bakeland: walnut brownie cake with whipped cream and berries

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I’m very excited to have a recipe to share with you today, from the brand new English translation of Bakeland: Nordic Treats Inspired by Nature, by Marit Hovland. When Greystone Books got in touch and very kindly offered me a review copy, I jumped at the chance to check this book out. Bakeland was originally published in Marit’s native Norwegian, and it’s a book I spotted on the shelves of my local bookstores while living in Norway. I’m thrilled that the English translation will make this book accessible to a much wider audience, because I find it to be a rather unique book among the many baking books out there.

One glimpse at the Instagram account (@borrowmyeyes) or the website (borrowmyeyes.com) of Marit Hovland will show you what makes Marit unique. She specializes in intricately decorated sweet treats, often inspired by Norwegian nature. This kind of dedicated decoration is something I’ve dabbled in occasionally, but Marit is a master at it and is able to make it accessible to others through clear, easy to follow step-by-step instructions. She also has instructions for many non-baking DIY projects on her website, which is a testament to her ability to present the decorating techniques in an approachable way. This unique skill is present throughout Bakeland. I will say up front that this is not a book of traditional recipes, but rather a very modern baking book with a wide range of sweet treats (that happen to be inspired by Norwegian nature).

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The book is exquisitely beautiful – the photos of the baked goods themselves are gorgeous, but the book also features photos of pristine Norwegian nature. If you’ve ever had the chance to explore the Norwegian countryside, flipping through the book might make your heart ache with memory, as you remember the feeling of looking out over a fjord on a sunny summer’s day, or going for a walk or cross-country skiing through a fresh snowfall. (At least, that’s the effect it had on me.)

The recipes in the book are truly inspired by nature, and the various flora to be found around Norway throughout the year. I was very pleased to see that the book was laid out by season, into five sections: winter into spring, spring into summer, summer into fall, fall into winter, and a new year. I think it’s brilliant how the book not only follows the progression of a year, but in focusing on the transitions between seasons, it reminds us of the changeable nature of weather and the fact that it’s a constantly-moving cycle, rather than presenting the seasons as static. The sort of bonus chapter, “a new year,” seems to coincide very nicely with December and January being the darkest months of the year, with a focus on the play of low sunlight and the blue light of blåtimen with sparkling snow. I was surprised how much I missed mørketida, the two months of the year where the sun never rises in Tromsø, my first winter away – there is definitely a sort of magic to the light at that time of year in the north. I could feel the shift from season to season much more keenly in Norway than I do in Montreal, and I miss that too.

bakeland seasons

The chapter of the book that gets me the most excited is summer into fall, which is unsurprisingly full of autumn-themed recipes like cinnamon macarons with apple filling (decorated to look like apples), maple leaf cookies, and spice cake with cinnamon almonds (the almonds having been decorated to look like acorns). In northern Norway this season was incredibly ephemeral, happening in a blip – but perhaps that is why I loved it so much.

There are a few other sections to the book beyond the recipes, as well. Bakeland features a section on baking tips, and Marit provides step-by-step instructions for techniques like tempering chocolate, making your own muffin liners, or making macarons. A section at the beginning outlines the tools you’ll find useful in making many of these recipes, complete with photos. On a practical level, the recipes are very user friendly, especially since they includes weight and volume measurements in grams and milliliters in addition to the typical cups measurements you’ll find in North America. Having had kitchens in both North America and Europe, I appreciate that they included the weight measurements (which I prefer to use) even for this North American version.

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I’ve opted to pick a recipe to share with you all from the second chapter of the book, spring into summer, given that it very nicely coincides with this time of year. Since many of the recipes in this book are very involved when it comes to decoration, I wanted to pick something relatively approachable. Some of the recipes in this book are things you’ll want to make sure to practice a few times if you plan to make it for an event like a birthday or another special occasion, particularly when it comes to decorating techniques you may not have used before. I might even go so far as to say that some of it is a bit over the top. But the recipes are also relatively adaptable, and you can get away with mixing up the decorating elements if you’d like.

