Swedish Mazarin Torte with Nectarines (Mazarintårta)

Mazarin Torte with Nectarines IMG_9537

A spider web hangs below the eaves, suspended from various points along a string of patio lights. I can see it glistening in the sun outside my window as I write, trembling in the gentle breeze. Autumn has long been one of my favorite seasons, and this one might go down in my memory as one of the best.

As I creaked my way to the kitchen this morning to start making breakfast, the light of dawn eased me into wakefulness, diffused by a blanket of steel blue fog. By the time the coffee, hot and black, and a steamy shower had loosened up my tight muscles and it was time to leave the house, it was warm enough to head outside with just a light sweater. Now this afternoon the sun shines brightly, reflecting on all those vibrant multicolored leaves. Though the sun sets much earlier now, it’s as though summer won’t quite let us forget the long, radiant days of the months before.

It reminds me of my honeymoon, nine long-short years ago. Married on a clear, sunny day in late September, we boarded a plane headed to Rome the next morning and spent the following days in sun-drenched bliss as we sailed along the Mediterranean. It was autumn, but we never would have known it by the golden glow and warm kiss embracing all our surroundings.

This past week we’ve roasted hot dogs outside, made a cobbler with late-season peaches fresh from the farmer’s market, and baked nectarines into an almond torte. It baffles me that we’re still doing these things in October, a time I typically associate with simmering stews and fragrant braises. The cold will come soon, and with it darker days and the countdown to winter. But in the meantime I’m soaking in all the senses of this transition between seasons.

Mazarin Torte with Nectarines IMG_9531

Mazarin Torte with Nectarines
The classic Swedish Mazarintårta combines a shortbread crust with a luscious alnond filling. Somewhere along the line this recipe has roots in Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, which is–as its title boasts–a great book. It’s one of the first Scandinavian cookbooks I bought back when my grandmother Agny died and I was trying to soothe my aching heart by clinging to our shared heritage. I wrote about Ojakangas’ mazarin torte a few years ago, but I’ve since shaken it up quite a bit, simplifying the preparation and adding fresh fruit. I hope you like the results.

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

Filling
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup cup almond meal/flour
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 nectarines, peeled and cut into eights
Powdered sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the crust by creaming the butter and sugar, then adding the egg yolks and beating until light. Add flour, salt, and almond meal and mix until stiff. Press the dough into a 10- or 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, using your hands to create an even later across the bottom and up the sides. Set aside.

To make the filling, beat the eggs and sugar so they become light, then beat in the butter, almond meal, and almond extract. Pour the filling into the crust.

Arrange the nectarine wedges in a circular pattern on top of the filling. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden. Cool, then remove from the pan. Finish with a dusting of powdered sugar if you’d like.

Makes 1 torte.

Mazarin Torte with Nectarines IMG_9548

 

Note: Last month I attended a couple of sessions at IFBC, the International Food Bloggers Conference, in Seattle. The organizers offered steep discounts to bloggers for writing about the conference, so you’ll be noticing a few posts that showcase what I learned. For this one, I’d like to thank Shauna James Ahern for her session on professional recipe development. Authenticity is key, she said. Plus, creating recipes that work can be a long, tedious process, but the reward comes when a reader tries a recipe and it works. She’s right. I’ve been hearing from some of you lately about your success with the recipes here on the blog, and I have to say that each time you write, I get a little spring in my step.

The focus of this blog–the connection between food, family, and heritage–is very dear to me. I created the blog five years ago as a way to share my experiences as I explored my Norwegian heritage. My grandmother had just died and I was finding comfort in all things Scandinavian. Through this blog I have discovered a community of people who also share a love of Nordic food, and I’ve seen how food can bring people together. Occasionally the recipes are my own, but more often–as is the case with this Mazarin torte–they’re inspired by or adapted from other Scandinavian cooks. I might give them my own touch, as with the nectarines in this torte, or I’ll add my own experiences to the instructions, but often I’m simply another step in a long line of cooks sharing the coziness and hospitality of Scandinavian food with the world. I had no idea when I started this blog that I would find such richness in exploring a cuisine I had grown up eating but had seldom cooked. It’s been a gift to me, and I hope that the authenticity is apparent. I hope, too, that the recipes and stories here provide warmth and fond memories for you as they do for me.

Gluten-Free Scandinavian Almond Cake with Rhubarb Compote

Gluten Free Scandinavian Almond Cake

I sometimes wonder what it was like to be her. Two feet on Norwegian soil, then one. And with the second step onto the gangway, a release, a launch into a new life.

