68. Speculoos Kransekake Christmas Tree Cake – Norwegian Ring Cake

Vanilla Shortbread Kransekake recipe

Vanilla Shortbread Kransekake


Traditionally Kransekake (Norwegian Ring Cake) is eaten at Christmas or on special occasions.  It’s a stack of about 18 almond ring shaped biscuits held together with lashings of ornate royal icing.

Speculoos Kransekake

Speculoos Kransekake

Now as I can never leave a recipe alone I had to switch this up and make it even more festive with a (Speculoos Kransekake (recipe below) and Vanilla Shortbread Kransekake (recipe below) instead. The sweet spices blended together makes a moreish fragrant biscuit. I loved it so much I kept going and for Christmas day made an enormous shortbread version, which is closer in colour to the traditional almond version.

Although I’m straying from the Norwegian almond tradition my Speculoos and shortbread versions are much cheaper to make and meant I didn’t have to make another trip to the shop for expensive ground almonds. You can buy Speculoos spice already mixed but I enjoy grinding and blending my own fresh spices for an extra punch.

I always have an abundance of spices in my cupboard so this is a perfect Christmas bake for me. And as we just put our tree up. The combination of  pine needles and freshly baked Speculoos floating through our house is like a piece of Christmas Heaven.

The Kransekake is baked in a special set of tins, called Kransekake pans. I couldn’t get my head around how it would all fit together so ploughed on rolling out on the work top as many long Speculoos sausages by hand to press into the tin as i could eek out of the dough. You can make this without the special tin, if you feel like shaping the circles yourself and bake them directly on a baking sheet instead, but the tin makes it a bit easier. Each tin holds 3 biscuit rings.

Roll the dough into smooth sausages and place carefully in to the pans. Press the ends together to seal the ring.

Roll the dough into smooth sausages and place carefully in to the pans. Press the ends together to seal the ring.

The dough is a little crumbly and took a bit of perseverance to roll it long enough to fill the larger rings, but it’s worth the effort. It’s best to make thin sausages to get more out of your dough and also the dough puffs up as it bakes. If the rings are too thick they will merge, making it difficult to get them out of the tins and also leaving you with rough dishevelled edges.

Kransekake pans hot from the oven

Kransekake pans hot from the oven

In hindsight I should have doubled the dough recipe as I ran out so had to make do with 11 rings rather than 18. This meant that the rings didn’t quite taper off in size as they should and I had to employ some clever royal icing layering to get the rings to fit together.  So don’t look too closely at my piping skills please! (I’ve doubled the recipe for you at the bottom of this page so you’re good to go!)

Glue the rings together with a good slick of royal icing

Glue the rings together (starting with the largest ring on the bottom!) with a good slick of royal icing

I also probably should have decided on my piping pattern before launching headlong into the design on the kransekake. But I got a bit carried away as per usual and ad libbed. I think my favourite pattern is the zig zags as I wanted to make it look like a Christmas tree. I love the contrast of the stark white snow icing against the brown Speculoos hues.

I got a bit carried away with the icing patterns... zig zags, stripes, and polka dots

I got a bit carried away with the icing patterns… zig zags, stripes, and polka dots

My original plan was to use white chocolate to fuse the rings together to add to the decadence of the bake, however I forgot to buy any, so royal icing it had to be. Having only used royal icing to glue together the tiers of my wedding cake before (when I used the pre mixed merriwhite powder available from cake decorating shops) I wanted to try powdered egg whites to avoid using raw egg whites to bind the icing together. It worked really well, so well in fact I went on to ice a gingerbread house and my goddaughter’s christening biscuits with it too. (I used sachets of Dr Oekters powdered egg whites so pregnant ladies and children can eat as much icing as they like without the worry of salmonella.)

I also think dark chocolate icing would be stunning against the spiced biscuit. perhaps dusted with a little gold lustre powder/spray for extra festiveness.

When I made Speculoos last time I made a soft dough so it could be piped in shapes directly onto the baking sheet. This dough needed to be firm and malleable so it would hold it’s shape and support it’s own weight. I didn’t add any liquid to this dough and left out the treacle to make sure it wouldn’t spread too much during baking. Although a little treacle might help to roll it out as it is quite a dry dough and had a tendency to crumble when molding it.

To add to the depth of flavour and darkness of the biscuit I used a combination of light and brown sugars.  Feel free to use your preferred sugar to reach the colour biscuit you prefer.