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This walnut brownie cake with whipped cream and blueberries sounded delicious, and while I think the candied bluebells on top are absolutely adorable, I live in an apartment in a relatively urban area in a big city and have no idea where I’d go to find bluebells to pick anymore. So I decided to improvise a bit, and I also took Marit’s suggestion which you’ll see below about using different types of berries. I asked myself: how could I get inspired by my own surroundings here in Montreal? Over the past week or two I’ve heard a lot of my foodie-inclined friends talking about the arrival of the Quebec strawberries. Anyone who’s had a proper strawberry can recognize how little the massive things sold at the grocery stores actually resemble strawberries. So I decided to follow that path, and I picked up some locally-grown strawberries to top this cake instead of the blueberries originally called for in the recipe. I brought the cake to my friend’s birthday dinner last night, and I can confirm: this recipe was a big hit. (Thanks, friends, for your enthusiasm!)

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The brownie cake itself is very simple to make – if you’ve ever made brownies from scratch, you can make this cake. Fresh whipped cream creates a lovely light layer on top between the brownie and the fruit topping, and I added some silver and pearl sprinkles for a bit of a festive finish. I think the only sad thing was how quickly this cake was devoured, and I wish it’d been a tiny bit bigger. I did make a few adjustments here and there, including the fact that I used a regular cake pan instead of a springform pan, and so I lined the whole pan with parchment paper instead of just the bottom. I’ll try to make a note of my own adjustments where relevant. But without further ado – the recipe!

Walnut brownie cake with whipped cream and blueberries
makes one 9-inch (23 cm) round cake
Shared with permission from Greystone Books

Perfect bluish-purple bells, hanging from flimsy stems…bluebells are lovely, either down by the lake, high up in the mountains, or on top of a cake. Frosted with fluffy whipped cream and topped with refreshing blueberries, this sweet brownie cake gets a summery lift.

Bluebells

  • bluebell flowers
  • 1 egg white
  • pinch of salt
  • superfine white sugar

The bluebells must be prepared at least a couple of hours before they are to be used. You can make them a day in advance to make sure they’re dry. Follow the instructions below.

Brownie cake

  • 2/3 cup (150 g) butter
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) bittersweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup (80 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean seeds, or 1 tsp vanilla sugar (note: I subbed 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 3/4 cup (100 g) walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 325ºF (165ºC). Line the bottom of a 9-inch (23 cm) round springform pan with parchment paper.

In a saucepan, melt the butter, then remove from the heat. Add the chocolate to the butter and stir until it melts. Let the chocolate mixture cool a little, then transfer it to a mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until pale in color. Pour the egg mixture into the chocolate, stirring gently. Sift in the flour and add the vanilla seeds, then fold in with a rubber spatula.

In a bowl, toss the walnuts with 2 tsp of flour, then fold them into the batter. (This will keep them from sinking to the bottom.) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes on the middle rack of the oven. Remove and let the cake cool. Keep it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Cream and berry topping

  • 1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups (200 g) blueberries

Prepare the topping just before serving the cake. In a bowl, using a handheld mixer, whip the cream with the sugar until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream on the cake and top with blueberries. Decorate with the candied bluebells.

Variation: You can use chocolate liqueur cream instead of whipped cream. Other berries or fruit can replace the blueberries.

bakeland-bluebells-numbers(Image courtesy of Greystone Books)

Preparing the bluebells

  1. Go for a walk and pick some bluebells. Put them in water until you’re ready to use them.
  2. Cut off the flowers, leaving around 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the stem.
  3. Remove the stigma and the pistils inside the bell.
  4. With a fork, whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt. Holding the flowers by the stem, paint the inside of each bluebell with the egg white, then the outside.
  5. Spoon some sugar into the bluebell before you turn it over and sprinkle sugar on the outside. Shake gently so that only a thin layer of sugar remains on both sides.
  6. Attach a small piece of tape to the stem of the flower. Fold the tape over a skewer suspended between two glasses, so the bluebells hang while they dry. You can also place them on parchment paper, with the opening down, but then some of them will lose their lovely shape. The flowers need 2 to 3 hours to dry. You can let them hang overnight.
  7. Cut off the stem where it attaches to the flower. Keep the bluebells in an airtight container if you’re not going to use them right away. They can be stored for several months.

Selected photos and text from Bakeland: Nordic Treats Inspired by Nature (Greystone Books, 2018) by Marit Hovland.

Bakeland is available for purchase through Amazon or other outlets.

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pepparkakor

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Somehow, in my years of baking – before, during, and after living in Scandinavia – I had never before made the classic Scandinavian Christmas cookie: pepparkakor, as they’re known in Swedish (spelled pepperkaker in Norwegian), which are thin, crisp ginger snaps. When my friend Liv invited me to take part in a Christmas cookie exchange, I saw the perfect opportunity to remedy that situation.