My grandmother was about 40 years old when she packed up her life to immigrate to the United States with her husband and son in the spring of 1956.

Standing on the ship, she would have seen the verdant seven hills of Bergen rising high above the glistening waters as clean and pure as tears. The gentle sway of the ship at dock would have been subtle but perhaps just present enough to be a scapegoat for the tightening chest and quaking belly. Soon the ship would depart, sailing inch by inch, then mile by mile, memory by memory, from a country that had, until that day, always been home.

I think about that journey each spring as the anniversary rolls around. And yet, I can only imagine what that experience would have been like, only speculate at the emotions swirling in my grandmother’s heart as the ship sailed out of the fjord, the town and the hills disappearing from view as gradually yet surely as the sun setting below the horizon.

I got the phone call announcing Grandma’s death in 2009 as I was getting dressed to visit her to celebrate her birthday. That was the day I was going to ask her if we could start talking–really talking–about her life. I know there were stories there–firsthand accounts of living in Nazi-occupied Norway, heartbreaking memories of losing an infant son, the decision between a husband and wife settled well into their adult years to leave home and start fresh in a new country. I wish there were unknown journals and letters somewhere out there that I would happen upon someday, words scrolled in a handwriting I’ve since discovered that my own eerily resembles. The chances of that happening are slim. A generation is dying; one of her closest living relatives in Norway recently passed away. Memories exist in the minds of the few she left behind and in the photos bound in old-fashioned albums stored away.

Still, I think about that monumental move each spring. And as I do, I always reflect upon my grandmother, a woman I understood only so much during her lifetime but who fascinates, intrigues, and inspires me more and more all the time.

Rhubarb and Almond Cake Diptych

Gluten Free Scandinavian Almond Cake

One of the qualities that stands out most when I think about Grandma Agny was her hospitality, something I strive to emulate. That takes many forms for me, from hosting dinners to taking dietary restrictions into consideration when baking for an event. So many people avoid gluten that I’ve found it helpful to have a go-to cake recipe that I can bring just about anywhere.

This cake–adapted from the blackberry, almond, and cardamom cake in Signe Johansen’s Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking–incorporates the distinctly Nordic flavors of almond and cardamom into its rich, moist, and pleasantly toothsome texture. I shared a version of it on the blog a while back, but have simplified it and adapted the ingredients for standard measurements rather than metric. The cake pairs wonderfully with a Scandinavian rhubarb compote loosely adapted from The Scandinavian Kitchen by Camilla Plum. Plum recommends cooking the compote in the oven rather than on the stovetop, a process that helps protect the appearance of the rhubarb’s structure, even as it melts into shreds; the stirring in stovetop cooking breaks apart and mixes the rhubarb, yielding a much different result.

Almond Cake with Rhubarb Compote Diptych

Scandinavian Rhubarb Compote

Gluten-Free Scandinavian Almond Cake with Rhubarb Compote

For the compote:
5 medium stalks rhubarb
1/3 cup sugar

For the cake:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium eggs
2 1/2 cups almond meal*
2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
Gluten-free powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut rhubarb stalks into 2-inch lengths and arrange in a baking dish that can roughly hold them in one layer. Sprinkle sugar over the top. Cover dish with a sheet of foil and bake for 10 minutes. Peel back the foil and carefully turn over the rhubarb pieces. Bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes until the rhubarb is cooked through. Carefully lift the cooked rhubarb with a wide spatula or spoon and transfer to a serving dish. Cool. The compote can be made up to a couple of days in advance if you’d like.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a round 9-inch springform cake pan. Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla, then add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition.

Whisk the almond meal, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a medium bowl, then fold into the batter.

Pour into the pan, spreading the top evenly with a spatula. Bake for 30-40 minutes; you’ll know it’s done when the top has turned golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool.

Remove the cooled cake from the pan and sift powdered sugar over the top. Serve with the compote.

Makes 1 9-inch cake.

*The original recipe calls for 250 grams ground almonds. I like the precision of metric measurements but understand that not everyone uses a kitchen scale. Since the weight of the almond meal with vary depending on how much you pack it, pour it into the measuring cup and let it settle, but do not pack it in.