Things I used to make Speculoos Kransekake

Speculoos Spice Blend

  • 4 TBS ground cassia (or cinnamon if you can’t get cassia)
  • 4 TSP ground ginger
  • 8 cardamom pods (discard the pods and grind the seeds)
  • 2 star anise (grind the seeds only)
  • 1/2 TSP white pepper
  • 1/2 TSP pink Himalayan salt (or any salt will do)
  • 1/2 TSP black pepper
  • 6 cloves (ground)
  • 1/2 TSP nutmeg

Speculoos Dough

This is double the quantity from my previous version of Speculoos biscuits so it should be enough to make 18 rings!

  • 220g butter
  • 400g light brown sugar
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  1. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Bearing in mind you’re using brown sugars so the colour change won’t be as dramatic as when using white sugar. It looks more like a big lump of soft sugar…
Beaten brown sugars and butter

Beaten brown sugars and butter

2. Then beat the rest of the dry ingredients and speculoos spice mix in until it comes together into a ball. It is a slightly dry crumbly dough so it will take some work to bring it together.

  • 600g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 eggs
  • splash of almond extract
  • splash of vanilla extract
Slightly crumbly spicey speculoos biscuit dough

Slightly crumbly spicey speculoos biscuit dough

3. Chill in the fridge for an hour.

4. Roll the dough into 18 smooth sausages and arrange in the greased kransekake tins. Gently pressing the ends of the sausages together to seal the rings. If you have any dough left over you may want to cut a little star out and bake to adorn the top of your stack.

5. Bake for 10 -12 minutes at 190 degrees c until slightly puffed up and firm to touch.

6. While the biscuits are baking beat together the royal icing as described below.

7. Allow the biscuits to cool in the tin before coaxing gently out of the tin. You may need to separate some rings that have merged as they bake with a knife.

8. Starting with the biggest ring on the bottom apply a thin line of royal icing to the underside of each ring, gluing it in place. Stack the rings one on top of the other working your way from the largest to the the smallest ring.

Glue the rings together with a good slick of royal icing

Glue the rings together with a good slick of royal icing

9. Once the full stack is glued together and fully assembled take a deep breath and with a steady hand and fine nozzle on your piping bag slowly pipe your chosen design directly onto the rings. Maybe throw some (edible) glitter on it as you go for extra pazzaz.

10. Stand back and admire your creativity.

11. If you can bear to eat your creation depending on how many people it needs to feed… You can either pull a ring off the stack with a knife or cut straight into it with a sharp knife.

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Things I used to make Vanilla Shortbread Kransekake

  • 250g butter
  • 110g sugar
  • 360g plain flour
  • splash of vanilla extract

1. Beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy.

2. Beat in the flour and vanilla until the dough comes together into a shiny ball.

3. Roll into 18 thin sausages and arrange in the greased kransekake tins as before. Gently press the ends of the sausages together to seal the ends.

4. Bake in the oven at for 15 – 20 minutes at 190 degrees c until slightly golden brown. (Keep an eye as you don’t want the biscuits to take on too much colour as they will look burnt and be dry.
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Royal Icing recipe

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 5g powdered egg white (one sachet of Dr Oekter’s powdered egg white)
  • 45 ml of cold water

*optional* you can add food colouring at this stage if you like but be gel or powdered colour would be best so it doesn’t add to much liquid. If using liquid colouring supplement some of the water with food colouring instead.

1. Beat the sugar powdered egg white and and water together for about 5 minutes on medium speed and then increase to high for 4- 5 minutes. The icing will be glossy and thick. If it is too wet or runny it will not set or be strong enough to support the weight of the kransekake.

Thick royal icing

Thick royal icing

2. Scoop your icing into and icing bag with a fine nozzle for piping your decoration. It’s handy to sit your piping bag inside a tall glass for this job to support the bag.

3. If using a plastic icing bag don’t forget to cut the end off the bag when you’re ready to start icing.

4. Put the largest Kransekake ring onto your plate/cakeboard first. Apply a thin layer (or pipe a ring) of royal icing on the under side of the biscuit to hold it in place on the board.

5. Pipe another ring of icing on to the top side of the biscuit so the next layer will stick to it. Repeat until you have assembled all of the biscuits in a tower, from the largest to the smallest. Don’t worry if any of the ring have break! You can sneakily glue them back together with a little icing. Once you stick the next ring on top no one will notice!

6. Apply even pressure to the bag with your hand and keep the nozzle about 1-2cm away from the biscuit. Squeeze the bag gently and with a steady hand pipe your chosen pattern directly on to the assembled Kransekake.

7. Whilst the icing it still wet sprinkle with a little edible glitter.

8. Allow the icing to harden and the Kransekake will become very sturdy and easier to transport. The biscuits will start to soften after a couple of days so cover it with tin foil if you’re making it in advance.

