Until the Winter Sun Rises

In the snowy wilds of western Denmark, an English chef makes a Christmas meal that lasts through the night.

By Paul Cunningham
Photos by Anders Schoennemann

For four years now I’ve been the chef at Henne Kirkeby Kro, a little thatched inn on Denmark’s wild west coast. I’m well and truly besotted with the place. The inn has been quietly lying along the roadside for more than 200 years, nestled within a sleepy hamlet. Years ago there was a school, a merchant, a cobbler, and a church—today I reside in the old cobbler’s cottage.

Life is full-on every year from Palm Sunday, when we throw open the doors, until things get rather bleak and we close in December. But I do fire up the stove for one last meal, a traditional Christmas dinner in honor of my glorious Hennefolk—my loyal, hardworking, beautiful staff who tread these boards all season. I love them dearly. Donning their Yuletide glad rags, and setting their hair, they relax and unwind. I look after the food.

We start with a once-a-year treat, wonderful sleek Danish eels, smoked over oak, served buttered and warm alongside creamy scrambled eggs from our farm. Clipped chives cut the richness. A little salad follows. Tiny leaves of baby gem, a creamy blue cheese from the island of Bornholm, hot toasted walnuts, celery, and green grapes provide a nostalgic, almost Waldorfesque note. I serve it up against a steaming pot of roasted pumpkin and parmesan soup.

Our garden’s finest carrots, winter potatoes, and perfumed celeriac are creamed and glazed with the last of our well-aged Gruyère. It’s lush indeed. Then beautiful pork follows, from a farm called Grambogård on the  Danish island of Fyn. Master Erik is my beloved butcher boy there, my meat-pusher for all of my 21 years in Denmark. Weeks before, I bring home pork that I salt and slowly smoke over oak, turning it into our wonderfully intense Henne bacon. Cut thick, pan-fried, and baked crisp over apples and onions, it’s called Æbleflæsk, a classic Danish winter favorite.

I roast a pork loin, on the bone, over bay leaves and onions. The crackling, crisp, light, and extremely moreish, is balanced by sweet-salty butter caramel potatoes and the sharpness of our pickled red currants.

We round off the dinner by demolishing our leftovers from the cheese box and a huge bowl of butter-baked pears with ice-cold cream and lashings of our late summer honey warmed in a copper pan. With loving smiles and groaning full bellies, we dance and wash down the day’s gluttony with iced schnapps and cold beers.

And just when they think it is all over, the after-hours hunger pangs begin to set in. There are no takeaway joints around here, no delicious diners or street-food trucks, so I retire once again to the kitchen. I secretly ordered a few little escalopes of veal in order to knock up a few wiener schnitzels if needed. I usually do this as an annual surefire hangover cure on New Year’s Day.

My crisp-breaded, butter-fried late-night schnitzels are adorned with sharp, salt-brined anchovies, capers, lemon, and snowflakes of fiery fresh horseradish to spice things up. The party continues until the winter sun rises over our Henne home away from home.

Pumpkin Soup with Orange and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Active | 1 hr. 15 min. Total | 3 hr. Serves | 8

Caramelized roasted pumpkin gets an unorthodox hit of flavor from orange zest and juice, stirred in just before serving to brighten this wintry soup. Paul Cunningham likes to use pumpkins local to Denmark, like hokkaido, but sugar pumpkins work just as well here, as does any buttery squash, like kabocha, butternut, or acorn.

  • 1 medium (2 1⁄2- to 3-lb.) sugar pumpkin or butternut squash, trimmed
  • 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Fresno chile or red jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup crème fraîche, plus more to garnish
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

  • Heat the oven to 350°. On a cutting board, halve the pumpkin lengthwise and scoop the seeds into a bowl. Cut the pumpkin halves into 6 wedges each and transfer to a baking sheet. Drizzle the pumpkin with 3 tablespoons olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake until tender, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let the pumpkin cool.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 300°. Rinse the pumpkin seeds to remove the stringy pulp and lay the seeds on paper towels to dry. Transfer the seeds to a small bowl, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the seeds on a small baking sheet and bake until toasted and crisp, about 1 hour. Transfer the sheet to a rack and let cool.
  • In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high. Add the garlic, onion, and chile and cook, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Scrape the pumpkin flesh from the skin and add to the onions, discarding the pumpkin skin. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the soup is slightly reduced, 35 to 40 minutes.
  • Using an immersion blender or standing blender, purée the soup until very smooth and return to the saucepan over low heat. Stir in the crème fraîche and orange zest and juice and heat until warmed through. Remove the pan from the heat, season with salt and pepper, and ladle into serving bowls. Top each serving with some toasted pumpkin seeds, a generous grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a dollop of crème fraîche.

