My Favorite Kladdkaka (Swedish Fudgy Chocolate Cake)

Kladdkaka

Life is full of reasons to celebrate, I’m convinced of that. It’s so easy to get caught up in the movement and the swiftness of the everyday. Sometimes—as a friend put it the other day—the monotony. But I’m trying to slow down, to protect the white spaces in my schedule, to factor in time to train myself to notice.

The brush strokes in the blue-yellow autumn sunset. An efficient spider building its tightrope home outside the dining room window. The stunning transformations as summer unfolds with sunflowers and berries for a while before giving way to pumpkins and cascades of fiery leaves. Nature itself is enough to awaken awe. Even more so are our friends.

As I watch my children form their first friendships, I’m reminded of the value of my own. I don’t take any of them for granted. It’s hard to write about friendship without sounding trite, but there’s rejuvenation and refreshment to be found in a heart-to-heart conversation with someone who accepts and loves you for who you are. (Sarah, that’s you.) There’s support and nourishment, too, from the dear ones who provide a steady flow of hot meals in the weeks after a baby is born. (Too many of you to list!) There are the prayers, the notes sent handwritten and stamped, the phone calls to wish a happy birthday in the time of social media’s rapid, generic greetings.

This kladdkaka, then, is for all of my friends.

Kladdkaka

I’ll always associate this Swedish chocolate cake with Rachel, for whom I baked it in the depths of winter this past year. It was a week of recipe development for me, and I made the chocolate cake four times. The one that turned out the best was the one I brought to Rachel’s house when she hosted us for dinner. I was uncertain whether I had baked it long enough or how it was going to turn out. But I was confident enough in our friendship to know that I didn’t have to stress about perfection. I knew that Rachel is an eager cook, like me, who likes to experiment in the kitchen. She’d either celebrate or commiserate. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When you bake with love, that’s when things turn out just right, when things become beautiful.

After dinner, when the cake—which had still been hot from the oven when I left my house earlier that evening—had cooled and set, we dug in. The knife slid in with ease and I pulled out a thin wedge baked just right, the chocolate still glistening with kladdkaka’s signature sheen but sturdy enough to transfer to a plate.

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The beauty of this cake is its underbaked perfection. Similar to flourless chocolate cakes and molten “lava” cakes, it’s both dense and gooey inside. But it retains a light quality, too, in contrast to flourless cakes. I’ve heard it likened to brownies, but I don’t agree with that comparison; if kladdkaka resembles those, then it’s overbaked.

Kladdkaka—often translated to gooey chocolate cake—is the most searched-for recipes online in Sweden, as I learned from Magnus Nilsson, two star chef of Sweden’s celebrated restaurant Fäviken, when he spoke at the Nordic Culinary Conference in Seattle last spring. The origins go back only as far as the 1970s, yet it’s become a national favorite. I can see why.

The cake in its simplest form only requires a handful of ingredients. The technique is rather simple too. By and large, kladdkaka recipes call for cocoa powder, but I’m pretty sure that once you’ve tried it this way, with bars of bittersweet chocolate, you won’t be going back. I started making the cake this way a few years ago, following a recipe in Signe Johansen’s mouthwatering book, Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking… Scandilicious. While I’ve given cocoa powder a try once since, I just can’t break away from the incredibly moist and silky results of a good quality chocolate bar. Signe’s approach is definitely a winner (she adds whiskey to her Bergen fish soup, too, which sounds daring until you taste it and realize that it respectfully transforms the traditional soup). I played with the recipe, switching things up a bit each time, until I came to my ultimate kladdkaka recipe. While this one now bears only an echo of hers, Signe is a master of Scandinavian baking, and I’d like to believe she’d give her stamp of approval.

The ease of this cake makes it perfect for celebrations of all kinds. I’ve served it at book club, and at a dear friend’s bridal shower. It comes together quickly and requires less than 15 minutes to bake. Plus, it has a reputation for freezing well.

As I’m trying to live life looking for things to celebrate, I’m glad to have this cake recipe in my repertoire. I’m sure you will be too.

