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by Bronte Aurell
I have family in the southern part of Jutland (the part of Denmark that’s connected to continental Europe), and one of the most vivid memories of my childhood is hearing of the elaborate gatherings known as ‘Sønderjysk Kaffebord’ – literally, a ‘Southern Jutland coffee table’.
Danes love meeting up for coffee and cake of course, but in the south of Jutland, they take it to the extreme. There, a normal coffee time features seven types of soft cake, and seven kinds of biscuits. Anything less just won’t do.
Such gatherings first became popular in the mid-1800s, when indoor ovens became increasingly commonplace (communal ovens were the norm in villages and on farms). As home baking became easier, the availability of recipe books led to people experimenting more, and the variety of coffee-time goodies increased accordingly.
While extreme rationing during the First World War meant that southern Jutland’s coffee times were a more austere affair, they took on a new significance during the Nazi occupation of Denmark in the Second World War. The occupiers outlawed public meetings, but welcoming guests for (ersatz) coffee in the home was permitted. So what better way to discuss resistance than doing it while stuffing your face full of delicious baking at the same time?
Of course, there was also an element of out-doing the neighbours. At communal coffee times at a village hall, each wife would bring her cake. But maybe Gerda would bring two different cakes, while Katrine down the road might attempt to outdo her with four types of biscuits. A bake-off gone nuts.
These days, a typical Southern Jutland coffee table is served in hotels and restaurants, and also sometimes at weddings, christenings and funerals. In fact, the other day I called my dad, who was on his way to Sønderborg with my uncle. He told me that a distant relative had sadly passed away, and they were attending the funeral. I offered my condolences – to which I heard my uncle chirpily reply in the background : “Ah, but there’s a full coffee table afterwards!”.
How to do it – the original way
Present seven types of soft cakes and seven types of biscuits or hard cakes.
People gathered around the table to take one portion or slice of EACH soft cake on your plate AT THE SAME TIME. Yes, really. You don’t have to do that any more, but that is the tradition. The reasoning was that if you got full up and hadn’t yet tasted Helle’s delicious strieftorte, it just would not do.
How to serve?
Start with the soft cakes, followed by the hard cakes. Always. Never the other way round.
There is a huge list to choose from – some that probably wouldn’t appeal to our pallets these days. The popular ones will always be layer cakes of all shapes and sizes, from strawberry with crème pâtisserie, to ones made with berries from the garden. You will probably always have someone attempting a rye bread layer cake (it’s an interesting thing). Kartoffelkage is another good one – literally ‘potato cake’, but it has nothing to do with potatoes. And then there are tarts, kringles – and so it goes on….
The hard items include fried wheat biscuits known as ‘klejner’, as well as the more familiar butter cookies.
My very favourite kaffebord item is a biscuit called ‘Ingenting’ which literally means ‘nothing’.
Ingentings are the last biscuit served. A host would ask a guest what more they could eat, to which they would answer ‘ingenting’. And so the guest be offered precisely that – one of these deliciously light, soft meringue biscuits. Because there is always room for nothing.