Celery Root, Carrot, and Potato Gratin

Total | 1 hr. 20 min. Serves | 8

During the holidays, Paul Cunningham likes nothing more than a comforting vegetable gratin, and here he keeps it simple: Potatoes, carrots, and celery root are seasoned with thyme and fresh bay leaves and then simmered in cream before getting baked under a layer of bubbling Gruyère and bread crumbs.

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 fresh bay leaves
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices
  • 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut crosswise into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 small celery root, peeled and cut crosswise into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 Tbsp. thyme leaves Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 oz. Gruyère cheese
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs

  • Heat the oven to 350°. In a large saucepan, heat the cream with the butter and bay leaves over medium-high. Stir in the garlic, carrots, potatoes, onion, and celery root and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook, stirring gently, until tender but not breaking, about 18 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the thyme, and scrape into a 3-qt. round baking dish. Season the gratin with salt and pepper.
  • Using a box grater, grate the Gruyère into a medium bowl and then toss with the bread crumbs. Sprinkle the cheese and bread crumbs over the vegetables and bake until the topping is golden brown and the gratin is bubbling in the center, about 30 minutes.

Roasted Apples and Bacon with Onions and Thyme (Æbleflæsk)

Active | 45 min. Total | 1 hr. 30 min. Serves | 8

In a classic Danish treatment, sweet red apples are roasted with onions, caramelized in bacon fat, and served under thick steaks of smoked belly bacon. Use a hearty baking apple, such as Braeburn or Gala, that will stand up to roasting and keep its shape while becoming tender and caramelized.

  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • One 1-lb. whole piece of slab bacon, cut across the grain into eight 1⁄2-inch-thick slices
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 Tbsp. thyme leaves 
  • 2 1⁄2 lbs. (about 6) medium sweet baking apples, cored and cut into 12 wedges each

  • In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat and season the bacon with salt and pepper. Add half the bacon slices to the skillet and cook, turning once, until caramelized on both sides and tender, 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a plate and repeat with the remaining 4 slices of bacon.
  • Heat the oven to 400°. Drain off all but 1⁄4 cup of the rendered fat and return the skillet to medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and soft, about 20 minutes. Stir in the thyme, remove the skillet from the heat, and scrape the onions into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or small roasting pan.
  • Add the apples to the onions, toss to coat evenly in the fat, and bake, stirring once halfway through, until the apples are just tender and lightly caramelized, about 20 minutes. Using tongs, push the apples and onions to one side of the baking dish and nestle the bacon slices next to them. Continue baking until the apples are very tender and the bacon is warmed through, about 10 more minutes. Transfer the dish to a rack and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Blue Cheese, Grape, and Gem Lettuce Salad

Total | 30 min. Serves | 8

Paul Cunningham likes to use whatever lettuces are in season for this salad, preferably some that are tender and buttery like gem lettuce or Bibb to offset the crunchy celery and acidic grapes. If you can find a good Danish blue cheese, like Kornblomst, use it here; otherwise, any good, creamy blue cheese will work well.

  • 1⁄3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1⁄3 cup olive oil
  • 1⁄3 cup walnut oil
  • 2 Tbsp. crème fraiche
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 lb. baby gem lettuces or Bibb lettuce, torn into large pieces
  • 1 head of celery, inner stems and leaves only, stems thinly sliced and leaves left whole
  • 1 1⁄2 cups halved green grapes
  • Flaky sea salt
  • 3 oz. Danish Kornblomst or Stilton blue cheese

  • In a small bowl, whisk the apple cider vinegar with the olive and walnut oils, crème fraîche, and Dijon until smooth and season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper.
  • In a small skillet, heat the walnuts, tossing occasionally, until toasted, about 6 minutes. Arrange the lettuce on a large serving platter, followed by the celery stems and leaves, warm walnuts, and the grapes. Drizzle the salad with the vinaigrette, season lightly with sea salt and pepper, and top with the blue cheese before serving.

Roast Pork Loin with Salted Caramel Potatoes

Active | 45 min. Total | 2 hr. 30 min. Serves | 8

The centerpiece of Paul Cunningham’s holiday dinner is this impressive pork loin roast served with potatoes coated in caramel and tart red currant jelly. He uses a cut of pork called “skin-on pork loin rack,” which is a loin of pork with the skin and fat left intact and the rib bones still attached. It is not a common cut of meat in the U.S., so give plenty of time for your butcher to prepare it for you in advance. (You can also use an American-style pork loin roast, which comes with fat on top but no skin; if you do, stand it fat side up the entire cooking time and broil the roast for 3 minutes or until dark golden brown.)

