Daytona Strong is a nationally-published food writer and recipe developer specializing in Scandinavian and Nordic food. She is the food editor for The Norwegian American and shares stories of food and family at her Scandinavian food blog, Outside Oslo.
Autumn might just be the coziest time of the year. I love the slow descent into the new season and how the clear mornings of summer give way to the misty start of autumn days. This time of year I look forward to filling my kitchen with the aromas of butter, cardamom, and cinnamon as I bake all manners of Scandinavian treats.
One of my new favorites is this Nordic almond cake with pears and almond spices. As the butter browns on the stove, it releases the most irresistible nutty fragrance, which soon combines with cardamom and cinnamon. Using almond meal instead of flour makes the cake gluten-free while imparting a distinctly Nordic flavor. Finally, the pear slices soften into a luscious version of themselves as the cake bakes, taking this dessert truly over the top. I’m sharing the recipe in the latest issue of The Norwegian American, so head over there and check it out!
Before the slow descent into autumn, I’m cramming my kitchen with as many of summer’s sweetest berries as reasonable. Most of the time, I don’t get around to doing anything with them–they generally don’t last long as soon as my children spot the nubby raspberries, glistening cherries, and plump strawberries on the counter. The other day, however, a Danish strawberry tart was in order.
Back in college, while studying one summer in Normandy, I discovered the magic of the French patisserie. No matter where I went–from the tiny beachside town where I lived to the bigger cities–the pastries were consistently excellent. Over the years, as I continued to visit that country, I settled upon my favorite: a simple fruit tart. A firm but flaky buttery crust cradled the silkiest cream. Whether it was topped with strawberries or a medley of fruit, it looked like a work of art, and it tasted just as spectacular.
I recently discovered a Danish version rich with marzipan and chocolate, and it’s quite possibly a contender for one of my favorite desserts I’ve made. Honestly, it takes little more than the words strawberry, chocolate, and marzipan to get me to try a new recipe. Marzipan–while not unique to Scandinavia–is one of the most quintessential flavors of my Norwegian heritage, and I’ve enjoyed almond in virtually all forms since my childhood (fyrstekake–Norwegian prince cake–is one of my lifelong favorites, for example).
Today’s recipe begins with a typical buttery crust. But nestled between the crust and thick layer of crème pâtissière, you’ll find a rich filling of marzipan. That’s the detail that sets this recipe apart from those irresistible French tarts and makes it taste decidedly Scandinavian.
These days I’m not eating much in the way of dessert. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, to be honest, and I’ve discovered over the course of working with a dietician and paying attention to my body’s cues that refined sugar makes my body feel less than optimal. Still, I love to bake and think there’s magic in the way that a handful of ingredients can transform into something utterly irresistible. Baking is one of my love languages, and even though I will generally eat only a few bites, if I’m going to bake a dessert for someone I love, it had better be spectacular. This tart certainly is.
And while those sweet berries of summer need no help to stand out, a bit of marzipan and chocolate never hurt, right?
For the crème pâtissière: 3 tablespoons cornstarch 1 1/4 cups whole milk, divided 3 egg yolks 1/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup heavy cream
For the tart shell: 1 1/2 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons powdered sugar 1 stick ice-cold butter, cubed 2 egg yolks
For the filling: 3.5 ounces marzipan, grated 1/2 cup sugar 2 eggs 3/4 stick butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces 1/3 cup flour
Additional ingredients: 3 ounces dark chocolate 1/2 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
Begin by making the crème pâtissière, as it will need time to cool. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch with 1/4 cup of the milk until it dissolves, then whisk in the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla. In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining milk over medium heat until almost boiling. Add the egg and milk mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Allow it to come to a boil and cook for a few minutes, continuing to stir constantly, until it’s thickened and there’s no remaining hint of cornstarch flavor. Transfer this to a bowl and cover, then refrigerate for at least two hours. (The cream can also be made a day or two in advance.)
In a food processor, whirl together the flour, salt, and powdered sugar. Add the butter through the feeder tube while continuing to pulse until the dough forms a coarse texture like sand. Add the yolks and whirl until the dough comes together. Transfer it to a sheet of plastic wrap and press it together into a ball, then wrap with the plastic and chill in the refrigerator for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough into a circle just a little larger than a 9-inch tart pan, then press it into the pan. Prick the bottom a few times and bake for 5 minutes, then remove.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl whisk together the marzipan, sugar, and eggs until the sugar dissolves. Add the butter and stir until the filling is smooth and fluffy. Add the flour and fold in until incorporated. Pour this into the tart shell and spread evenly. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes.
