They are heart-shaped like in a Chris Isaak song. They are the epitome of Nordic hospitality and warmth. Waffles have a special place in the heart of Scandinavians.
Waffles are eaten in all of the Scandinavian countries, but they have a special place in Norway. Waffles are just as important to Norwegians as the croissant is to the French. Waffles are ever-present in Norway, they are sold at cafés and made at home. Like another iconic Nordic dish, meatballs, they represent a sense of belonging. The taste of home.
You may sit under a palm tree in Palermo. Stay at a bed and breakfast in Brooklyn. Barter in a medina in the Middle East. The scent of waffles sends us home. Nowhere is this truer than in the Norwegian Church Abroad, Sjømannskirken.
The Norwegian Church Abroad was established in 1834 to serve as church for Norwegian seamen. Today 31 churches are spread around the world from Dubai to San Francisco. They are popular for Norwegian couples that want to get married abroad, but most of all they are social and spiritual havens open to all Norwegians; you can come by just to read Norwegian newspapers or have a cup of coffee and a waffle. Waffles and the Norwegian Church Abroad are tied together like a sailor’s knot. Each church abroad has their own particular waffle recipe, and during their yearly campaign “Hjertevarme” they hand out thousands of heart-shaped waffles as a symbol of generosity.
Dugnad is one of the few Norwegian words that have seeped into the English language. And waffles and dugnad are intertwined. Numerous young volunteers have sold waffles to raise money for their school trips or for humanitarian causes. As in the story about Gimsøy secondary school, where the pupils during two hours managed to raise 80 000 kroner (13 500 dollars) to the Red Cross in the Philippines in the wake of typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The sum was a result of door-to-door donations and the sale of cakes and waffles.
Compared to American of Belgian waffles Scandinavian waffles are thinner and heart-shaped. They are not served as a dessert with whipped cream but rather as a meal in itself or served with afternoon coffee. They are usually sweet, not savory although there is a Norwegian counterpart to chicken and waffles, where they accompany a sausage. Scandinavian waffles are also delicious left-over food because they can be made with a wide array of milk products ranging from milk, butter milk, yoghurt, cream or sour cream. My mother always makes waffles when she has some old cream or sour cream to be used.
Come on in and have some waffles, my mother would yell from the kitchen window. I would stop my work, usually painting the house or doing gardening work, rush in and wolf down hot waffles straight out of the waffle iron. One of the many adorable things about waffles, is their informal ease. You do not need clean hands, nice clothes or a chair to savour them. The best waffles should be eaten straight away and addresses only your appetite. Such waffles makes me sing.
But do sit down with your waffles – and enjoy the taste of hospitable waffles. Waffles are commonly eaten with butter and brown cheese or a dollop of sour cream and jam. Scandinavian waffles do not require any yeast and can be whipped together in a hurry, making them easy to offer to guests. And in rural Norway, guests just come by. Where I come from in the North of Norway neighbours and friends knock on the door several times a day. One neighbour comes by to exchange the latest woman’s magazines. Another comes by just because he is a neighbour and it is a lovely day. In a culture where there is a lack of cafés, the café moves to your home. And in these homes the smell of coffee and freshly cooked waffles is the smell of hospitality.
Norway is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe. In a population of 5,1 mill roughly 20 percent live in cities with more than 50 000 inhabitants. The rest live in rural areas or small towns with less than 25 000 inhabitants. My country is a country with plenty of space and wilderness. Even in the capital Oslo, the wilderness is just a 20-minute ride from downtown while in most other parts of Norway the forest starts where your garden ends. Dotted all over the Oslo Forest, like lighthouses, are wooden cafés. They pride themselves on whipping up the best waffles you can get in the forest.
One of my finest waffle moments was in the outdoor, after a trek. My brother cooked waffles over open fire using my mother’s old non-electric waffle iron. Eating the waffles with the view to the birch woods, the slender fjord and the snow-capped mountains looming above made these simple waffles a meal to cherish.
Scandinavian waffles (makes about 8)
If you do not have a Nordic heart-shaped waffle iron, use a Belgian waffle iron.
300 ml oats
300 ml water
150 g / 5,2 oz cottage cheese (sour cream or Greek yogurt)
100 g / 3,5 oz melted butter
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp ground cardamom
a pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
200 ml flour (gluten-free is fine)
about 200 ml full fat milk
1. Let the oats soak in water for 1 hour.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients and blitz with a handheld blender. Let the batter rest for a 30 minutes to thicken it. The batter should not be as thick as an American pancake batter, but have the texture as a thick French crêpe batter.
3. Fry until golden brown in a waffle iron.