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Kladdkaka (Swedish Fudgy Chocolate Cake)
The magic in this cake is in the timing. There’s no real way to guarantee that your timing is perfect until the cake has cooled and you’ve gone ahead and cut yourself a slice, as I did when I brought it to Rachel’s home last winter. Go for the 14 minutes indicated the first time around. Make a note if you need to give it a minute or two more or less the next time. When you know how much time it needs in your particular oven, you’ll have a deceptively easy cake recipe that’s bound to become a favorite.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used 60% cacao)
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan.

Roughly chop the chocolate, using either a sharp knife or a food processor.

In a deep saucepan, 3-quart or larger, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, stirring until melted. Stir in the espresso powder and vanilla extract. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until frothy, then stir in the melted chocolate and butter. In another bowl, give the flour and baking powder a quick whisk to combine, then gently fold in to the batter until incorporated. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 14 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Remove from pan and dust with powdered sugar. Serve with mounds of sweetened whipped cream and fresh berries or a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Serves 12.

A Perfected Scandinavian Swirled Tiger Cake

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I’ve lost track of all the butter and sugar.

I started writing about Scandinavian food seven years ago last month. I have no idea how many sticks of butter and cups of sugar I’ve whipped into cakes and cookies since then, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Scandinavian sweets are among the world’s best.

At the beginning, I would flip through The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas—one of the first Scandinavian cookbooks I bought—like a student. Almond, butter, sugar, and spices appeared time and time in the ingredient lists. I wanted to bake nearly everything.

Though I had grown up eating Scandinavian sweets and knew many of them by taste, I was new to baking most of them. These days, I’ve switched my focus to creating my own recipes, taking classic or traditional desserts and creating versions that are as delicious as possible while retaining authenticity.

That’s where this tiger cake comes in.

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I first made a tiger cake last spring while baking from one of my favorite Nordic cookbooks. The result, however, was lacking. Sure, it was good, but if I’m going to eat cake, I want it to be worth every calorie and grain of sugar.

I got to work, boosting the intensity of the chocolate flavor and making the variations in color less marbled and more like stripes—the Scandinavians call it tiger cake, after all. This cake has become a new favorite of mine, and I hope you enjoy it just as much.

Swedish Tiger Cake

Scandinavian Swirled Tiger Cake
The marbled cake can be found throughout the Nordic countries. Baked in a loaf pan or a Bundt pan, it reveals swirls of chocolate and vanilla or citrus-flavored cake when sliced. Marble cakes are hardly unique to the Nordic countries. We know them well in America, where they go back at least to the 19th century. German immigrants have been attributed as bringing them here prior to the Civil War (What’s Cooking in America).

2 sticks butter (salted), room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons natural, unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used semi-sweet)
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a loaf pan (9x5x3).

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Stir in vanilla extract. Sift together flour and baking powder and add to the batter, stirring to incorporate. Set aside two thirds of the batter and set aside.

In the remaining third of the batter, mix in the cocoa powder, chopped chocolate, espresso powder, and milk.

Spoon about a quarter cup of the plain batter into the bottom of the loaf pan, spreading it out slightly with a spatula. Add a spoonful of the chocolate batter in the center. Repeat, alternating the layers, until all the batter is gone.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, approximately one hour. Let cool on a wire rack.

Makes 1 loaf cake.

Lemon-Flecked Norwegian Sunshine Cake (Solskinnskake)

Norwegian Sunshine Cake (Solskinnskake)

My earliest memory is of the sun shining diagonally through the eastern-facing window of my nursery room. The door swings open as my mom steps through. I see it all through crib-slat lines, the geometric triangles of light and the vertical pillars of infant security.

We crave the sun, the light that draws us up and out of the winter into the newness of spring. We create rituals of warmth and coziness to carry us through the dark months and the cold. The Danish idea of hygge and Norwegian koselig have bolstered many through the heaviness of those times. But now the sun shines a little more brightly, stays out later in the day. Plants break through thawing ground and leaves unfurl from dormant trees.

Living in Seattle, a city dripping with a reputation for rain, I find myself turning toward the sun this time of year, feeling a thrill at the sight of newly-blooming flowers and saying a silent thank you to the birds for singing their joyful songs of the season. Even the air feels lighter, the cold winter winds transforming into a delicate breeze.