While the tart and filling bake, remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator and whisk until smooth. Gradually add the heavy cream and continue to whisk until smooth.
Then in a double boiler, melt the chocolate. When the tart is done baking, spread half of the chocolate over the top of the marzipan. Add the pastry cream on top, filling almost to the top of the tart shell (reserve excess pastry cream for another use). Arrange the strawberries on top and drizzle with the remaining chocolate.
Refrigerate for about a half an hour or so to let the pastry cream firm up before slicing.
Makes 1 9-inch tart.
Adapted with permission from From the North by Katrin Björk, Page Street Publishing Co. 2018.
If you had asked me in my youth to define Norwegian food, I would have listed off a number of almond-flavored desserts: towering kransekake wreath cakes served at weddings, layered birthday cakes draped in a sheet of marzipan, buttery fyrstekake bars, and marzipan candy shaped as fruit or pigs. No matter the format, I was hooked.
The food of my heritage extends way beyond almond, of course, and includes a bounty of fresh seafood, assertive pickles, irresistible smoked and cured meats and fish, and berries picked at the peak of perfection. There’s dill that flavors everything from gravlax to smørbrød, and cardamom that adds a fragrant touch to all manners of baked goods.
But almond was the flavor that stood out to me the most.
I’ve been making variations of today’s cake for several years, and it proves that I’m not alone in my love of almond. Out of all the cakes I bake, this is one that gets the most compliments. Impossibly buttery and moist, it still has enough structure to stay together without any flour. With a base of almond meal, it’s gluten-free, but without alternative flours and gums. The flavor is comforting and warm with the addition of freshly-ground cardamom.
In the past I’ve served the cake with rhubarb compote, the sweet-tart rhubarb providing contrast to the rich almond and cardamom. This time, lingonberries step in for the role. Similar to cranberries but smaller and much more fragrant, lingonberries pop with intensely tart flavor. They’re often served as preserves to accompany everything from pannekaker and heart-shaped vafler to meatballs, but I’ve come to appreciate the berries themselves for the addition they make to a variety of foods.
As for this cake, I wish it were around during my childhood. I wouldn’t have been able to get enough. Almond, cardamom, and lingonberries—it’s hard to get much more Norwegian than that.
Lingonberry-Studded Almond Cake (Gluten Free)
Do yourself a favor here and use freshly-ground cardamom. The fragrance is intoxicating and so much richer than the ready-ground variety. Some years ago the base of this cake had its roots in a deliciously-fragrant recipe in Signe Johansen’s excellent book Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking. I’ve made it so many times over the years and keep adding variations of my own. It’s that good.
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups natural fine almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder (verify that it’s gluten-free if necessary)
1 teaspoon freshly-ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lingonberries (fresh or frozen are fine)*
Powdered sugar, for dusting (gluten-free if necessary)
Preheat oven to 350˚F and butter a 9-inch round springform cake pan. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar for about three minutes, then add eggs one at a time–feel free to beat until fluffy. Stir in the vanilla extract.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond meal, baking powder, cardamom, and salt. Add to the batter and fold to incorporate. Fold in the lingonberries, then spread evenly into the cake pan.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack, then remove from the pan. Dust with powdered sugar.
Yield: 1 9-inch cake
* I buy frozen lingonberries at Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle. If you don’t have access to fresh or frozen lingonberries, you can order frozen berries from them online.
I say “little” because it had been a day full of recipe testing and I felt like keeping things simple.
I call it cozy because the spoonfuls of tender wine-steamed cauliflower bathed in a creamy shrimp sauce were warm and comforting, the essence of koselig.
Americans have been fascinated in recent years with hygge—the word that describes the coziness and wellbeing in the Scandinavian lifestyle. They’ve adopted the Swedish concept of lagom, with its “just enough” approach to life. (Think moderation, packaged in a more appealing way.) And then there’s fika, that reversal of the syllables in kaffe or coffee. They don’t seem to have caught on to the Norwegian kos or koselig as much yet, however.
