Danish sweets – ‘Træstammer’

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In almost any Danish bakery you can get these cakes or sweets, called træstammer or ‘tree trunks’. You can also get them packaged in supermarkets, usually made to last forever. Of course, the quality varies wildly, also from one baker to the next.
You would hardly never make them yourself, they are made from leftover cake or pastries. I love them and miss them, so I decided to see if I could make them myself. They are basically mashed up cake crumbs with rum flavor, covered with marzipan and decorated with chocolate.

I found a lot of different recipes, many using cake and buttercream, or cake and heavy cream, but the one I finally settled on got my attention since it used marzipan in the filling. It is courtesy of the biggest marzipan producer in Denmark, so it is no wonder you use a lot of it.

Ingredients (original recipe in Danish, courtesy of Odense Marcipan):

  • 400 g cake (14 oz)
  • 125 g marzipan/almond paste (4.5 oz)
  • 75 – 125g dark chocolate, melted (use less chocolate if using chocolate cake) (2.5  – 4.5 oz)
  • 2 tbsp raspberry jam
  • 2 tsp rum essesnce or 1-3 tbsp rum
  • For decoration:
  • 150-200g marzipan/almond paste (5 – 7 oz)
  • green food coloring
  • melted dark chocolate

Notes:
A couple of notes on the ingredients here.
Cake: Any kind of cake would do, muffins, sponge cakes, pound cakes and probably even brownies. Icing on the cake is fine too. Chocolate cake gives a deeper chocolate flavor, but it doesn’t have to be.
Rum/Rum essence: These treats are not boozy, and them rum is just to offset the sweetness of it all. It is not much, and I have no qualms letting my 2 year old have one, each one would have very little rum in it.
Marzipan: In Denmark, marzipan is often used in cakes and for decoration. You can get 2 different kinds easily, one with 60% almonds, which in the US would be called almond paste, and one with less almonds but containing ground apricot pits. This variant usually bakes better, and is cheaper. In addition, you can get ‘decoration ready’ marzipan, which has much higher sugar content, and only 20-30% almonds, this kind you also make yourself from the paste by mixing in sugar or glucose. This is what is often called marzipan here in the US, and is much easier to work with for decorative work, however I find it way to sweet. For these cakes, use almond paste, the ones with the highest almond content you can find (the one I found had 45%).

Method:

1. Crumble the cake and marzipan in a bowl, and add the melted chocolate and jam. Work it well together until a smooth mixture

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2. Add rum or rum essence to taste and work it in. Let the mixture cool a little bit in the refrigerator.

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3. Roll into long logs, about 1-1.5 inches (2.5-4 cm)in diameter. Put these back into the fridge to set.

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4. Mix you decorating marzipan with the green food coloring. I used about 10-14 drops of green for my marzipan. You can add a bit of yellow instead of going all green for a more traditional spring green color.

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5. For your marzipan into a small rectangle and roll out. If you find it sticking to your rolling pin, dust with some icing sugar. The marzipan should be fairly thin, 1-2 mm.

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6. Take one log out of the refrigerator and roll up with the green marzipan. I found it easiest if you cut the marzipan to the exact length before rolling, them rolling up to a very slight overlap and cutting again. Put the log back in the fridge.

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7. Repeat with the rest of the marzipan and the rest of the logs. You will probably have some left over green marzipan.

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8. Cut the logs into 2-3 inches  (5-8 cm) long pieces.

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9. Brush each end with some melted chocolate, and make it cover part of the sides. You can also dip them, but I found it was easier to brush.

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10. Let set on a plastic wrap covered cookie sheet, or similar.

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In the end, these turned out pretty well. Because of all the sugar, you don’t have to store them in refrigerator, but you might want to if you plan on keeping them around for some time or live in a hot climate. They do taste better at room temperature, and they also taste better after a few days, when the flavors have had time to settle.

