Updated: Apr 24, 2019
Scandinavian trends have swept into the forefront of international audiences' attention, and more recently, the hunt for "hygge" (pronounced 'hoog-ah') has taken hold. Defined as a "quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being," it is, in other words, a 'healthy hedonism,' or the cozy version of a 'treat-yoself' kind of mentality.
If you look up #hygge on Instagram, you'll be greeted by an endless stream of people lounging around in fluffy blankets or sitting around the fireplace, wearing reindeer-patterned socks and snacking on freshly-baked pastries or tossing back mugs of steaming coffee. Admittedly, this image is difficult to achieve in the more fast-paced and cramped New York City— but it's now become just a little easier to a serve yourself a small slice of it.
Ole & Steen, a Danish bakery and patisserie, manages to imbue this feeling in their baked goods. Founded in 1991 by Ole Kristoffersen and Steen Skallebaek, the eponymous bakery has opened its first US location in Union Square, where it serves up some truly excellent freshly baked breads and pastries, alongside some other carefully curated Danish bites, like open-faced sandwiches (smørrebrød) and yoghurt pots.
At their Union Square location, you'll be able to pick up some amazingly authentic rugbrød (Danish rye bread), including a classic option, a softer carrot rye (which makes an appearance in their more traditional sandwiches), and a sourdough. The 3-day production process (right here in Queens) reflects Ole & Steen's dedication to authenticity and detail; the sourdough starter is rumored to be over 150 years old! According to head pastry chef Malou Bennes, who moved here from Denmark to run the first U.S. location, the ingredients used across the menu are sourced, as much as possible, all the way from Denmark in an attempt to preserve unique flavors and textures. Everything that can be made from scratch is made from scratch-- including the pesto.
Ole & Steen is a premium bakery, but as Business Manager Line Bjerregaard stated, one of the core values of the company is accessibility to a wide variety of patrons. The location reflects the intended audience; situated on 18th Street and Broadway, the tables are filled with professionals, students, locals, and tourists alike.
Pro-tip: Ole & Steen is a fantastic place to get work done. There's plenty of seating (especially downstairs), and the environment combines the ever-popular minimalist Scandinavian design with comforting dark woods and plush booths for a 'modern hygge' feel. They also serve up a mean cup of coffee; wifi is free and fast, outlets are aplenty, and many of the other patrons there will also be hunched over laptops, mug in hand, treating themselves to a Danish. As Bjerregaard said, "We like when customers come to do work, because it shows that they enjoy the space."
(Bite Club Note: Please be respectful of cafes and bakeries' time and space! If you stay for an extended period, take a break and pick up another treat!)
Bjerregaard speaks about the Danish cultural tradition of going to bakeries and buying a week's worth of baked goods to share with families and friends; more often than not, people leave with big bags stuffed to the brim. Ole & Steen have tried to carry over these cultural influences and customs as much as possible; many of the starting staff members are brought over from Denmark to train new employees and teach staff and customers alike about the country's heritage and lifestyle. Bjerregaard reflects, "Just last week, two Danish expats came all the way from New Jersey, and they were so excited to have authentic Danish bread again. These are the moments that we love the most-- when we see the joy Danish people get from having a taste of home, and when we see the reaction of people who haven't been exposed to Danish foods try our baked goods for the first time."
Here we are, leaving with our own bags full of Ole & Steen's goodies in true Danish style!
Read on to learn about more of the items they're serving up, and our personal favorites.
Must Try Items:
Of course, we have to talk about the Danish danishes!
Named after the flagship store in Copenhagen, the Christianshavner is the first and most popular cake served by Ole & Steen. A caramelized hazelnut base is topped with a swirl of light, fluffy strawberry mousse and fresh fruit. Back in Denmark, the bakery is known as Lagkagehuset, or "layer cake house," so you know their cakes mean business!
Raspberry Slice: (Hindbærsnitter in Scandinavia)
This is the Best Damn Bougie Pop Tart you will probably ever have in your life. Three layers of short crust pastry (buttery, but not quite as rich and heavy as shortbread), filled with a homemade raspberry marmalade and decorated with white lemon icing and freeze dried raspberries.
Cinnamon Social Bread: 'Social bread' (loosely translated) is traditionally eaten as a group affair. Although it's intended to be shared amongst friends and family, whether or not you'll actually want to is an entirely different matter. The cinnamon, vanilla custard, and pastry dough melt in your mouth, and easily rival even the best American cinnamon roll.
Pro Tip: It might not be the most traditionally authentic choice, but buy the whole damn thing for yourself ($20), go home, and pop it in the oven to heat it up a little bit.
Photos by Katie Sun
Traditional rye: Rye flour, rye sourdough and rye kernels.
Skagen: 3 kinds of flour (wheat, wholegrain wheat & rye), and covered in chia and sunflower seeds.
Seeded rye: Rye bread with 90% seeds and covered in cornflakes.
Carrot rye: seeded rye bread made with grated carrot which makes the bread softer and more moist than the other options.
We took home a loaf of soft seeded rye bread-- perfect for DIY open-faced sandwiches!
Originally published by Spoon University.