With words like hygge and koselig, it’s important to realize that they do not translate exactly to cozy or coziness. There’s something about the definitions that are wrapped up in a way of life. It’s not as simple as adding soft textures and candles around one’s home, although the environment one creates is certainly part of it. It’s a way of life that includes hospitality and enjoying time in nature, eating good food, and finding contentment.
As someone who loves being at home but is also quite social, I love the idea of a koselig lifestyle. To me, it looks like long mornings spent making art with my children, leisurely evenings reading a good book, hosting dinners for friends, and occasionally giving myself permission to keep things simple.
That’s where today’s Norwegian recipe comes in.
I first encountered cauliflower with shrimp sauce in Authentic Norwegian Cooking by Astrid Karlsen Scott. It wasn’t one of those dishes I grew up with, but the flavors intrigued me. After researching different ways to prepare it, I set out to create my own version, one that would come together quickly and easily.
A typical dinner at my home involves the standard components: protein, vegetables, and some sort of grain or starch for those who wish to eat it. A meal like this takes time and collaboration; the kids set the table, my husband and I cook. On this particular night, however, my husband was away and I had spent the day recipe testing. Simplicity was in order. After the cauliflower steamed–a process that requires little effort from the cook–I made a quick creamy sauce and stirred in the shrimp to heat it through. That was it. Dinner–our cozy little meal–was served.
I could have just ordered pizza or takeout and avoided a couple of dirty pans, but the effort–though slight–was worth it for the experience of nourishment I still managed to provide for my family. Now that, to me, feels like the essence of a koselig life.
Wine-Steamed Cauliflower with Creamy Shrimp Sauce
I’ve seen different ways to make this dish, from whole cauliflower to cutting the cauliflower into florets. I prefer the latter, as it makes for easy serving and ensures that the creamy sauce seeps into each bite. I chose to steam the cauliflower with white wine to infuse the vegetable with a special touch. Plus, the cooking liquid is incorporated into the sauce, making it extra flavorful. Serve with the remaining wine, well chilled, if you wish.
1 large cauliflower
2 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup whole milk
1 pound small shrimp, cooked and peeled
Chopped curly-leaf parsley, for garnish
Trim the leaves and stem from the cauliflower, and cut it into large florets.
In a large pot, bring water, wine, and salt to a low boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the cauliflower. Cover and steam until the cauliflower is tender but still firm, about 20 minutes. Transfer the cauliflower to a serving dish using a slotted spoon; cover to keep warm. Reserve 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid and add to the milk.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk until it absorbs all the butter. Gradually whisk in the milk and cooking liquid, letting the sauce thicken slightly with each addition before adding more. continue to whisk constantly until it’s thick enough to coat a spoon. Stir in the shrimp and allow it to heat through.
Pour the shrimp sauce over the cauliflower. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
PHOTOS: All photographs by me, except for the ones with the turquoise dress, taken by my wonderful mom.
I sometimes wonder if I was born with a taste for the sea. The first time I stepped foot in Norway, I experienced a deep sense of belonging and longing. It was as if I had finally arrived at a home I never knew was mine. I was in the country of my father’s birth, where relatives on both sides of my family had once lived. My deep roots were almost palpable. As the days went on, I created a taste map of sorts, a way of understanding the country through the meals we ate. I was also finally able to put into context all those Norwegian meals my grandparents had served throughout my youth.
My memories of eating my way through that jagged-coasted country in 2008 are punctuated with seafood: My husband and I ate steamed mussels on the Oslo waterfront, sampled smoked whale from the famous Bergen fish market, and savored salt cod simmered in tomato sauce while escaping from the rare sweltering sun in that coastal city.
As a country with less than three percent arable land, Norway has relied on its seafood over the centuries. Many Americans largely associate Norwegian food with lutefisk. However, that often-maligned dried cod soaked in lye is only one facet of the country’s cuisine.
Delicate poached cod, fillets of salmon cured with the essence of fresh dill, creamy fish soup, and a medley of seafood-topped smørbrød (open sandwiches)—these are just some varieties of classically-Norwegian seafood preparations. These days, when I serve fish for dinner, it’s usually with Scandinavian flavors. I often take some liberties with the type of fish and cooking methods, but these meals almost always stem from the culinary traditions I grew up with or invoke the flavors I associate with my heritage. And that’s where these oysters come in.
