12 September 2009

::The Origins of Traditional Smørrebrød

As I begin to share the wonderful Danish tradition of making ‘smørrebrød’, you will find endless 'topless' possibilities for your own creations. These open-face varieties range from simple everyday ‘low’ version that can be eaten on the run or taken to work… to very intricately layered ‘high’ versions that require knife, fork and yes, time and patience.

In some ways, these little creative sandwiches reflect the general egalitarian psyche of the Danish people. Each 'topless' creation', no matter the quality of ingredient(s) will become the gastronomic enjoyment of all.

The everyday ‘low-end’ version is generally one that is made from scratch at the table for quick consumption or one that can easily be prepared for lunch via the Danish version of a lunchbox called a ‘madpakke’. Here quick simple open face sandwiches are separated by pieces of small parchment to prevent them from becoming one in transport or are limited in the layering of ingredients. A typical meal can easily consist of 4-6 simply layered slices of bread. Since Danes still prefer to eat their meals with a knife and fork, these versions are given leniency from proper eating etiquette due to their ease of handling.

The more intricately layered ‘high-end’ versions are also made from scratch. However, they are prepared with a greater attention to detailing utilizing more intricate ingredients, such as caviar or delicate micro-greens. Because of the various layers of food and/or condiments these single creations almost a meal in itself.

To illustrate just how much the Danes pride themselves on this delicacy, there are endless possibilities for creating traditional and yet, new combinations. In fact, the renowned Ida Davidsen Restaurant in Copenhagen has a menu list of 250 ‘smørrebrød’ varieties from the initial list started by her great-grandfather Oskar Davidsen who created his own list of about 175 back in the late 19th century.

Below you will find an except from ‘Oskar Davidsen book of Open Sandwiches’, compiled by James R. White from traditional Danish recipes and specialties of the House of Oskar Davidsen [Host & Sons Forlag: Copenhagen], 3rd revised edition, 1962

"Smørrebrød can be anything between heaven and earth. Primarily it consists of a piece of bread of some kind. The Danes make most use of rye bread because it is more suitable than other varieties for many of their sandwiches...Upon the bread something, generally butter, is in most cases spread. As one would expect, when the Danes spread the fine butter for which they are famous, they spread it generously. Not only because it gives them vitamin A or because they like the taste but also because fat stuffs help to keep out the cold. And keeping out the cold is important for most of the Danish year. Though butter ranks first as "the something to spread", spiced lard or pork dripping, maybe even goose or duck dripping, are often used. Not only, in the case of the pork fat, as an economy measure but because the Danes prefer fat to butter when liver paste, salt meats and most kinds of sausage, are to be the crowning glory of the smørrebrød. When it comes to the question of what to put on the "buttered bread" (The Danish works for "butter" and "to butter" are the same as for "grease" and "to grease" so the expression "buttered bread" include bread spread with dripping of one kind or another) the only answer can be: "There is absolutely nothing edible which cannot be used for smørrebrød". The Danish town housewife patronizes the charcuterie of cooked meat shop around the corner; her country sister may but certain kinds of pale (literally "something laid on", i.e. any fish, meat, vegetable etc. used on the buttered bread) from the butcher who brings his mobile shop to her door...Above all both town and country housewife will make use of leftovers from palæg. "Leftovers embrace anything from slices of cold pork sausage garnished with a remnant of red cabbage to slices taken from a still substantial joint of meat. It is this use of leftovers which makes smørrebrød such a useful thing to know about in order to be able to cope in an interesting yet substantial manner with those unexpected guests...The average Dane has only one hot meal daily. For lunch and/or supper he eats smørrebrød."
(p. 9-10)