  • One 3 1⁄2- to 4-lb. skin-on pork loin rack or pork loin roast (see note above)
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 large yellow onions, halved
  • 4 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. baby fingerling potatoes
  • 1⁄2 cup sugar
  • 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • Red currant jelly, for serving

  • Heat the oven to 350°. Using a very sharp knife, score the skin on the pork roast crosswise every 1⁄4 inch, being careful to cut just through the skin and not the fat. Season the pork skin with kosher salt and rub into the score marks. Place the onions in a roasting pan and scatter over the bay leaves and thyme. Set a roasting rack over the onions and place the roast in the rack, skin side down.
  • Pour 3 cups boiling water into the roasting pan, place in the oven, and roast for 30 minutes. Flip the pork roast skin-side-up, brush the skin with the olive oil, and continue roasting until the pork is cooked to 140°, about 1 hour. Heat the broiler and broil the top of the pork roast until the skin is golden brown and crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the pork to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest while you make the potatoes.
  • Meanwhile, in a small saucepan of boiling water, cook the potatoes until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes, let them cool, and peel them. In a medium skillet, heat the sugar with 2 tablespoons water over medium-high and cook, swirling the skillet, until the sugar turns into an amber caramel, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked potatoes and butter and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are coated in the caramel and tender-sticky, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with sea salt and pepper.
  • Pour the pork’s pan juices through a fi ne sieve into a bowl and skim off as much of the fat as possible. Stir in the vinegar and season the sauce with kosher salt and pepper. Serve the sauce and the red currant jelly alongside the pork roast and caramel potatoes.

Creamed Eggs and Smoked Eel with Chives

Total | 30 min. Serves | 8

Creamy, slow-cooked scrambled eggs make a simple but luxurious starter (or breakfast) during the holidays at Paul Cunningham’s home, where he serves them with warmed store-bought smoked eel and a generous sprinkling of fresh chives. When cooking the eggs, be sure to stir them slowly and constantly so they create small curds and stay creamy and smooth.

  • 8 smoked eel fillets (3 oz. each), skin and bones removed
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • Finely chopped chives, to garnish
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

  • Heat the oven to 300°. On a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, arrange the eel fillets in a single layer and heat in the oven for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the cream until smooth. In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, pour in the eggs, and cook, stirring constantly, until scrambled and creamy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and season the eggs with salt and pepper. Scrape the eggs onto serving plates and garnish with chives. Transfer two eel fillets to each plate and serve with lemon wedges.

Wiener Schnitzel

Total | 45 min. Serves | 8

For the morning after a big celebration, Paul Cunningham serves this crisp-fried schnitzel as a sort of hangover cure for the previous night’s revelry. Simple veal scaloppine are battered and fried and spiked with briny, spicy condiments like anchovies and fresh-grated horseradish just before being served. Feel free to use chicken or pork instead of veal, if you like.

  • 1⁄2 cup (2 1⁄4 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups dried bread crumbs
  • 8 veal scaloppini (3 1⁄2 oz. each), pounded 1⁄4 inch thick
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 cup clarified butter or ghee
  • Brined anchovies, salt-packed capers, lemon wedges, and freshly grated horseradish, for serving

  • Place the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs in 3 separate large, shallow bowls or pie dishes. Arrange the veal scaloppine on a cutting board and season both sides of each with salt and white pepper. Coat each scaloppina in flour, shaking off the excess, and then dip completely in the eggs. Drain the scaloppine from the eggs and dredge in bread crumbs, pressing the veal into the crumbs to adhere. Arrange the breaded scaloppine on a wire rack.
  • In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon clarified butter over medium-high. Add 1 scaloppina and cook, turning once and adding 1 tablespoon more clarified butter, until the veal is golden brown and crisp, about 4 minutes. Transfer the scaloppina to a wire rack set over paper towels to drain and repeat frying the remaining scaloppine with the remaining 14 tablespoons clarified butter.
  • To serve, place each scaloppina on a serving plate and top with a couple anchovies and a sprinkling of capers, with some lemon wedges on the side. Using a Microplane, grate a little fresh horseradish over each scaloppina just before serving.