Living in Seattle, I’m lucky enough to have easy access to the region’s fresh, tender oysters. Most of the time I prefer to eat them simply: raw on the half shell with an ice-cold martini or glass of crisp sparkling wine. But variety is a wonderful thing, and lately I’ve been playing around with some other techniques, from oyster shooters to grilling and roasting, as well as flavor pairings that complement the briny nature of the oysters.
Today’s recipe begins with the freshest oysters you can find—even though they’re roasted, they retain the tender quality of raw oysters served on the half shell. Once the hinges release and the oysters begin to slightly open, you remove the top shells and spoon a bit of mignonette into each one. Bu this isn’t just any sauce. This one gets its magenta hue from red wine vinegar and shallots—which are typical for mignonette—as well as an unexpected ingredient: rhubarb.
Rhubarb is a beloved ingredient in both Norway—where my family is from—and the Pacific Northwest—where I live. It is so tart that most of the time it’s prepared with a generous amount of sugar. However, in this recipe, rhubarb’s intensity is an asset. Anyone who’s put back an oyster shooter or slurped a fresh oyster out of its shell knows how briny these little guys can be. While some people (like me) enjoy this flavor in its pure form, there’s a reason why oysters are often served with a vinegary sauce, Tabasco, or lemon wedges. In this case, the oysters and rhubarb compete in their level of intensity, but the flavor profiles are so different that they end up complementing each other in the most delicious way.
These days I buy a dozen oysters about once a week, practicing my shucking skills and experimenting with new recipes. While oyster recipes don’t figure largely in the traditional Norwegian culinary canon, I’d like to think that recipes like this one honor both my Norwegian roots and my American identity.
When my grandparents and father left Norway in the 1950s and settled in Seattle, they made their new home in a place that mirrored some of the terrain and resources of their old home, from the mountains to the lakes and fjords. These days it’s hard to imagine living in a place with better access to some of the most incredible seafood, from Alaskan cod and salmon to a variety of shellfish including oysters. If, indeed, I was born with a taste for the sea, then I’m certainly living in the right place.
Roasted Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette
Kosher or rock salt
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely-diced rhubarb
1 tablespoon finely-diced shallot
Chopped curly-leaf parsley, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Rinse the oysters well to remove any debris. In a roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold the oysters without crowding them, pour in salt about a half inch thick. Nestle the oysters in the salt, cup side down–the salt will help prevent the oysters’ liquor from spilling out. Slide the pan into the oven on a rack positioned just below the heating element and roast until the oysters’ hinges have released and the oysters have just begun to slightly open, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the mignonette: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, rhubarb, and shallot. (This will certainly benefit from being made in advance to let the flavors mingle, but it’s fine to use immediately as well.)
To serve, use an oyster knife to fully loosen the hinge and remove the top shell, as well as separate the meat from the bottom cup. Arrange in a serving dish–feel free to reuse the salt from the roasting pan to keep the oysters from tipping and spilling their juices. Spoon a little of the mignonette over each oyster, making sure to include a little rhubarb and shallot in each. Garnish with parsley and serve.
*When working with oysters, especially if they’re raw or just barely cooked, be sure to use the best, freshest ones you can get. I buy mine from a select few stores that I trust, and I appreciate the care that the fishmongers take in selecting the perfect dozen for me. I also prepare and serve them the same day I buy them. If you have any questions about food safety or how to tell if an oyster has gone bad, be sure to talk with your fishmonger–they should be able to guide you and answer any questions you have.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back in this space today. After months of planning, I’m relaunching Outside Oslo and having an amazing set of recipes to share with you in the weeks and months to come, beginning with this incredible featherweight Norwegian dessert. But first, here’s an update on what’s been going on behind the scenes.
I began the year with a commitment to myself. Rather than crafting my typical variety of ambitious achievement-based January goals, I drafted a plan to immerse myself in beauty and creativity: Enjoy words—write often and read good literature and poetry. Surround myself with more art—celebrate artists and their work. Be more creative—try my hand at painting and drawing and diversify my photography techniques. The goal was to revel in the beauty of this world and to nurture my creativity for the sheer pleasure of it, not necessarily to produce.
It seemed like a sort of creative spa experience. Sure, I would do my established work and show up in my life. But aside from that, I desperately needed a season of refreshment. I’ve been an achiever for as long as I can remember, and it felt radical to choose to bask in beauty without necessarily creating works for the world to see. It also turned out to be exactly what I needed.
