Norwegian Apple Cake with Autumn Spices (Gluten-, Dairy-, and Egg-Free)

Norwegian Apple Cake (Gluten- and Dairy-Free)Norwegian Apple Cake

When the leaves begin to turn and the air becomes laced with a chill, I know that fall has finally arrived. It’s my favorite season, the one that brings back memories of crunching through fallen leaves as a child, picking out the perfect pumpkin to carve, and sipping steaming cups of apple cider to brace against the cold.

This time of year it seems as though either pumpkin or apple arises as an individual’s favorite fall flavor. Pumpkin doesn’t have much of a place in traditional Norwegian cooking and baking, but apple sure does, with apple cake (eplekake) being a true favorite. Typically a rich buttery sponge cake with apple slices wedged in the batter, it’s as simple as can be, requiring little more than good ingredients to create a comforting cake.

Norwegian Apple Cake

Norwegian Apple Cake

I’ve begun experimenting with alternatives to gluten, dairy, eggs, and even sugar in my baking, and I recently decided to see if I could convert my own eplekake recipe into one that would work with a number of dietary restrictions. The first time I put it to the test, I used gluten-free flour, which I had never used before, swapped out the butter for a vegan butter spread, used coconut sugar instead of cane sugar, and tried my hand at a flax “egg.” Honestly, I almost didn’t serve it to the guest who was coming for coffee—I was nervous that I had tried too many modifications at once. But my guest was pleased and I think the results were just right; upon making the cake this way again since, I’ve found that I prefer it. While it’s hard to improve upon a classic, this version has a heartier texture and dare I say tastes a little healthier, which is a good thing when I want to enjoy a slice with my morning coffee.

If you’d rather use all-purpose flour, real butter, and brown sugar, then by all means go ahead. And the flax egg (which is simply ground flaxseed soaked in water) can be swapped out for two real eggs. I’ve made this cake both ways, and while the results are different depending on the ingredients, both versions of this cake are delicious.

Norwegian Apple Cake

Norwegian Apple Cake with Autumn Spices (Gluten-, Dairy-, and Egg-Free)
(Glutenfri norsk eplekake med høstkrydder)

2-3 large apples
2 cups gluten-free flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour)
2 tsps. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon, plus more for dusting
½ tsp. freshly-ground cardamom
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup unsalted vegan butter spread (I use Earth’s Balance), at room temperature
¾ cup coconut sugar, plus more for dusting
2 tbsps. ground raw flaxseed/flaxseed meal
5 tbsps. water
2 tsps. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 8-inch springform pan.

Peel and thinly slice the apples and set aside.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. To prepare the flax egg, stir the ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl and let rest for five minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter spread and sugar until it’s pale and silky and mousse-like, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flax egg, mixing well. Stir in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and stir until incorporated.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Arrange the apple slices in a decorative circular pattern around the bottom of the pan, starting in the center and working your way out.

Dust cinnamon and sugar over the top of the cake. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, checking occasionally. The top will be deeply colored, but feel free to place a sheet of foil over the top if it’s coloring too quickly. Cool on a baking rack, then remove from the pan.

Makes 1 8-inch cake

Norwegian Apple Cake

Chanterelle, Fig, and Blue Cheese Salad in The Norwegian American

Chanterelle, Fig, and Blue Cheese Salad

It was some years ago when I realized I loved September. I don’t think I had actually thought about it until I was an adult, but Septembers have been peppered with sweetness throughout my entire life. Some people gravitate toward the warmest months, while others among us lean into the slower, calmer time, the quieting into autumn. September, to me, means a new school year (oh how I loved this time of year when I was a student!), shopping for pencils and notebooks, gentle breezes rustling a symphony of newly-colored leaves, and my wedding anniversary. It alternates between blue skies and rain showers, flip flops and a mental note to start wearing my boots. September exists in a place in between–neither summer nor fall, warm nor cold, entirely rainy nor dry.

The salad we’re talking about today reflects that transitional nature. Its very ingredient list celebrates a slight window of time in which figs and chanterelles mingle in season, those sensual bites of fruit nestled among forest gold. I created this chanterelle, fig, and blue cheese salad in September a few years ago and am sharing it this week in The Norwegian American. The produce itself is luscious enough on its own, and a scattering of blue cheese crumbles elevates it to something extra special. It’s substantial enough to be a light meal in itself, perhaps with a little protein on the side if you’re so inclined. Head on over to The Norwegian American for the recipe. I hope you’ll give it a try!

Chanterelle, Fig, and Blue Cheese Salad

 

Chanterelle, Fig, and Blue Cheese Salad

 

Chanterelle, Fig, and Blue Cheese Salad

Fårikål (Lamb and Cabbage), Norway’s National Dish)

I remember the first time I tasted fårikål, the national dish of Norway. I had read for a long time—years maybe—about this stew of lamb and cabbage that is Norway’s national dish. It seemed too simple, I thought—just lamb and cabbage, with water, salt and pepper, the building blocks of most stews. Most recipes I’d seen were light on details, too. It must be easy to mess up, I figured, so I stayed away. Emboldened with a deadline and a job to do, however, I set to work this past spring at tackling this dish that had previously intimidated me. With Fårikålens Festdag, Norway’s fårikål feast day, coming up in the fall (it’s always the fourth Thursday of September), I knew I’d have to write about it. As food editor of The Norwegian American, I didn’t feel right outsourcing our coverage of this annual classic yet again.

