Have you read Dan Brown’s latest book, Inferno? Famed symbologist Professor Robert Langdon (Da Vinci Code) is at it again, only this time the intrigue is centered in Florence, Italy and the topic is Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy.
What does this have to do with baking? Not a lot. Although it is difficult to imagine drinking in all of those fabulous aromas wafting through the ancient portions of Florence without settling down for an espresso and perhaps a Florentine.
It’s the symbology and history that triggered our inspiration. If you’ve ever visited Solvang (or Denmark), you may have noticed a pretzel-shaped object hanging outside the doors of the many Danish bakeries that decorate our little town. It’s called a Kringle (pronounced kring-leh), and is the ancient symbol of the bakers’ guild in Denmark.
If the thought of pretzels causes you to scratch your head, not unlike Professor Langdon in his amnesia-infused haze, and wonder why visions of beer steins and buxom German frauleins come to mind rather than Danes, you’re not alone. And even better, you’re not off-track.
Danish pastries were greatly influenced by none other than Germany’s cousins, the Austrians. The story goes that when the Confectioners, Bakers and Chocolate Makers Association of Denmark went on strike back in 1850, the Danes maintained a stiff Scandinavian lip and imported Viennese bakers to do the baking. And with the Viennese, came Austria’s rich culinary history, which, in turn, was borrowed from previous cultures.
Ancient Persians are thought to have been the first to create puff pastry. The Turks took repetitive folding of the dough to new heights, which was eventually adopted by their mortal enemies, the Austrians, and later the French (think croissant). The striking Danish bakers eventually co-mingled with the Viennese bakers, borrowing the Austrian dough-making techniques, and adding sugar and jams to them … and Danish pastries were born. To this day, what Americans think of as ‘Danish pastries’ are called ‘wienerbrod’ in Denmark. Translation? ‘Viennese bread.’
Our Almond Kringles are created with Danish pastry dough layered with rich marzipan and custard filling. We wrap it into the traditional pretzel shape, sprinkle it with almond slivers, and coarse sugar, et voila: a yummy, flaky pastry perfect for family gatherings or celebrations.
But what about our pretzel symbol? It certainly appears it was borrowed from our Austrian mentors, but where did they come up with it? We think even Professor Langdon might find its provenance difficult to pin down. One of the favorite possibilities is that an Italian monk used doughy pretzels to reward well-behaved children for saying their prayers in the 6th century. The crossing portion of the pretzel represents the folded arms, while the three circles represent the Trinity.
Whatever its origin, we shall continue with the tradition of proudly displaying the Kringle above our door, and perhaps if you’re good (and maybe even if you’re naughty), you can one day sample our Almond Kringles!
Arthur L. Meyer. Danish Cooking and Baking Traditions. New York, NY: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2011. Pg 164
Patricia Bunning Stevens. Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1998. Pg 188-189
The Chefs of Le Cordon Bleu. Patisserie & Baking Foundations, Classic Recipes. Le Cordon Bleu International, 2012.