Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Scandinavia historically refers to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, countries in which sweets are very popular and well integrated into the culture, even though the concept of a formal dessert course is relatively modern.

Before sugar reached northern Europe, Scandinavians relied on honey and fruit extracts for sweeteners. In the Middle Ages, spice cakes made of rye, oats, and honey were enjoyed, as were sweets that could be baked over an open fire with special cast-iron equipment. Sugar changed all that. Like much of Europe, Scandinavia has a dark chapter in its history: in 1672, Denmark established a colony on St. Thomas in the Caribbean, and thus took part in the sugar trade based on slave labor. See slavery and sugar trade. As new methods of baking reached the north from France and Austria, sugar became a sought-after commodity. Scandinavian bakers traveled to Vienna, bringing back new ideas that led to the creation of different kinds of baked goods, in which the bourgeoisie was eager to indulge. What Americans know as “Danish pastry” is one such result; its Danish name of wienerbrød (Viennese bread) reveals its origins. See vienna.