The Norwegians have a cake named after the sun. Solskinnskake, or sunshine cake, seems to celebrate the essence of spring. The texture itself is even lighter than the typical Scandinavian cakes that I love so much, a butter-less sponge cake that bounces back after the fork cuts through. The flavor itself–the essence of lemon–hints at a time of warmth.

Norwegian Sunshine Cake (Solskinnskake)

Norwegian Sunshine Cake (Solskinnskake)

I have yet to experience the mørketid, the time in winter when the sun never rises above the horizon north of a certain latitude, but I have soaked up the extended sunlight at the peak of summer in Norway, and I’ve seen how the sun enlivens the population. It only makes sense that there should be a cake named after the sun.

I found the recipe for this cake in a Scandinavian cookbook from the 1960s. I’ve written so many times about how the food of Norway has helped me to connect with my heritage and better understand those dear people who came before me, people who left house and home and country in search of a new life in America. We’re coming up on 60 years in American this spring, and though I was born and raised in the Seattle area, I feel more and more like there’s a bit of Norway still beating in my heart.

I’ll keep baking cakes and working my way through the ever-growing collection of Scandinavian cookbooks I’m accumulating. The recipes each tell a story, and they’re providing a concrete way to keep the heritage and its traditions alive for the next generation. Just as my earliest memory involves the sun and the welcomed and loving presence of my mother, I can’t help but wonder–and perhaps even hope–that the coziness of our kitchen becomes the setting of some of my children’s earliest and sweetest memories.

Norwegian Sunshine Cake (Solskinnskake)

Lemon-Flecked Norwegian Sunshine Cake (Solskinnskake)
Adapted from The Complete Scandinavian Cookbook by Alice B. Johnson (1964)

For the cake:
6 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup cake flour, sifted

For the icing:
1 ¼ cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons whipping cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Grated lemon zest for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan. Beat the egg whites in a large bowl for a minute or so until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and salt and continue to beat until stiff. Add the sugar, then beat until stiff again.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. Add the whites, lemon zest, and lemon juice and carefully fold in. Fold in the flour just until incorporated, then pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Set on a wire rack to cool, then run a knife along the perimeter and remove from the pan.

While the cake cools, make the icing. In a medium bowl, whisk the powdered sugar with the cream and lemon juice until smooth. Spread the icing on the cake and serve. Garnish with a little more lemon zest, for color, if you’d like.

Serves 8

Norwegian Success Tart (Suksessterte)

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I started something new this year: a Scandinavian food newsletter featuring recipes and inspiration that you won’t necessarily find on my blog or anywhere else. The last edition went out a few weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about this cake, Norwegian Success Tart (Suksessterte). It seems a shame to have you miss out on it if you weren’t signed up for the newsletter in time, so today I’m sharing some outtakes from my photo shoot along with a link to the archived newsletter where you can find the recipe.

Norwegian success tart, also known as success cake, is one of those desserts that catch you by surprise if you haven’t tasted it before. The bright yellow custard hints at a lemon flavor, but what you get instead is a rich almond cake topped with luscious buttery cream and a garnish of chocolate (typically you’d use less than I did on this particular cake, but I couldn’t help myself with those delicate little wisps of chocolate).

Here’s where you can find the recipe and read the rest of the newsletter. And of course if you’re not already following along, I hope you’ll join. I’m planning to send out a newsletter roughly once a month. Click here to sign up!

Success Tart Diptych

Success Tart

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Norwegian Bløtkake with Strawberries and Cream

Bløtkake

When it comes to cake, I know two things for sure: A mediocre one is barely worth eating, and Scandinavia–especially Norway–boasts some of the best in the world. Take the classic Norwegian birthday and celebration cake, bløtkake–which translates roughly to wet cake–for example. Layers of delicate sponge soak up rich creamy filling. The very essence of fresh strawberries permeates the whole thing and infuses every bite. It’s hard to imagine a cake much more perfect than this.

