Kransekake (Norwegian Wedding Cake)
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This is a post I’ve wanted to write for quite a while, and with my niece’s wedding this past weekend, it was a good time to revisit the topic.
Kransekake (literally translated as “wreath cake”) is an almond-based cake used in Norway for special occasions. It’s more like a cookie than a cake and is baked in concentric rings and layered to form a pyramid. The structure is held together by royal icing.
I had never heard of kransekake before my aunt joined the family some many years ago. She used to make them for weddings and anniversaries. Several years ago, I went and purchased my own set of baking rings and was able to surprise them on their 25th wedding anniversary!
The cake made for my niece’s wedding I believe was the 5th time I had made the official cake: a couple of weddings (including my sister’s) and a few special anniversaries.
In reality, you don’t need the special baking rings unless you’re going to build the tower. The dough can be piped out onto a baking sheet and made up as cookies. I’ve done that a couple of times too. Why? Because weddings and anniversaries don’t come often enough to enjoy this delectable treat!
Each time we make this cake we discover a few tricks. My aunt has always used almond paste to make her dough; I learned to grind almonds until they’re almost a paste/butter. Using pre-made paste makes for a lighter, less nutty texture in the end product which some people prefer.
If you grind the nuts yourself, you may end up grinding them in stages – sometimes sifting them through a strainer to get the big pieces out and process them again. You definitely don’t want large pieces – I think it makes the rings more fragile. Then again, if you process for too long you start to get almond butter! You want the nuts just before it gets to that point.
Besides the almonds, the cake/cookies only need confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar), a little bit of all-purpose flower and egg whites. That’s it. And then there’s more confectioner’s sugar and egg whites along with a bit of almond extract for the royal icing. Just a few ingredients, but oh-so-good.
When made for a party, I recommend mixing up 1 1/2 to 2 full batches of dough. If you make 2 full batches you will end up with at least 2 sets of rings, which is nice to have in case one ring breaks (although that doesn’t happen often). Also, when the cake is on display I like to leave a full tower up but have several rings broken up around the base so people and still taste the dessert while ooh-ing and ahh-ing over it. Only when there are no more broken pieces do you have to start demolishing the tower, and even then I start with the bottom rings leaving the top intact. It’s nice to have plenty so that people can have more than just a single taste … because they usually want more (and more and…)
This is a VERY stiff dough – I recommend using a stand mixer or food processor or you may have tired arms by the time it’s all mixed together.
In previous attempts we’ve always used my old-fashioned metal cookie press to get “ropes” of dough into the baking pans. After a while, it becomes hard on the hands. I wouldn’t recommend a plastic cookie press – the stress may crack it; it would be better to roll out the dough by hand. This year, Papa remembered that we had a sausage stuffer attachment for our Kitchenaid mixer.
We tried the 3/8″ but that looked too small. Turns out the 5/8″ diameter was too big – but what we did was take those and cut them in half. These “grow” a little bit in the oven, which is why you don’t want to overfill the rings, but cut in half meant that the bottoms of the rings all had flat-ish surfaces that were easier to stack and assemble!
Here are the rings all prepped and filled. I purchased the non-stick version of the rings, but even so I wanted to make sure the rings would release ok, so I still greased them with butter. I never bother with the cornstarch or Cream of Wheat.
Note: if you purchase the non-stick pans, make sure you read the instructions and decrease the oven temperature! If the oven is too hot, they’ll puff up, leaving hollow, fragile insides and not very pretty rings. Live and learn! Fortunately the picture is the only time I’ve had this problem and it was years ago.
Transporting is always the scary part. We have transported them as individual rings but for this weekend’s wedding we decided it might actually be safer to “glue” them together with the royal icing, let it harden, wrap the tower in bubble wrap and place in a tall container (like a box) so it wouldn’t shift around. No problem at all getting it there in one piece! All that was left to do was to decorate it with Norwegian and American flags (to celebrate our Norwegian-American heritage).
As I mentioned, you don’t have to make this into rings if you want to give this recipe a try. I still make “ropes” cut into 1″ – 2″ length pieces and bake, but check after 20 min to make sure they don’t over-bake.
You know … I think we still have some almonds left in the freezer. Maybe I should make some more this weekend :-).
- 1 lb almonds – unsalted and not roasted (skins are ok)
- 1 lb confectioners’ sugar (~3 1/.4 cups)
- 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 3 to 4 unbeaten egg whites
- Royal icing
- 2 egg whites
- 1 lb confectioners' sugar
- 2 tsp almond extract
To prepare rings, generously grease the pans and then sprinkle with bread crumbs or uncooked Cream of Wheat. For non-stick pans, grease the pans with shortening or butter – do not use cooking spray.
Fit food processor with steel blade. Process almonds until pulverized. Add confectioners’ sugar, flour, and 3 egg whites; process until dough is firm but not dry. Add fourth egg white only if necessary to make dough manageable.
Chill 30 minutes, wrapped in plastic wrap.
To shape dough for rings, attach a 1/2”-inch tip to a metal cookie press. Fill cookie press with dough. (Note: this will not work with a pastry bag – the dough is too stiff). Press dough out onto flat surface in long strands. Alternatively, use a stand mixer sausage stuffer to create the long strips. Cut into lengths to fit the prepared rings. Rolls strands between palms and counter-top to make strips as smooth and even as possible. Place into rings and seal ends. Do not overfill rings or they will be difficult to remove from pan after baking.
Preheat oven to 325°F. For dark or non-stick pans, lower temperature to 300°F. Bake 30 minutes or until firm and golden brown. Do not OVERBAKE! Let cool in pans. To remove from pans, carefully insert tip of sharp knife under baked dough ring in several places, lifting gently. If rings break, keep pieces intact so you can mend them with royal icing.
Royal Icing: Beat 2 egg whites and 2 teaspoons almond extract until fluffy. Add 1 lb confectioners’ sugar until mixture is smooth and icing can be drizzled through the fine tip of a pastry bag. Alternative: Use Wilton’s Meringue Powder and mix according to directions for royal icing.
To assemble the cake: Attach fine writing tip to a pastry bag. Spoon Royal icing into bag. Place largest ring on serving plate. Drizzle some icing on top of ring. Top with next smaller ring; drizzle with icing. Continue stacking rings and drizzling with icing until all rings are stacked. Decorate with flowers, flags, or shaped marzipan.