Danes will be celebrating Fastelavn on March 2 in 2014.
The holiday comes seven weeks before Easter Sunday and has been described as a Nordic Halloween, since children dress up in costumes. It’s a time for fun and family games, one of which is the traditional slå katten af tønden ("hit the cat out of the barrel").
This is similar to a piñata, except the candy is in a large barrel decorated with the image of a cat. (In Medieval times, a live cat would be placed in a barrel, and the barrel was beaten with sticks until it broke and the cat escaped. It was then chased out of the town, because people believed that it would take bad luck and evil spirits of the town with it.)
Children take turns hitting the barrel with a wooden club. The one who hits the bottom of the barrel hard enough so that all the candy spills out becomes kattedronning (“queen of cats”) and the child wo knocks down the last piece of the barrel becomes kattekonge (“king of cats”.
Another popular activity is going from door to door in the neighborhood singing and collecting candy or money, similar to the American tradition of "trick or treating" on Halloween. Many towns in Denmark have Fastelavn festivities and parades.
In early days Fastelavn marked the beginning of a period of fasting. It was the day when you prepared yourself for fasting (Lent) by eating as much as possible. In Denmark a popular baked good associated with the day is Fastelavnsbolle, a round sweet roll usually covered with icing and filled with cream. Shops and bakeries will have this treat available before the holiday actually arrives.
We haven’t tried homemade buns, but those from the shops and bakeries are delicious! There are several variations; if you want to try to make your own, check out the recipe below.
(Makes 12-14 buns)1 package fresh yeast (2 oz)1 stick butter1 1/2 cups milk1/2 cup sugar1 teaspoon salt4 – 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour1 beaten eggAlmond filling:200 g almond paste2/3 cup milk2 cups heavy cream, whipped
In a saucepan, melt butter; add milk and heat to 100ºF. Add yeast and stir. Transfer to large bowl. Mix in sugar, salt and most of the flour. Cover bowl with a cup towel and let dough rise in a warm place for 40 minutes. Knead the dough and form it into about 12 equally-sized round buns. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper; cover with a cloth, and let rise for 30-40 minutes.
Just before baking, brush the buns lightly with an egg wash (1 beaten egg). Bake at 450ºF for 5-10 minutes. When buns are cool, cut the tops off, and scoop out a hole in the center. Combine almond paste, milk and a little bit of whipped cream. Fill the buns with the almond mixture and then add whipped cream. Replace lids and sprinkle some powdered sugar on top.