Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Spice Route

Finnish Spice Cake :: The Scandinavian Baker

When it comes to mouth-watering offerings from the bakeries across Scandinavia, spice often trumps sugar. Subtlety is King and the subjects fall in line to taste gently warming flavours that shine through in many recipes and this recipe is no different.

Some of the things I love most about Scandinavian cooking is the ease at which everything comes together and that most of the ingredients are household staples – fair enough, unless you’re me you may not have multiple types of cardamom in your pantry, but apart from that the recipes are based on wholesome, simple ingredients that are readily at hand.

Spices :: The Scandinavian Baker

One rule for this recipe is to be generous with your spices. If you love ginger, then up the amount. I quite like adding some freshly ground black pepper to mine for an unexpected spicy punch to shake up the Scandinavian subtlety just a little.

Fresh Orange Zest :: The Scandinavian Baker

Finnish Spice Cake – Pehmeä maustekakku

The Pantry

4 eggs

225 grams of soft unsalted butter (melted)

225 grams of raw caster sugar

250ml of full fat sour cream

3/4 of a teaspoon of bi-carbonate of soda

225 grams of flour

Two teaspoons each of ground ginger, cardamom and mixed spice

(A few grinds of black pepper if you’re game)

Zest of one orange.

Sour cream :: The Scandinavian Baker

I stumbled upon a new variety of sugar at my local supermarket this week; Panela which is evaporated cane juice. Isn’t that just sugar…I questioned. Well yes it is, but this brand states that it is simply the result of evaporating the liquid from organically grown cane with no other refining process. Fair enough – in the trolley you go my sugary friend.

Health claims aside, it has a lovely caramel flavour and ultra-fine grain so I gave it a try in this recipe and it worked a treat. It added a deeper caramel flavour to the cake and really set off the spices. I can’t vouch for the nutrient factor, but give it a try if you see it.

Whisk :: The Scandinavian Baker

Pre heat the oven to 200c.

Using a whisk attachment beat the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy. You really want to get a fair amount of air into this.

Once whipped add the melted butter. If you’re using a stand mixer with multiple blades, switch to your regular cake batter blade now for the rest of the recipe. Add the spices and orange zest.

Mix the bi-carb soda into the sour cream and then add to the mixture and beat until combined.

Add the flour and mix well. The batter is forgiving but try not to over mix as the result can be a little too bouncy.

Kugelhopf Pan :: The Scandinavian Baker

Pour into a greased pan. Traditionally a kugelhopf pan is used, but it will work just as well with a ring pan or angel food tin. Failing holey tins you could use a regular 20cm cake tin and adjust the baking time a little to allow the centre to cook through. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. The cake is cooked when gently browned and a skewer comes out clean when testing.

Once baked allow to cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before turning out. If you can resist the extraordinary spicy aroma emanating from your cake allow to cool completely and dust with icing sugar. Or if you’re like me and lacking in willpower take devour a warm slice now and dust whatever’s left for everyone else.

Best easten warm - before anyone else notices...

Best easten warm – before anyone else notices…

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Biscuits, cookies or keksit…

Jam Drops :: The Scandinavian Baker

Preserving food is big in Scandinavia, and it’s easy to understand why. The seemingly endless frost-gripped winter, devoid of light and anything fresh in the garden lends itself to storing delicious preserves made from the sun-drenched summer harvest and roadside foraging.

So, what to do with an orchard full of fruit you’ve transformed into jam?

Among other things, make jam drops. The only difference in this recipe compared with a foundation jam drop mixture is the addition of a little sour cream which seems unique to Scandinavia and I think gives the biscuits a beautiful balance somewhere between crumbling cookie and crisp shortbread. A match made in heaven…

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m addicted to biscuits. For me they’re better than any chocolate bar or bag of sweets. I soon discovered, however, that the over the top range I was used to in Australia was not matched in any capacity in Finland. Our local store had about three varieties of mostly plain keksit, and nothing remotely like a shortbread cream. Thankfully the Jam Drop knows no borders. Phew!

Jam Drops :: The Scandinavian Baker

The Pantry

120 grams of unsalted butter

1/2 of a cup of raw caster Sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon of vanilla

Pinch of salt

2 and 1/2 cups of plain flour

1/3 cup of sour cream

1 scant teaspoon of baking powder

Lingonberry jam (about 3/4 of a cup)

Biscuit dough :: The Scandinavian Baker

In a stand mixer cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until well combined. Add the sour cream and mix again. Gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until the dough comes together and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

The dough is stiffer than a usual biscuit dough but if it does look too soft don’t be afraid to add a little extra flour until it forms a ball.

It’s hot here, and if it’s hot where you live you’ll need to rest the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes or so before rolling out otherwise it may begin to melt and stick to everything. Not pretty.

Biscuit dough :: The Scandinavian Baker

Make a cup of tea.

