toscabakelser & mandelformer

I like almonds. Like, a whole lot. So I get really excited about recipes in The Book that work with almonds. I’m combining two recipes in one post here, because the recipes themselves are quite similar, even though they’re served up in very different ways.

Back in January when I had some friends over for dinner, I baked up some toscabakelser for dessert. Ojakangas explains that traditionally, these are almond tarts (fairly small: think cookie-sized) baked in sandbakelse tins. Scandinavian Americans are more inclined to bake them in a pan and cut them into bars, however, and so that’s how she wrote the recipe. The toscabakelser consists of a tart shell, which is baked on its own first, a gooey almond filling, which is put into the tart shell halfway through the baking process, and then a caramelized almond topping to finish it off. I didn’t snap any photos after we sliced it up into the bars, but I did manage to catch the toscabakelser before and after the caramel-almond topping went on.

They were delicious!

The second recipe was for mandelformer, another almond tart. This time around the recipe is actually written for the sandbakelse tins. The ones I found here in Hungary were a bit larger than what the recipe called for (Ojakangas designates a 2″-3″ diameter; mine were about 4″ across) but these turned out really, really amazing. Unlike the toscabakelser recipe, this one wasn’t accompanied with a recipe for the filling, too, which meant I got to choose what to fill the little tarts with. My boyfriend was visiting, and he reduced some fresh strawberries into a deliciously tart jam filling. The tarts themselves have pulverized almonds in the dough, and they came out quite sweet, so the strawberry filling was the perfect compliment. I’m thrilled with how these came out.

And they’re so pretty.

I will certainly be making both these recipes again.

stockholm

The beginning of a new semester in Hungary has brought my baking to a standstill for the time being, but I have a holiday weekend coming up and there are certainly more baking posts on the way! In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few photos from my quick trip up to Stockholm a few weekends ago. Sweden was lovely and I can’t wait to visit it again!

I grabbed a tin of pepparkakor at the airport on the way home, but they didn’t last too long (before I ate them all). Even though I think of pepparkakor as more of a Christmas thing, it’s inspired me to hopefully try my hand at my own sometime soon…

pulla

Oslo, January 2012

A belated happy new year to all of you! I am back in Hungary now, but I welcomed the new year with friends in Copenhagen, which I followed up with a trip to Oslo. Winter has always been my favorite season; I love the cold fresh air and and the quiet calm outside and especially the snow. So when Oslo got its first good snow of the winter while I was there, I was thrilled to death. And then I did what I always do: I baked.

I was fortunate enough to make it to another Sunday evening meal with my friend Camilla and her family up in Bærum while I was in Norway, and her family had been so good to me on my last visit that I wanted to bake them something. I thumbed through The Book and settled on a recipe for cardamom coffeebread, dubbed pulla. Beatrice tells a tale about the name of this particular bread:

“Although this bread is the basic yeast coffeebread of all Scandinavia, the name I give it is Finnish because of my own bias. The Swedes call it vetebröd, Norwegians call it hvetebrød, the Danes call it hvedebrød, and the Icelandics call it hveitibrauð. All of these names mean ‘wheat bread.’
The Finns who settled in the early 1900s in our country brought this recipe with them. At that time the Finnish word for wheat was nisu rather than vehnä, the modern name. (The Finnish language has been ‘Finnicized’ since the early part of this century, and all words that were too ‘Swedish’ such as nisu have been changed to more correct Finnish.) But many American Finns still call this bread ‘nisu,’ and the debates become heated! Where I grew up, however, we called this bread ‘biscuit.’ . . . The name pulla, however, arises from the Swedish bollar, which is translated as ‘bun.’ But pulla is most often shaped into a braided loaf. All very confusing!”

This is a bread with many names.

We added one more name once we got up to Camilla’s family home – her father Fred misheard me when I tried to tell him it was hvetebrød, and he thought I said flettet brød, or “braided bread.” It is perhaps the most apt description of any of the names! It is indeed braided bread.