Bløtkake Diptych

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My introduction to Scandinavian baking started with The Great Scandinavian Baking Bookan understated yet elegant paperback reprint of the 1988 book by Beatrice Ojakangas. I had found the book on the shelf of Barnes & Noble in the days after Grandma Agny’s death, when I was chasing after something, anything, to help me grieve. Illustrated minimally, with hundreds of pages of recipes for cakes, cookies, breads, pastries, and pies–including their cultural context–the book beckoned me to spend plenty of time thumbing through the pages, trying to decide which recipes to try. Almond-packed cakes and tortes like Norwegian fyrstekake and Swedish Mazarintårta. A Swedish sandkaka scented richly with brandy. The almond- and caramel-topped Tosca cake. And of course, Norwegian bløtkake.

Today there’s a deep crease, a break really, in the binding between pages 196 and 197, where I had the book propped opened for an extended period of time in a cookbook stand. The note I jotted by the recipe–fyrstekakereads, “Sept. 2009–Good, but I’d like more almond flavor.” I had no idea back then that I was beginning something, a passion for Scandinavian food and baking.

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I’ve made bløtkake several times, trying out different recipes and trying to achieve the perfect version, the one I can call my signature. I have so many notes on this cake, so many recipes that I’m analyzing and comparing. But today I’m sharing a classic, the one I began with. This recipe is adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, that lovely cookbook that got me started on all of this butter-creaming and sugar-and-egg beating. If you want a classic bløtkake, one that’s tried and true and sure to please, you’ve got it here. The sponge itself is rather delicate and almost bland, but worry not–it is an ideal canvas for the rich flavors that it will absorb. By the time the cake is ready to serve, each component–the cake, the custard, the strawberry jam, the fresh berries, and the whipped cream–will do its part to create a cake that’s at once rich yet delicate, unpretentious yet celebratory. This cake is definitely worth eating.

Bløtkake Slices Diptych

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Norwegian Bløtkake with Strawberries and Cream
One of the great things about making bløtkake for a celebration is that it can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until you’re ready to serve it. In fact, Astrid Karlsen Scott writes in Authentic Norwegian Cooking that cream cakes like this reach their peak of flavor if refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Just wait until right before your event to spread it with whipped cream.

For the cake:
6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the filling:
3 egg yolks
1 cup whipping cream
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1/2 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, plus more for garnish

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch round springform cake pans.

In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until fluffy, then gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until stiff. In one medium bowl, beat the egg yolks. In another, sift the flour and baking powder together. Gently fold the beaten yolks and the flour into the egg whites until the yellow swirls and any clumps of flour disappear. Pour the batter into the two pans, then bake until the centers spring back when you touch them, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans.

For the filling, in a small saucepan cook egg yolks, whipping cream, milk, butter, cornstarch, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens. Do not allow it to boil. Set aside to cool. Stir in the vanilla extract.

When you’re ready to assemble the cake, slice each cake in half horizontally using a long serrated knife. Place one layer on a serving plate or cake stand and spread half of the custard over the top. Place another layer of cake over the custard, then top with the strawberry jam. Cover the jam with the sliced strawberries, working in a spiral from the outside in. Place another layer of cake over the strawberries, spread on the remaining custard, then top with the final layer of cake. (A note for next time: I tried spreading just half the strawberry jam over the second layer of cake and reserved the rest for the third layer, under the custard. I might add an additional quarter cup of strawberry jam to the first layer, under the custard, to add definition between the layers. Looking at these photos, you won’t even see the custard nestled between the bottom two–they just look like a single thicker layer.)

At this point, you can refrigerate the cake a day in advance, if you’d like. To finish the cake, whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla extract until stiff but still luscious and fluffy, then spread over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with additional strawberries.

Serves 16.

Chocolate Cake with Lingonberry Cream

Chocolate Cake with Lingonberry Cream

When I was first setting out to discover my heritage for myself as a heartbroken adult, I gravitated to the recipes, specifically the cakes. There were Norwegian Tosca cake, Swedish brandy cake, and fyrstekake (after a number of years, this is now my favorite fyrstekake recipe), then as time went on there came bløtkake, Kvaefjordkake, and Norwegian rhubarb cake, among many, many others.