I mentioned in my last post here, months ago, that we were getting ready to leave Norway. It’s funny how sometimes you don’t realize how settled you feel in a place until you leave it; in September we moved to Montréal, Canada, and after several months here we are just now starting to feel at home in our new apartment. It’s been a slow transition, but I’m finally enjoying making food in our kitchen (hurra!), and I definitely enjoyed baking this classic Christmas cookie. Thanks to the array of spices in this dough, it is incredibly fragrant (it genuinely smells like gløgg, or mulled wine), and cutting out shapes with cookie cutters evokes a childlike glee within me, so how could I not?

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I’m so happy that Liv introduced me to the idea of a cookie exchange, too. Here’s the basic concept: gather a small-to-medium sized group of people (say, 4-8 people). Each person picks a cookie recipe to bake, and then you bake a dozen cookies for each person in the group. After the cookies are baked, you meet up for a little holiday gathering, and you swap cookies with each person in the group, so that you dole out a dozen of your own cookies to each person (keeping a dozen for yourself), and you receive a dozen cookies of different types from each person in the group. With our group of eight, we each went home with a selection of eight different kinds of cookies, but we each only had to bake one kind. You then have plenty of cookies on hand for holiday parties, gifting, or simply snacking on over the break. Is that not the most genius thing ever?

So, as I mentioned, I decided to bake pepparkakor. I looked around at several different recipes – classic as they are, there can be quite a lot of variation in recipes for these cookies. While ginger and cinnamon are basically always included, you may or may not see cardamom, grated orange peel, and even pepper (hence the name!). In fact, during my time in Norway I realized that whether or not pepperkaker should include actual black pepper is somewhat of a perpetually ongoing debate. There are also differences in whether recipes use molasses, golden syrup, or something else. In the end I decided to use the recipe from Fika by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall. I knew I wanted to use the Dala horse cookie cutters my in-laws gave me a few Christmases ago, so going with a Swedish recipe felt appropriate.

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This recipe includes ground cinnamon, ground cardamom, ground cloves, and ground ginger. I took the time to grind the cardamom, cloves, and ginger fresh, and I think that truly makes all the difference in the world. These would have been lovely if I’d used pre-ground spices, but they’re truly delightful with the fresh ground spices instead. It also does include a wee bit of black pepper, and I suppose I ground that fresh as well!

I decorated a few of the cookies – two per person for the cookie exchange – but pepparkakor are delicious with no frills at all so I left the majority like that. I did have fun icing the few cookies I decorated, though. The stark white icing against the rich brown of the cookies is pretty, isn’t it?

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If you’re interested in making some pepparkakor of your own, Fika is one of my favorite Scandinavian recipe books and I’d definitely recommend it! Or you could give my friend Daytona’s Norwegian recipe a try instead, as it’s available for free on her blog, Outside Oslo.

summertime overnight oats

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Hello, July! It took a long time for summer to come to northern Norway, but by mid-June Tromsø was finally fully green again, with wildflowers growing out of every nook and cranny they could squeeze themselves into. The rare warm, sunny days here are such an incredibly special treat, and I’m grateful to have enjoyed a few of them (in between the more frequent chilly, grey, and rainy ones).

With those warm summer days in mind, I had a recipe published last month in the Norwegian American for chilled overnight oats. I love oats, and berries are one of my favorite things about summer, but when the apartment gets warm on sunny mornings, I can’t do warm oatmeal. Enter overnight oats – served cool, I love the fact that I can just pull them out of the fridge in the morning and the only prep needed is to add whatever topping you like. The recipe can be found over on the Norwegian American’s website!

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In the meantime, it will probably continue to stay quiet here for a little while longer – I’ve finished my degree and we are preparing to leave Norway by the end of the summer. It’s a bittersweet parting, but more on that later!

a plea: the norwegian american needs your help

the-norwegian-american

If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you may know that I occasionally contribute recipes to the Taste of Norway section of the Norwegian American, a bi-weekly paper based out of Seattle that is America’s only remaining Norwegian-American newspaper. This paper has been published continuously (under a few different names over time) since 1889, and now they need our help. If you, like me, are interested in cultural heritage and Scandinavian-American culture, I hope you’ll read on. If you’re unfamiliar with the paper, you can read a little bit about it on their about page, or if you’re interested in a more detailed historical overview (I’m a nerd, you guys – I love this stuff) you can check out the Wikipedia page for the Norwegian American.

