Crullers or twisted doughnuts - Kleinur

While technically they are everyday pastries, I think kleinur deserve to be included in the Christmas fare. I have added a second recipe for those who do not have access to hartshorn powder.

In many homes in Iceland a large cooking pot lurks in a kitchen cupboard. Its sides are black with burnt-in fat, and a guest might wonder what the monster is used for. Occasionally, in some homes as often as once a week, this pot will be pulled out from its hiding place and put to good use for frying doughnuts in. It is not unusual for a doughnut-maker to make a double or even triple recipe in one session.

Twisted doughnuts are not a specifically Icelandic phenomenon, but neither are they as common in other countries. Making these delicacies is time consuming and hard work, and therefore the batches are usually large to save time and effort.

  • Don't try this if you have never deep-fried anything before, as the frying fat must be very hot, and certain precautions must be taken to avoid accidents. They include:
  • not letting the hot oil get into contact with water, 
  • never leaving the frying pot or deep-fryer unattended, and, in case of accidents, 
  • having a fire-blanket and/or fire extinguisher at hand. 

I am including 2 recipes, one with hartshorn powder and one without it, as hartshorn seems to be quite difficult to find outside Europe. Both recipes are mixed and handled in the same way.

Ready to fry dough and fried kleinur.
1st recipe:
500 g flour
40 g margarine/butter, soft
2 tsp baker's ammonia/hartshorn salt (ammonium carbonate)
2 medium eggs
1 tsp baking powder
150 ml milk, sour milk or buttermilk
150 g sugar
2 tsp essence of cardamom

2nd recipe:
1 kg flour
150 g butter
250 g sugar
3 eggs
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp powdered cardamom
a few drops of vanilla essence
250 ml buttermilk or cream

Mix together dry ingredients. Mix in the margarine/butter and then eggs and milk/cream, followed by the essence of cardamom or vanilla essence. Knead into a fairly soft dough. Avoid over-kneading, as this will make the doughnuts tough.

Making the twist.
Roll out the dough until fairly thin (2-3 millimeters thick), cut into strips (these should be anything from 5-10 centimeters wide, depending on weather you want small or big doughnuts) and then cut diagonally across the previous cuts to make diamond shapes. Cut a small slit in the centre of each diamond and gently pull one end through the slit, to make the twist in the doughnuts.

Heat the frying fat. It must be very hot, and will have reached the right temperature when a doughnut browns and cooks through in about 1 to 1:30 minutes.

Genuine Icelandic twisted doughnuts are fried in sheep tallow, which leaves a special taste, but this is now considered unhealthy because of all the saturated fat.
I use about 2/3 cooking fat and 1/3 tallow, which produces healthier kleinur that still have that old-time tallow flavour. If you can't get tallow, use about a litre of vegetable cooking fat that can be heated to a high temperature, for example canola or coconut oil.

When they reach this colour, remove from fat.
Most deep-fryers can not get the oil hot enough for frying kleinur - but they are safer than using a pot on the stovetop. If you do use a fryer, heat the oil to the maximum temperature, and allow the oil a short time to heat up again after each round of doughnuts.

Interesting tidbit:
I found an American recipe for twisted doughnuts in The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker (New York, N.Y., Harper & Row, 1989). The recipe is taken from an old American cookbook, and although the twisting method is quite different, the recipes themselves are clearly related.


Cheeky Spouse said…
I really love these. I first bought them while in Iceland and have been making then regularly ever since. They're so much nicer when freshly cooked.
Bibliophile said…
I agree. I like them best while they are still warm, with a glass of cold milk.
Anonymous said…
And the best place in Reykjavik to get them is in a nice bakery, facing Lake Tjorn....They are huge, fresh and wonderful..... But I too have been making them for many years, I am from Iceland, but living in the USA
Birna said…
I live in Newfoundland, Canada but I am born and raised in Iceland. I searched everywhere for Hartshorn to make Þingeyinga and I found it in a chinese restaurant. They call it "Baking powder to fry". Hope this helps if you are looking for it! :)
'Ela mich said…
My family uses hartshorn for our traditional Christmas cookies. Every year it was a search to find my grandmother some for her cookies. Not many people are familiar with it and it has different names. King Arthur Flour sells it as baker's ammonia.
Anonymous said…
I made some Norwegian smultringer (fried donuts) with hartshorn and the day after I can detect a subtle ammonia taste/odor. Will that dissipate with time? I've used hartshorn in a cookie recipe and there was no residual ammonia at all with those. The donuts are certainly edible and have great flavor and texture otherwise.
Bibliophile said…
Deluwiel, I'm sorry I can't tell you if it will, as I have never come across this myself.

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