This is one of my favorite recipes out of the book thus far. It really bats it out of the park, in my opinion. I’ve become really comfortable with yeast doughs in the last few months, and this recipe bakes up into three really lovely soft loaves that you can pull apart with ease (but that hold together quite nicely if you’re trekking around on Oslo’s public transportation system with freshly baked bread in tow, as I was). And the cardamom is the perfect amount. I was happy to have friends to give loaves away to, or else I’d easily have scarfed them all down myself!

I’ll leave you with just a few photos of the trips to Copenhagen and Oslo. I can’t wait to go back.

pönnukökur með þeyttum rjóma

Iceland is a tiny country with a lot of mystique that happens to be really, really good at marketing itself. They have totally embraced the Internet and social media as a marketing tool and I’m incredibly fond of the results: through a series of accounts on Twitter, Tumblr, Vimeo, Flickr, and so on, Iceland makes you want to be its friend. Take the flagship site:

www.icelandwantstobeyourfriend.com

Iceland wants to be your friend. Personifying a tiny island in the north Atlantic with an epic history and an equally epic and beautiful topography? It’s total genius. I encourage you to check out that site as well as many of the spin-offs, such as isanicelandicvolcanoerupting.comeverysinglewordinicelandic.com, or perhaps my favorite, visiticelandinaflyingmachine.com.

Through this family of websites, I discovered a how-to video for Icelandic pancakes, or pönnukökur. Aside from being totally adorable (I wish Margrét was my grandmother), it’s useful, too: the pancakes are delicious. If you watch the video (below), you’ll hear Margrét tell you that pönnukökur are frequently made on Christmas. While flipping through The Great Scandinavian Baking Book this week, I discovered that the book has its own recipe for pönnukökur! I decided to make them for brunch today to test out this new-to-me recipe, and my family was fully in support of this plan.

The recipes are slightly different, and so the results were slightly different as well: the recipe found in The Great Scandinavian Baking Book isn’t as sweet as the one in the video, and so they’re less dessert-like, but this worked out well for a brunch. We still served them with whipped cream (með þeyttum rjóma) and powdered sugar, though. They were delicious, and I think I’ll definitely make them again. If you’d like to try your hand at pönnukökur, here’s that video I talked about:

How to Make Icelandic Pönnukökur from Iceland on Vimeo.

Gleðileg jól to all of you who celebrate Christmas! I hope it’s a warm and happy one.

kermaviili-musikkapiiras

My brother requested a recipe with blueberries, and so I flipped through the book and picked out this pie. The English name for kermaviili-musikkapiiras is “blueberry sour cream pie.” In Finland, it’s made with a special product called kermaviili. Ojakangas describes viili as “a yogurtlike clabbered milk that is much more delicious (to a Finn) than yogurt.” From what I can gather, it’s a bit like sour cream or crème fraîche. As a substitute, she suggests adding lemon juice to heavy cream, which is what I did, but I can’t help but wonder what this pie tastes like when made with actual viili.

The recipe is a rather simple one, with a pleasant (if not amazing) outcome. The pie is tasty, but it’s probably my least favorite of the pies I’ve baked from this book so far. I made a few modifications to the recipe as I went along, as I often do. This time, as I was preparing the cream filling, I spent some extra time whipping it up so that it would thicken a little bit. Ojakangas doesn’t specify how long the filling should be mixed for, and she definitely doesn’t instruct you to whip the filling, but f I hadn’t done this, the blueberries would have sunk right to the bottom and I expect it wouldn’t have set as it baked, either.

The pie looked quite pretty before it went into the oven – much prettier than it looked coming out. But the berries were soft and warm and gooey and the cream filling was tasty and the crust was buttery. It may not be my favorite pie, but it’s hard to go wrong with that, right?

möndlusnúdar

Every year at Christmas I come back to North Carolina, where I grew up, to spend the holiday with my family. Last year I spent the entire time frantically knitting some last-minute commissions. This year I promised my family I would spend the whole time baking instead. I got started on that promise yesterday!

