While browsing around at an antique shop I stumbled upon an ephemera section. There was a fairly large selection with postcards from every state as well as some international ones.
I found a box, stacked somewhere between Poland and Switzerland, vaguely labeled Scandinavia. It was separated into two sections for Denmark and Sweden. I looked through the several dozen cards and found a few from Norway. The one in the photo was sent to someone in South Amboy, NJ. The only message was “Hilsen fra” the person named, “Juleaften 1920” (Greetings from... Christmas Eve 1920).
There were a few others, black and white photographs of famous places in Oslo. One of the ski jump explained the sport, “You should see them jump. They glory in winter sports, just as we delight in baseball and football in the States.” It was sent in 1919. It reminded me of how I was when I was there, writing back to explain what was to me as a foreigner curious peculiarities or something notable.
One notable thing was bread. Baked fresh daily, it was supplied even to the smallest of grocery stores there before they opened each morning. We got into the habit of getting a loaf each time we stopped to pick up some food. Fresh, thick, hearty, soft with deliciously crispy crust, I couldn't help but tear pieces of it to snack on during our walk home.
And boller (buns). These buns, perfectly sized to fit in your hand, can be found almost anywhere there. We stumbled upon them by accident when we were out exploring just a few days after our arrival. We started to feel slightly hungry and stopped at a newsstand for some good, black Norwegian coffee and found these buns.
Some were with raisins, others with chocolate. We bought five of the former and gulped them down immediately, splitting the fifth. They were fresh, soft, fluffy, sweet, infused with a spice that complemented them perfectly, yet gave them their particular flavor. The next day, as we were deeper into our exploration of the city, we bought ten. We each swallowed five. They were even better than the ones the day before - they were with chocolate.
The secret spice is cardamom, which is not an uncommon addition to baking around Scandinavia. In Norway, the buns are so popular that you can buy a prepared mix of them in stores. They are also very versatile. These can be had for breakfast or as a snack. The chocolate can be replaced with raisins. Or they can be baked without either and be turned into dinner rolls (without the sweets, they can be enjoyed with ham and some cheese).
Norwegian Chocolate Buns (Boller)
You will need:
4 cups (500g) flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cups (100g) sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
7 tbsp (100g) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) milk
1 package (0.3 oz or 8.75g) active dry yeast
1/2 cup (85g) chocolate morsels
white of 1 egg, lightly beaten
1. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl. In a saucepan on low heat, melt butter, then add milk, and heat to about 100-105ºF (37-40ºC), stirring constantly. Sprinkle a bit of sugar and mix until dissolved. Remove from heat and pour over the yeast in a medium bowl. Stir until the yeast is fully dissolved.
2. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until uniform and dough starts to form. Cover the bowl with a towel and stand for 30 minutes to allow the dough to rise and roughly double in size. Then, stir in the chocolate morsels.
3. On a dusted surface, knead the dough a few times until smooth. Divide it into four equal pieces, then roll each piece into a sausage shape and cut each shape into 5 pieces, to have 20 equally sized pieces of dough. Roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palm and the dusted work surface. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover the buns with another sheet of parchment paper and let stand for another 15-20 minutes to allow the buns to rise more.
4. Preheat oven to 425ºF (220ºC). With a pastry brush, brush the top of each bun with the egg white. Bake until the buns are golden brown, about 12-14 minutes. Remove from oven onto a wire rack. Once the buns are slightly cooled, separate them from each other. Enjoy with a glass of milk, a cup of black coffee, or a glass of gløgg.