The taste of hygge with ScandiKitchen’s Brontë Aurell

The first time I visited London’s Scandinavian Kitchen, I was at uni, and in the throes of my Scandi obsession. I’d already been to Scandinavia several times, and was reading books and watching films and listening to music and doing everything I could to create a Nordic world in my mind. And of course, being a food obsessive, the second I heard about ScandiKitchen I had to go. And I did. And I ate cinnamon buns and beetroot salad and herrings and I loved it. So, following the release of her new book, Fika & Hygge, I spoke to ScandiKitchen’s owner Brontë Aurell to find out more about the tastiest Nordic food in London and the link between food and hygge.

The arrival of ScandiKitchen

Bronte Aurell from Scandinavian Kitchen

Of course, the first thing I had to know was why Brontë decided to open ScandiKitchen. After all, Scandi-fever hadn’t really hit the UK back in the mid-00s, and I don’t think anyone predicted the massive Nordic obsession we’d develop in the following years.

“In short, homesickness. No matter how many years we have lived here, the food from home is still a big pull back to the Northern countries.” Brontë (a Dane) explains that she and her husband Jonas (a Swede) wanted to start a family, taking more of a Scandi 50/50 approach to parenting than their previous jobs would allow. Starting their own café enabled them to have both fulfilling careers and raise their family in a way that suited them. “I love that both of us are parents, and that we are present. Before I wrote this, I baked some rolls – the kids and I made the dough earlier and because it is Monday and Jonas comes home later because of football training, so we always have Aftenhygge together just before they go to bed. When he misses dinnertime, we have our little catch up later. It’s nice. Hyggeligt.”

Nordic buns at the ScandiKitchen Fika & Hygge launch party

The link between food and hygge

When we think of food and hygge, we think of several things. Cinnamon buns, coffee, spices, freshly baked bread… but I wanted to know what really connects the two, and why we find some food so comforting. Brontë puts it brilliantly:

“The space in your brain that controls memory is close to your senses – such as taste and smell. The scent of your mother’s stew can send you back to her kitchen table in an instant. The smell of pancakes in the morning can send you back to weekends at your granny’s house. The smell of Christmas morning is associated with the smell of coffee, the cups of tea, the bacon in the frying pan. So yes, it’s the same for us Scandies – food is a very powerful emotion. It can instantly bring you a feeling of comfort – and perhaps also that comfort you last felt when you were with your close family, growing up.”

She thinks there could be other reasons for our strong ‘hygge’ reactions to certain foods. As food and memory are so intrinsically linked, it’s likely there’s some sort of combined emotional and physiological response when we eat specific things. “We may eat something sweet and we get a little sugar rush. Maybe we eat something fragrant and the experience is different. Maybe the hot chocolate warms us inside and makes us stop and breathe and savour the moment. Like when you eat a really expensive piece of chocolate from the best chocolatier: you savour that moment, like you never want to let it go.”

Cinnamon buns

Brontë’s new book, Fika & Hygge, is all about the foods which evoke hygge, as well as fika, the Swedish notion of taking time out of your day to stop for a coffee and a sweet treat. So of course, now we’re comfortably in autumn, I had to know which recipe from the book Brontë recommends for the coming months. “This time of year, I love cinnamon buns most. Actually, I always love buns. It’s the Annual Day of the Cinnamon Bun on 4th October. I’m going to have two.” Would we really expect anything else from a Dane? Also, how great is it that there’s a whole day dedicated to cinnamon buns? I’m going to have three – will that be enough to turn me Danish? I can only try.

A hygge dinner party

A question I hear a lot is how people can throw a hygge-inspired dinner party. I’m a much better guest than I am hostess (I’m a strong purveyor of scruffy hospitality and I’ll be damned if I’m going to change anytime soon!), but I asked Brontë for a few tips for those of you who are more competent than I am when it comes to having people over:

  1. I invite people over I know will get on and feel relaxed together.
  2. I make sure my apartment isn’t full of bare strip lights etc – we Scandies LOVE lamps. I have six in my small living room – plus the candles. It’s like that all the time – we love creating atmospheres, but it is not done to bring out hygge, this is simply just how we live.
  3. I cook nice food and open some wine.
  4. Eat treats.