I am proud to contribute to this paper and lucky to call two of the recent past editors friends, but keeping any newspaper going is a challenge these days and the Norwegian American is no exception. In the past few years, the paper has begun to modernize, with a larger online presence in general as well as dipping their toes into social media. This has been a good move for them – in fact, my piece on Norwegian coffee culture was shared so widely that it actually attracted the attention of my local government here in Norway, eventually leading to my being named a digital entrepreneur by the county of Troms, where I currently reside. (The photo below is from the ceremony, and you can read the description here – in Norwegian, of course. I’m on the far left, and that’s our Executive Councillor for Health, Culture and Business Development kneeling in front.)

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What the paper is doing these days is relevant and interesting, and if you think so too, I hope you’ll consider contributing to their Indiegogo campaign, which runs for two more weeks. This fundraiser is intended to help cover operating costs not being met by subscriptions and advertising revenue alone. You can contribute as much or as little as you like, and there are a diverse array of perks to choose from based on your donation level. And finally – this is where I come in!

a taste of norway

One of the perks is a cookbook called A Taste of Norway: Flavors from the Norwegian American, which collects a selection of recipes that have been printed in the newspaper in the past into a single volume. Here’s what they have to say about it:

“By popular demand, we’re bringing you a collection of recipes that have been featured on the pages of The Norwegian American. From such acclaimed Nordic food writers as Daytona Strong, Sunny Gandara, Maria Stordahl Nelson, and this paper’s own former editor, Christy Olsen Field, the spiral-bound cookbook will cover main courses, soups and sides, and of course sweets. It even has a few drink recipes!”

There are, of course, many other kinds of perks (I’ve got one of those waffle bandanas and a set of vintage reproduction postcards lined up for myself) which you can peruse at your leisure. As the fundraising campaign runs for 14 more days, perhaps you might make a donation in honor of syttende mai, Norway’s national holiday happening next week? There’s a long way to go yet (we’re sitting at 44% of our goal) so we’d love your help. If you’re unable to financially contribute at this time, you can still help us out by spreading the news, or by following the Norwegian American on Facebook or Twitter.

And just to get you in the spirit, I’ll close with this photo from May 17 two years ago, when I watched the parade in Ballard (in Seattle, Washington) with my friends Christy and Kelsey, two of the past editors of the Norwegian American. We hope you’ll support the fundraiser!

syttende-mai-2015

I turn in my thesis next week (before syttende mai, fortunately), so we’ll soon be back to regularly scheduled sporadic posts about Nordic baking. Thanks for indulging a little plea for help for a paper I love in the meantime!

fastelavnsboller

fastelavnsboller1

Now that Easter is approaching, what better time to write about a treat traditionally consumed on Shrove Tuesday? (I’m poking fun at my own tardiness here, *wink, nudge*.) I first learned about fastelavnsboller, or semlor as they’re known in Swedish, from a Sweden-loving friend who was visiting Seattle and wanted to know if I knew where to find any. I hadn’t heard of semlor, so I sadly didn’t have any advice, and I also had no idea at the time that they were associated with the period before Lent – although today, in largely secular Scandinavia, they are often consumed throughout the first few months of the year by many without regard to the Christian calendar. Nonetheless when the weekend before Shrove Tuesday rolled around, I decided that I wanted to make myself fastelavnsboller for the first time!

These treats are essentially cardamom boller that have been cut open and filled with something delicious. Some versions have you scoop out a little bowl from the bottom piece, and you combine the bready filling with almond paste and add it all back to the bun, topping it off with whipped cream before the little top goes back on. Other versions skip the almond paste step and just add whipped cream (I opted for the latter). Both versions are super delicious. My friend Daytona’s recipe for the Norwegian American will tell you how to make both versions, and this is the recipe I used.

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My fastelavnsboller are yet another illustration of how I am sometimes a makeshift baker. I halved the recipe, and assumed I had enough all-purpose flour for a smaller batch – but it turned out I didn’t. So I added in a little bit of rye flour at the last minute, which obviously made for a slightly heartier bun than normal (but to be honest, I actually kind of enjoyed it). I still had fun making these and I absolutely loved whipping up the cream and dusting it all with powdered sugar at the end. Whether during Shrovetide or not, I think everyone should try these at least once.

You can find the recipe for these buns (for free!) over at the Norwegian American’s “Taste of Norway” section. Thank you to Daytona (of Outside Oslo) for such a wonderful recipe!

syltgrottor

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It’s been a little quiet on this blog but this time, it’s not because I haven’t been baking! It just turns out that a lot of things fall by the wayside when you’re also writing a master’s thesis. So I’m working to catch up on a few things!

