From my kitchen to yours: Claus Meyer on Nordic flavours, philosophy and home baking
The Danish gastronomy icon and co-founder of Copenhagen’s most famous restaurant, Noma, discusses the evolution of New Nordic cuisine and how he’s adapted to the pandemic — and shares his coveted recipe for cinnamon swirls, perfect for burgeoning bakers.
Claus, you’re credited as the founder of New Nordic cuisine, the movement that revolutionised food culture in Denmark. The concept focuses on the potency of locally sourced ingredients. What was your inspiration?
I was born in the southern part of Denmark in 1963, the darkest period of Danish food history. It was the era of canned meat balls and mashed potato powder, the birth of sauce colouring and of the bouillon cube. Eating was not a matter of reaching out for the beauty of life, it was a matter of economic efficiency. My views on the importance of delicious food and the act of getting together around the table changed drastically during a stay as a young man in Southern France. The joy emanating from the ways of French food shook me to the core. I knew from that moment on that Denmark not only needed but deserved an equally enthusiastic approach to food — it was only a matter of finding a way to unlock the true potential of our food culture.
What’s the culinary scene like in Copenhagen today?
To this very day I’m still astonished by the impact Noma and the New Nordic movement has had on the Danish and even the global culinary landscape. The idea that ingredients cultivated close to our homes can harness an equal if not superior taste experience compared to sought-after delicacies traded across borders has stood the test of time. These days, however, the culinary scene in Copenhagen has moved beyond the cultural expressions and sources of inspiration of the New Nordic movement. But it still maintains a profound understanding of the importance of using local ingredients and working from a sustainable starting point. The Danish capital is a hotpot of taste explosions, ranging from street food to Michelin dining, and covering every part of the globe along the way. Young trailblazers and seasoned chefs come together to form a food metropolis, which may be small in size but still manages to influence the global food agenda.
You opened the first Meyers Bakery (a chain of four artisanal bakeries in Copenhagen) in 2010 and released the cookbook Meyer’s Bakery in 2017. What is it you particularly love about Danish breads and pastries?
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved bread. By the age of seven, I was helping out at the local baker shop before heading off to school in the morning. That love has only grown stronger during the years. I’ve always been very fascinated by what can come of such simple ingredients as water and flour. I’m also intrigued by the inner workings of sour dough. Its bacterial flora helps develop a delicious acidic taste, which suits the grain’s own characteristic aromas. It also helps the bread stay fresh for longer, thus minimising food waste. My passion for sourdough is exemplary of the way I approach baked goods in general: taking something many people find mundane and making it exhilarating again by tweaking small aspects of the process and approach. Whether it’s releasing the classic Danish hindbærsnitte pop tart from its white sugar prison or making modern breads using ancient grain varieties, for me it’s all about going back to the roots of baking to make this historic activity matter in our present-day culture.
How has the pandemic impacted your ability to share your food?
They say necessity is the mother of all inventions. The pandemic has forced many of our activities into an involuntary lockdown but instead of throwing out a lot of great produce, we quickly developed a meal box concept. A few weeks later, and hundreds of people are now getting weekend dinners, freshly baked bread or entire meal plans delivered to their doorstep. In many ways, this crisis has wound up bringing us closer to our guests and customers — not least for me, on a personal note. Alongside my colleagues and friends, I’ve started livestreaming cooking classes, talks and quizzes through social media. It’s rough around the edges and I might be talking about root vegetable roasting times while using a broken toilet as a garden chair, but thousands of people are watching. It touches me deeply that we can also play a small part in bringing people together though food in a digital realm while everybody is still able to keep their distance in the physical world.
You’ve offered to share the recipe for your famous kanelsnurrer cinnamon swirls with us. Why is this a good recipe for home bakers?
Cinnamon swirls are a great project to try at home, combining easily accessible techniques with more challenging ones. If you swirl a swirl the wrong way, it’s basically just a cinnamon bun with a bad hair day. It will still taste great! This recipe was actually given to me by a Norwegian named Morten Schakenda from a bakery in the municipality of Lom in the heart of Norway. After tasting the wonderful swirls at a food conference, the taste of cinnamon was forever linked to his swirls in my mind. My numerous attempts at recreating these swirls didn’t pan out, and so finally we had to take a trip into the Norwegian wilderness to bring his recipe back to Meyer’s Bakeries.
Recipe for kanelsnurrer (cinnamon swirls) a la Meyer's Bakery
Takes: 1hr 10 mins plus proving
For the dough:
500ml cold whole milk
1kg plain flour, plus extra for dusting
15g ground cardamom
150g butter, finely diced
For the filling:
For the glaze:
sugar, for sprinkling
1. Pour the milk into a bowl, then stir in the yeast. Add the egg, flour, sugar, salt and cardamom and knead the dough in a mixer until it’s smooth, shiny and comes away from the sides of the bowl (this takes around 8 mins at a medium speed). Add the butter to the dough and knead for another 8 mins until the dough is quite smooth (the long kneading times are essential for a good result). Cover with a cloth and leave to prove for 90 mins in a warm place.
2. Meanwhile, mix the ingredients for the filling to create a uniform mixture. Once the dough has proved, knock it back until firm, then wrap in cling film and leave to cool in the fridge for at least 1 hr.
3. When the dough is cool, sprinkle some flour onto a worksurface and roll out the dough to a rectangle of about 50cm x 60cm. Smear the filling evenly onto the dough. Fold one-third of the dough to the middle, then then fold the remaining third over the first section; you now have three layers.
4. Roll out the dough to a square of 30cm x 30cm, then cut it into 12 strips of 30cm. Curl each strip by twisting the ends in opposite directions six or seven times, making sure not to squeeze out the filling. Wrap the dough twice around your index and middle finger. Fold the end of the dough back over the two wraps so it’s now gripped between your index and middle finger. Pull you fingers away, so the tip of the dough-strip fastens inside the roll.
5. Set the swirls on baking trays covered with baking paper. Cover the swirls with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
6. Heat oven to 200C, fan 180C, gas 6. To make the glaze, beat the egg in a bowl, then baste the swirls with the beaten egg and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake for 12-14 mins, then remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Restaurateur and cookbook author Claus Meyer hosted the 1990s Danish cooking show Meyer’s Kitchen before rising to international acclaim with four-time World’s 50 Best Restaurants winner Noma in Copenhagen alongside co-creator René Redzepi. In recent years he has initiated several food projects in New York City and now divides his time between the Meyers catering and food retail company he founded, non-profit work through his Melting Pot Foundation, motivational speeches and culinary consultancy.
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