In a word

If I had to give one word to describe Scandinavian cuisine, I’d say almond. Of course that would be greatly underestimating the wealth of flavors you’ll find among Scandinavian foods–including salmon, dill, hearty meats, and potatoes. It would also limit the flavor profile to desserts, which probably says something about me.

There was never a shortage of almond-flavored cakes and pastries around when I was growing up. With a heavy Scandinavian population in the area, particularly in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, grocery stores in the suburbs even had their fair share of Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish treats from which to choose.

My mom and I would often add a bar of fyrstekake to our cart during after-school trips to the grocery store, treating ourselves to bites before we reached the checkout line. And anytime there was a kringle around, I’d voraciously make my way around the puffy yet crumbly sugar-coated edges, saving the rich almond- and raisin-filled center for last.

Then there was marzipan cake, which almost always seemed to make an appearance during family birthday parties as I was growing up. A white layer cake filled with apricot or raspberry preserves, it was covered in a layer of whipped cream before being wrapped with a thick, fondant-like layer of intense almond-flavored marzipan. Aside from the themed cakes every child wants at some point or another–one of mine was a Barbie cake, which, unfortunately, portrayed the blonde doll in a very poor light–my generally preferred choice of cake was marzipan.

And don’t getting me started on the marzipan candy. That, it itself, is a subject for another post.

With such a rich selection of almond desserts available around Seattle, I wouldn’t really even need to bake my own. But there’s something so satisfying about measuring all the ingredients, following the steps of a recipe, and then seeing it all come together (not to mention sharing it with people I love).

If there’s an opportunity to bake, I’ll take it. The latest excuse to spend an hour in the kitchen was a party. The touring actors at the theatre where I work just wrapped up a season, and the staff threw them a surprise party after their final performance last week. When the signup sheet for food contributions went around, you can guess what I signed up for.

I had meant to plan a dessert in advance, giving myself plenty of time over the long holiday weekend to shop for the ingredients. But before I knew it, the day before the party had arrived and I still didn’t know what to make (nor did I feel like going to the grocery store). It took a while, but I finally found a recipe that a) I had all the ingredients for, b) I had the correct pan size for, and c) I wanted to bake. Don’t you love it when you have a recipe you feel like making and all the ingredients are already in your kitchen?

When it comes to entertaining, the pros say you should never make a recipe for company without doing a trial run in advance. They’d probably say the same thing about bringing food to a party. But the way I see it, there are so many delicious-looking recipes and so little time. So when I found the recipe for this mazarin torte, I went for it.

Calling for pulverized almonds but no almond extract, I wondered if the flavor would turn out as pronounced as I hoped. Amazingly it did, complemented by a hint of orange liqueur.

The verdict among my coworkers? A hit! I’ll be keeping this recipe around for when an almond craving strikes.

Mazarin Torte
Adapted from Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

Crust
3/4 cup butter
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup almond flour*

Filling
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup almond flour*
2 tablespoons fruit-flavored liqueur**
powdered sugar, optional

Start by preparing the crust. Cream the butter and the sugar in a mixing bowl, then add the egg yolks and keep beating until the mixture is light. Add the flour, salt, and almond flour and keeping mixing until it stiffens. Form the dough into a ball and separate 1/4 of it. Press the remaining 3/4 of the dough into a 10- or 11-inch metal tart pan with a removable bottom (alternatively you can roll out the dough between two sheets of waxed paper, as Beatrice Ojakangas suggests, but pressing it into the pan will be easier with this soft and delicate dough). Set aside while making the filling.

Beat the eggs and sugar until they turn “light and fluffy,” as Ojakangas describes, then add the butter, almond flour, and liqueur, continuing to beat until incorporated. Pour the filling into the crust.

At this point you’ll want to preheat your oven to 350 degrees. To make the decorative topping, take the remaining 1/4 of the dough and and use it to form a latticework design over the filling. You have two ways to do this:

  1. Use your fingers to roll the dough into thin ropes and piece them together in a pattern, or
  2. roll out the dough and cut it into 1/2-inch strips.

I prefer method #1, but if you choose #2, you may want to chill the dough first, to make it easier to work with. Thankfully Ojakangas was kind enough to tell her readers to not worry about making the top design perfect, as it will bake into the filling leaving only a pattern behind (as you can see from the photo).

Bake 30-35 minutes, or until golden. Cool, then dust with powdered sugar if you wish.

* The original recipe calls for the same amount of pulverized unblanched almonds. While you could certainly pulverize your own, almond flour will make this recipe come together much more quickly if you have access to it.

**I used Grand Marnier and loved how the orange flavor complemented the almond. The original recipe suggests cloudberry, lingonberry, or cranberry liqueur as possibilities, but I imagine any fruit-flavored liqueur you have on hand would go nicely in this recipe.

Serves 10-12

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11 thoughts on “In a word

  1. I found your blog is very interesting as I noticed that I don’t know much about Scandinavian food. It’s interesting how almond is the first thing you think of. The tart definitely looks yummy and I’m so hungry passed midnight… Keep the good work to educate us. :-)

    • I’m glad you enjoy it! Of course almond is just the start of it. There’s cardamon, salmon, lingonberry, dill… just to name a few other flavors that stick out in my mind. Scandinavian food is so delicious, yet under-appreciated. I hope you’ll stop by again to learn more!

    • I know! Those are some of my favorite flavors. Speaking of salmon and dill, have you ever tried making gravlax? It’s become a Christmas tradition in my household. There are plenty of flavor varieties out there, but we basically just cure salmon in a lot of salt, sugar, and dill for a couple of days, and it’s amazing!

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