Swedish Almond Rusks

Swedish Almond Rusks in Bowl

Food has taken on a special characteristic since I became a mother. Sure, I always enjoyed baking, cooking, feeding others, sharing a meal, dining out. But now it’s about so much more than that: It’s about introduction. The naturally sweet flavors of steamed carrots… Toothsome mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic… Ripe strawberries that spew juices as you take a bite… When you’re the one being the first to share such simple, pure flavors and textures with someone with a budding palate, even the most seemingly humble produce that you might otherwise end up dressing up with spices and sauces comes back into focus, reminding you of how delicious it was to begin with.

And then there are the sweets. Homemade cookies, a lopsided birthday cake that made up for flavor what it lacked in presentation, the very first taste of ganache still warm from the pan–these are some of the treats that I have been able to share with my son, a child who talks about “Mama’s cookies” (referring to the rusks I’m sharing with you in today’s post) even while he eagerly eats grilled wild Alaskan sockeye salmon and cole slaw.

Swedish Almond Rusks with Coffee

Swedish Almond Rusks on Baking Sheet

When introducing my son to solid food, I took the stance of many mothers around me: only organic fruit and vegetables, homemade over processed whenever possible, limited empty calories, and no sugar. An ideal introduction to the exciting world of food choices out there, for sure. With a healthy foundation and a daily diet that focused on the nutritive qualities of food, I eventually began to incorporate foods that carry with them a softer, harder-to-define value: that of the heart.

If you’ve been reading Outside Oslo for any length of time you know about my belief that food fosters communication and connection, bridging generational gaps and helping us to identify with and learn about the heritage and culture of our own family and of people we love. Whenever I bake lefse with my 94-year-old grandma, my son gets to enjoy it, still soft and warm from the griddle. When he watched me mix up the dough for a Norwegian fyrstekake recently, I didn’t stop him as he reached for a piece of dough and sampled it. The same goes with these almond rusks pictured here. I kept a handful of them around this week (after giving a good portion of them away, as I love to do with baked goods), and he inevitably spotted them in the kitchen and wanted to try them. I let him. I have helped to steer his palate toward healthy tastes, and part of that training involves the occasional treat, enjoyed in moderation.

Swedish Almond Rusks

Swedish Almond Rusks

Though I bake often, sharing many of the recipes here on the blog, we don’t generally keep a lot of sweets in the house. Whenever possible I wrap up the cookies or half a tart and give them away. It’s a pleasure to be able to give a little unexpected gift to someone, sharing something handmade and from the heart. These little rusks made it easy to do so: They’re sturdy so they travel well, and they keep for a while.

Rusks, as they’re known in Scandinavian cuisine, are a twice-baked cookie or bread, much like the Italian biscotti. This particular recipe is flavored generously with cardamom, that wonderful spice that defines much Scandinavian baking, and dotted with slivered almonds. When freshly-baked these rusks are not so hard that you couldn’t eat them on their own, but they’re excellent dipped briefly into a cup of coffee. They are just enough to elevate the essential morning or afternoon cup into a special experience. And since food is about so much more than just sustenance, I encourage you to whip up a batch and share them with your family or friends this weekend.

Swedish Almond Rusks
Adapted (barely) from Scandinavian Classic Baking by Pat Sinclair

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prep a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. Beat the eggs in a small butter and set these aside as well.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy, then gradually add the sugar while continuing to beat, letting the combination take on a light appearance. Add the sour cream, almond extract, and the prepared eggs, and beat to combine. Reduce the speed to low and begin to add the flour, adding it gradually and allowing a soft dough to form. Add the almonds and beat just until combined.

Place the dough on the parchment paper in the form of three logs, each about a foot long. The dough is sticky and the rusks are rustic, so don’t worry too much about a smooth appearance at this step. Press them down to flatten slightly, then bake until they’re light brown and firm, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheet to cool a little while you go about your business. After about 10 or 15 minutes or so, when they’re cool enough to touch but still warm, cut each log into diagonal slices about 3/4-inch thick. Turn the slices so they’re flat on the baking sheet and return to the oven to bake for another 8 to 10 minutes. Turn them over and toast the other sides for 8 to 10 minutes, then cool.

Makes about 36 rusks.

Swedish Almond Rusks in Bowl on Tray

Fyrstekake, an All-Time Favorite Norwegian Dessert

Fyrstekake Slice on Plate with Crumbs

I have the feeling that when I look back at this summer in the coming years, this time will be defined by food and family. Between cooking for the family, developing recipes for an article I can’t wait to tell you about, and testing recipes for a gifted cook who recently landed her first cookbook deal, I’ve been spending a lot of time walking up and down the aisles of the grocery store and whipping up drinks, dinners, and desserts in my kitchen. Never mind that the weather in Seattle has been full of sun, sun, sun!

