Kvæfjordkake: Norway’s National Cake

Kvæfjordkake

If you’ve ever eaten a slice of Kvæfjordkake, you probably know that the cake pretty much speaks for itself. With its layers of buttery cake, delicate meringue, silky vanilla cream, and chopped almonds, it’s rich yet light, each bite almost like a cloud. Commonly known as verdens beste kake, or world’s best cake, it’s been named Norway’s National Cake, and it has a worldwide following along with official ambassadors. I had the opportunity to interview the cake’s U.S. ambassador, Mari-Ann Kind Jackson, recently and am sharing the story in the latest issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. Kvæfjordkake is a popular cake to serve on Syttende Mai–Norwegian Constitution Day–and if you’re looking for something celebratory to serve on May 17, let me point you over to my article, which features the recipe Jackson provided me. Also be sure to sign up for my newsletter for monthly Scandinavian food inspiration!

Kvæfjordkake

Kvæfjordkake

Kvæfjordkake

Click here for the recipe in the Norwegian American Weekly

Syttende Mai: Seattle, 1980s

Syttende Mai with Grandparents 1980s

Old Ballard was about as Scandinavian as you could get. Though far from the Nordic countries, the little neighborhood north of downtown Seattle had drawn immigrants by the thousands over the years. It used to be as easy to find lefse as it was a burger. And if you needed gjetost, pølse, or any other type of Scandinavian food–not to mention housewares or souveniers with Norwegian flags or “Uffda” printed on them, you didn’t have to look far.

The neighborhood has changed a lot over the years, but I still distinctly remember what it used to be like before the massive changes of the past decade. With Syttende Mai coming up tomorrow, I’ve been digging up old photos and memorabilia and thought I’d share some here today.

Syttende Mai 1980s Mementos

Syttende Mai 1980s Mementos

From a handful of family photos taken during the celebrations in the 1980s to old Syttende Mai issues of the Ballard News-Tribune, this box is filled with nostalgia for me. The photo up at the top of the post is my favorite. On the left are Grandpa Lauritz and Grandma Agny, who had arrived in Seattle from Norway right around Syttende Mai in 1956. Next to them are Grandma Adeline–my only surviving grandparent–and Grandpa Lowell. That little girl in front is me. If you’ve spent time in Ballard throughout the years, you’ll recognize the old Bergen Place behind us, prior to its redesign a decade ago.

Syttende Mai 1980s Mementos

Syttende Mai 1980s Mementos

Syttende Mai 1980s MementosBoth sets of my grandparents lived in Ballard when I was growing up, and driving down to meet them at the parade was an annual event. I’m so glad my parents saved these old issues of the Ballard News-Tribune; at some point along the line, a photographer had captured photos of me and they were published for a couple of years (on the chair in the lower left of the May 15, 1985 cover, and holding a flag in the May 14, 1986 issue).

Today’s Ballard might be known more for its condos, restaurants, and nightlife than its Scandinavian roots, but Syttende Mai is still one of its biggest events of the year with events at the Nordic Heritage Museum and Leif Erikson Lodge during the day, leading up to a parade through the streets of Ballard in the evening (the 17th of May Committee says more than 20,000 people came out for the parade last year). I’ll be there tomorrow, hopefully adding more photos to the collection–photos that I’ll someday look back upon with the same sort of nostalgia as I do with these.

What are some of your Syttende Mai memories–in Ballard, Norway, or elsewhere? I’d love to hear about them!

Celebrating with Norwegian Bløtkake

Bløtkake

When I was growing up, my birthdays always involved a special meal (or two or three, to be honest–I love birthdays) and the cake of my choice. There were the assorted decorated cakes–Barbie one year, a pink frosted sheet cake with an illustrated orange cat another year. But most often I remember marzipan cakes. A simple white cake layered with cream and raspberry or apricot jam, it was draped with a thin layer of rich marzipan which was then decorated with frosting flowers. As a little Norwegian-American girl with a taste for almond, the marzipan was invariably my favorite part of the cake and the reason I enjoyed this variety over and over again.

I made a similar cake this week for a celebration with friends. Bløtkake, which roughly translates to soft or wet cake, is typically served at all sorts of celebrations in Norway, from birthdays and weddings to Syttende Mai. Consisting of sponge cake, rich vanilla-scented custard, strawberry jam, fresh strawberries, and whipped cream, bløtkake is surprisingly light and airy given how decadent it sounds.

Strawberries in Sink

Though bløtkake is served at celebrations year-round and can feature various types of fruit, strawberries are commonly used, making summer a perfect time to showcase this cake here on Outside Oslo. Berries are one of the hallmarks of Nordic cuisine, and in the summer, sun-ripened strawberries are enjoyed in abundance. If you’re going to make this cake any other time of the year, chef Andreas Viestad, in his book Kitchen of Light, advises using a combination of fresh or frozen berries and canned fruit.

Bløtkake Step One

Bløtkake Step Two

Bløtkake Step Three

Bløtkake Step Four

Bløtkake can be made in stages in the days leading up to an event, making it manageable and easy. Prepare the sponge cake a day or two in advance, then layer the cream and berries the morning of the event or the night before (Astrid Karlsen Scott, author of Authentic Norwegian Cooking, says all the cream cakes reach their peak if prepared up to 24 hours in advance). Shortly before serving, whip the cream and spread it over the cake.