Sounds simple, right? And that’s exactly the point. Brontë says it’s not about creating hygge – it’s about doing these things as normal. When the conditions are right, you’ll feel it. “I don’t think it’s different that if you were preparing for a date – except it isn’t a date, it’s nice people, sitting down, eating good food and creating some new memories together. The most important thing in all of this is – when everything is going so well and everybody is happy – just let the teeny little thought into your mind that you are happy. That you appreciate it. No need to speak about it.” So there we have it – don’t tie yourself in knots worrying if you having the right tablecloth or trying to cobble together a matching set of glasses. Just relax, let it happen and let the guests make the night.

Hygge is not a séance. Hygge is just there. It’s not really that planned.

Why hygge, why now?

If you’re reading this post, you’ll know just how much attention the British press is showering upon hygge at the moment. But this is a very recent development. I’m always interested to hear from Danes about why they think it’s happening now.

Brontë believes there are a couple of key reasons. Firstly, hygge is the new buzzword, following on from mindfulness. For a couple of years, you couldn’t enter a bookshop without being faced with a mindfulness display – self-help books, inspirational stories, wellness and colouring books were the order of the day. And now, since the mindfulness craze has died down, we have the meteoric rise and rise of hygge. “Everything Scandinavian has had such a massive wave for the past 4-5 years, I think it was simply about time that people get to know the heart of who we are.” Hygge (and mys and kos, its Swedish and Norwegian equivalents) is such an integral part of Scandinavian life that it was only a matter of time before Brits discovered it, and wanted to know more. But, as we learn in Meik Wiking’s book about hygge, many Danes believe that hygge is exclusive to Denmark. I wondered if Brontë agreed.

ScandiKitchen from the outside

“I think it is nonsense that people think the feeling is a Danish one. Danes don’t own the feeling, nor the concept. British people are super good at hygge as it is – you don’t need a rule book. The only difference is that now it has a name. You know what to call it – but you’ve been doing it really well for centuries. We just found out that the world now knows our word and we’re proud about that.”
You hear that Brits? We’re super good at hygge! If there’s anything we’re going to be good at, this is certainly something for us to be happy about.

A Danish Christmas

Look, we’re nearly in October guys, and this is a hygge blog – we’re allowed to talk about Christmas. Christmas is peak hygge time, with all the festivities and merriment and joy, and the Danes do Christmas seriously well.

“All Scandinavian countries are big on Christmas. Massive. I think it has something do with the fact that Christmas fall half way into the really dark season with not much daylight. It brings a welcome glimmer of hope that light will happen soon, a few months later, that spring will eventually come. That we’re half way there.”

I often hear people suggest that hygge is so important to Danes because of their especially dark winters with just a few hours of sunlight each day – that that’s why candles and lighting are such a vital element of hygge.

We celebrate the big day on Christmas Eve – not on Christmas Day. The whole day is spent with family preparing food, presents, the tree – and then dinner is eaten, we dance around the tree together (it’s a thing) – and then we open presents. Then we go to bed and we don’t have to worry about having to get up early the next morning. It’s nice.”

And you know what’s cool? I learnt about a new festive event!
St Lucia Day in Denmark
“My favourite time of the year is the 13th December – it truly is one of the most magical days in our calendar – it is called St Lucia and it is the feast of St Lucy – but also the festival of light. If you think you’ve ever seen good candlelit festival, think again: this is a massive procession of young people dressed in white robes all bearing candles in a dark church. Singing carols. It is AMAZING. And really hyggeligt!”
OK, I have so many questions. Why have I never heard of St Lucia before? Why don’t we celebrate it in the UK? Can we start? I’ve just done a little bit of research, and perhaps fittingly for this post, Saint Lucy brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs using a candlelit wreath. There is even a St Lucia bun (of course there is) infused with saffron. I want it. I want 12. Right now.