Even though I have to be disciplined and make myself get outside and enjoy the sun at times, this has been a special summer, and one that confirms my belief that food is one of the most effective ways to bring people together.

In celebration of those special times we spend in the kitchen with those we love, connecting over a shared task and sitting down later to enjoy it together, I would like to share a recipe for fyrstekake, a classic Norwegian tart flavored richly with almond. Growing up eating it with my mom frequently, it remains one of my favorite Scandinavian desserts to this day.

Fyrstekake and Coffee

Fyrstekake Slice Horizontal

Fyrstekake is also known as Royal Cake or Prince’s Cake. Though it calls for only a handful of ingredients, the results are decadent and somewhat regal in their simplicity. As a classic dessert, it makes sense that many variations exist. Some are spiced with cardamom and other flavors, and some let the almond shine. This particular recipe resembles the one I grew up eating, and I love the soft, almost-toothsome texture of the filling with the crisp cookie-like crust.

Enjoy!

Signature for Blog

Fystekake and Coffee Spread

Norwegian Fyrstekake
Adapted from Norwegian Cakes and Cookies by Sverre Sætre, this recipe gets its rich flavor mostly from the ground almonds, but also from the slightest touch of almond extract that I added. If you enjoy marzipan candy, you’ll love this dessert.

For the crust:

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
14 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 egg

For the filling:

1 3/4 cups slivered almonds
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg
1/4 cup whipping cream

For topping:

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water

To make the crust, combine flour, powdered sugar, and butter in a food processor until crumbly (alternately, cut ingredients together by hand). Add the egg and continue to process until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and cover it well, and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Grease an eight- or nine-inch tart pan with removable base. Roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Place in the tart pan and work it in evenly in the crease and up the sides. Put the crust–and the remaining dough–back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

Preheat the oven to 335 degrees.

Whirl the almonds in the food processor until fine, then add the sugar and pulse some more until combined. Melt the butter in a small bowl and pour it into the almond and sugar, along with the egg yolk, egg, and whipping cream. Process to blend, and then pour the filling into the prepared crust.

Remove the remaining dough from the fridge and roll it out on a lightly-floured surface. Working quickly so that it doesn’t warm up too much and become difficult to work with, cut the dough into thin strips and arrange in a lattice or crisscross pattern on the top of the filling.

Mix the remaining egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and brush this over the top of the cake.

Bake approximately 40 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, until golden. Cool, then remove tart from pan.

Serves 8-12.

Fyrstekake and Slice

 

A Word About Hospitality (and a Gluten-Free Cake)

 Blackberry, Almond, and Cardamom Cake

Hospitality.

It’s an almost old-fashioned word, conjuring up 1950’s housewives and a deceptively spotless kitchen hiding days’ worth of preparation.

But I love the grace and ease that the word evokes, and the memories that it conjures up of my late Grandma Agny.

Grandma was born in Norway during the first part of the 20th century, in a time when the country was still enjoying its relative new independence. She grew up Norwegian through and through, and then sometime in the 1950s—after the hardships and heartbreak of watching her beloved country be invaded and suffering the unimaginable grief of losing an infant son—she and Grandpa Lauritz packed up their lives and moved to the United States with my father, who was 11 years old at the time.

The newly-immigrated family arrived in New York in 1956, with the sites of Manhattan and the American cars leaving an impression on my young father. They made their way to Seattle where they would begin their new lives. My grandparents—though already established in their adult years—would learn to speak English with ease, though always with rich, thick accents. They would make new friends and assimilate the best they could into their new culture, while always feeling a bit of yearning for home. Grandma Agny would go on to find a job at one of Seattle’s finest hotels, where she must have honed her gracious sense of hospitality. Her references to that time were always marked with a sense of honor and pride, and she carried that sense of service into her home.

Dinners at my grandparents’ home were always formal affairs, with my grandmother preparing a menu of traditional Norwegian foods and serving them on a table set with fine, creamy linens, decoratively fanned napkins, and her finest dinnerware. We would sit around the small dining room table—which sat the five of us comfortably—each taking our place at one of the chairs adorned with embroidered seat cushions. Grandpa and Grandma would sit with their backs to the window, giving my dad, mom, and me the seats with the view of Puget Sound. On Christmas Eve we could see the houses adorned with Christmas lights in the neighborhood below where their house was perched. There would be Scandinavian red cabbage, steamed carrots, roast pork, and plump little savory meatballs called medisterkaker, which stood out as a juicy contrast to the drier roast. Always prepared with an abundance of food to feed a large dinner party, my grandparents would pass the bowls and platters around, and my grandfather would make his contribution to the meal by frequently asking each of us if he could pass us more meat, or vegetables, or whatever the item might be. We would drink Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider in stemware and mark the occasion together—the little family of five that we were.