"The Sandwich Story. Somewhere in the centre of Copenhagen there ought to be a monument to the man or woman who discovered smørrebrød, the open sandwich which is Denmark's national dish. An appropriate site would be the Town Hall end of the new Hans Andersen Boulevard, for the inventor of smørrebrød obviously had something of a fantasy of the great Danish storyteller. Alas, historians are silent as to the identity of the man who first placed fish, fowl, meat and vegetables on a piece of buttered bread. Some Danish encyclopedias do not even list one of the most important words in the Danish language. The inventor of the smørrebrødsseddel or sandwich list is, however, known. And nobody has ever disputed that it was not until old Oskar Davidsen acceded to the request of young Axel Svensson to be allowed to make something amusing out of the restaurant's sandwich list that open sandwiches in all their infinite variety began to develop into what they are today...The origin of the sandwich is a subject on which even historians can but speculate. Some suggest that recognizable sandwiches were known in ancient Babylon, others that a rabbi contrived them for the Passover by placing bitter herbs between two slices of unleavened bread to symbolize Jewish privations in Egypt. When smørrebrød first saw the light of day is equally a matter for speculation. Certainly it appeared centuries before an Earl of Sandwich first placed pieces of meat between two slices of bread to enable his guests to eat without leaving the card table. The Danish worked simply means, "buttered bread". But the origins of open sandwiches can be traced back to the days when, in Denmark as elsewhere, a round of bread served as a plate for both hot food and cold. Naturally the rich refrained from eating their plates but these, soaked in nourishing gravy from the main course, invariably found their way to the mouths of the serfs or deserving poor of the parish. And between rich and poor there was doubtless a class, which ate both bread-plate and the delicacies, which reposed upon it. As yet...this open sandwich could not have been known as smørrebrød for butter was still unknown in Denmark...The earliest mention of the word smørrebrød is found in the works of the playwright Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754) who describes the diet of the gentry as consisting of soup, salt meat or smørrebrød. No mystery, however, surrounds the invention of the smørrebrødsseddel or printed list of open sandwiches. It was Emil Bjorn, head waiter at the Copenhagen officers' club, who, when harried by shouted orders from the card tables, conceived, in 1883, the idea of lists on which the guests could mark off their requirements. Bjorn's idea was soon adopted by restaurants throughout the country, but many years were to pass before these scant lists were developed into what they are in Denmark today."
---ibid (p. 11-12)

I would say if you are ever in Copenhagen near Store Kongensgade (70) stop by Restaurant Ida Davidsen or Aamann’s Smørrebrød on Øster Farimagsgade (10) for a taste of some of Denmark’s best smørrebrød. You will not be satisfied with just one!

10 September 2009

::Why Go ‘Topless’?

Personally, I say why not  go 'topless'.  For anyone unfamiliar with the Danish ‘smørrebrød’, these are ‘open face’ sandwiches consisting of only one piece of bread as the base with all the toppings exposed to the elements.  My belief is that once you understand the concept behind these heavenly creations and learn how to make them you will begin to view how wonderful and healthy going ‘topless’ is you. 

First of all, in order to choose this ‘topless’ route we are going to have to dispel some basic ideas about sandwich making.  The main thing you must first do is forget that you will never cover up again.  That’s right…it will be not so much a matter of taking it off – but, never having to put that last layer of bread on again. This idea holds especially true from a health standpoint to only eat one slice of bread over two.  Your will find that not just any type of bread will do as the single slice itself will play an important role in the final layering of the open face sandwich. This is something my husband has laughed at me for years...as I often remove the top lay of bread from any sandwich or hamburger and set it aside in order to enjoy more of my meal than the usual carb filler of bread.  So, perhaps, you will join me, too. Once you accept this idea of the single slice, you will be more than halfway there.

Next, we must rethink the concept of ‘quality over quantity’ with regard to choosing the right ingredients.  Because one’s is exposing the best to the elements, the aesthetics of freshness come into play.  Making the right choice, in terms, of which fresh ingredients to choose from will make all the difference in the final outcome of your creations.  Not all ingredients will be readily available in their final form.  Certain parts of the whole will be done from scratch as they will not be found at the local market.  But, this is a good thing. You will learn the design concepts as to why certain ingredients play off each better than others.  Preparing from scratch will teach you to honor local fresh food items and the time honored skill of preparation.  Once you have learned some of these simple tasks, you will see you ability to create these ‘topless’ joys without hesitation.  And soon you will find how wonderful it is to share this concept with your friends and family.

And finally, you will learn the history of ‘smørrebrød’, how it has evolved into the signature dish of Denmark, of the etiquette involved in menu preparation and of course, in eating these creative delights.

05 September 2009

::Let's Begin!

This first blog entry is essentially inspired by the Danish word, 'hygge'. The meaning of the word is derived from the 'cozy' feeling one gets from the company of good friends. For anyone who enjoys the 'coziness' of friendship...and yes, food accompanied by drink - 'hygge' exemplifies this experience.  And it is within this context of 'hygge' that I hope to share with you of my lifetime passion of smørrebrød, which I affectionately call 'topless bread'.  Once you come to understand the simple ritual involved in preparing these wonderful slices for yourself and friends, you will discover an even greater appreciation of the word 'hygge' and indeed, the magic that these plates can bring to the palettes of your friends and family.