Armed with a small quantity of bone-in lamb, cabbage, and a handful of recipes, I began the traditional process of arranging the ingredients in the pot, letting it all simmer, and trusting that over the next couple of hours some sort of culinary magic would take place. The results, let me tell you, exceeded my expectations.

I knew the finished dish would be simple, but I couldn’t anticipate the way the modest list of ingredients—humble ones for that matter, as mutton and tougher cuts of meat would typically be used—would somehow yield results that were just right in their restraint. The flavors of the cabbage and lamb shone individually and yet informed by one another. The whole peppercorns added an herbal, subtle floral note that was almost imperceptible and yet accented the flavor of the lamb.

I’ve since come to appreciate the dish for not only its simplicity, but also its ease. After layering or nestling the ingredients in a pot, all you need to do is wait for a couple of hours, perhaps boiling some potatoes to serve on the side, and dinner is served. Of course, we don’t always have that amount of time for dinner to cook, but one of the wonderful things about fårikål is how easily it reheats, and some people swear that leftovers get better over time. (That served me well last week when I cooked a batch of fårikål early in the day and chilled it until dinnertime, when we had only a brief amount of time for dinner before rushing off to an event.) Still, there’s nothing saying you have to make a large batch of fårikål to enjoy it. I’ve found that I prefer small-batch fårikål, the type of dish that might serve two hungry adults or a small family.

Aside from perhaps the small quantity, the recipe I’m sharing today is typical. Many recipes call for layering the ingredients in a pot. This is a small batch, so nestling them is fine. Don’t mess with the dish as it cooks, aside from checking it every once in a while; let the cabbage retain its shape. As unattractive as the dish often is—and that’s to be expected—this is one way to thoughtfully preserve the visual integrity of the ingredients, letting the eyes as well as the mouth perceive the simplicity in which the dish’s key ingredients are allowed to shine. Serve with boiled potatoes—red-skinned ones with flecks of bright green parsley will further add visual interest when serving. Flatbread and lingonberry preserves round out the meal.

The ingredients themselves reflect foods that are integral to the region. Sheep are plentiful and a fixture of Norwegian mountains. Cabbage has a significant role in Nordic history—it’s one of the oldest vegetables in the region, writes Camilla Plum in The Scandinavian Kitchen, who adds that it was the only vegetable grown in the Viking age. Though it mutes to a nondescript color as it cooks down with the lamb, it’s flavorful and is so cozy and nourishing.

For as simple as fårikål is, the results are fantastic. The challenge for many may be the cooking time, a long time for a weeknight. If you’d like to mark Fårikålens Festdag this month with a batch of homemade fårikål but don’t have the time, feel free to make it in advance—it reheats easily and will taste just as good—perhaps even better—the next day.

Fårikål (Lamb and Cabbage Stew with Peppercorns, Norway’s National Dish)

1.5 pounds lamb (shoulder, shank, or neck) cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1.5 pounds green cabbage, cut into wedges
1-2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
water to barely cover (approximately 4 cups)

In a large pot, nestle the lamb amongst the cabbage wedges. Sprinkle the peppercorns and salt over it, then add water to just barely cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for about two hours, until the lamb is remarkably tender and pulls easily away from any bones.

To serve, carefully lift the cabbage out of the pot and arrange it in bowls with pieces of the lamb. Pour over the broth, and make sure to distribute peppercorns between the bowls.

Serves 2, with perhaps a little left over for the next day’s lunch.

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.

Norwegian Apple Cake (Eplekake)

Norwegian Apple Cake

She greeted me at the door with baby in arms, a sweet little boy wearing blue and white striped knits. My own baby was dressed similarly, except for the pink. This is the season we are in, a time of babies. I can hardly believe how many of my friends are having children this year.

Christy’s son is mere weeks old, yet she invited me over today for Swedish aggkaka, a soufflé-like dish that’s reminiscent of a Dutch baby pancake but much thicker and richer. As I settled in on the sofa with my daughter, Christy slipped the pan into the oven to bake while we caught up. Effortless. At least that’s how she made it look. In reality, I know how much juggling that it takes to simply butter a slice of toast while caring for a baby. So it always amazes me to see mothers adjust so well to their new roles. I feel especially blessed when they shower me with their hospitality, knowing the effort that it takes.

Today the weather was damp, the clouds ringing out their moisture onto the city. It’s too early in the season for it to really be cold, but the steel gray sky and rain called for something cozy. The aggkaka is a recipe that Christy has been making since childhood, a family classic you could say. She wanted to serve me something comforting, food from the heart.