In the six months since I last posted here, I’ve shed the feeling of overwhelm that had stifled my creativity for months. Focusing on health and nutrition has allowed me to find relief from an extended illness that had temporarily caused most foods to make me sick. Getting a sizeable tattoo of my late grandmother’s rosemaling last December inspired me to teach myself the traditional Norwegian art form, which is now one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve also gained renewed clarity on a major dream project and made a big step toward making it happen. And today I’m relaunching Outside Oslo.
Taking a step back can be one of the hardest things to do. But in reality I gained more traction from being gentle with myself and by letting go. These days I’m finding myself drawn to my writing, recipe development, and photography every single day, rather than being overwhelmed by it. My kids are enthusiastic about Mama’s working hours and usually clamor to be my sous chefs and assistant food stylists (and as a work-from-home mom, that’s no small achievement). I’ve rediscovered the creativity that has always pulsed within me, and I feel so much more like myself with it intact. To those of you who have followed Outside Oslo over the years, thanks for your patience and for sticking around. I can’t wait to establish a regular routine of sharing Scandinavian recipes with you here, beginning with troll cream (trollkrem).
The first time I heard about troll cream some years ago, I was mystified. The name seemed more linked to Scandinavian folklore than a traditional Norwegian dessert. (Keep in mind that the trolls I grew up with were not friendly candy-colored creatures that children play with today—they were grotesque and smirking figurines that loomed ominously in my grandparents’ basement.)
The essence of troll cream is unlike anything in the American dessert repertoire. At its simplest, it consists of lingonberries, sugar, and egg whites, which whip up into an ethereal pale pink cloud. Spooning up a bite, one might expect it to be almost the consistency of the finest chocolate mousse, but it’s infinitely lighter. I’d almost relate it to cotton candy, but without the cloying sweetness and sticky quality. With its impossible-to-compare nature, troll cream certainly lives up to its mythical name.
Growing up in a Norwegian-American family, I developed an early taste for lingonberries, along with almond, cardamom, dill, pickled herring, and all sorts of seafood. It wasn’t until I became an adult and visited Norway for the first time that I began to put the food of my youth into context. As I ate my way through that country, experiencing the hospitality that mirrored that of my Norwegian grandparents, I finally began to make sense of the food I had grown up with. I could see it for what it was—my family’s attempt at preserving our Norwegian heritage and showing love with every meal. Many of you have shared with me your stories about how you associate food with your loved ones as well. Regardless of your cultural background, I hope you enjoy the stories you read here on Outside Oslo and that you’re inspired by the recipes and hospitality you find within the blog. Thanks for reading and for cooking and baking along with me.
Whipped Lingonberry Troll Cream (Trollkrem)
The magic here is in the beating, and using a stand mixer will make quick work of this dessert. A hand mixer will also work but may require a little extra time. Since lingonberries can be hard to find in the United States, the recipe I’m sharing with you today features lingonberry preserves, which are considered a fine substitution for fresh or frozen berries. I’ve also seen a variation using fresh cranberries, but I prefer the distinct flavor and fragrance of lingonberries. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place like Seattle that has rich Scandinavian roots, you might be able to find the preserves at the grocery store, or at least a Scandinavian import store. For many, Ikea might be the closest source. When it comes to serving troll cream, you can certainly spoon it into bowls and enjoy it simply with a garnish of fresh mint leaves. I prefer a bit of contrast in desserts, and so I’d recommend serving it alongside Norwegian krumkaker or your favorite delicate buttery cookies.
1/2 cup lingonberry jam
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon freshly-ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Scandinavian vaniljesukker or vanilla extract
Mint leaves, for garnish
Fresh or frozen lingonberries, for garnish (optional)
Add jam and egg whites to a large bowl and beat vigorously until the ingredients have at least quadrupled in size, maybe even more–you’re looking for a pale, fluffy cloud. This should take at least four minutes using a stand mixer, longer if you’re using a hand mixer. Add the cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla and beat it a moment more to combine. Garnish with mint and lingonberries if using, and serve immediately.
It smelled like the neighborhood Scandinavian bakery in my home the other day, with the aromas of freshly baked cardamom buns and hot coffee brewed as strong and dark as the Nordic night.