When I was challenged recently–along with a few other blogs in the Seattle area–to take a tube of Ashley Rodriguez’s Not Without Salt Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix and create something new with it, I decided to bake a cake. Surely a little baking science could back me up and help me convert cookie dough into cake batter, right? I had just the idea in mind to test out my theory: chocolate layer cake with lingonberry cream.

Chocolate Cake with Lingonberry Cream

Chocolate Cake with Lingonberry Cream

Chocolate Cake with Lingonberry Cream

The cake itself is delightfully dense, almost like a brownie but with the fluff and crumb to make it truly a cake. It’s loaded with lingonberries, from the preserves spread between the layers to the additional jam folded into the cream filling. And, just for fun, I topped the cake with some vibrant whole lingonberries.

I tested the recipe three times (as a contest participant, Ashley gave me two tubes of cookie mix; I already had one additional tube in my pantry), and now I’m happy to present to you my recipe for chocolate layer cake with lingonberry cream. Each participant is publishing a recipe this week, and the two finalists will have their recipes featured at an event on June 30 at Marx Foods (which carries the cookie mix) in Seattle. Enjoy!

Chocolate Cake with Lingonberry Cream

Chocolate Layer Cake with Lingonberry Cream

Cake:

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
1 tube of Not Without Salt Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 extra-large eggs, room temperature

Lingonberry Cream:

4 egg yolks
2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in quarters
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups lingonberry preserves, divided

Topping:
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup vanilla extract
Whole lingonberries, optional*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 9-inch springform pan, at least 2 1/2 inches high.

Cut butter into cubes and place in a small saucepan with the chocolate from the cookie mix package. Place over medium-low heat and melt, stirring frequently, until the butter and chocolate are completely melted and smooth. Stir in the espresso powder. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour from the mix with baking powder to combine and fluff. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat eggs on medium speed with the whisk attachment until frothy, one minute. Add packet of sugar from the mix and beat vigorously on high for about three minutes, until the eggs triple in volume. Add the flour and fold in carefully, just until combined. Take care not to disturb the air bubbles. Pour in the melted butter and chocolate while continuing to fold, just until mixed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for 35 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the lingonberry cream: In a medium saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt from the cookie mix. Add the butter and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly. Stir in vanilla extract and set aside to cool. When cooled, stir in 1 cup of the lingonberry preserves.

When the cake has cooled, remove from the pan. Cut in thirds lengthwise using a long serrated knife.

Place the bottom layer on a serving plate or cake stand and spread with 1/2 cup of the lingonberry preserves, then half of the lingonberry cream. Set the middle layer over this and repeat with the remaining lingonberry preserves and cream, reserving a little cream for the end. Top with the final layer of cake.

Whip cream until stiff peaks form and fold in sugar and vanilla extract. Spread on top of the cake. Spread remaining lingonberry custard around the sides of the cake. Garnish with whole lingonberries, if desired.

Serves 16

*I found my whole lingonberries in the frozen section at Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle.

Chocolate Cake with Lingonberry Cream

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.

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.

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake (Rabarbrakake)

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

Amidst almond-scented cakes and recipes featuring plenty of dill, I’ve occasionally veered from the topic of Scandinavian food to talk about writing. As a journalist and creative writer, it’s long been a big part of my life. Lately, with a dear relative suffering from a series of strokes in February, it has become a way for me to cope as well.

The past month or so has been challenging in ways I am still working through. I process best sometimes through the written word, and so I have spent some of my writing sessions trying to wipe away the heartache with pen to paper or keystroke by keystroke. As a personal form of writing, it hasn’t been right to share here, and with the weight of my loved one’s illness shadowing me on many days, I’ve struggled to write much about food on the blog. But oh how I have longed to!

Week by week, as she has shown continued signs of improvement, the melancholy has lifted little by little. And along with that, the Seattle weather–which recently gave us the rainiest March on record–has been offering white cottony clouds strewn in patches against an otherwise clear, vivid blue sky. Spring has brought with it the cottony explosions of cherry blossoms, steady gaze of daffodils, and now Japanese maples unfurling a little bit each day. There is rhubarb waiting to be stewed into compotes and fruit soups, cocktails and pie. And there is Norwegian rhubarb cake.

