I have consumed a great many holiday baked goods in my time—some of them very good, but far more of them bad. I have slogged through loaves of bone-dry panettone, plunged elbow-deep into lackluster caramel popcorn tubs, and conducted exactly one informal scientific inquiry titled “Yule Logs: Why?”
Please know that I am not snobbish about baked goods. I have the sweet tooth of an 8-year-old. But there’s something about the holidays that brings out the absolute worst in baked goods. I think it’s because, in a lot of ways, traditional holiday pies set the baker up to fail. Volunteer to bring a pie to the holiday function, and if you have no previous pie-baking experience, you have two choices: grope your way through a vague family recipe scrawled in your great-grandmother’s illegible handwriting, or bring a store-bought cavity bomb.
But while the holidays can bring out the worst in baked goods, they can also bring out the very, very best. And it is truly by the grace of the slick, mucus-covered infant Christ that I was born into the cult of the One True Holiday Pastry: the kringle, a Scandinavian holiday pastry that is nothing short of extreme. Think of a kringle as a giant, oval-shaped danish with 36 individually buttered layers (thirty! six! layers!) of pastry dough, stuffed with fillings like fruit preserves or caramel. In my very Midwestern family, nothing surpasses kringle. For me, kringle tastes like home—but, perhaps more importantly, it represents a welcome reprieve from December’s parade of fruitcakes and cheese platters.
For me, a good kringle showcases the best things about the Midwest. It’s loaded with carbs and a little messy. It’s also best enjoyed warmed in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, topped with vanilla bean ice cream, and devoured while watching trash TV on the couch alongside one’s sister. In the true spirit of the Midwest, kringle is also available whenever you need it. Bakeries like Uncle Mike’s ship nationwide, and almond kringle flies off the shelves at Trader Joe’s during the holiday season. (Note: the Almond Kringle isn’t a Trader Joe’s product; it’s made by O&H Danish Bakery in Racine.) Most importantly, the kringle represents the tender excess of my own Missouri roots. While the rest of the world prioritizes sleekness, minimalism, and innovation, I’ll be holed up at my parents’ house, clad in pajama pants with a hole in the crotch and wolfing down another slice of raspberry kringle. Go tell that on the mountain.