If you had asked me in my youth to define Norwegian food, I would have listed off a number of almond-flavored desserts: towering kransekake wreath cakes served at weddings, layered birthday cakes draped in a sheet of marzipan, buttery fyrstekake bars, and marzipan candy shaped as fruit or pigs. No matter the format, I was hooked.
The food of my heritage extends way beyond almond, of course, and includes a bounty of fresh seafood, assertive pickles, irresistible smoked and cured meats and fish, and berries picked at the peak of perfection. There’s dill that flavors everything from gravlax to smørbrød, and cardamom that adds a fragrant touch to all manners of baked goods.
But almond was the flavor that stood out to me the most.
I’ve been making variations of today’s cake for several years, and it proves that I’m not alone in my love of almond. Out of all the cakes I bake, this is one that gets the most compliments. Impossibly buttery and moist, it still has enough structure to stay together without any flour. With a base of almond meal, it’s gluten-free, but without alternative flours and gums. The flavor is comforting and warm with the addition of freshly-ground cardamom.
In the past I’ve served the cake with rhubarb compote, the sweet-tart rhubarb providing contrast to the rich almond and cardamom. This time, lingonberries step in for the role. Similar to cranberries but smaller and much more fragrant, lingonberries pop with intensely tart flavor. They’re often served as preserves to accompany everything from pannekaker and heart-shaped vafler to meatballs, but I’ve come to appreciate the berries themselves for the addition they make to a variety of foods.
As for this cake, I wish it were around during my childhood. I wouldn’t have been able to get enough. Almond, cardamom, and lingonberries—it’s hard to get much more Norwegian than that.
Lingonberry-Studded Almond Cake (Gluten Free)
Do yourself a favor here and use freshly-ground cardamom for this gluten-free cake recipe. The fragrance is intoxicating and so much richer than the ready-ground variety. Some years ago the base of this cake had its roots in a deliciously-fragrant recipe in Signe Johansen’s excellent book Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking. I’ve made it so many times over the years and keep adding variations of my own. It’s that good.
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups natural fine almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder (verify that it’s gluten-free if necessary)
1 teaspoon freshly-ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lingonberries (fresh or frozen are fine)*
Powdered sugar, for dusting (gluten-free if necessary)
Preheat oven to 350˚F and butter a 9-inch round springform cake pan. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar for about three minutes, then add eggs one at a time–feel free to beat until fluffy. Stir in the vanilla extract.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond meal, baking powder, cardamom, and salt. Add to the batter and fold to incorporate. Fold in the lingonberries, then spread evenly into the cake pan.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack, then remove from the pan. Dust with powdered sugar.
Yield: 1 9-inch cake
* I buy frozen lingonberries at Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle. If you don’t have access to fresh or frozen lingonberries, you can order frozen berries from them online.
(All photos by me except the one with the turqouise dress, taken by my son.)