Baking the cake for a group of people largely unfamiliar with Scandinavian cuisine, I had the privilege of sharing a little taste of my heritage with my friends. Someone surprised me by commenting on how it tasted like a wedding cake. For as unassuming and simple as a lot of Scandinavian food is, I’m continually amazed by how this type of simplicity results in something both special and elegant.

Bløtkake

Norwegian Bløtkake
Adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

For the cake:

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

For the filling:

3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry jam, warmed and strained
1/2 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, plus more for garnish

For the topping:

1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Up to a couple of days in advance, prepare the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch round springform cake pans. Beat egg whites until fluffy, then gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until stiff and with the consistency of meringue. Beat egg yolks in one separate bowl, and stir flour and baking powder together in a separate. Fold the egg yolks and the flour into the egg whites. Pour the batter into the two pans, then bake until the centers spring back when you touch them with a finger, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans.

For the filling, cook egg yolks, butter, cornstarch, half-and-half, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens. Allow to cool, covered, and then stir in the vanilla extract.

When ready to assemble the cake, slice each cake in half horizontally. Place one layer on a serving plate and spread half of the custard over the top. Place another layer of cake over the custard, and top with the strawberry jam. Cover this layer entirely with the sliced strawberries. Place another layer of cake over the strawberries, spread the remaining custard over it, then top with the final layer of cake.

At this point, you can refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. To finish the cake, whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla extract until stiff, then spread over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with additional strawberries and serve.

Serves 16.

A Cake for Syttende Mai: Verdens Beste Kake

Verdens Beste Kake

Gratulerer med dagen!

Wherever you are celebrating Syttende Mai, I wish you a great day. To mark the occasion, I baked you a cake. It’s called Verdens Beste, or World’s Best, which may seem like quite a claim unless you’ve tasted it. With a foundation of cake and a topping of meringue, and filled with creamy custard, it’s like a cross between a sheet cake, layer cake, and meringue all in one. Originating from the northern Norwegian town of Kvæfjord, it’s also known as Kvæfjordkake. Despite its plain appearance (nothing that a few vibrant strawberries can’t liven up), it’s a cake worthy of a celebration. Enjoy!

Verdens Beste Kake (World’s Best Cake)
Adapted from Ekte Norsk Mat, Authentic Norwegian Cooking, by Astrid Karlsen Scott

For the custard:

3 1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
8 egg yolks
2 tablespoons potato starch flour

For the cake bottom:

5/8 cup butter (150 grams), at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar (150 grams)
5 egg yolks
1 1/8 (150 grams) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons milk

For the meringue topping:

5 egg whites
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
50 grams sliced almonds

For the filling:

1 1/4 cup whipping cream

Start by making the custard, as it will need to cool while you work on the other steps. Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy saucepan, then remove from heat. Beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla sugar in a bowl until they become light and fluffy and start to thicken. Gradually add the milk, pouring in just a little at a time to temper the eggs, and mix well before adding a little more. Do this until all the milk is added (take care to not use too fast of a speed so that the mixture becomes frothy; if it does, you’ll just want to use a larger saucepan for the next step and patiently stir until the custard forms). Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. In a small bowl, mix the potato starch flour with a little bit of water until it dissolves. Heat the egg mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, and slowly pour the potato starch flour in. Stir until the custard thickens, taking care to not let it come to a boil. Transfer the custard to another container and chill.

Preheat oven to 355 degrees and prepare an 8-by-12-inch pan by lining it with parchment and greasing it.

To make the bottom cake layer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then start adding the egg yolks, one at a time, until well mixed. Sift together flour and baking powder, and begin to add it to the batter a little at a time, alternating with the milk. Spread this batter in the bottom of the pan, using a spatula to evenly cover the bottom of the pan and create a smooth surface.

Prepare the meringue topping by beating the egg whites until stiff then gradually adding the sugar and beating until stiff and glossy. Turn the meringue out onto the first layer and spread it around evenly, using a spatula to create a smooth surface. Sprinkle the almonds over the top, and then bake until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Check the cake beforehand and rotate if needed to create a consistent topping. Remove from oven and let cool.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the filling. Whip the cream until firm, and then fold into the chilled custard until incorporated.

Remove the cake from the pan and slice in half horizontally so that you have two layers. Carefully remove the top layer and set aside; the meringue will crack easily, so slide your hands under it and transfer it as carefully as possible. A little cracking is okay, but do take care. Transfer the bottom layer to your cake tray and then spread the filling over it. Replace the top layer, giving it the same care as when you removed it. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve the cake. Serve with any assortment of fresh berries.

Serves a lot! You could probably serve as many as 12 people with this cake.

Composed Salad of Smoked Salmon, Cucumber, Mâche, Egg, and Asparagus

Composed Salad with Smoked Salmon

I think it’s part of the collective food-lovers’ experience to crave salads as soon as spring rolls around. In contrast to the hearty dishes that have dominated our kitchens for months, salads seem to represent the fresh air, lightened moods, and sense of new beginnings that come with spring. So it seems appropriate, then, that my latest article for the Norwegian American Weekly features an original recipe for Composed Salad of Smoked Salmon, Cucumber, Mâche, Egg, and Asparagus.

This salad makes me think of a Norwegian variation on the salade Niçoise, which I love so much. Just as with that French favorite, this salad is fresh and light yet contains enough protein to make it a meal. Just butter a slice of bread and pour a sparkling beverage, and you’ll be set. Or, better, yet, pack it up and make it part of a Syttende Mai picnic if you live in a city that has a parade. Click here for the recipe, and enjoy!

Composed Salad with Smoked Salmon and Cucumber

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