I have been spending a lot of time at IKEA lately, prepping for my home renovations ... so this post couldn't have come at a better time.
You must be wondering where I got these Swedish toothpick flags from. Some 27 years ago, I spent a glorious family vacation in Sweden, and these were one of the souvenirs we brought home (they came in a packet of 25). I had no idea they were still alive after all these years. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw them at my mom's ... she should really be awarded the title of Master Preserver.
Instantly, all the memories of that trip came flooding back ... smoked salmon, smorgasbord, Swedish potatoes, my fascination with the way "milk" was spelled ("mjölk") ... and cake. There was always dessert served at the end of every meal, and cake was a perennial item. I am pretty darn sure we ate this cake at least once during our stay.
But wait. I'll shan't go on about my recollections of childhood. No one should be forced to read through my ramble before getting to the recipe. ;) If you like, you can read on at the end of this post. For now, we'll focus on the cake.
I saw the recipe for this Swedish Visiting Cake at Dorie Greenspan's beautiful blog. The recipe was so unbelievably easy I had to give it a second read to make sure I didn't miss anything. Really, if you are baking for the first time, this might just be the cake to start with.
You see, everything goes into one bowl (easy washing); there is no need for a mixer (forget about beating till ribbon stage whatever); or any need for leavening agents (you don't have to worry about your cake not rising)! If you look at Dorie's cake, it is flat and low, and it's meant to be that way. In short, a stress-free, fuss-free cake.
However, as I am one who gets depressed looking at vertically-challenged cakes, I decided to pour the batter into muffin tins to ensure a nice height for each mini cake. Note that the cake will rise a wee bit during baking, so make sure the batter is slightly short of touching the rims.
In less than an hour (from prep to end), you have freshly baked cake that is ridiculously aromatic and utterly delectable. Incredible.
PS: Anyone here from Sweden? Can I just say how beautiful your country is? :)
(from Dorie Greenspan)
Makes 8 to 10 servings
- 1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I used vanilla beans)
- 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- About 1/4 cup sliced almonds (blanched or not)*
* I used chopped almonds that I wanted to finish up.
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (about 175 degrees celsius). Butter a seasoned 9-inch cast-iron skillet or other heavy ovenproof skillet, a 9-inch cake pan or even a pie pan.
* I used muffin tins.
2. Pour the sugar into a medium bowl. Add the zest and blend the zest and sugar together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended. Whisk in the salt and the extracts. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the flour. Finally, fold in the melted butter.
3. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Scatter the sliced almonds over the top and sprinkle with a little sugar. If you're using a cake or pie pan, place the pan on a baking sheet.
4. Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it is golden and a little crisp on the outside; the inside will remain moist. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and bottom of the cake to loosen it. You can serve the cake warm or cooled, directly from the skillet or turned out onto a serving plate.
I hope you enjoy this wonderful treat as much my family did. :) Here's a shot of the moist, soft, slightly chewy interior. I snapped it as an afterthought, as I was devouring the last mini cake standing. Ooops! :P
And for those who want to hear me ramble ...
I can still picture myself stepping off the plane at Halmstad Airport back in 1983. I had traveled from Singapore to London, and then to Sweden. A friend of my father had extended a generous invitation to host our family at his summer home. It was to be a memorable 3-week holiday - with a week each, in Sweden, Norway and Finland.
As usual, the only thing that marred my vacation every year were the stacks of holiday assignments that my teachers mercilessly piled onto us. :( I remember packing them into my bag so that I could finish them on the long, boring plane rides.
Those were the days when "in-flight entertainment" was a random movie played out on a standard large screen. If you were a child, good luck to you if you weren't sitting in an aisle seat up front. Good luck to you also, if they decided to screen On Golden Pond. My mom got all excited at the mention of "Fonda" ... but us kids? Yawn. Well, at least I had homework to occupy me. Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing after all.
So yes, stepping off the plane in Halmstad, it instantly felt different. There is something very unique about Scandinavia ... I can't put a finger on it, but I believe it's just the way they organise things - bright, airy, linear and clean-cut. Or maybe it's just the nordic good looks of its people ... imagine seeing life-sized Barbie dolls everywhere!
When we met Uncle Lars (and Aunty Birgitta) for the first time, he had a small bouquet (I believe it was Lily of the Valley) for my mother. I am not sure if this was a norm or a coincidence, but as we later traveled to Norway and Finland, my father's other friends would also wait at the airport with a similar bouquet. I thought it was a lovely gesture.
Uncle Lars' summer cottage looked like a page from the IKEA catalogue. How I loved every corner! The cottage had a backyard that extended into the woods ... in other words, there was no back gate. One morning, I woke up really early, and spied a little fox in the garden. I was thrilled! Often times, we all walked into the woods and picked flowers for the house. Even their weeds were pretty.
There were two girls who lived in the cottage next to us - their names were Viveka and Anneka. If by any unlikely chance, you are one of these girls reading this post, please say hej. :) (What are the odds, really?)
One afternoon, us girls went off by ourselves to the nearby beach. I felt like a character from the Famous Five. It was windy and cold, despite it being summer, and there was not a soul in sight. It was the first time I felt the power of nature, for right in front of us was a vast, mighty, raging sea. We stood silently as we watched the waves crash over and over again. It was impossible not to submit and immerse yourself in a moment like that. That day is still vividly etched in my mind.
Food was such an eye opener. I had never seen dill before and suddenly I saw it in almost every dish. I also remember asking my parents why Swedish people ate cold food when they were living in such a cold country. ;) At every single meal, Uncle Lars would extol the wonders of Swedish potatoes, and how they were far superior to Finnish, Norwegian or Danish ones. Every meal.
I learned to clink my glass and say, “Skål!” before eating. The adults would have Snaps while the kids had sparkling water. I was fascinated with bubbly H20.
As you can tell by now, I have a photographic memory for unimportant information but they are my cherished memories, nonetheless. Thank you for still reading, the four of you who are left.
I should really stop here and go back to baking more Swedish Visiting Cake. For now, it's the closest I can get to visiting Sweden all over again. That, or spend the day at IKEA. :)