While the dough is stiff and can be rolled, it’s still quite a pliable mixture and you’ll need to be gentle with it. Once relaxed – you and the dough, place between two sheets of baking paper and roll out to half a centimetre thick.

Cut out as many biscuits as you can and then re-roll to use the rest of the dough.  Place the cut biscuits on to a baking sheet leaving a little room between each one for spreading.

Jam jar :: The Scandinavian Baker

The Jam

For this recipe I used a combination of lingonberry and damson plum jam, as I had both on hand. The lingonberries have a delicious astringency that works perfectly with the delicately sweet biscuit. If you’re all out of freshly harvested lingonberries just nip down to IKEA and pick up a jar of ready-made jam.  Any jam will do, although if you’re using a thickly cut jam blitzing in the food processor first will give you a more consistent result.

Jam Drops :: The Scandinavian Baker

Using your thumb, or any shape at hand, gently press down into each of the biscuits to make an indent for the jam. Place a scant teaspoon full of jam on each biscuit. Don’t overfill as the jam with spread in the oven and make itself at home in its biscuity hollow.

Bake at 170-180c for 15-20 minutes until lightly coloured. They’ll continue to harden as they cool. Once cool enough to handle transfer to a cooling rack and try to avoid eating the entire batch in one sitting. On second thoughts make another cup of tea, fill a plate with jam drops and think of the summer’s harvest to come.

Jam Drops :: The Scandinavian Baker

Witches, pumpkins and pie…oh my

Pumpkin Pie

Paths converged this week and the result was pumpkin pie.

Firstly it was Halloween and without warning our street has embraced the tradition and launched into full-scale trick or treat territory. Secondly, I had a super-tasty lunch at a new USA styled diner with a finger-licking good selection of pies on the menu; and thirdly some lovely Canadian friends have been on our minds recently and one of them carved a seriously impressive jack-o-lantern in the shape of an anatomically correct heart (that deserves pie in itself) – anyway, I got the message… all signs point to pumpkin. Tenuous link? I don’t think so…

Pumpkin :: The Scandinavian Baker

Not traditionally Scandinavian I know, but delicious nonetheless. And while Halloween trick or treating isn’t a Finnish tradition they do a pretty good job with it at Easter.

Our first Easter in Helsinki we were roused in the morning by a collection of neighbourhood girls dressed as witches, brandishing twigs decorated with ribbon and demanding treats – or a pox be on all our houses or some such. I discovered a couple of things that Easter; always save a few chocolate eggs for the witches, and all witches seem to resemble Pippi Longstocking… unexpected.

Back to the pumpkin. This recipe uses fresh pumpkin as opposed to canned which is near impossible find in regular stores – at least in this country. The pastry is spiced and gives the hint of gingerbread to the pie.

Pumpkin Pie :: The Scandinavian Baker

The Pastry

200g plain flour (wheat or spelt)

1/2 teaspoon of salt flakes

1 tablespoon of icing sugar

100g of cold unsalted butter, diced

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg, beaten

2 teaspoons of cold water

Spices :: The Scandinavian Baker

The Filling

700g pumpkin (uncooked)

1 (375ml) can evaporated milk

2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk beaten (reserve the extra egg white for use later)

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup golden caster sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon all spice

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dark brown sugar :: The Scandinavian Baker

Begin with the spicy pastry.

Into a food processor place the flour, spices, sugar and butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix the eggs, yolk and water together and gradually add to the flour mixture with the motor running. Mix until the dough forms into a ball. Take the pastry ball and wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for an hour to rest.

Chop the pumpkin in to large pieces and place into the microwave for 5-8 minutes on high. This really is the easiest way to cook the pumpkin without introducing excess water. You can boil the pumpkin until soft, but make sure it is well drained after cooking.

After five minutes check the pumpkin with a knife. It should be very soft. When cooked through allow to cool and remove the skin. You should end up with approximately 500grams of cooked pumpkin.

Pumpkin Pie :: The Scandinavian Baker

To create the filling couldn’t be easier. Place the pumpkin into the food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the spices, sugar and eggs and mix again. While running gradually incorporate the evaporated milk and blitz until smooth and combined. The mix will be very runny.

Put this aside and get back to the pastry.

Preheat the oven to 200c and roll out your pastry. Place into the pie tin and return to the fridge for 15 minutes.  Bake blind for 15 minutes until the base in golden.

Now this is a handy trick. To prevent your mix from leaking and making the pastry soggy, brush the base with the reserved beaten egg white and return to the oven for a few minutes. This will form a barrier while the filling sets.

Pour your filling into the prepared base and bake for 40 minutes until the custard mixture is set and the pastry is golden. You can certainly eat the pie warm, but it is wonderful once it has cooled and set a little further.

Serve with coffee, whipped cream and chapter or two of Pippi Longstocking. It’d also be a good idea to reserve a piece or two… in case of witches.

Pumpkin Pie :: The Scandinavian Baker