Thus, the goal of this new blog is to take you on a completely different type of gastronomic journey. It will teach you how to see the art of 'topless bread' as a modern creative and yes, healthy alternative to the idea sandwich making. Not only will there be step-by-step recipe instructions, you will learn about various Danish traditions, the simple etiquette of eating the 'topless' way and how to make your own creations. In preparing these traditional one-of-a-kind dishes you will hopefully become more comfortable in preparing modern versions from scratch and also learn how to appreciate the use of fresh and organic ingredients in your own dishes. And I'll provide links to my inspiration and share in the many experiences learned in the kitchen from my Danish mother and bedstemor (grandmother). 

So, let's begin.


Basic Kitchen Tools


04 September 2009


My Danish Cookbook Library

updated 02.2015 with new in BOLD

Adams, Charlotte. The SAS World-Wide Restaurant Cookbook. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1960. Hardcover. 

Bang, Asta, and Edith Rode. Open Sandwiches and Cold Lunches. 1st ed. New York: Pitman, 1957. Hardcover. 

Berg, Karen, ed. Danish Home Baking: Traditional Danish Recipes. Comp. Kaj Viktor and Kirsten Hansen. Copenhagen: Andr. Fred. Høst & Son, 3rd Ed.,1962. Hardcover. 

Bonekamp, Gunnevi, comp. Round the World Cooking Library: Scandinavian Cooking. 1st ed. New York: Galahad, 1974. Ser. 4. Hardcover.

Brobeck, Florence, and Monika B. Kjellberg. Smorgasbord and Scandinavian Cookery. New York: Grosset; Dunlap, 1948. Hardcover. 

Brown, Dale, ed. Foods of the World: The Cooking of Scandinavia. 1st ed. New York: Time-Life, 1968. Hardcover. 

Constantin, E. 

Mellemretter til Middagsselkaber. 1st ed. København: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 1919. Hardcover. 
Fru Constantins Husholdnings- og Kogebog. Tiende oplag (10th Ed). København: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 1927. Hardcover.

Dania Ladies Society Danneborg. We Cook With The Danes (Vi Koger med de Danske). Tennessee, Fundcraft Publishing, Inc. 1978

The Danwich Guide to Danish Party Foods: The Art of Making Danish Open Face Sandwiches and the Danish Cold Table. London: Danish Centre, 1970. Softcover. 

Dedichen, Hetna. 88 Danish Dishes or Dining in Denmark. Copenhagen: Andr. Fred. Høst &Søns, 1936. Softcover. 

Den Gule Dessertbog. 36th ed. København: Tørsleffs Husmoder Service. Softcover.
Den Hvide Frokostbog. 35th ed. København: Tørsleffs Husmoder Service. Softcover.
Den Røde Kogebog. 49th ed. København: Tørsleffs Husmoder Service. Softcover.

Eva Kakkelbog Serie. Danmark: Fogtdals Bogforlag A/S. 1969 
(24 mini softcover books)
02 Småkager.
11 Ovnmad.
12 Julekonfekt.
15 Fransk Hverdagsmad.
20 Det Koldt Bord.

Frank, Beryl. Scandinavian Cooking. [Barre, Mass.]: Weathervane, 1977. Hardcover.

Jesnen, Kirsten Marie. 
Frøken Jensen's Kogebog med Syltebog. 30. Oplag. København: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 1936. Hardcover.
-. Frøken Jensen's Kogebog
København: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 1990. Hardcover.
Hahnemann, Trina. The Nordic Diet. 1st ed. London: Quadrille, 2009. Softcover.

Husmoderbibliotekt. Morsomme Silderetter, 95 Opskrifter. Danmark: Spektrum, 1963. Softcover.

Jensen, Ingeborg Dahl. Wonderful, Wonderful Danish Cooking. New York: Simon &Schuster, 1st Ed.,1965. Print. Hardcover.

Kirkeby, Henning. Danish Akvavit: How to savour and how to flavour it. København: Høst, 1975. Hardcover. 

Larsen, Kirsten. Only One Slice: Danish Sandwiches "Smørrebrød", 6th Ed.,1998. Spiral bound. 

Meyer (Nielsen), Claus. 
AlmanakKøbenhavn: Lindhardt og Ringhof A/S, 2010. Hardcover.
Julemad. København: Lindhardt og Ringhof A/S, 2010. Softcover. 
Chokolade. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 1995. Hardcover. 

McDonald, Julie Jensen. Delectably Danish recipes and reflections. Iowa City, Iowa: Penfield, 1982. Softcover.

