A chocolate orange cake for your coffeetable


I knew exactly what the flight attendant was saying. Though I speak virtually no Norwegian, that word transcends most Western languages. Though spelling and intonation may change, coffee, in a way, is almost a universal word in the Western world.

It was something else that caught me off guard: how I was to respond. It was a word—a one-word question—so familiar, so intrinsically understood, even when spoken in a different language. Even the answer—a simple ja or no—would have been so easy for my unschooled tongue. Or so it seems.

Blonde and fresh-faced, a Nordic beauty, the woman offering me a cup of steaming coffee on the Scandinavian Airlines flight could have been my cousin. Perhaps that’s why I stumbled over my thoughts, unsure of how to answer. She was so like me—or, rather, I was so much like her—yet I had one big, shaming disadvantage.

At 26, I was a full-blooded American-born Norwegian who had never been to the fatherland, and had taken a less-than-helpful Intro to Norwegian class hoping to get a crash course in the language before visiting. The phrases I learned as a child—jeg elsker deg (I love you), du er en kjekk gutt (you are a cute boy), du er en gris (you are a pig)—weren’t going to cut it.

On that SAS flight, on a trip that took me around Greece, Turkey, and Norway, the flight attendant must have taken one look at me and identified me among many of the other blondes on the flight: a Scandinavian. What she got was a half-second-generation Norwegian with a surface-level grasp on the culture of her father and grandparents.

I fumbled for the correct response. At that point it wasn’t even a matter of whether I really wanted coffee or not. That was beside the point. Was she really offering me coffee, was it as simple as that? Would my yes or no or ja or nei be an adequate and correct response?

That was 2008. Today I still don’t speak Norwegian, but I’ve come to grips with it (at least until the next time I travel to Norway). What I’ve truly latched onto is the food of Scandinavia, and how it brings back fond childhood memories as well as furthers my appreciation of my heritage.

Since we’re on the topic of coffee, I’ve learned a lot about the significance of coffee among Scandinavians through The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas. I grew up witnessing a ritual of coffee in my family, but this book helped me to understand coffee’s place in the culture.

“Coffeetime makes up three of the six meals of the Scandinavian day,” Ojakangas says (page 67). “And what you eat with coffee… is a coffeebread. Coffeebreads are not served with meals, but accompany morning coffee, afternoon coffee, or evening coffee.” She goes on to describe the coffeetable that accompanies special events such as birthdays, name days, and anniversaries; the spread may include “cardamom-flavored coffeebreads, plus other special sweet yeast breads, plain as well as frosted cakes, and a variety of cookies” (67).

Though Scandinavian cuisine is generally less known than others such as French, Mexican, or Chinese, it offers no shortage of variety–from the caramel- and nut-topped Tosca Cake (one of my personal favorites) and an endless assortment of cookies to savory traditional dishes such as klüb. For today’s coffeetable, here’s a recipe for Norwegian Orange Cake.

Norwegian Orange Cake
Adapted from the Los Angeles Times

3/4 c unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
Grated zest of one orange
1/3 cup orange juice, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1 1/3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 ounces dark chocolate (70%), finely chopped (or, if you have a 3.25 ounce bar, just go ahead and use the whole thing)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
Candied orange peel (optional), or fresh orange wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 9-inch bundt or angel food cake pan. Using a stand mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time, beating until incorporated before adding the next. Add the orange zest and 1/3 cup of orange juice and combine.

Sift together the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl. Slowly add it to the cake batter with the mixer running, beating just until incorporated, then add the chocolate and fold to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. It will only fill about a third or half of the pan–that’s okay. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a cooling rack before removing from the mold.

Meanwhile, sift the powdered sugar in a bowl and whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of orange juice to make the icing. When the cake has cooled, drizzle the icing over it. Garnish with candied orange if desired, or serve with orange wedges.

Serves 10-16.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Britt-Arnhild for pointing out an error in my Norwegian–it has since been updated!

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12 thoughts on “A chocolate orange cake for your coffeetable

    • Let me know if you do! I’m quite pleased with this cake–not only is it flavorful, but it’s also quite moist, even a day after baking it.

  1. I’ve thought a lot about this part of our world. It definitely appeals to me on many levels. Perhaps it has something to do with my father being Latvian. Latvia is not too far away. Your cake looks delicious. Dark chocolate plus orange, yum.

    • Denise – I hope you have a chance to visit someday. It’s truly a beautiful part of our world. It’s been over three years since I visited, and I hope to be able to return again before too long.

  2. Heisann!

    My name is Christy, and I found your blog through Orangette (as a commenter, I believe)! I am the editor of the Norwegian American Weekly newspaper, which is also based in Seattle.

    It would be great to write about you and your blog for our newspaper, which is the only Norwegian-American newspaper in North America. My email is naw (at) norway . com, so let me know if you are interested. We are always looking for new recipes for our food section, and your recipes look delish!

    Vi snakkes!

  3. The cake sounds amazing.

    If you ever repatriated to Norway, you’d be what would be called in cross-cultural jargon a ‘hidden immigrant’. A lot of TCKs feel that way going back home. We may have all the genes from the mainstream ethnic group but inside our heads, we might as well be immigrants from God only knows where. Sometimes parents can be helpful if they are sensitive to these things, but even they can totally miss things and assume that you *must know certain cultural things* about their country because you are their child. Been there. Done that. Couldn’t handle the pressure and now I’m in Spain living with a Swedish guy…and life feels much more…normal.

  4. Britt-Arnhild – Right! Thanks for pointing that out!

    Murasaki Shikibu – That’s an interesting perspective, and one that I can definitely imagine being the case. I feel silly enough having called it ja or no instead of ja or nei, as Britt-Arnhild pointed out. And that’s a simple enough mistake for someone who hasn’t been immersed in the language or been to the country in several years!

  5. Now, I love all these classic flavours in this stunning cake but what is so Norwegian about it? I would add 2 to 3 tablespoons of Grand Marnier Liquer to it to complement the orage flavour! 🙂

  6. I just found your blog when looking for a Norwegian Easter cake recipe. I too am the child of a Norwegian parent, living in another country and longing to find a better connection to my heritage. I was born there but moved to Australia when I was almost 3. There is a Norwegian community in Melbourne but because my parents live out of town, we only ever participated in 17 Mai marches. Now I find myself wanting to learn more about the customs and baking recipes so I can pass them onto my own daughter. Great post!

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