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Krumkake catchup: For 55 years, Duluth women join in holiday tradition of making Scandinavian waffle cookies

Sue Knudson (left) and Millie DeBolt have been friends since 1951 and have been making krumkake together since they were 12 years old. (Bob King / / 4
Fresh, crisp krumkake cookies bear the festive imprints of the krumkake iron. (Bob King / / 4
Millie DeBolt (left) and Sue Knudson use wooden skewers to carefully separate and lift fresh krumkake from the iron. (Bob King / / 4
Millie DeBolt rolls a warm krumkake fresh off the griddle into a classic cone. (Bob King / / 4

You can fill them with whipped cream or cover them with powdered sugar, but these ladies don’t. Millie DeBolt and Sue Knudsen like their krumkake plain, and they’ve been making it together for 55 years.

Krumkake (pronounced “kroom kaa kaa”) is a thin, cone-shaped, waffle cookie made with sugar, butter and milk. The name means “bent cookie” in Norwegian, and it’s traditionally made around the holidays. DeBolt and Knudsen’s tradition started at age 11 when Knudsen’s mother taught them how to make the dessert. “She showed us one time, and she never made them again. That was very tricky of her,” DeBolt said with a smile.

Last week at Knudsen’s house the ladies took their positions, Knudsen on the krumkake iron and DeBolt rolling the cookies.

Knudsen poured about a tablespoon of batter onto a each circle of the two-cookie iron. Steam rose when she lifted the cover to monitor progress. Both held wooden skewers, ready to delicately lift the finished cookie off. It’s hard to time it, Knudsen said.

When they were golden on the iron, they dabbed their skewers underneath and placed the pieces on a cutting board in front of DeBolt, who quickly rolled the krumkake into a cone.

“I get the burnt fingers,” she said.

It's hard to make krumkake by yourself, and it can take a lot of time.

When they were kids, an added bonus to making this dessert was that DeBolt got to stay overnight. “That was a big deal,” Knudsen said.

And they didn’t always have a two-cookie contraption. They started with a single, round iron with a handle that you held over a gas burner.

“It was one at a time and you had to stand there and flip them over,” DeBolt said.

Next came the iron with a stand that stood over a burner, and it still had to be rotated. While this made the process easier, making krumkake has always been a two-person job because you have to roll them right away.

The two-cookie, electric iron is the latest model, and the two were sold immediately.

“We had electric for when Doreen got married. … How long have they been married?”

“Twenty-six years,” Knudsen said.

DeBolt has a krumkake iron too that she brought along last week, just in case. In the kitchen, the golden yellow cookies had intricate hearts, triangles and petal-looking imprints. DeBolt said the designs would be different on her iron. As she began to stack the second cookie sheet, they issued packaging instructions: a foil-lined box.

If you use a plastic container: “It wouldn’t be krumkake anymore, it’d be soggy-kake,” Knudsen said. DeBolt will store hers in a closet she doesn’t visit very often, she said.

The Duluth women made krumkake once outside the holidays for Knudsen’s daughter’s wedding, and the humidity was so high, the cookies didn’t stay crisp. And they’ve only missed one year in their decades-long ritual.

“Ed was drafted,” Knudsen explained, and they were living in Oklahoma, where she didn’t continue their tradition. DeBolt made krumkake that year, but “You weren’t there,” she said to her friend.

The two have known each other since they were 4, and they grew up as neighbors in Duluth. They were married a week apart, and their children were good friends growing up.

“We’re godparents to our first borns,” DeBolt said.

“We promised that to each other when we were little,” Knudsen finished.

Catching up with each other is the best part of the process, they said, and when the desserts are all done.

“We haven’t sampled it yet,” Knudsen said.

They each grabbed a cookie off the sheet, and DeBolt took a perfect bite. “Not a crumb, years of practice,” she said, setting down the half-eaten krumkake to roll a fresh one hot off the iron.

For research, a News Tribune reporter tried one (or two), and the krumkake tasted sweet, light and airy.

The cookie crumbles in your mouth, adding delight to the sensory experience. The taste makes you want to dab the crumbs off your napkin with your fingertips and place them in their rightful place on your tongue.

And the ladies were right — their krumkake didn’t need a thing.

Krumkake3 eggs well-beaten, 1½ cups sugar, 1 cup butter melted, 1½ cups of half and half, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2 cups flour

Beat it in a bowl. Mix well. Use an electric iron, drop about a tablespoon in each circle. Check it after about 40 seconds. When it’s golden, remove with wooden skewer. Roll immediately.

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

(218) 723-5346