Boller—buttery, cardamom-scented buns —are just right with a smear of butter and a creamy slice of geitost (Norwegian brown goat cheese). Making them is as easy as can be, and yet the recipe used to intimidate me. You see, boller were among Grandma Adeline’s staples, one of those recipes I’ve wished that I would have learned how to make from her.
Over the years, Grandma taught me to make so many of her Norwegian recipes—lefse, krumkake, sandbakkelse, Norwegian heart-shaped waffles, and the list goes on. Before she taught me how to make those tender cardamom buns, however, she had the strokes. She couldn’t bake anymore. Just communicating was difficult.
I’d try every now and then to bake cardamom buns, usually under the guise of making Fastelavnsboller (which many people know by the Swedish name, semlor). It was easier, it seemed, to develop a recipe for those cream-filled treats that are eaten ravenously during the weeks before Lent, than it was to try to replicate something that was as tied to my childhood as my grandmother’s cardamom buns. But it occurred to me at some point that I didn’t need to obsess anymore about getting the boller just right—the ones I’d fill with cream were already as delicious as could be.
However, for those of us whose taste is as connected to our memories as is our sense of smell, perhaps it makes sense that I had worried so about replicating hers so closely. Recipes like boller—which are fragrant and flavorful with butter, cardamom, and yeast—seem particularly capable of connecting us to the past.
Scandinavians are some of the world’s biggest consumers of cardamom, that exotic spice that made its way to the Nordic countries from the Middle East centuries ago. Cardamom makes its way into countless treats, from boller and fika-worthy cookies to steaming pots of gløgg. Although the spice is not native to the Nordic countries, it is so woven into Scandinavian baking that the smell is enough to make many people nostalgic.
I used to keep an empty spice jar in my office. It once contained cardamom. Each time I unscrewed the cap, the scent would conjure up memories of my grandparents, long since departed.
The lingering aroma faded and I discarded the jar recently. After all, nothing earthly can take the place of those dear people who taught me what it was like to be loved. In its stead, I’ve come to realize, the memories are stronger than anything physical could provide. Each time I bake or cook something Norwegian I’m trying to keep a bit of that heritage—with all its inherent hospitality and love—alive for those with whom I share it.
These cardamom buns are part of that.
Boller (Norwegian Cardamom Buns)
Based on my recipe for Fastelavnsboller, previously shared in The Norwegian American. At some point over the years of developing a boller recipe, I referenced a recipe of beloved Norwegian chef and cookbook author Ingrid Espelid Hovig. While this is no longer her recipe, I’m confident that the results are authentically Norwegian. And these boller are as delicious as can be.
1 stick (8 tbsps.) butter
1 ¼ cup milk
2 tsps. freshly ground cardamom
2 tbsps. active dry yeast
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp. salt
4 ½- 5 cups flour
1 beaten egg, for brushing
In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the milk and cardamom and heat until hot (don’t bring it to a boil), then set aside and cool until it’s lukewarm.
In a large mixing bowl, stir a half cup or so of the lukewarm milk into the yeast and a tablespoon of the sugar using a wooden spoon. Let sit until the yeast bubbles, about 5 minutes. Pour in the remaining milk, along with the rest of the sugar and the egg and salt.
Stir in the flour gradually, beginning with about half of the flour and then adding a half cup or so at a time until you have a dough that’s firm and releases from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Gather the dough and form it into a large ball.
Lightly grease a large bowl (you can minimize the dishes by wiping out and using the same mixing bowl you used to stir the dough). Plop in the dough, turning it around until it’s coated with the oil. Cover with a damp cloth and set to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with parchment.
Punch down the dough and shape into 12 balls. Place them on the baking sheets, making sure the smoothest side is up. Cover with a damp towel and let rise again, this time about 20 minutes. Brush with the beaten egg.
Bake in the center of the oven, one sheet at a time, for about 10 minutes until golden on top. Watch carefully, as the buns quickly darken. Rotate the baking sheet if needed for even baking. If the buns are browning too quickly and the insides need additional baking time, then cover the tops with a sheet of aluminum foil. Cool on a wire rack.
The cure begins by tucking the salmon into a blanket of sugar, salt, and dill. By the time the ingredients are fully applied, there’s no trace of the fish. The vibrant red of the sockeye is buried—as its name gravlax (“grave salmon”) suggests—in a mound that resembles freshly fallen snow.