My dad, mom, and I were the only family that Grandpa and Grandma had here in the United States, and they poured out their love to us abundantly, most often in the form of giving and service. Though I wouldn’t make my first trip to Norway until I was an adult, they made me aware of my heritage and demonstrated the hospitality that Scandinavians seem to be so good at.

As I develop my own vision of hospitality, inspired by the generations before me, one of my current considerations is how to graciously host friends with dietary restrictions. While it was initially a challenge to plan a satisfying meal for a vegetarian friend or how to bake a cake for my book club while being inclusive to a friend who avoids dairy, I’ve since developed a growing repertoire of menu choices for all sorts of diets. I’ve begun a list: a walnut cake made with walnut oil instead of butter for my dairy-free friends, a protein-packed quinoa and black bean salad for vegetarians, a gluten-free cardamom, blackberry, and almond cake.

Speaking of that cake, it’s made with ground almonds in place of flour, which gives it a different crumb than a tradition cake, but its nutty texture goes perfectly with the texture of the blackberries baked in its batter. I baked it recently for a group of people who were new to me, and bringing a gluten-free cake along with a chocolate one–which I’ll have to tell you more about soon–felt like a great way to quietly ensure that my new friends were properly taken care of, and in such a way that made them not worry about their dietary needs being a burden. I’m sure my grandmother would have done the same thing.

Blackberry, Almond, and Cardamom Cake
This recipe, adapted from Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking, is given in metric units. I resisted the urge to convert it because I really enjoy the precision.

125 grams unsalted butter, softened
200 grams baker’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium eggs
250 grams ground almonds
2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
200 grams blackberries (fresh or frozen will work)
200 grams fresh fruit for garnish (I used strawberry, but peaches or nectarines would complement the blackberries beautifully as well)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch round cake tin.

Get started on the batter by creaming butter, sugar, and vanilla together with a stand mixer. Add eggs, one at a time (the original recipe suggests doing so with a tablespoon of ground almonds to stop the mixture from splitting).

Combine the remaining almonds, baking powder, cardamom, and salt and then fold into the butter mixture, taking care not to overmix.

Add the blackberries to the batter, and then pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack in its tin. Serve with fresh fruit.

Serves 6-8.

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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

Marzipan candy and other delightful things

I’ll be honest, it took me a while to fully appreciate some of the finer parts of my Norwegian heritage, such as the beauty of the language and elegance and simplicity in Scandinavian design. As a child, my primary connections with Norwegian culture were through my grandparents and by living near Ballard, a Seattle neighborhood that used to be full of Scandinavians. Therefore, I liked my Norwegian heritage, but it seemed quaint and old-fashioned, and sometimes just plain goofy thanks to Norwegian jokes and Stan Boreson songs. That said, one of the Scandinavian treasures I’ve always loved, as far back as I can remember, is marzipan candy.

Commonly shaped into pigs or various fruits, marzipan candy is a popular Scandinavian treat. Imagine taking a bite of almond extract, if that were possible, sweetened and given a delightful pasty consistency. I know, it doesn’t sound that appetizing, but it’s so good!

These days I love the sound of the Norwegian language, and how it feels to speak it (I’m contemplating taking another class soon). I’m intrigued by Norwegians’ sense of beauty and wealth; despite being one of the richest countries in the world, Norway isn’t packed with high-rises and ostentatious design, instead the Norwegians I’ve met seem to truly value quality and have a sense of contentment about them. And I’m enjoying discovering more about Norwegian and Scandinavian cuisine, in addition to the traditional dishes my grandparents served for holidays each year.

In celebration of the delightful things about Norway, I’m going to go eat another one of those candies…

Going shopping on an empty stomach

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I remember grocery shopping with my mom while growing up, armed with a delicious, dense, almond-filled pastry called fyrstekake from the bakery.

