas Cake – raisins do not feature in a typical Danish cake.
New Year’s Eve: At New Year it is traditional to eat Kransekage, a tower of 18 of more ring-shaped layers made from almond, egg and sugar.
February: Seven weeks before Easter, Denmark celebrates Fastelavn with a special type of cream-filled bun called fastelavnsboller that you’ll see everywhere in bakeries and supermarkets.
St. Bededag: On the fourth Friday after Easter, Denmark celebrates ‘Great Prayer Day’ by baking wheat buns called varme hveder. You can buy them everywhere or make them yourself - just be sure to eat them warm.
Summer: Danish strawberries are so full of flavour that it makes sense that summer is celebrated with a strawberry tart called jordbærkage, topped with fresh strawberries.
Now we've whetted your appetite, here are some more foodie delights to explore...