It was a lot of fun to see if I could make these treats, but a little more work with the decorating than I expected. I don’t think they tasted quite like the ones I would get at my local bakery, but it was close and they were very good regardless.

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Burger Buns

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My husband wanted to cook some burgers, and asked me if I had time to make some buns – of course! I went looking for recipes, and the one that looked the best was an enriched bun from the King Arthur Flour homepage.

I only changed one thing and used slightly less sugar than originally called for.

Ingredients (original recipe):

  • 1 cup lukewarm water ( 225 ml)
  • 1 tbsp instant yeast
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled (30 g)
  • 3 1/2 cup all purpose flour (420 g)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • For decoration: 2-3 tbsp melted butter or eggwash
  • Sesame or other seeds

Method:

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water and add the sugar.

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2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix.

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3. Knead until a smooth dough forms. I found this dough is really easy to work with.

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4. Put the dough in a bowl and cover, let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

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5. Punch down the dough and knead through.

6. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and form each to a small roll.

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7. Place the buns on a parchment coved baking sheet with plenty of space in between and press down each bun until it is 3 inches/8 cm across and flat.

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8. Cover and let rise for about an hour.

9. Preheat oven to 375 F/190 C.

10. Brush with half the melted butter or eggwash, and top with seeds (if using seeds you are better off with eggwash).

I didn't have any sesame seeds so I used flax seeds. I really liked the contrast.

I didn’t have any sesame seeds so I used flax seeds. I really liked the contrast.

11. Bake for 15-20 min until golden. Transfer to a wire rack.

12. Brush with the rest of the butter and cool.

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I realized later that brushing with butter would not make the seeds stick, you need to use an eggwash or press them really firmly into the dough. Besides that, they were great. They are quite sweet and rich, but I think that works well with a burger.

Happy baking and grilling!

Chocolate Cake with Grandma’s Chocolate Frosting

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This chocolate cake is very basic chocolate cake, something that my mom used to make when I was a kid. It is not as soft as a sponge cake, and not as rich and gooey as a brownie, it is somewhere in between, and a very standard cake texture for Danish cakes.
My mom used to bake a whole pan filling the entire oven for cake fundraisers and similar when I was kid, she would decorate it with colored icing, usually a landscape with a rainbow. The rainbow pieces always got sold first :). Sometimes, she would use Grandma’s frosting, which is richer than icing, and not too sweet. I love it, and it reminds me of being a kid.

Cake Ingredients (recipe translated and adapted from God Mad Let at Lave, a basic Danish cookbook)

  • 200g sugar ( 7 oz)
  • 150g soft butter (about 1.5 stick) (if using unsalted butter, add a little salt with the flour)
  • 3 eggs
  • 50g melted chocolate
  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla sugar*
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 200g all purpose flour (7 oz)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • *Note: Vanilla sugar is often used in Danish recipes, it is powdered sugar with some vanilla seeds in. The sugar absorbs the flavor wonderfully. You can make this by scraping vanilla seeds into some icing sugar and keep in a patent jar, or you can simply substitute liquid vanilla essence about 1 to 1.

Method

1. Grease a cake pan (9×13 inches or a little smaller, 9×9 is probably too small) and preheat oven to 175 C.

1. For this one, an electric mixer gives the best result.  Mix the softened butter with the sugar until smooth.

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2. Add one egg at a time and mix after each.

3. Add the melted chocolate, and vanilla (if using). The add the instant coffee.

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4. Add the cocoa powder, baking powder, flour and orange zest.

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5. Scrape everything into you pan and spread in an even layer.

I used a 10x14 pan, and it was definitely too big, making them come out as bars more than cake

I used a 10×14 pan, and it was definitely too big, making them come out as bars more than cake

6. Bake for 45 min or so, less time for a bigger pan. When I toothpick inserted comes out clear it is done, start checking around 2-30 min mark in using a 9×13 pan.

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7. Let cool completely before frosting.