The following hours were met with plenty of the challenges of parenthood: tired meltdowns and naptime protests, diaper failure and emergency loads of laundry. But honestly, despite being a bit sleep deprived and therefore more prone to stress, I’m feeling calm. Unshaken. Bolstered up by the warmth and company of a good friend.

Norwegian Apple Cake

Norwegian Apple Cake (Eplekake)
Christy sent me on my way today with apples and nectarines she had purchased at a fruit stand while coming home from a road trip last weekend. With this cake in mind, I got to work as soon as I could, prepping the cake in stages as I took care of the above-mentioned challenges. This recipe, adapted from Authentic Norwegian Cooking by Astrid Karlsen Scott, called for Granny Smith apples, but I used a combination, including the ones from Christy. Scott instructs readers to mix the flour, baking powder, and butter as for pie crust. I opted to use a food processor for its ease, but you can certainly just do as Scott suggests if you prefer.

2-3 large apples
Lemon juice
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup salted butter, cold, plus more for pan
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter an 8-inch springform pan. Peel and core the apples and cut them each into 16 wedges. Toss in a bowl with a little lemon juice to prevent them from discoloring, and set aside.

Cut butter into dice and place in a food processor with flour and butter. Pulse until you have pea-sized bits of butter scattered throughout the flour. Add the eggs, sugar, and vanilla sugar and continue to process until the dough comes together.

Divide the dough in two, with one portion slightly bigger than the other. Press the bigger portion into the bottom of the pan, working it evenly across the bottom and about an inch and a half up the sides. (The dough will be sticky, but dampening your hands throughout the process will make it easier.)

Arrange the apple slices in a circular pattern around the bottom of the pan. Working the remaining dough between your two hands, once again dampened, roughly shape it into a disc big enough to cover the apples. If it breaks apart, just place the pieces over the apples and gently press them back together.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Cool on a baking rack, then remove from the pan.

*Scandinavian vanilla sugar is available at Scandinavian stores such as Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle. If you do a lot of Norwegian or Swedish baking, it’s a good ingredient to have on hand, but if you don’t have access to it, you can substitute a little vanilla extract. The results won’t be identical, but it will work.

Norwegian Apple Cake

Note: This past weekend 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. This post demonstrates a lesson taught during a food writing session with Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write For Food: Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More. One of my favorite tips was to provide context for the food we’re eating. It’s something that I always try to do (as I wrote about earlier this year), but it’s a good reminder. If you happen to be a writer, try it out in your own work: Think about what you’re eating and pay attention to the circumstances, who you’re with, and where you are. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of Authentic Norwegian Food from the publisher.

The Nordic Bakery’s Ginger Cake

Autumn Leaves

We have entered one of my favorite times of year: autumn. By the time late September arrives, sunlight casts a warm, cheery glow on the cooling Seattle days, and it’s still perfectly reasonable to wear my favorite warm-weather dresses–though perhaps covered with a sweater or light jacket. The leaves brighten up a little as they begin their transformation into a fiery display of colors. Cozy pots of soup simmer on the stove, filling the house with aromas of onions, garlic, spices, and herbs. The last figs and tomatoes of summer mingle with the heartier produce of fall as one season gracefully topples into the next.

Figs and Chanterelles Diptych

Cake with ApplesAnd of course there is cake.

The first cake of autumn this year was a spicy ginger cake from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook. Heavily flavored with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and ginger, each bite of the dense crumb packed a wallop of spice hinting at the aromas and flavors that will be so prevalent in my baking in the months to come.

Oh, autumn. I love the gauzy fog that shrouds the crisp mornings and the way a hot cup of coffee feels between my hands on a cold, damp day. The falling leaves lend an artistic touch to the sidewalks. And there’s the cozy feeling of curling up with a blanket and a book while the rain beats on the windows.

I may be a bit early bringing such a spicy cake into the kitchen when it’s only September, but let it serve as an introduction to all the festive cakes, hot beverages, and cookies that will be baked in the months leading up to Christmas.

Enjoy!

Leaves and Spice Cake

Ginger Cake and Leaves

Ginger Cake with Autumn Spices
This recipe is adapted from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook by Miisa Mink. It is quite spicy, so if you prefer a subtler flavor, then reduce the spices, especially the clove and cardamom. If possible, bake the cake a day in advance to give the flavors time to develop. If you prefer a moister cake, feel free to brush a sugar syrup over the top of the cake, allowing the liquid to trickle down through the crumbs and infuse the cake with a soft sweetness.

2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 eggs
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter an 8-inch springform pan.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then mix in the vanilla. Add each of the eggs, one at a time, beating well before adding the next.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and spices together in a medium bowl and pour into the batter, folding it in until just incorporated. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top of the cake is firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about one hour. Don’t just trust the toothpick test on this one–be sure that the top is firm as well or you will end up with a cake that’s undercooked in the center.

Let cool. Brush with a sugar syrup if desired.

Serves 12-16.

Ginger Cake and Apples

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