A Danish Christmas Tradition and A Recipe for Stout Cake
In Denmark, the holiday season officially starts on the first Friday of November, when the annual Christmas beers are released. Christmas beer – julebryg in Danish – is a Scandinavian tradition that dates back to the Vikings. J-dag, as the release day is called here, not so much. It was launched in 1990 by Tuborg as a way of marketing their Christmas beer. Initially held on a Wednesday, with the beer officially released at midnight and thus resulting in countless Danes turning up hungover for work on Thursday, and was sensibly moved to a Friday. Since then J-dag has grown steadily and now also includes the release of Christmas beers from other breweries, including from many microbreweries.
This year, in a fog of too many work deadlines and other commitments, I completely missed J-dag. I tried to make up for it last Friday, at Mikkeller & Friends, one of my favorite bars in Copenhagen. Run by the brewers behind Mikkeller and To Øl – two popular local brands of high-quality beer – it has 40 beers on tap, including a great selection of Christmas beers.
My favorite has to be To Øl’s Julemælk aka. “Christmas milk”. I’m not usually a big fan of super strong stouts and porters, but this one has won me over. It is pitch black and almost syrupy in texture and has a heady aroma of roasted malt with lots of caramel, chocolate and coffee flavor. It’s decidedly sweet – not necessarily a quality that’s heralded by beer geeks – but all I could think was “this would be so good in cake”! Before leaving the bar that night, I picked up a few bottles and the next day I set out to find a recipe that would make the most of it’s impressive flavor.
Beer cake is an old-fashioned quick bread that’s native to the southernmost part of Denmark. It’s a flavorful cake – not unlike gingerbread, but with the unmistakable malty aroma of beer. If you can find a stout with a distinct flavor, it will really come into its own in this cake. It has a dense and chewy texture, and is usually eaten sliced with a generous slathering of butter. It’s incredibly easy to pull together – a one-bowl, dump and stir – and keeps exceptionally well.
4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 1/4 cups (500 g) dark brown sugar
1 12 oz. bottle of imperial stout
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a large loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and spices. Add the egg and stir, then add the flour and baking soda, and stir again. Finally, add the beer in a steady stream, while stirring to incorporate.
Pour batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan to cool completely. Enjoy plain or with butter.
Tightly wrapped and stored at room temperature, this cake will keep for at least a week. (Well, ok, if you don’t eat it all in one sitting, still warm from the oven.)
If any of you would like to try a Danish Christmas beer, try the new Mikkeller bar in San Francisco or Brooklyn’s Tørst. Incidentally, the two bars are related: Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the owner of Mikkeller, and Jesper Jarnit Bjergsø, the owner of Tørst, are twins.