You can eat it without frosting too, use icing sugar frosting or any other kind of favorite frosting. Below is Grandma’s frosting, and you need about 2 portions for this cake.

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 4 tbsp melted butter (unsalted)*
  • 1- 1.5 tbsp pasteurized egg or egg substitute (or 1/2 egg)
  • *Note: The original recipe calls for 2 tbsp of melted butter, and 2 tbsp of melted solid coconut oil. I don’t see coconut oil in the stores here in the US, and besides it has very high level of saturated fat. It was used for frying a lot when I was little, but I am not even sure you can get it easily in Denmark today. Vegetable shortening might be a better substitute than butter if you keep it around.

Method:

1. Mix everything together, it should create a shiny, not too thin frosting.

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2. Spread on your cake and enjoy!

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Due to the eggs and dairy in this one, it doesn’t keep for that long, but as long as you are using pasteurized eggs I personally don’t think you need to keep the cake in the fridge.

Of course, growing up we just used eggs, and no one seemed to get bad even if we ate it a few days later.

The cake and frosting are both very easy and fast to make, and a sure crowd pleaser. It is easy to double and bring along to an event.

Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes

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I love fluffy, homemade pancakes, and so does my son. My favorite recipe is from Alton Brown, these are delicious every time.

I don’t make his ‘instant’ mix, I just make one portion (about 12 pancakes) right away. Note that you can make these with milk instead of buttermilk, but they don’t become as fluffy and yummy, and you should replace the baking soda with more baking powder.

Ingredients (original recipe from Food Network) :

    • 2 eggs, separated
    • 2 cups buttermilk (475 ml)
    • 4 tbsp melted butter
    • 2 cups all purpose flour (475 ml)
    • 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 2 tsp sugar
    • butter for the pan
    • blue berries

Method

1. Melt the butter

2. Separate the eggs with the whites in a bigger bowl and a yolks in a smaller.

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3. Add the buttermilk to the whites and mix well.

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4. Mix the butter well with the yolks.

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5. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the yolk and butter one, and mix well.

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6. Mix all the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar) in the big bowl. Make sure the baking soda and powder is completely mixed in.

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7. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones, and mix lightly, take care not to over- mix. The batter should be slightly lumpy. It should be thicker than cream, almost like a muffin batter. If it feels a little too thick, you can add more buttermilk or regular milk.

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8. Heat a big non stick pan or griddle, and add some butter, about 1/2-1 tsp.

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9. Drop pancake batter on the hot pan, how much depend on how big you want your pancake. I usually use 1/3 cup measurer.

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10. Gently drop blueberries onto the pancakes, and press them into the batter.

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11. When the dough has set and the bottom of the pancakes are brown, flip them over.

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12. Transfer to a plate when the other side is browned, add a tiny bit of butter to the pan and repeat.

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You can make them without blueberries, of course, they are great either way. I have also made them with chocolate chips instead, but you have to be very careful to press them deeply into the pancake as they will burn more easily than the blueberries.

I like Alton Brown’s way of adding blueberries, if you add them to the batter it is hard to get an even distribution in the batter.

Hveder

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Hveder are Danish holidays rolls, literally ‘Wheats’ eaten at ‘General Prayer Day’ (Store Bededag). It is a holiday dating from 1686 as a collection of a number of minor Roman Catholic holidays which survived the Reformation (the transition of Denmark from a Roman Catholic country to a Protestant country), merged to one day. It is held on the 4th Friday after Easter, and is a bank holiday – everything is closed.

Most people in Denmark are not very avid church goers, but as Danish Protestantism is the state church, most people belong to it, and does some observations of the holidays, regardless of how much of the faith the choose to include in the celebrations.

When the holiday was introduced, work, travel, trade, gambling and play was forbidden, which meant bakeries was closed. Bakers would bake these rolls for people to buy Thursday evening for the next day. Today, most people eat them fresh Thursday evening as well as Friday morning, and they are great toasted.