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

I’m often struck by the simplicity of Norwegian recipes. Looking at a short list of ingredients–often mostly some variation of butter, sugar, milk, flour, and eggs–I’m tempted to dress it up a bit, adding a little bit of spice here, some flavoring or other adornment there. Usually when I resist, it’s a good thing; the term elegant simplicity has come to mind again and again when I’ve speared a fork into a slice of Norwegian dessert and brought a bite to my mouth, letting the richness and wholeness of the finished product linger for a moment as I reflect on how it’s just right. That’s the case with this rhubarb cake, which is little more than a moist butter cake studded with slices of fresh rhubarb that almost melts into the batter as it bakes. In its simplicity, it is perfect.

I hope to be back to writing about food here at Outside Oslo more frequently in the near future. There are all sorts of Scandinavian recipes I’d love to share, especially leading up to Syttende Mai. In the meantime, please do keep in touch–I love getting notes and comments from you, and you can also connect on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. And now, I hope you’ll enjoy a slice of rabarbrakake!

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake (Rabarbrakake)
Adapted from Norwegian National Recipes. Also featured on the blog last year.

1/4 cup butter (I used unsalted)
1/3 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 large stalk rhubarb
Powdered sugar (optional)
Whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in milk and set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a nine-inch springform pan.

Beat eggs and sugar on high for a minute or two–let them get light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and slowly pour in the milk and butter. Mix in the flour and baking powder until just incorporated, then pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading the top into an even layer with a spatula.

Trim the rhubarb and cut into quarter-inch slices on the diagonal. Scatter slices evenly over the top of the cake. Bake for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool on a rack in the pan for about five minutes, then remove from pan and continue cooling on a rack.

Dust top of cake with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream if desired.

Cake will keep a day or two if covered, but is best on the first or second day.

Makes one 9-inch cake.

Norwegian Rhubarb Cake

Getting to the Heart of Food Writing (and a Swedish Currant Cake)

Swedish Currant Cake

There’s a secret that food writers keep. We don’t mean to, of course, but when one’s beat is food, it’s easy for most of the media we use to reflect only a tiny facet of who we are. That secret is the varied nature of our lives–outside of the kitchen. Aside from the occasional clue found on our Instagram feeds or the other publications you might find our work in, you probably wouldn’t know a lot about us other than the fact that we read a lot of cookbooks, can use work as an excuse for baking after cake, and that we sometimes get a little sentimental and nostalgic about something as ephemeral as food.

I’ve been thinking, though, about how much more there is to each of us. In fact, food writing isn’t about the food at all to me. I could get all starry-eyed about that amazing meal I ate and fill up a blog post with overused words like “delicious” and “perfect” but chance are that would end up sounding shallow at best, disingenuous or pretentious at worst. Food is all about the people, the memories, the experiences–it’s about life.

It’s about the beachside crêpe stand down the square from the house where I stayed the summer I studied in Normandy–a little white truck luring passersby with the sweet aromas of melted butter and warm sugar carried on the ocean breeze–and how my awareness of the world and its many cultures expanded as I fumbled my way through my order in a foreign language. Then there’s the glow of early love I felt as I sat by the side of a street by the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome for lunch with my husband on our honeymoon. We ate slices of chewy, yeasty pizza by hand, savoring the balance of the delicate zucchini blossoms and assertive anchovies adorned with little more than olive oil and salt; eight years later we still stalk zucchini blossoms together at the farmers’ market each summer until we find them, just so we can attempt to recreate that pizza at home and keep that experience of early romance alive. It’s also about how deeply comforting a protein-fortified milkshake and peanut butter and jelly sandwich paired with Earl Grey tea in a paper cup tasted when I was recovering from an emergency cesarean delivery and how even the mention of stewed prunes takes me back to the first sweet but hazy days with my newborn in the hospital.

