The Racine area in Southeastern Wisconsin is home to one of the largest population of Danish descendants in the United States. Both Racine and Chicago claim the largest number of Danish-Americans in the United States, but Racine is probably known more for its Danish heritage. One of the trademarks of the Danish community is the pastry known as "kringles". There are a handful of places that bake and sell kringles around Racine - Larsen's Bakery claims to be the first to sell kringles in the city. But the most famous of all places - and the favorite of many locals and visitors - is the O&H Danish Bakery.
A kringle in America is a hand-rolled pastry that features layers of flaky dough filled inside with a fruit, nut or other flavored ingredients. After they're baked, kringles are usually topped with icing and sometimes with nuts. They're light and flaky and damned good. They're so good that earlier this year kringles were named the "state pastry" of Wisconsin.
My first experience with a kringle came from a co-worker of my wife's who brought back an O&H kringle from Racine for us to try. I remember it was a blueberry kringle and it was absolutely fabulous. In fact, we polished it off in less than an hour. And we felt so remorseful afterward. I've had kringles from other places, but the one I always remembered was my first one from O&H.
On a recent trip between Milwaukee and Chicago, I stopped off at the original O&H location in Racine (see map). In addition to the Douglas Ave. location, they have a larger O&H on Durand Ave. in Racine, as well as a satellite location as part of the The Dish Cafe in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek, and another "kringle only" location at the Petro Travel Plaza along Interstate 94 near the town of Sturtevant, WI near Racine.
O&H Danish Bakery has been in business since 1949 when Danish immigrant Christian Olesen and his bookkeeper, Harvey Holtz, opened the doors to their little bakery. Christian Olesen's son, Raymond, was there with his father from the beginning, learning the baking techniques that would eventually make O&H famous. In 1963, Ray Olesen bought Holtz's percentage in the business, eventually taking over the business from his father. Joined by his wife, Myrna, and their sons, Dale, Michael and Eric, Ray Olesen expanded the business over the years but continued to focus on making O&H Bakery the most authentic Danish bakery in America. Today, Ray and Myrna's grandchildren are involved in the Olesen's Family Bakery company making four generations of Olesen's who have made kringles.
In addition to kringles at O&H, they have a wide selection of donuts, Danish breads and other pastries to choose from. They are also famous for their cakes at O&H, with a wide variety of specialty cakes for weddings, birthdays and special occasions. With milk, juices and other drinks in a cooler near the front door, O&H is truly a full service bakery.
But I was there for the kringles. They have nearly 30 different types of fillings for kringles at O&H, both year-round and seasonal offerings. O&H had about 25 different kringles to choose from the day I was there. They make the kringles fresh each day, making the kringle dough the night before then setting it to rest until the next day. After the filling is put in to the dough, they're formed into an oval, baked, and then topped with a vanilla sugar frosting. They actually have a kringle where they don't put salt or sugar into the mix. Now, what kind of fun is that?
My wife has been on a diet and I knew that she'd kill me if I brought one home to her. But what the hell. I knew she liked apricot, so I got an apricot kringle for her and I got a blueberry one for me. And I was thankful because it was the last blueberry kringle they had that day. I came about *that* close in getting a third one - pumpkin caramel, a seasonal flavor. But I resisted. Each kringle was $8.50 and there was no tax on the sale.
When I got them home the next day, my wife just about killed me. "Darn it," she sort of half-seriously said in disgust. "You know I'm on this six week plan!" And then she looked at the tag on the bag. "Ooooo... Apricot. I love apricot." Then she sort of stopped and said, "But what I REALLY would have liked is pecan!"
The kringles are packed with a cardboard ring in the middle so that you can stack them on top of one another for shipping. A plastic sheet goes over the kringle to help keep the frosting from running. Even 24 hours after I picked them up, they were still a fresh as if they were made earlier in the day.
Now, doesn't that just look unbelievably sinful? The layers of the flaky dough with the blueberry filling and the sugar frosting were just heavenly with each bite. The texture of a kringle reminds me somewhat of Greek baklava. Only better. And I love baklava.
You can order kringles on-line from O&H Danish Bakery, but it's expensive to do so. It's more than double the price per kringle to get them sent to you rather than picking them up at one of the O&H bakeries or outlets. Kringles can be addictive - it's almost like heroin-laced pastry. But they're light, astonishingly flavorful, and shamefully delicious. This time I was able to keep my kringle around for four days before I unhappily had the last piece of it. (It was getting a little soggy after three days - better to eat them more quickly.) My wife had a few bites of hers, but doled the majority of it out to the neighbors. The only thing I can say is that I'm glad I don't live anywhere near Racine because a kringle from O&H Danish Bakery is that good. I'd be there all the time.