The Hveder themselves were a specialty for a long while, and probably not common in the average population even when the holiday was introduced. Most people ate rye breads, as wheat did not grow well in most of Denmark due to the cold climate. It was only later more hardy species of wheat was introduced, and it was still an expensive specialty. Besides being made from wheat, the rolls also are made with butter, egg and milk, so they are an enriched bread, though not as much as challah or brioche.

This year, the Danish newspaper Politiken ran an online article (source of most of this information!) on them, with a bunch of recipes. I decided I should make some, even if the holiday had long past.

Ingredients: (Original in Danish from politiken.dk)

  • 500g bread flour* (17.6 oz, about 4.2 cups)
  • 100 ml milk (0.4 cups)
  • 100 ml water (0.4 cups)
  • 50g butter (about 1/2 stick)
  • 50g yeast cake (3 tsp active dry yeast)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 tsp ground cardamom
  • milk for brushing

*Though you don’t normally use bread flour a lot in Denmark, it is well suited to these rolls, as they are meant to rise a lot.

Method:

1. Gently melt the butter and mix in the milk and water. Transfer to a mixing bowl and let stand until lukewarm ( 90-100 F / 32-37 C).

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2. Beat the egg together.

3. Add the yeast to the lukewarm butter, milk and water mixture and mix well until dissolved.

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4. Mix in the sugar, flour, salt, cardamom and egg.

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5. Transfer dough to a work surface and knead well, about 5 min or more. This dough does not have a high water content, so it will feel a little hard.

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6. Form a ball and place in the bowl, cover with film and let stand to rise until doubled, about 30 min.

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7. Punch down dough and knead well again.

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8. Spilt the dough into 12 equal pieces, and form small rolls from them.

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9. Place the rolls fairly close together on a baking sheet, they should be touching when they are done rising. I ended up with mine just a little too far apart. Let rise for 20-30 min more.

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These ended up a little too far apart

10. Preheat oven to 390 F/ 200 C. If your oven is part of your stove, it is great to let the rolls rise on top of your stove for some extra warmth.

11. Brush the rolls with milk.

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12. Transfer to oven and bake for 20 min, until risen and golden.

13. Let cool and break apart to eat. Toast well if you eat them the next day.

Someone couldn't wait

Someone couldn’t wait

I was happy with how these turned out, it is an easy luxury bread. They are traditionally a little more square, but they were well risen and delicious.

Whole Grain Pizza

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I recently got the magazine Cook’s Illustrated recommended, and the magazine is really interesting. It has fairly long articles on the how and why’s of the recipes, and some of the experimental steps the authors go though.

The latest issue (May/June 2013) had an article on thin crust whole wheat pizza, and it looked really delicious. My mom used to bake a whole sheet pan of pizza, and I have not made it ever myself (not counting providing toppings at a party I held years ago, an Italian friend of mine insisted that she brought the dough when I wanted to make pizza – of course I didn’t get the recipe).

I love thin crust and whole grain stuff, so I thought I would try it out. The recipe also required the use of a pizza stone, and I have been thinking of getting one for baking too. Cook’s Illustrated is great in that it also contains equipment (and ingredient) reviews and recommendations, I got an Old Stone Oven pizza stone, so far I like it.

I cut the recipe in half to only make one pizza, and I made it by hand though the original calls for using a food processor. I prefer doing anything but pie crust by hand, and it was really easy.

Ingredients: (orginal recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, June 2013)

  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (120g)
  • 1/2 cup bread flour (75 g)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/4 + 1/8 tsp instant dry yeast
  • 1/2 + 1/8 cup water (150 ml)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Method:

1. Mix together whole wheat flour, bread flour, honey and yeast.

2. Add water until the dough is just coming together, then make it all come together with your hands. Let stand for 10 min.

Adding the water and mixing

Adding the water and mixing

After gathering together with my hands

After gathering together with my hands

3. Add olive oil and salt, knead it in and keep kneading for a couple of minutes.

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4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap (I use a big elastic band to keep it tight) and refrigiate for 18 hours or more – up to 2 days.