That’s a little bit of my story right there, all wrapped up in food. And none of it really is about food. The pizza and the crêpes sucrées and the milkshake from the hospital cafeteria mean nothing in and of themselves–they’re just things that someone made and that someone ate, sustenance that meets one of our biggest needs for survival. But when there’s a story associated with them, they become something more: an entry point into our memories and a framework by which to contemplate our pasts.

If you were to look at what I’ve been eating in the past couple of weeks, the number of quick café meals–a breakfast sandwich here; yogurt, milk, and a panini there; and an occasional blended strawberry and cream drink and double nonfat latte along the way–would help define this moment in time occupied with hospital visits. As my son and I have eaten our drive-through coffee shop meals in the car (which I try to avoid) and out of crinkly white paper to-go bags in a lobby, I’ve experienced guilt about abandoning the structure and nutritional quality that I’ve built around our daytime meals. But in a way, while I watch someone dear to me struggle with the debilitating effects of stroke and wonder whether her speech and comprehension will ever fully return, I am thankful for the steady, predictable schedule of mealtime, no matter the form or its contents–that rhythm, at least, is one thing still in my control.

Swedish Currant Cake

And so we come to cake. Just as with that milkshake and those crêpes, there’s no inherent magic in a bunch of flour, sugar, butter, and currants baked together in a pan–unless you have something bigger to attach it to. Food blog guidelines would instruct me here to use evocative language that would entice you to want to drop everything and head to your kitchen right now to bake, but perhaps because of what I’m going through at the moment that seems beside the point–pointless even. For me, what this cake really represents is a gateway to a day I don’t want to forget, something a little ordinary, a little special, and full of sweetness in a time otherwise filled with grief and uncertainty.

This cake sat in my kitchen this morning, surrounded by toasted English muffins, sliced tomatoes, ham, artichoke hearts, avocados and bacon. As my husband made Hollandaise sauce and poached eggs, we mingled with a dozen or so friends, inviting them each to whip up a Bloody Mary and build their own eggs benedict. To have a houseful of people so early in the day is a rarity (late to bed, typically late to rise), but it was opening day of the Seattle Sounders FC season, and we wanted to mark the occasion well. In the blur of it all, I didn’t even think to snap a photo as a visual record of the morning. All I have are the photos of this cake, which I took yesterday.

From there we went to the game, a match against Sporting Kansas City, a game in which the 0-0 score glared down at the fans until after the 90th minute, in stoppage time, when the Sounders finally made a goal, winning the game with what felt like less than 30 seconds to go. I’m not a huge sports fan, but to be there with my husband and son, surrounded by tens of thousands of people cheering on a team in the rain–and erupting in applause as fireworks went off and the word “GOAL” flashed on the screen–that was something special, a memory I don’t want to forget.

And so there’s cake today, a dense, subtly-sweet one studded with almost three cups of dried currants, the type of cake you serve for brunch rather than a special occasion. One that would taste just as good toasted and spread with butter as any raisin-cinnamon toast. I’ll leave you with a recipe, should you want to give it a try. For me, it’s another way to remember something that has absolutely nothing to do with cake but has everything to do with friends and fellowship, brunch and soccer, and the bright hours of an otherwise challenging couple of weeks.

Swedish Currant Cake

Swedish Currant Cake
Adapted from Swedish Cakes and Cookies. As the original recipe recommends, plan on making this cake a couple of days before you plan on serving it. Just keep it covered and it will stay moist and get better with time.

2 3/4 cups dried currants
3/4 cup salted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Zest of one lemon, grated
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon water, plus more hot water for rinsing currants

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and grease a tube pan. Rinse the currants briefly in hot water; drain well and set aside.

Beat butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, scraping down the sides occasionally, until light and fluffy. This will take a couple of minutes–don’t rush it. One at a time, add the eggs, mixing well before each addition.

Toss a tablespoon or two of the flour with the currants in a separate bowl. Add the rest of the flour–along with the cinnamon, lemon zest, and baking powder–to the batter and beat until mixed. Stir in almond extract, lemon juice, and a tablespoon of water until everything is incorporated, then fold in the currants.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean and the edges start to pull away from the sides. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about five minutes, then loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a knife, invert it onto a plate and remove the cake. Store covered.

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