9. Impress all of your friends and family with the great reveal of your Kransekake. I liked using mine as a Christmas table centre piece before inviting everyone to removing a ring at a time to eat.

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The Alternative Gingerbread House – Gingerbread Cave and Christmas Tree (or how not to make a gingerbread igloo)

The gingerbread Christmas Tree and Cave with the Bear and the Hare

The gingerbread Christmas Tree and Cave with the Bear and the Hare

I had a grand plan to bake a Gingerbread Igloo for this year’s Gingerbread House Challenge to raise money for The Sick Children’s Trust. In my mind this would be wonderfully easy. Simply slap a circle of gingerbread dough on a greased upside down pyrex bowl and bake. Easy?

Melted ingerbread mess

Melted gingerbread mess

Perhaps if I had given myself enough time to chill the dough before baking it or used ribbons of greaseproof paper to line the outside of the bowl I might have managed to salvage the igloo. But as it happens I did none of these helpful things and ended up with a lot of gingerbread on the floor of my oven instead.

Taking my sharpest knife I hacked away the excess gingerbread leaving a rather rugged (and uneven edge). Returning it to the oven for a second bake ‘to crisp it up’ was an equally bad idea as the gingerbread then firmly welded itself onto the bowl. Once cooled it then had to be chipped off the bowl. Leaving behind a cave-like gingerbread construction instead.

The first gingerbread igloo/cave

The first gingerbread igloo/cave

‘Who lives in a cave?’ I asked Chris. ‘What can I make this this gingerbread mess?!’ ‘How about the Bear and the Hare from that John Lewis Christmas advert?’ He suggested. I took the idea and ran with it. Whipping up thick white royal icing to cement my cave onto my cake board and adding extra for support. But this gingerbread was far too thin to hold it’s own weight, even with internal gingerbread scaffolding it self destructed over night.

Collapsed gingerbread cave - yet another gingerbread mess

Collapsed gingerbread cave – yet another gingerbread mess

I had now really committed to the idea and already fashioned some fondant animals so I had to construct another cave. A new and improved cave.

Using a half sphere cake tin I layered up gingerbread bricks (or rectangles of rolled out dough) about 3mm thick on the inside of the tin after greasing it heavily. I also included 2 ribbons of greaseproof paper laid (like a hot cross bun cross) inside the tin to act as lever and help me remove it later on. I decided to use a pastry technique and ‘blind bake’ the dough by filling it with a layer of greaseproof paper and kidney beans to hold it in place and avoid disastrous meltage. It worked!! I put it all in the freezer to chill it before baking and help it hold it’s shape. Then 15 minutes in the oven with the beans and 5 minutes baking without the beans led to a good solid cave!

Almost finished Gingerbread Cave

Almost finished Gingerbread Cave

I also experimented with a cave baked on the outside of the half sphere tin, but this spread and looked more like a tortoise shell… Perhaps another alternative gingerbread house for the future!

With the leftover bits of gingerbread dough I thought I best bake some emergency-if-it-all-goes-wrong gingerbread houses. Making it up as I went along (as who has time to make precise templates and measure things?!) armed with a palette knife and a pizza cutter I cut out 3 large (similar size and shape) triangles to make the walls of my wigwam.

This wigwam was then magically transformed into my Christmas tree. It didn’t really look substantial enough to be a house in it’s own right, after I had joined the triangles together to make a 3d wigwam shape. (Using just a line of royal icing on the inside join of each triangle). Inspired I added food colouring to my royal icing and zig zagged the pine needles in place using a  piping bag with the end trimmed off. (Not too large a hole or too much icing gushes out!) Returning with red and yellow coloured icing to dot on baubles. With a generous sprinkle of glitter a rather festive gingerbread Christmas tree had arrived. Once the icing had set I carefully prised the tree from it’s resting place (on a baking tray lined with cling film) with a cocktail stick and plopped it onto even more royal icing on the cake board.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree how lovely are your baubles

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree how lovely are your baubles

To decorate the cave I whipped up a batch of royal icing, using merriwhite (pasteurised egg white powder that you can buy from cake shops, so you don’t have to use raw egg whites if children or pregnant women might eat your baking). I smeared a good rough layer of royal icing all over the board to cover the silver foil and give a snowy effect. This is then the perfect base for glueing the gingerbread cave in place. I then piped more ‘snow’ around the the edges of the cave, all along the join between the cave and the board to hold it in place, but also to suggest a snow build up. I let the icing flow freely and smoothly to give as natural an effect as possible.