Møller, Ingeborg. Koldt BordKøbenhavn: Andr. Fred. Høst & Søns Forlag: 1939. Hardcover.

Mønsted, Otto. Mad og Kvadrater. København: Egmont H Petersens KGL. Hof-Bogtrykkeri: 1939. Hardcover.

Nietlispach, F & E. 200 MiddageKøbenhavn: Andr. Fred. Høst & Søns Forlag: 1949. Hardcover.

Oest-Larsen, R. Mesterkokkens Smørrebrøds Bog. M. Odense: Normanns Forlag, 1969. Hardcover (original 1965)

Samuelsson, Marcus. Aquavit And the New Scandinavian Cuisine. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Hardcover.  

Skovgaard-Petersen, Anne. Brugsens Syltebog. København: Komma A/S, 1988. Softcover.

Susanna. Danish Cookery. Copenhagen: Andr. Fred. Høst & Son, 8th Ed.,1968. Hardcover. 

Wisman, Ingrid. Kulinariske StrejftogKøbenhavn: Martins Forlag: 1950. Hardcover.

My Danish Cookbook Wishlist
updated 02.2015 with new in BOLD and acquired with STRIKE-THRU

Klinken, Katrine. Smørrebrød – Danish Open. Thaning og Appel, 2007.
Jensen, Kirstine Marie. Frøken Jensen's Afternoon Tea. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske  Boghandel, 2008.
-. Frøken Jensen's Julemad. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 2000.  
-. Frøken Jensen's Danske Desserter. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 2001.
-. Frøken Jensen's Syltebog. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 2001.
Danish Cookbooks. University of Washington Press and Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen: 2007. Softcover. 
Bang, Asta: Smørrebrød og koldt Bord. Gjellerup 1946 (Danish Edition)
Benthien, Claes. Husmoderens køkken i 50´erne & 60´erne. Copenhagen: Vandkunsten, 2009.
Kristjansen, Milla. Den gyldne Smørrebrødsbog. Skandinavisk Bogforlag, u.å. (ca. 1950)
Lotz, Inge. Dansk smørrebrød. Aschehoug Dansk Forlag, København, 1993
Oest-Larsen, R.: Mesterkokkens smørrebrødsbog. M. Normanns Forlag. 1965. 
Mønsted, Otto. Mad og Kvadrater. København: Egmont H Petersens KGL. Hof-Bogtrykkeri: 1939.
Meyers, Claus. Meyers bageri. Copenhagen. 2009.
Lundstedt, Agnete. Borddækning. Tegninger af Ebba Schultz. Hasselbalchs Forlag, 1946.
Nimb, Louise. Fru Nimbs Kogebog. Praktisk og økonomisk indrettet for større og mindre Husholdninger. 1. udgave. Illustreret. København 1888.
Rydelius, Ellen. Fremmed mad smager bedst. Det Danske Forlag, (1956). Hardback
Smaakagebogen. Lind og Boie, 1952.
Cramer, H.B.J. Øl og Snaps. Illustreret af Paul Høyrup. København 1948.


'Lunch', a plate of open sandwiches painted by the Danish artist Niels Strøbek in 1966. Photo: Skive Kunstmuseum.

The Art of Topless Bread...Known as 'Smørrebrød' to the Danes, these delicate and yes, sometimes rustic versions known as 'open-faced sandwiches' to the rest of the world turn the daily mundane task of sandwich making into a gastronomic art form.

Traditional definition of 'Smørrebrød':
Danish, from smør butter + brød bread

Modern definition of 'Topless Bread':
My personal reinterpretation of Smørrebrød which I call 'Topless Bread'. This concept is derived from the same Scandinavian sun-worshiping concept of sunbathing topless where the top is removed to reveal it's contents and the bottom remains.

These delicious creations follow four easy steps:
Bread (brød) + Butter (smør) = TOPLESS BREAD...+ Topping (pålæg) + Decoration (pynt) 

Now, let's discover the fine art of topless bread together!

Topless Gallery

Great Scandinavian Cookbook Cover / Food Graphics
What you will find here is the type of clean and sometimes abstract use of 20th century graphics which is my personal favorite.  Hope you enjoy them, too.
Illust: Paul Hoyrup (1948) DK

Illust: unknown (1960) S

Illust: unknown (1956) DK

illust: unknown (1939)

illust: Hans Bendix (1964)

illust: unknown (1953)
...who doesn't love this little french chef?!

illust: later attributed to Viggo Rohde (1943)
from WWII 'legitimate' Copenhagen dailies, which included silkscreen drawings and folders.
depicting Danish exports to Germany with the title: "- and then everything else."

