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Five classic Danish cakes you need to try

You may have tasted kanelsnegle, romkugler and tebirkes, but have you tried these hard-to-find cakes yet? If not, you're missing out.

Five classic Danish cakes you need to try
"Napoleonshatte" and other cakes on sale in a Danish bakery. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix


Literally translating as “Napoleon’s hat”, this pastry, which consists of a ball of marzipan baked on top of a shortbread biscuit, folded in the shape of a tricorne hat and dipped in dark chocolate, dates all the way back to 1856.

In the early 19th century, Denmark sided with France in the Napoleonic wars, which proved to be a bad idea: the UK bombed Copenhagen, stole the Danes’ entire naval fleet and Denmark was forced to concede Norway to Sweden following the Treaty of Kiel in 1814.

At least the Danes got a pastry out of it: and the triangular marzipan-flavoured pastries – somewhere between a cake and a biscuit – are still popular in Denmark as a great afternoon treat with a cup of coffee.

napoleonshat should not be confused with the equally delicious napoleonskage, which is a cake similar to a French millefeuille, a dessert consisting of two layers of puff pastry filled with cream and raspberry jam and glazed with white or brown icing.


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Despite the name, you’ll be pleased to know that a kartoffelkage (literally: “potato cake”) does not include potatoes, with the cake instead getting its name due to its resemblance to a freshly-dug potato.

Kartoffelkager are a classic Danish cream cake or flødeskumskage, consisting of choux pastry (vandbakkelse) filled with crème pâtissière, known as kagecreme or “cake cream” in Danish.

They are then topped with a disc of marzipan and dusted with cocoa powder, giving them the appearance of a muddy potato fresh out of the ground.

Best eaten as fresh as possible and using a fork, it’s easy to understand how this cake, with the bitter cocoa powder, smooth vanilla-flavoured kagecreme and obligatory marzipan has become a classic.


The kajkage. Photo: Kjersti Hjelmen/NF/Ritzau Scanpix

From one classic to another, the kajkage is an essential Danish cake which you’re unlikely to find in hip Copenhagen bakeries.

This cake, shaped like a frog and covered in lime-green marzipan, is easier to find outside of Denmark’s larger cities, where you’re likely to see it in the shop windows of smaller local bakeries who aren’t too snobbish to stock the less-than-elegant pastry.

Originally referred to as a simple frøkage (frog cake), legend has it that an enterprising baker in Holstebro in western Jutland started marketing the cake under the name kajkage in the 1980s, after Kaj the frog, from popular children’s TV series Kaj og Andrea (Kaj and Andrea).

kajkage consists of a macaron-style base, known as a mazarinbunde in Danish, where marzipan (yes, the Danes love marzipan if you haven’t already figured that out), is mixed with egg, flour, sugar and butter and baked into a thin cake.

This is then cut out into rounds and topped with a layer of raspberry jam, then a layer of buttercream, which is then covered in green marzipan. A slice is then cut into the marzipan for the frog’s mouth with an optional red marzipan tongue, and two googly eyes are piped on to finish the cake.

Understandably popular with children, you should try a kajkage at least once in your life – if only to impress any Danes you know from more rural areas of Denmark with your local cake knowledge.


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Another classic, medaljer (medals) are the first cake on this list which do not include marzipan.

They have fallen somewhat out of fashion in recent years, but join kartoffelkager as one of the essential flødekager, which became popular at the turn of the 20th century when new technological advances made it possible to keep dairy products cold.

Medaljer, unlike kajkager, are extremely elegant, consisting of two discs of shortcrust pastry filled with a ring of either whipped cream or crème pâtissière, filled with some sort of compote or jam, usually a sour flavour to cut through the rich cream like raspberry or apple. They are then topped with icing or dark chocolate, and some sort of decoration, like a piped blob of cream or some fresh fruit.

Despite their often simple appearance, medaljer are surprisingly difficult to make, as the texture of the cream and compote filling must be stiff enough to ensure it can hold up the biscuit on top, while not being over-whipped.


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The final cake on this list, invented in western Sjælland at the beginning of the 1900s, is a gåsebryst (goose breast).

It gets its name from the domed shape and texture of the white marzipan topping. When marzipan was still made and rolled-out by hand, it was difficult to get it completely smooth, with the texture ending up similar to the feathers on a goose’s breast.

gåsebryst is a somewhat old-fashioned cake which you are more likely to find at a konditor than a standard bakery.