Piles of icicles

Piles of icicles

I wanted to create icicles to dangling from the cave mouth. Once the initial layer of snow had dried I could then use this icing to ‘hook’ the icicles on to. I piped a blob of icing behing the inside lip of the cave attatching it as far in to the roof (and joining on to the snow trim) as possible. Simple strings of icing didn’t hold and didn’t look right. I found it easier to squeezed the piping bag gently letting the icing build up and then stretch the icing with the nozzle of the piping bag before you stop piping. THis means you can then shape it as you wish. You can then even add more layers to your icicles if you want to build them up further. A good sprinkle of edible glitter (white hologram glitter is my preferred choice with a hint of blue) gives it a frosty twinkle.

wpid-IMG_20131130_230254.jpg

As I added my Gingerbread Cave to the amazing array of Gingerbread Houses I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I had successfully managed to get it there in one piece! Here’s some of the beautiful gingerbread creations from the day. There were over 20 houses to gaze and wonder at. What a wonderful start to the festive season!

Things that I used to bake my Gingerbread Cave and Christmas Tree

  • 675g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
  • 1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground all spice
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 225g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 large, free range egg
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 3 tbsp black treacle
  1. Beat all the ingredients together and chill.
  2. Roll out to 5mm thickness
  3. Grease and line tin. Place dough in a spherical tin (lined with paper inside and baking beans) and chill for 1 hour in freezer. You can bake it from frozen, no need to defrost
  4. Bake for 10 mins with beans at 180 degrees c.
  5. Remove beans and bake for 5 more minutes
  6. Allow to set in the tin but remove it whilst still warm

For the Royal Icing

  • 16g merriwhite
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 6 -10 tbsp cold water (enough to create a really thick pipeable paste with a smooth shiny finish)
  • Red, green and yellow gel food colourings (if you want to colour some of the icing too)

Beat the ingredients together adding the water gradually until you get the right consistency for you. It should be shiny and thick. It might take 5- 10  minutes of beating. Keep it in an airtight container to stop it drying out.

Put a little in a separate bowl and add colourings if you wish to colour some icing. I used 3 bowls for my 3 colours and kept the white icing in the mixing bowl to fill up my piping bags as needed.

To Decorate

  • edible glitter!
  • silver lustre spray (I sprayed the bear silver)
  • gold lustre powder (I painted the hare gold)
  • fondant icing to model animals and clock
  • a fork/cocktail sticks (to add details to the animals… eg. claws, eyes, mouth, whiskers, textured fur)

Happy Mother’s Day Mam! Here’s a Cath Kidston-esque cake just for you

Happy Mother’s Day! Cath Kidston inspired cake

Happy Mother’s Day to my Mam! I wanted to bake something special, Cath Kidston -esque and chocolate free for my Mam and came up with this haphazard star cake. I will tell you all about the inside of the cake later on as it’s still a little secret (and we haven’t tried it yet!).

After some frantic last minute icing shopping I managed to get a layer of marzipan and royal icing on the very alcoholic cake in record breaking time. Fingers crossed it’s all set in place now as there was no time to let the icing dry before adding the decorative touches. Especially with the cake inside having taken 2 weeks of soaking and 7 hours of preparing/baking. I’m hoping it tastes good!

The various colours of icing and star shape cutters

I attempted to colour my own icing after failing to create purple with red and blue food colourings I managed to use some silver spoon blue liquid colouring to create the blue icing and I was lucky to have some pre coloured red icing left over from Christmas too, that needed to be used up.

Glitter plate

I rolled the different colours of icing out using my mini silicon rolling pin and used a variety of star cutters to cut out the shapes.  Adding a liberal coating of glitter on each star to give it a bit more sparkle. I found tipping the glitter onto a plate and swishing the stars in the glitter made life a bit easier and a good generous layer of glitter to boot. Although the curious cat also got a bit glitterified too in the process.

Super Hans the glittery cat

I don’t own edible cake glue so I made my own with a bit of water and liquid glucose and used a knife to spread it on each star (sparingly) as I didn’t want the colours to bleed into the white icing and ruin the effect. The idea is to create just enough stickiness to hold the decorations on.

Stars climbing up the side of the cake

I got a bit carried away and put as many red and blue stars on to the cake as I could fit, including a few that are climbing up the side of the cake… I was envisaging a Cath Kidston fabric print and hope that it kind of conjures up that image but with more glitter 🙂

I’m off to take it to my Mam now. Let’s hope she likes it!

Star shaped and sparkly

All shapes and sizes