When I bought Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Scandinavian Baking Book this summer, the first recipe I decided to try was the Norwegian Prince’s Cake. A simple, easy cake with an almond filling, it sounded wonderful. Little did I realize at first that I was looking at a recipe for fyrstekake. (Never mind the fact that the Norwegian name was in parentheses directly under the English one.)

Scandinavians must be born with a taste for almond in their genes. Growing up, some of my favorite sweets involved almond. Closer to my heart than fyrstekake is kringle, an almond- and raisin-filled, pretzel-shaped pastry. And don’t get me started on marzipan candy!

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Fyrstekake with Rosé-Poached Nectarines
Cake recipe adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

While planning a dessert to bring to a dinner with friends recently, I decided to bake this traditional Norwegian cake. But I wanted to give the dessert my own touch. As promised, here’s the recipe. Nectarines pair nicely with the cake’s almond flavor and add some moisture and contrasting texture to the dense, dry cake.  I kept the poaching liquid very simple in order to let the flavor of the frystakake shine without overwhelming it or adding too many flavors. But if you’d like, a little cinnamon might be a nice touch.

Despite the decorative crisscross pattern, this is a very simple cake that doesn’t require an artist’s touch. If you keep that in mind while forming the crust, you’ll be just fine, and you’ll spare yourself the frustration when the crust inevitably breaks or does something you don’t want it to do.

Despite the cake’s dryness, it keeps surprising well. Serve leftover cake the next day with coffee.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup and 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, chilled and cut into slices
1 egg
1 cup whole almonds, unblanched
1 cup powdered sugar
2 egg whites
almond extract, to taste (optional)
wine-poached nectarines (recipe follows)
vanilla ice cream, for serving

Equipment: food processor, 9-inch springform cake pan

Sift the flour, sugar, and baking powder into a food processor. Add butter and combine; it will quickly develop the consistency of sand. Add one egg, and process until the mixture comes together into a dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill while making the filling.

Clean and dry the food processor. (You do not need to wash it; rinsing it in warm water and removing the bits of dough will suffice.) In the same bowl, use the food processor to finely chop the almonds. (Be warned, this is surprisingly loud!) The almonds will still have a rough consistency, which is okay; you’ll get a sense of when they’re ready. Add the powdered sugar and two egg whites, and process until combined. Taste the filling; it will have a delicate almond flavor, much softer than  marzipan. If you wish to have a more pronounced almond flavor, you might want to try adding a little almond extract to taste. Then cover the food processor bowl and refrigerate. (At this point, you may leave the dough and filling to chill for awhile, or proceed to assemble the cake. However, the dough may benefit from a little time in the refrigerator, as it should help it become more workable.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using 2/3 to 3/4 of the dough, create the bottom layer of dough. Feel free to simply press it into the bottom and sides of the pan (you’ll want it to go up to about 3/4 of the sides), or, roll it out on a floured board into a circle about 10 1/2 to 11 inches in diameter, then press it into the pan. The important thing to remember is that the crust doesn’t have to be perfect; this is a rustic-looking dessert. Once the bottom crust is ready, spoon the almond filling in and spread it evenly onto the crust. Roll the rest of the dough out onto a floured board and cut it into 1/2-inch strips, then arrange them on the filling in a crisscross pattern. Once again, resist the temptation to make them perfect. The dough will easily break when you’re lifting the strips from the board; it helps to take a flat utensil and run it between the board and dough to loosen it, then lift it up gently. If it breaks, just put it back together like a puzzle. Bake, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes, until the crust is golden.

One the cake cools, cut into slices, and serve with nectarines and ice cream. Drizzle a little of the reduced wine sauce on top of each slice and serve.

Serves 8-10

Rosé-Poached Nectarines

2 nectarines
1 cup rosé*
1 tablespoons sugar

While the cake is baking, prepare the nectarines. Cut them into eighths, and put them in a saucepan with the rosé. Bring to a boil, then simmer for approximately ten minutes, or until cooked, but still al dente. Stir frequently, turning the nectarine slices over to make sure they’re cooked evenly. Don’t be afraid if they lose their skin; most of it will inevitably  fall off. When the nectarines are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon, and discard the skin. Reduce the wine sauce, stirring frequently, until it turns into a thin, jammy syrup.

*While I used rosé, white wine would probably have very similar results. I happened to have an open rosé in the fridge. The important thing is that you use an inexpensive wine, but one that you enjoy drinking, because the nectarines are the stars here.

You may want to double the nectarine recipe, depending on how many servings you need. I made it to serve four, but come to think of it, it could easily have served 6-8.

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