Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Cardamom buns

The only research I did before arriving in Stockholm last month was not on its architecture, or archipelago, its museums or shopping districts. Or even Abba. It was about breakfast, and specifically: cardamom buns. I'd booked an air b n b based on its proximity to a bakery that made some of the best in town, I was reliably informed. However what my narrow band of research did not reveal is that most of Sweden is away during July. Many businesses too, close for the month, including my well-researched bakery. But fortunately Stockholm is liberally sprinkled with bakeries - not that you even need one. Even the convenience stores sell cardamom buns (and, by the looks of them, good ones!), such is their place in the culture. In walking distance of the apartment I stayed in were several excellent sources and I made the most of it. Luckily now I'm back home, it's not too hard to make my own, like most Swedes do (possibly only tourists like me buy them commercially).

Cardamom is a popular flavour in Scandinavian baking, and it's so beautiful here - speckled through these lightly sweet pastries. The crushed black seeds in the dough contrast with the pretty pearl sugar sprinkled on top. Unlike American-style cinnamon buns, these are modestly-sized, and not too heavy on the sugar. The spice is the dominant flavour and goes beautifully with coffee, for breakfast, for fika, for memories of Scandinavian summer.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Blood orange, ricotta and almond cake

There's something extra alluring about fruit with short seasons. I've been waiting for blood oranges since summer, when this recipe did the rounds of several of the American food blogs I read. It was winter on their side of the world at the time, so I had a long six months before I got my turn. I've tried baking many things with blood oranges before, but have always been disappointed. Despite my best efforts, the brilliant colour that so dazzles when you slice into them always amounted to plain old orange. Til now. Whole slices of beautiful blood orange sit atop a cake infused with both zest and juice, allowing you to experience the fruit in all its glory. In texture, it puts to mind a sort of citrus cheesecake, all the easier to make as you don't have to mess around with a crust. And with ricotta, cornmeal, and almond meal it's entirely gluten-free, should that be your thing. Of course you could make this with regular oranges too, should you wish. Six months is a long time to wait. But it was worth it.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Hazelnut coffee cake

Perhaps the most perfect place in all the world exists in Stockholm. On an island you can walk to from the city, in what was once the Swedish royal family's game park, is a biodynamic garden called Rosendals Trägåd. Amid the neat rows of plantings and greenhouses, and the nut-brown ladies with wispy white hair working in them, there's a café selling food made from what they grow, which you can take on a tray to picnic tables scattered about an orchard of ages-old pear and apple trees and lounge about in the dappled light, eating or reading or chatting.

I spent a week in Stockholm and went there three times. Three visits, three cakes. The first was a Swiss roll, sweet and sticky with jam. The second a fat slice of cardamom cake, speckled with spice. The third was a technically not a cake, but a cinnamon bun, so much better than any I've ever had at IKEA.

What I like so much about Scandinavian baking is its simplicity. There's nothing tricked up or fussy about it. Its modesty is magnificent - just like Rosendals Trägåd and so many other places in Stockholm. When I got home I craved it and the calm of cooking after so long away from a kitchen. So I made a cake - Swedish, naturally.

From Anna Brones and Joanna Kindvall's very lovely cookbook Fika (the Swedish word for the ritual of pausing expressly for coffee and something sweet) I baked the hazelnut coffee cake. This is not so much a coffee cake in the American sense, but one that contains coffee, a flavour that melds beautifully with the ground hazelnuts and butter to produce a simple but stunning cake that suitably sums up Scandinavia.