One Saturday in February, my friend Anna came over for some tea and knitting in the afternoon. We’d both been feeling the winter blues a little bit, but these thumbprint cookies from Fika, called syltgrottor in Swedish (or “jam caves”), definitely helped raise our spirits.

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Fruit and jam types of cookies were never my favorite growing up – I wanted rich chocolate in my cookies basically all the time – but as an adult I’ve really come around to them. This recipe calls for Queen’s jam, which there’s a recipe for in Fika – it’s a jam with equal parts raspberry and blueberry. I didn’t have any of that, however, so I just used plain old raspberry jam. It was still absolutely delicious, but with the subtle anise flavor of these cookies, I can see how the flavors of the Queen’s jam would be a winning match!

These cookies are meant to be baked in small paper liners, but I spaced out and forgot to pick up any at the store when I bought ingredients, so we just baked them right on a baking sheet with parchment paper, which worked absolutely fine. I’d love to give them another go with paper liners, however.

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Fika continues to be one of my favorite baking books, one that I reach for most often now. And I can definitely see myself making these again. Do you have a favorite type of thumbprint cookie?

You can find the recipe for these cookies in Fika by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall.

And a quick P.S. for anyone who enjoys Scandinavian design as much as I do! The authors of Fika are both talented artists, and Anna has just started the 100 day project on her Instagram with the goal to make one papercut piece every day for 100 days inspired by classic Scandinavian design (be still my heart!). You can check out the first post here (she kicks off with Stig Lindberg’s Berså), and be sure to follow Anna if you want to watch the project unfold.

homemade: almond cardamom scones

 

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This past fall, Beatrice Ojakangas published her new memoir, Homemade. Unsurprisingly, it falls into the combined memoir/cookbook genre – one I have enjoyed in the past, though upon reflection I haven’t actually read too many of them (when you find your favorites it can be hard to move past them, you know?). Nonetheless, I was really looking forward to this one when I first heard about it. For those who don’t know, Ojakangas has published an astoshingly diverse array of cookbooks throughout her life, including the one that led me to start this blog: The Great Scandinavian Baking Book.

homemade

While Homemade is a slim volume, it’s chock full of recipes and stories. It’s written in Ojakangas’s trademark straightforward style, which befits her own life story of growing up on a farm in northern Minnesota. If when you hear “food memoir” you’re expecting something in line with Molly Wizenburg’s A Homemade Life, keep an open mind with this book, which is nothing like that. The book is divided into two halves, which more or less correspond with Ojakangas’s childhood and youth, up through her college years (part 1) and her life after marriage (part 2). The “chapters” are small (many are only 2-3 pages), especially in the first half of the book. While I appreciated the glimpse of a childhood and an upbringing so completely unlike my own provided by part 1, I have to admit I enjoyed part 2 the most – this is the half of the book containing Beatrice’s stories of writing for Sunset Magazine, writing her cookbooks, spending a year in Finland, and meeting and working with both Julia Child and Martha Stewart. She truly has led a fascinating life.

Peppered throughout these anecdote-like chapters are, of course, recipes. They are definitely not purely Nordic, but again, the diversity of recipes is a strength. I flagged a few as I read that I wanted to try out, and the publisher has very kindly agreed to let me share my favorite here: almond cardamom scones. These are easy-peasy drop scones, and the secret to really getting these right is using freshly ground cardamom. Grinding the cardamom seeds is the most labor intensive part, but the fragrance and the aroma just can’t be matched by the pre-ground stuff. You’ll find the recipe below.

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Almond Cardamom Scones

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, to sprinkle over the top of the scones

Preheat the oven to 400ºF (205ºC). Lightly grease a large cookie sheet or cover with parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking powder, cardamom, sugar, and almonds in a large bowl.

Grate the frozen butter onto the flour mixture.

Mix the eggs and 1/2 cup of the yogurt in a small bowl. Add to the dry ingredients and blend quickly, just until a dough forms. (Add a bit more yogurt or buttermilk if needed.)

Using an ice cream scoop, place in mounds of dough on the cookie sheet, about 3 inches apart. Sprinkle tops with the sugar.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes until light brown. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.

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Recipe excerpted with kind permission from HomemadeFinnish Rye, Feed Sack Fashion, and Other Simple Ingredients from My Life in Food by Beatrice Ojakangas.