When I was growing up, my birthdays always involved a special meal (or two or three, to be honest–I love birthdays) and the cake of my choice. There were the assorted decorated cakes–Barbie one year, a pink frosted sheet cake with an illustrated orange cat another year. But most often I remember marzipan cakes. A simple white cake layered with cream and raspberry or apricot jam, it was draped with a thin layer of rich marzipan which was then decorated with frosting flowers. As a little Norwegian-American girl with a taste for almond, the marzipan was invariably my favorite part of the cake and the reason I enjoyed this variety over and over again.
I made a similar cake this week for a celebration with friends. Bløtkake, which roughly translates to soft or wet cake, is typically served at all sorts of celebrations in Norway, from birthdays and weddings to Syttende Mai. Consisting of sponge cake, rich vanilla-scented custard, strawberry jam, fresh strawberries, and whipped cream, bløtkake is surprisingly light and airy given how decadent it sounds.
Though bløtkake is served at celebrations year-round and can feature various types of fruit, strawberries are commonly used, making summer a perfect time to showcase this cake here on Outside Oslo. Berries are one of the hallmarks of Nordic cuisine, and in the summer, sun-ripened strawberries are enjoyed in abundance. If you’re going to make this cake any other time of the year, chef Andreas Viestad, in his book Kitchen of Light, advises using a combination of fresh or frozen berries and canned fruit.
Bløtkake can be made in stages in the days leading up to an event, making it manageable and easy. Prepare the sponge cake a day or two in advance, then layer the cream and berries the morning of the event or the night before (Astrid Karlsen Scott, author of Authentic Norwegian Cooking, says all the cream cakes reach their peak if prepared up to 24 hours in advance). Shortly before serving, whip the cream and spread it over the cake.
Baking the cake for a group of people largely unfamiliar with Scandinavian cuisine, I had the privilege of sharing a little taste of my heritage with my friends. Someone surprised me by commenting on how it tasted like a wedding cake. For as unassuming and simple as a lot of Scandinavian food is, I’m continually amazed by how this type of simplicity results in something both special and elegant.
Adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas
For the cake:
6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
For the filling:
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry jam, warmed and strained
1/2 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, plus more for garnish
For the topping:
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Up to a couple of days in advance, prepare the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch round springform cake pans. Beat egg whites until fluffy, then gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until stiff and with the consistency of meringue. Beat egg yolks in one separate bowl, and stir flour and baking powder together in a separate. Fold the egg yolks and the flour into the egg whites. Pour the batter into the two pans, then bake until the centers spring back when you touch them with a finger, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans.
For the filling, cook egg yolks, butter, cornstarch, half-and-half, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens. Allow to cool, covered, and then stir in the vanilla extract.
When ready to assemble the cake, slice each cake in half horizontally. Place one layer on a serving plate and spread half of the custard over the top. Place another layer of cake over the custard, and top with the strawberry jam. Cover this layer entirely with the sliced strawberries. Place another layer of cake over the strawberries, spread the remaining custard over it, then top with the final layer of cake.
At this point, you can refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. To finish the cake, whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla extract until stiff, then spread over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with additional strawberries and serve.