It consists of a base made of sponge cake or puff pastry, spread with some kind of fruit compote or jam (usually raspberry, more traditionally prune), and a dome of cream and kagecreme, formed into a long log. The log is then topped with uncoloured marzipan and drizzled with chocolate, then sliced into individual slices so the cross-section of the cake is visible.

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Why do Danes eat lunch so early?

If you are new to a Danish workplace, you might think that going for lunch at noon would be beating the lunchtime rush. The opposite is true. Lunchtime in Denmark begins as early as 11:30am and you won't find many eating after 1pm. We investigate this early eating habit.

Why do Danes eat lunch so early?

It is well known that Danes are punctual and when it comes to lunchtime, the same can be said, with most people eating by noon or 12:30pm. But why does lunch start so early?

Professor Karen Klitgaard Povlsen of Aarhus University’s School of Communication and Culture believes the habit goes back hundreds of years. 

“Denmark used to be a farming country. When I was a child, I was raised on a farm and people got up very early in the morning and had their first coffee at around 9am and then lunch, which was warm, at around 11:30am. Then they slept for some hours. I think this pattern was more or less imitated by factories in the late 19th century,” she told The Local.

“But what I find really interesting is that in Denmark, unlike the rest of Europe, most people have their lunch at the same time, which is really rather unusual. Between 12pm and 12:30pm you won’t find anyone in the office,” she said.

Pupils at schools in Denmark tend to eat their lunch at noon and start their day at 8am, which is slightly earlier than other European countries. It appears adults follow the same pattern.

“The tradition to eat lunch early, at 12, might be that lunch in Denmark is not a big meal like other European countries. It’s a cold meal and often a lunch pack from home, often a few sandwiches,” Professor Lotte Holm of the University of Copenhagen told The Local. She has researched the social and cultural aspects of eating in various settings.

“In the workplace in Denmark, lunchtime is often around 30 minutes, with the aim that colleagues sit and eat together. There is of course an exception in certain workplaces, such as customer services and in hospitals where that’s not possible.

“Eating lunch at a desk happens but is not considered good style, or how it should be. I don’t think it happens that often,” Holm said.

In her Nordic study, Holm and a team of researchers followed the eating patterns of people in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finalnd over a fifteen-year period, from 1997 to 2012.

The results showed distinctly different national rhythms to eating, which were fairly persistent.

“Sweden deviates from the other Nordic countries because they have a social institutionalised mid-morning break called Fika, where they meet and have coffee and cinnamon buns. We have breaks at the workplace but they’re not official like in Sweden,” she said.

Denmark is a country of coffee drinkers so taking caffeine breaks definitely features in the workplace but they are not official breaks, Holm notes.

There are also differences between the Nordic countries when it comes to lunch.

“Denmark and Norway differ to Sweden and Finland, in that Denmark and Norway have cold lunches. We have lunch packs, whereas Sweden and Finland have hot lunches served in workplaces and in schools, where children eat for free.

“So there is more flexibility for the family evening meal in Sweden and Finland, because you eat more food at school and at work. In Denmark and Norway, there is more regular eating in the evening”, Holm said.

“Family time is prioritised in Denmark, as it is for all the Nordic countries. A lot happens during family meals, it’s socialising with children and teaching about language and morals and the world. It’s considered very important and they do this in Nordic countries on a regular basis, not everyday but it’s often,” Holm said.

“Our Nordic study showed dinners in Denmark to be around 6:30pm or 7pm. In Norway they are earlier, so Denmark is not particularly early here, but compared to countries like Spain, they are. In Denmark, the evening meal is often a hot meal,” she added.

It’s also worth noting that the times Danish people eat meals are different to the times attributed to certain parts of the day.

For example, eating lunch (frokost) can be anywhere between 11:30am and 1:30pm but when someone says they want to meet at frokosttid (lunchtime), they mean noon-1pm.

This comes after formidddag (9am-noon) and morgen (6am-9am).

The evening meal (aftensmad) is eaten anywhere between 5:30pm and 8:30pm but evening time (aften) is 6pm-midnight, preceded by afternoon (eftermiddag) (noon-6pm). Night (nat) is midnight-6am.