Glossary of Commonly Used Danish Food Terms

GLOSSARY / Ordliste

'rugbrød' - pumpernickel bread
'øllebrød' - beer bread soup
'madpakke' - literally 'food pack' / lunch box
'smørrebrødsseddel' - sandwich list
'hygge' - cozy
'Smørrebrød' - butter bread
'pålæg' - literally to 'lay on' something
'pynt' - to decorate

Art of Topless Bread

Known as 'Smørrebrød' to the Danes, these delicate and yes, sometimes rustic versions known as 'open-faced sandwiches' to the rest of the world turn the daily mundane task of sandwich making into a gastronomic art form.

These delicious creations follow four easy steps:
Bread/brød + Butter/smør = TOPLESS BREAD Topping/pålæg + Decoration/pynt

Now, let's discover the fine art of topless bread together.

TOPLESS BREAD Combinations

LEGEND: P=Pumpernickel / F=French Bread / S=Sourdough

No DescriptionPFS
E 1Fried Eel/Scrambled Egg/WatercressBBBB
E 2Smoked Eel/Raw or Scrambled Egg/Watercress BBBB
F 1Fried Plaice/Remoulade/Lemon Slice/ParsleyB--
H 1Spiced Herring/Chopped Apple/Chop Pickled BeetsB--
H 2Marinated Herring/Fresh DillB--
H 3Marinated Herring/Whipped Cream Horseradish/ChivesB--
H 4Marinated Herring/Remoulade/Chopped Red OnionB--
H 5Curried Herring/Chopped Red OnionB--
H 6Fried Herring/Remoulade/Fresh Onion RingsB--
L 1Smoked Salmon/Lemon Slice/Dill-B-
L 2Smoked Salmon/Honey/Red Pepper Flakes-B-
L 3Smoked Salmon/Bay Shrimp/Boiled Egg/Mayo/Lemon Slice/Chives-B-
M 1Mackerel in Tomato Sauce/MayoBB-
S 1Bay Shrimp/Lemon Slice/CaviarB--
S 2Bay Shrimp/Sliced Boil Egg/Lemon Slice/Caviar BB-
T 1Tuna Salad/Chopped Red Onion/Slivered AlmondsBB-


Hi, my name is Karen Elisabeth Lesney.

You see, I was trained in architecture - and love it. But, since late 2008 I have not been able to work and shy of going stir crazy from complete lack of creativity I needed a little mental outlet. And thus, when limited moments were pain free I found myself thinking about how much cooking has also been a huge influence in my life. Our mother was of a generation of women back in Denmark who was not allowed to attend college. And though she was an immensely talented and creative woman, she only attended cooking and sewing school. It also doesn't hurt to have the amazing Danish chef Claus Meyer as a cousin to top it off! So, genetics and location have had a great influence on my love of Danish design and  cuisine.

Both of my passions actually originated from a childhood spent in Denmark. If I wasn't playing with ‘legos’ and building things, I could be found hanging out in the kitchen with a generation of women and family members who brought to the table amazing traditional Danish dishes.
here i am in denmark (near barritskov in jylland)...wearing my 'ikea' colored dress with my little sister, lisa and our mother, ulla.

If there was an ad in the personal section of the newspaper, it would read, “someone seeking happiness in both cooking and design.”

Being out of the creative architectural loop can be frustrating for anyone dealing with chronic pain. What you have before you in this mini-blog are the results of my daily mental moments of clarity that have allowed me tiny escapes from pain. From one obsession to another, this is my place to share thoughts and recipes about the fine art of TOPLESS BREAD.

Now you must wonder...why call this little blog by such a name? Well, it originated some years back when friends would ask why I would eat my sandwiches without the top piece of bread. My silly response was to say that I preferred to eat my sandwiches topless the way I like to sunbathe...which, I don’t. But, it is always fun to respond with the unexpected. Eventually, I started to think about writing a book on open face sandwiches...but, as you can see I have directed that current limited energy toward this endeavor.

Today, without the mental release of architecture at my fingertips I have two blogs, which are each dedicated to a part of my Danish heritage. There is this one and the other one that is dedicated to the modern appreciation of Danish akvavit and other libations called Water From the Vine.

Thus, welcome to the gastronomic delights of my blog TOPLESS BREAD on Danish Open Face Sandwiches, ‘Smørrebrød’ and other kitchen musings…where ‘going topless’ is not an option.


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