Eat hygge

Fika and Hygge by Bronte Aurell from Scandinavian Kitchen

OK, there are two things for me to say here to finish up. Firstly, if you live near London, you absolutely must visit the Scandinavian Kitchen shop and café. It’s just a couple of minutes away from Oxford Street, and you can live your Scandi dream. Go for the cakes, the meatballs, the salads, literally all of it (I had the kladdkaka last time I was there and it was SO GOOD). Secondly, if you don’t live near London, get yourself a copy of Brontë’s book, Fika & Hygge. I mean, there’s a recipe in there simply called ‘World’s Best Cake’. Who doesn’t want to eat the world’s best cake?! You’ll also learn how to make cinnamon buns, which is an essential part of the aspiring hygge cook’s repertoire.
Scandinavian Kitchen café and shop
And one more thing – even if you’re not much of a social media butterfly, I highly recommend that you check out the ScandiKitchen Instagram and Twitter accounts. The former is filled with snaps of mouthwatering Nordic treats (most of the pictures in this post were taken from their feed), and the latter regularly features some brilliant facts about Scandinavia and its inhabitants. Well worth a follow if you want some new go-to did-you-knows to take to your next hygge dinner party.
Thank you so much to Brontë for taking the time to answer these questions. Let me know if you’ve bought the book and if so, which recipes you’ll be trying this winter!

Hygge doesn’t care what colour you are (hair or otherwise), how much you earn, if your room is a tip, if you have the right lamps or wearing a Norwegian jumper. Hygge is a feeling – all year round, not just winter.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for this post, I’ve loved learning more about hygge 😀 RE: the festival of St Lucia, us English pagans do have a similar festival which is essentially these days a Christian church festival, and is allegedly based on Celtic pre-Christian activities. Ours is in February rather than pre-Christmas which I personally like better because post-Christmas is a bit of a slog in England… and Imbolc (which celebrates the hopefulness inherent in the beginnings of returning light, springtime and the ewes in season) is the perfect antidote. We light loads of candles and lights all over the house and our family tradition is to make a special cake and invite pagan friends over to eat it with us in a candle-lit setting. Christians call this festival Candlemas and it is to do with the blessing oc church candles in their religion 🙂 I personally call it Candlemas myself instead of Imbolc like my pagan friends because the Christians… hey, they get to have all the pretty, hyggeligt names!

    1. Hello and thanks for the comment – this is very interesting, I hadn’t heard of Imbolc/Candlemas (haha!) before. It does indeed sound very hyggeligt – I can totally get behind the idea of cake by candlelight!

  2. hyggejem says:

    Oh my goodness! Two of my favourite Twits together! (in a nice way) Thank you for such a cool blog post, Kayleigh. Hygge has been an obsession of mine for a year or two now, but I’ve started my own blog… partly inspired by yours…. and you and Bronte are two of my big heroes and inspiration sources. I am well jel that you got to spend time with her. And I love her sentence “British people are super good at hygge as it is – you don’t need a rule book. The only difference is that now it has a name. You know what to call it – but you’ve been doing it really well for centuries. We just found out that the world now knows our word and we’re proud about that.” That’s what my blog wants to say; that we do hygge, but slightly differently because where cinnamon buns are big there, we probably have scones, or even Victoria Sponge. We just never had a word to call it. I’m on a mission to make hygge a word that, like pyjamas and bungalow, doesn’t need translating. It just is.

    1. Hello! Aww, thank you so much, that’s so kind! Yes, I completely agree – we’re totally capable of hygge here in the UK, but most people just don’t realise that it’s already part of their lives! When I think about my childhood, that was filled with hygge too – I just didn’t know the name for it. Gathering conkers in the park, warming up by the fire after snowball fights with my brother and baking fairy cakes on a Sunday with my mum. So much hygge! I remember when I discovered the word, it felt like something clicked in my mind – a feeling I couldn’t express suddenly had a definition, and it helped me make sense of the way I strive to live. Hopefully our crusade to get hygge noticed by more Brits will help have the same effect for others! I’ve just followed you on Instagram to keep up with your hygge journey 🙂

      1. hyggejem says:

        And is it rude to ask… could you follow my blog? It’s How to Hygge the British Way. The more hygge converts the better, as far as I’m concerned. Let’s start a campaign to have hygge as the OED word of 2017!!!

      2. Of course – just followed!

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