plómukaka

Yesterday I baked a plum tart.

plomukaka 6

Sundays in Norway are perfect for baking. Most places with the exception of a few coffee shops or corner stores are closed, so you can take advantage of a little time off. This might mean a day out and about hiking (or at this time of year, skiing), or it might mean a slow home-y day, which for me usually involves some quality time in the kitchen. I went out walking for a few hours on Saturday, so I decided to take it easy yesterday and mostly hang out at home.

plomukaka 4

I had picked up some beautiful red plums at the grocery store earlier this week, which I’ve been enjoying, but it was becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to finish them all before they started to go soft and overripe. Not wanting them to go to waste, I sat down with my baking books a few days ago. I found a recipe for an Icelandic purple plum tart in The Great Scandinavian Baking Book that looked simple and delicious, and so yesterday I whipped one up, very successfully putting the pound of plums to good use.

plomukaka 5

As I often do with Beatrice’s recipes, I made a few little changes. She instructs you to quarter the plums, though I went ahead and sliced them into eighths, since the base of the tart is rolled out pretty thin and I find them easier to arrange when smaller. I’ve made a few notes for myself for next time, too: I could do with less flour all around (flour is always such a good argument for measuring by weight instead of volume) and the quantity of crumbly topping to go over the plums was too much as well (I didn’t use it all).

plomukaka 3

The tart turned out delicious nonetheless, and I was able to make it with ingredients I had on hand which is always a plus – aside from the plums, all that was needed was flour, butter, white sugar, and brown sugar. The end result was something like a thin-tart version of a German pflaumenkuchen (and indeed if you Google “plómukaka” you get a string of results for “Þysk plómukaka”, or German plum cake). And while the recipe called for purple plums, the red plums were just fine as a substitute (and just as beautiful, too, as the color of the skins starts bleeding out into the fruit and the tart itself).

You can find the recipe for this tart in The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas.

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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.

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.

sumarterta

Yesterday was an unseasonably warm and muggy day here in Seattle. It didn’t touch the 113 degrees I heard Los Angeles had, but for Seattle, it was warm-ish and it was really, really humid. It was a blip that felt like summer in the middle of weather that has felt like fall for a few weeks now.

In honor of this meteorological anomaly, I thought I’d try something different. The sumarterta is an Icelandic summer skyr tart, made with skyr and strawberries. It felt like the last day of the year I’d be able to get away with baking a summer tart. And I am so, so glad I did. The sumarterta was both rich and refreshing, and pretty to boot. The tart is made up of a simple tart crust, baked in the oven for about twenty minutes, and filled with a skyr/cream cheese combination and topped with strawberries and sliced almonds.

Skyr, for those who are wondering, is a really thick, tart, strained yogurt, a specialty of Iceland. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but ever since I discovered it earlier this year, it’s been one of my favorite snacks. I used Siggi’s skyr for my sumarterta – half plain and half blueberry flavor. The tart filling is made up of skyr, cream cheese, egg whites, and sugar, and I was afraid if I only used plain skyr it might be a bit too bitter a filling, even combined with the fruit topping. I figured the blueberry skyr would compliment the strawberries nicely without turning the filling too sweet, since the skyr is so tart. And it worked marvelously – the filling by itself tasted a bit like cheesecake (although with a much lighter consistency, more like a heavy mousse), but combined with the tart crust and the fruit and almond topping, it was a little sweeter and tasted as wonderful as it looked.

For the first time, I kept the end product all to myself. I’ll definitely be saving this recipe for next summer…