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.
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.
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-Studded 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.