Change is in the air. That time again when the sun stays a little longer each day and the once, all-white landscape has become a collage of earthy tones. We are edging towards spring and that means we are also edging toward the cusp of lent with the celebration of Fastelavns, ‘the fast evening’.
The typical fare for Fastelavns in Norway is a sweet bun with a layer of whipped cream in the middle called Fastelavnsboller (you can find my recipe and the history here). You will also find different names and slightly different ways of serving these buns across Scandinavia, but the heart of the treat is always the same. The bun.
The three-day celebration period of Fastelvans begins with Fastelavnssøndag (Sunday), followed by Blåmandag (Blue Monday) and then concludes with Feitetirsdag (Fat Tuesday). Historically, the celebrations were as follows:
Fastelavnssøndag – also referred to as Pork Sunday; a day filled with indulgence, and the practice of fastelavnris.
Blåmandag/Fleskemandag – for some it was a barren day, in preparation for the following day, Fat Tuesday, when they would eat themselves full. In the case of Catholic Priests, they traditionally began their fasting on this day. The name Blue Monday (Blåmandag) refers back to the Middle Ages, where the altar was dressed in a blue cloth to signify that the priests had begun to fast. For those who did not keep a barren day, they would usually dine on meat, especially pork.
Feitetirsdag/HvitetirsdagTuesday – could be either Fat Tuesday or White Tuesday. If celebrated as Fat Tuesday, one would eat the best and fattiest foods in the house, as a way to empty the cupboards before the start of fasting. Many people would eat seven fatty and nutritious meals to ensure they were full and content before Lent. For others, one would begin the transition to eating meager fare and dine on white foods, such as milk and pastry, hence the name White Tuesday.
I came across an old variation of the fastelavnsboller in Bergen called heitevegger. It is typical for heitevegger to be served on Blåmandag (blue Monday), perhaps, because any leftover buns from Sunday could be freshened up and used again. The day has also been referenced as ‘Boller Monday’.
Bergen’s eating habits provide some traits that distinguish it greatly from elsewhere in the country, but many of their dishes do reflect the types of meals that were typical fare for citizens of the period. Today, you will find the heitevegger tied directly with Bergen. The word heitevegger comes from Germany and means ‘warm wedge-shaped bowls’, a pastry which is also known by the same name in Denmark and Sweden. It is even referenced that one would rather starve than not receive a heitevegger. (source)
The preparation is simple, especially if you have leftover buns to use. You simply warm up a bun and place it into a bowl. After making incisions in the bun, a mixture of warmed butter, cream and sugar or hot sweetened milk is poured over until the bun is completely saturated. The result is an incredible, dairy-drenched sweet bun with a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. The only way to eat this bun is with a knife and fork.
For a little indulgence, I highly recommend this sweet Bergen treat. You can take fresh buns straight out of the oven, or use day-old buns warmed up. It’s basically comfort in a bun, inside a bowl. And the best part is, you can regulate how much cream and butter and sugar you want. It’s up to you how drenched you want your buns to be. A word of caution though, restrain yourself at just one!
Heitevegger (Bergen’s Warm Shrovetide Buns)
(Makes 9 good-sized buns or 6 very large buns)
- 75 g (1/3 cup) butter
- 3dl (1 1/4 cups) whole milk
- 1 egg
- 500g (3 1/4 cups) flour
- 75g (1/3 cup) sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 25 g fresh yeast or 8.5 g dry yeast
- 1 egg, for brushing
- Heavy cream, butter, sugar, and cinnamon to serve
Warm the milk in a saucepan until lukewarm and add the butter, enabling it to melt. Add in the egg and blend together.
In a food mixer, place all the dry ingredients – ensuring the salt and yeast do not touch. Add the milk mixture and knead on low, with the dough hook, for a good 10 minutes. Check the dough, it should be soft and very elastic. I can’t stress enough how important it is to take the time to work the dough as this creates a much lighter and better dough. (If kneading by hand, mix all the ingredients as suggested above in a large bowl and then pour out onto a lightly-floured surface. Knead for a good 10-15 minutes) Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Divide the dough into 9 balls (or 6 if you want very large buns – those pictured are from the 9 bun batch). Place them on a prepared baking sheet, cover and let rise for another 30 minutes.
Brush the buns with the beaten egg and bake for 13-15 minutes at 180°C/350°F.
Place a freshly-baked, warm bun in a bowl. You can also warm up day old buns in the oven before serving. Make an incision on the top or cut a lid across the top and remove. You can pour a mixture of cream, sugar and butter (which has been warmed together in a saucepan) over the top or place a spoonful of butter in the bun and pour warmed, sweetened milk over. The way you serve the bun is completely up to your preference. Just keep cream, sugar and butter on hand. Top with cinnamon and eat with a fork and knife. Enjoy!