First up were möndlusnúdar, or Icelandic almond rolls. This is one of the recipes in the book that’s a little bit of a head-scratcher. In Ojakangas’s opening description, she tells us “these sweet yeast rolls are filled with almond paste and cinnamon.” Almond paste and cinnamon? Yum! Totally on board. But, wait – there’s no cinnamon in the recipe. None at all! Which is also totally fine, but why on earth does she claim there’s cinnamon in the filling?

Each recipe in the book gives you an idea of how much the recipe should yield – 3 dozen cookies, 2 loaves, and so on and so forth. Usually, especially in the case of the cookie recipes, my quantities are nowhere near these estimates. For once, with the möndlusnúdar, my quantity was pretty close: the recipe is supposed to yield 30 rolls, and I got 32 out of it.

The hardest thing about this recipe was maneuvering the unbaked rolls into the muffin liners they would be baked in. The recipe requires making the dough, and then making the filling while the dough rises. I used a food processor for the filling, so it was wonderfully smooth and spreadable. You roll out the dough, brush on the filling, and then roll up the dough, as for a jelly roll. Ojakangas instructs you to roll out the dough into a rectangle approximately 14″ x 24″, but I found that the “jelly roll” this gave me was far, far too large in diameter to fit into muffin cups. Hence the difficulty in maneuvering the unbaked rolls (I ended up cutting most of them in half). Many of the rolls came out quite large and not a little bit misshapen, but they tasted fine just the same.

While the rolls bake, you make a glaze with powdered sugar, cream, and almond extract, which you brush over the hot rolls once they’re out of the oven (this gets a little bit messy and gooey, but in a good way). Then you top with chopped almonds. The resulting rolls are warm, sweet, gooey, and delicious. They’re a bit like little cinnamon rolls, but with the cinnamon swapped out for almond. I’m definitely a fan, and my family seemed to enjoy them too. It was a great way to kick off the holiday baking!

And for some more Icelandic Christmas fun, why don’t you check out the wikipedia page for the jólasveinarnir, or Yule Lads, Iceland’s thirteen Santas? I think my favorite might be Skyrgámur, the one with an affinity for skyr, Iceland’s thick, tart yogurt.

krumkake

This time a week ago, I was in Norway preparing to eat a home-cooked meal at the family home of my friend Camilla. I stayed with Camilla at her flat in Oslo all weekend, but Sunday night we made the trip up to Bærum to see her family. We decided in advance that we would make krumkake – trying out the recipe in The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, of course – for her family as a thank you and an opportunity to get a head start on the holiday season.

Krumkaker are absolutely a Norwegian Christmas tradition, and one that many of my Norwegian American friends grew up with. They’re made using a krumkakejern, or krumkake iron, much like a waffle iron but covered in beautiful patterns. Traditional irons are used on the stovetop and must be flipped to ensure that both sides are fully cooked, but Camilla’s family has a modern electric version.

Once each krumkake is done cooking, you remove it from the iron and roll it around a small cone (or sometimes a cylinder) and let it cool on a rack. The result, to American eyes, looks a lot like a fancy waffle cone for ice cream (and in fact, the Parfait ice cream truck in Seattle uses a krumkakejern to make their waffle cones!). I’ve always had krumkake with whipped cream and fruit, but we made multekrem for our krumkaker at Camilla’s, or cloudberry cream. Cloudberries are arctic berries that grow around marshes in mountainous regions and are quite popular in Norway. Camilla whipped up the cream with some cloudberry jam and we were ready to go!

While I think the krumkaker could have been better – I may have whipped too much air into the batter before they went onto the iron – it’s hard to really mess them up too much and the finished cookies were a hit with everyone. Camilla’s father asked me, as we filled our krumkaker with multekrem and sipped on black coffee, “When are you coming back to make more cakes?”

So, well done, Great Scandinavian Baking Book. Your recipe passed the test with true Norwegians and I’ve got an open invite to come back to Oslo and do some more baking.