Honey-and-Butter-Baked Pears with Cold Cream

Total | 1 hr. 15 min. Serves | 8

These sticky caramelized pears get served warm with a glug of fresh chilled cream for dessert at Paul Cunningham’s holiday feast. He uses “double cream,” a dairy product not available in the U.S. You can use chilled crème fraîche on its own, or thin it slightly with chilled heavy cream to approximate the texture. If you can find organic heavy cream where the fat separates and floats to the top, skim off this fat and use it.

  • 8 Anjou pears, peeled, halved, and cored
  • 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • 5 thyme sprigs
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1⁄2 cup honey
  • Chilled crème fraiche or heavy cream, for serving (see note above)

  • Heat the oven to 400°. On a parchment paper–lined rimmed baking sheet, arrange the pears cut-side-up in a single layer. Top each pear half with butter and season lightly with salt. Scatter the thyme and bay leaves over the pears and drizzle with honey.
  • Bake the pears, turning them every 15 minutes to coat in the butter and honey, until they are tender and caramelized, about 1 hour. Transfer the pears to a warmed dish and serve while hot with a generous pour of chilled cream.


Vanilla Wreath Cookies
Heat the oven to 350°. Beat 8 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter with 1 cup (7 oz.) sugar and the seeds of 1⁄2 vanilla bean on the medium speed of a hand mixer until fluffy. Add 2 cups (9 oz.) all-purpose flour, 1⁄4 cup room temperature whole milk, and 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt and beat on low speed until just combined. Scrape the dough into a cloth piping bag fitted with a 1⁄2-inch star tip and pipe 2 1⁄2-inch pretzel shapes onto baking sheets. Bake until lightly golden on the bottom, about 16 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.
Almond Sugar Cookies
Heat the oven to 350°. Beat 3 sticks softened unsalted butter with 2⁄3 cup (5 oz.) sugar on medium speed of a hand mixer until fluffy. Add 4 cups (1 lb. 2 oz.) all-purpose flour and 1 tsp. kosher salt and beat on low speed until combined. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface and flatten with a rolling pin into a 13-by-10 1⁄2-inch rectangle. Brush with some egg wash and sprinkle with 1⁄2 cup finely chopped almonds and 1⁄4 cup sugar. Cut into 2-by-1 3⁄4-inch rectangles, transfer to baking sheets, and bake until golden on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Makes 3 dozen.
Cinnamon Sugar Cookies
Heat the oven to 350°. Beat 2 sticks softened unsalted butter with 10 Tbsp. (4 oz.) sugar and 1 large egg yolk on the medium speed of a hand mixer until fluffy. Add 2 1⁄2 cups plus 2 Tbsp. (12 oz.) all-purpose flour, 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt, 1⁄8 tsp. baking soda, and 1 tsp. water and beat on low speed until just combined. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface, flatten until 1⁄4 inch thick, and cut out cookies using a 1 3⁄4-inch-star or circle cutter. Transfer the cookies to baking sheets, sprinkle with 1⁄4 cup turbinado sugar mixed with 1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon, and bake until golden on the bottom, about 12 minutes. Makes 8 dozen.
Honey and Spice Cookies
Heat the oven to 375°. Beat 12 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter with 1⁄2 cup (4 oz.) packed muscovado sugar, 2 Tbsp. honey, 1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground ginger, and 1⁄2 tsp. each ground allspice and ground cloves on the medium speed of a hand mixer until fluffy. Add 2 cups (9 oz.) all-purpose flour, 1⁄3 cup finely chopped hazelnuts, and 1 tsp. kosher salt and beat on low speed until just combined. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface, flatten until 1⁄4 inch thick, and cut out cookies using a 2-inch-round cutter. Transfer the rounds to baking sheets and bake until golden on the bottom, about 8 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.
Citrus Twist Fritters
Beat 6 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter with 1⁄3 cup (2 1⁄2 oz.) sugar, 1⁄2 tsp. ground cardamom, and the finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1⁄2 orange on the medium speed of a hand mixer until fluffy. Add 2 cups (9 oz.) all-purpose flour, 1⁄4 cup lightly beaten eggs (about 1 1⁄2), 2 Tbsp. heavy cream, and 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt and beat on low speed until combined. Knead until smooth, flatten until 1⁄4 inch thick, and cut into 1-inch-wide strips. Cut strips into 3-inch-long diamonds, then cut a 1-inch slit in the center of each diamond and thread one end through the hole and out the other side, pulling ends apart to form a knot. Working in batches, fry the pastries in vegetable oil at 350° until golden brown and crisp, 1 1⁄2 to 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve hot. Makes about 4 dozen.