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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a plea: the norwegian american needs your help

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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

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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!

gifts from the kitchen

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My latest piece for the Norwegian American is out now, and this one’s special: it’s a joint piece with my friend Christy! We worked on this piece together for the annual gift guide, so our recipes are for simple gifts from the kitchen.

My contribution is a quick recipe for a staple in my kitchen, lingonberry jam, and Christy provided recipes for homemade vanilla sugar and the slightly more unusual cardamom syrup (which I’m dying to try). You can find the recipes for all three right here.

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havrekjeks

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Oats are easy to find in Norway. Havregryn (or rolled oats) comes in small and large varieties, havregrøt (oatmeal) is a common breakfast – the kind I like has cardamom to boot! Havremelk (oat milk) is a common non-dairy substitute, and my grocery store even carries an oat-based non-dairy creme fraiche. And then there’s havreflarn and havrekjeks, different types of cookies made from oats. Since making the havreflarn med choklad from Fika, I’ve been experimenting with oat cookie recipes, and now I’ve had one published in the Norwegian American Weekly.

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My havrekjeks are thin and chewy, with chocolate chips. I never was a fan of oatmeal raisin cookies, but oats and chocolate is a combo I can get behind. You can find the full recipe for these over at na-weekly.com.

snow day waffles

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I finally bought myself a proper Norwegian waffle iron a week or two ago. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve actually owned one, though I’ve enjoyed Norwegian vaffelhjerter (waffle hearts) many times. It seems a bit frivolous to say it, but this is a Big Deal for me. It’s hard to overstate the significance of these thin heart-shaped waffles here in Norway – in my head, vaffelhjerter are to Norway as Swedish pancakes are to Sweden and æbleskiver are to Denmark (perhaps it’s because they go so well with Norway’s brown cheese, gjetost). Where events or info booths in the U.S. or would entice students to stop by with promises of free pizza, Norwegians promise free waffles. In the summer, my favorite way to eat them is with a slice of gjetost and strawberry jam, made from Norwegian strawberries (which are the best strawberries I’ve ever had).

My new waffle iron has already gotten a lot of use, and as we’ve had a winter storm blowing through today, I decided to make snow day waffles! I don’t have many photos, since I made them in the late afternoon and it was already getting dark, but I enjoyed them with some hot cocoa and they were delicious.

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The recipe I used was one from my friend Daytona, of the fantastic Scandinavian food blog Outside Oslo. You can find a link to the recipe right here, and I recommend you go over and read the accompanying story, even if you don’t plan to make the waffles. The recipe was her great grandma Josephine’s, so it’s one with a strong family history and connection, which is my favorite kind. Daytona’s touch is a little bit of added cardamom, and you absolutely can’t go wrong with that.

As written, the recipe is capable of whipping up a waffle breakfast for quite a crowd – I halved the recipe and still got seven or eight waffles out of it. I’m sure whether or not you use an electric beater for the eggs makes a difference in that regard.

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You can find the recipe for these delicious waffles over at Outside Oslo.

from boller to bread pudding

Boller are a coffee bread staple in Scandinavia. They are ubiquitous, and I must admit that I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the ones they sell at 7-11 and gas stations. Norwegian gas station boller are better than most things one can buy in an American gas station. I’m honestly not sure mine lived up to the standard.

waiting to go in the oven

At any rate, I baked the basic hveteboller recipe in The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, and I enjoyed it very much. These coffee buns are a nice light yeast roll, flavored with a hint of cardamom. My kitchen smelled amazing all day, which is one of my favorite things about baking breads. (This was also one of the first things I baked in the new kitchen, and it’s as wonderful as I hoped it would be!)

The recipe yields two dozen rolls, which is all fine and well if you’ve got a big party or a feast to throw, but it was quite a lot for just me and my husband. As a result, several days after the initial baking, the remaining rolls were turned into bread pudding. I love a good bread pudding, and the Scandinavian cardamom coffee breads make an excellent bread pudding (I’ve turned pulla into bread pudding before as well). The one pictured below was made using this recipe – I prefer to leave out the raisins.