Ball of dough

Ball of dough

After 36 hours in the fridge

After 36 hours in the fridge

5. About 1.5 hours before you are ready to have your pizza, take the dough out of the fridge, punch it down and form a ball. Leave it to rest on your work surface with some oiled plastic wrap over for an hour.

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6. Mean while, place your pizza stone about 4.5 inches/10 cm from your oven’s broiler and turn oven to 500 F/ 260 C (check you pizza stone instructions to make sure it can take 500 F and broiling).

7. Prepare your toppings while you wait.

8. After the dough has rested an hour, press flat to an 8 inch/20 cm disc. Keep stretching it at the edges, partially by lifting it up, until it is 12 inches/30 cm across. I found this quite difficult, it probably requires a little practice!

Stretching to a small disc

Stretching to a small disc

Working it out to a big disc. It was a little hard not to get it too thin in the middle

Working it out to a big disc. It was a little hard not to get it too thin in the middle

8. Turn on broiler to run 10 min before the pizza goes in the oven.

10. Transfer pizza dough to a well floured pizza peel or cutting board – I used a bamboo one iand it worked ok. Stretch to maintain the shape, but make sure the pizza can move freely on the board.

Not quite perfect round on the board. I found it hard to have it stay in shape when it didn't stick to the surface

Not quite perfect round on the board. I found it hard to have it stay in shape when it didn’t stick to the surface

11. Top your pizza.

I choose goat cheese and pesto

I choose goat cheese and pesto

12. Slide the pizza from your board to the pizza stone. Turn oven back to 500 F / 260 C.

13. Bake for about 8-12 minutes, until well browned and crisp. If your oven is uneven it is a good idea to turn the pizza half way through.

14. Take pizza out by sliding it back on your board or peel, and transfer to a wire to cool a min or two. Enjoy!

Despite my dough-stretching being less than perfect, the pizza turned out really well. I was surprised how filling it was, the whole grain made it hearty in the good way.

Cook’s Illustrated recommended non-tomato based toppings and had a couple of suggestions, we used pesto and goat cheese, others were things like mushrooms and cream sauce or braised onions and gorgonzola. I used a great pesto recipe from simplyrecipes.com.

I can’t wait to try some breads on the pizza stone, and maybe also some different pizza dough recipes.

Buttermilk Scones

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There a lot of different recipes on scones out there, and not everyone agrees on what is meant by scones. This is adapted from a recipe in Wenche Frølich’s Brød on Irish Scones, and they are not like the sweet scones you get at Starbucks and similar, but not quite like biscuits either. I changed the milk in the original recipe for buttermilk, as I think it gives a much more moist and flavorful scone.

Ingredients:

  • 300g all purpose flour ( 10 1/2 oz)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 100 g cold unsalted butter (3.5 oz, almost a one stick)
  • 200 ml buttermilk (scant 1 cup)

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 225 C/ 440 F

2. Mix all the dry ingredients – flour, salt, baking soda.

3. Cut the cold butter into small pieces, and add by working through the dough with your fingers and squeezing the butter into the dough. There should still be lumps of butter left, and in the end the mixture should be lumpy.

Butter in pieces

Butter in pieces

Working through the dough

Working through the dough

Done

Done

4. Mix in the buttermilk, and knead lightly until a dough forms. You don’t want to over-knead and have the butter be worked completely in.

5. Form 2 flat round breads on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cut the breads into 4 parts, and prick the surface lightly with a fork.

Form the breads

Form the breads

Cut them into scones

Cut them into scones

6. Bake for 15 min.

7. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool a little and then break apart.

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These are definitely best when they are newly baked (and takes less than an hour to make), but they can also be toasted slightly and reheated later. You hardly need any butter on them as they are pretty buttery all ready, they are great just with jam.