Camilla and I take our krumkake-making very seriously

store egg = large eggs

creaming the butter and sugar

krumkaker cooling

krumkaker, multekrem, og kaffe

toscakake

Norwegian caramel-almond Tosca cake. Sound good? It should, because it was delicious.

First, a note of clarification: Ojakangas spells this recipe Toscakage in her book, but as this would actually be the Danish spelling and she calls it a Norwegian cake, I’ll use the more Norwegian Toscakake instead. I am sure this recipe exists in Denmark and Sweden as well, but each country spells it differently (the Swedes would use Toscakaka). Minor differences, but they do exist. With that aside, on to the cake!

I was invited to a friend’s for dinner yesterday and I found myself searching The Great Scandinavian Baking Book for something relatively quick and easy to prepare for a dessert. I normally wouldn’t go to the cake section for this, but I was flipping through and happened to spot the Toscakake. Relatively short list of ingredients, not a lot of prep time, simple to make. It was a winner.

There are essentially two parts to making this cake: baking the cake and putting together the topping. The cake part itself came out fairly light and spongy, a little bit like angel food cake. The second part was pretty straightforward, too: browing some sliced almonds and then adding sugar and cream to make an almondy, caramel-ly topping to slather over the cake. I popped the whole thing in the oven for a few more minutes so that the topping could harden a little bit and turn a nice golden-brown color.

The end result is perhaps not the prettiest cake in the world, but a fairly simple and quick cake to make from scratch. I’d say it’s appropriate for special occasions just as much as it makes a nice coffee cake. And on Sunday mornings, like this morning was, it makes a pretty delicious breakfast.

mazarinkakor

These are billed as “Swedish chocolate-frosted almond bars,” and they live up to their name! I never tire of recipes with almond in them, and this one was a fairly simple one involving a base/crust, an almond filling, and a chocolate drizzle on top. Ojakangas recommends using a 13 x 9 inch rectangular pan, but my Hungarian kitchen is still somewhat lacking, so I used what I had on hand – a round baking dish, probably closer to 10 or 11 inches in diameter. Whether or not this had an effect on the end result, it’s hard to say, but I would like to try this recipe again in a pan more like the one Ojakangas uses. The bars were definitely delicious, but the base came out more crumbly and the filling more gooey than I expected. I’ll probably try it out for my family at Christmas – my parents’ kitchen is sure to have the size pan the recipe calls for!

landbrød

So far, I’ve stuck to the sweeter recipes contained within The Great Scandinavian Baking Book. For some reason, I am intimidated by bread. It might be the yeast, because even though yeast isn’t that difficult, it’s usually the culprit if something’s gone wrong with bread baking. Determined to branch out into the rather large section of bread recipes, however, I decided to pick a simple bread to try out in my new Hungarian kitchen.

Enter landbrød, or Danish country egg bread. This is a fairly easy, if time intensive recipe, requiring few ingredients (flour, yeast, sugar, salt, eggs, and vegetable oil). It involves dissolving the yeast and then combining the ingredients to make the dough, followed by a 15 minute rest, then the kneading of the dough, and another hour’s rest while the dough rises. Then it is broken into pieces to form the beautiful braided loaf, and left to rise another 45 minutes before it goes into the oven for about a half hour. If you add up all the time you sit around waiting for the dough to rise, you’ll come out with two hours. This is perfect for Sunday baking, though, when I am home and have plenty of time and plenty of things to do while the dough is rising.

I’m still getting used to my oven, which uses gas mark numbers on the dial instead of temperatures, and so it was hotter than I expected. The bread wasn’t in for quite as long as it should have been, but I didn’t want the outside to be too crispy. Still, the inside baked nicely and the result was both delicious and quite pretty to look at. The recipe yielded two healthy-sized loaves, but they didn’t stick around long enough for me to get both in one shot. I can definitely see baking this recipe again, perhaps when I’m headed back stateside for Christmas.