We’ve been making gravlax, a Scandinavian cured salmon with roots that go back to the Middle Ages, for years in my home. It’s our go-to holiday appetizer, the constant fixture in our Christmas feast. The rest of the menu almost doesn’t matter; no matter how complicated or simple I make the task of designing the menu, gravlax is there.
The beauty of gravlax is in its simplicity; while many recipes call for additional spices and flavorings, I prefer to let the essence of the salmon shine. With nothing aside from salt, sugar, dill, and perhaps a bit of aquavit or vodka, the flavor of the salmon intensifies, transforming the fish into an even more rich and luscious version of itself.
When making gravlax, I know that I’m celebrating something of my heritage, joining in a centuries-old tradition, albeit one that’s morphed considerably over time.
Thinking of the origins of gravlax—which appears in documents as early as the 1300s–I imagine Norway in the Middle Ages and see a land of jagged topography lined with frigid waters that bleed into its shores and cut through the mountainous landscape. These fjords are a landmark of sorts of Norway, as recognizable to the rest of the world as are the country’s medieval Stave churches and the Viking ships unearthed over the past 150 or so years. Some things are sure: The waters were cold. The winters were dark. People needed food.
And that’s where preserved fish comes in. Gravlax, of course, gets its name from its origins. Grave salmon, buried salmon. These days, preparations like mine literally bury the salmon in a coat of sugar and salt. But its roots go back to a different kind of preservation, burying fish in the ground, wrapped in birch bark, where it would ferment.
Today a type of fermented fish, rakfisk, remains a Norwegian delicacy. The Swedes have surströmming. But the fish fermentation of the Middle Ages has otherwise largely been replaced by today’s curing methods, which draw out moisture and accentuate flavor, leaving behind the softest, most velvety texture. The results are satisfying and sophisticated, yet simple and uncomplicated—just good ingredients prepared simply. What food should perhaps almost always be.
Over the years I’ve come to see gravlax as less of a recipe than a technique. It’s almost a formula: high-quality salmon with a two-to-one cure of sugar and salt and traditionally a scattering of fresh dill. All other ingredients are optional and vary. As with any traditional recipe, variations abound, ranging from the simplest to others incorporating fruits, vegetables, spices, and spirits to lend varying essences and hues to the fish. I’ve seen recipes with orange and horseradish, and others that call for beetroot, the latter of which lends the most gorgeous magenta ombré effect to the sliced salmon. I’m sure they all yield excellent results, but I like my gravlax traditional, the flavor of the already-rich sockeye concentrated and accentuated only with a hint of dill.
Years ago we read Mark Bittman’s article about gravlax in The New York Times and have almost always used The Minimalist’s Gravlax recipe as our base, though over the years it’s begun to feel less like a recipe, more like a technique. In a nutshell, we take a fillet of sockeye salmon (previously frozen to kill parasites and bacteria), then defrost it and cover it with a thick blanket of sugar, salt, and chopped fresh dill. In the winter months, we leave it out in a cool spot for a few hours, then refrigerate it for about 24 to 36 hours before wiping or rinsing off the salt mix and slicing the salmon thinly. Making gravlax is so simple. It’s about using good fish, understanding the process, and not getting intimidated by something that just looks fancy.
When it comes to serving gravlax, it’s as easy as setting out some crispbread or crackers, lemon wedges, a dill-flecked mustard sauce sweetened with a bit of honey, and perhaps some capers and chopped red onion, so that guests can assemble it to their own taste. I find that simple is best, and that gravlax needs little more than a cracker to bring it one’s mouth. Of course, one can also feel free to serve it alongside potatoes, on smørbrød (open-faced sandwich), or as the centerpiece of a salad.
No matter how you serve it, it’s hard to beat something as simple yet elegant as this.
And to think it only required a simple cure.
The Simplest Gravlax
I notice the beauty of the sockeye each time we bring a fillet into our home. We always use sockeye for our gravlax, with no exception. It’s my favorite kind of salmon; the color is only a hint at the flavor and the richness of the fish, whether grilled or poached, cured or sashimi-style. Each time I unwrap a fillet I marvel at the beauty of the fish—its vibrant color and silky texture portend the deliciousness to come.
1 ( approximately 2 pound) fillet of best-quality salmon, skin on, previously frozen
1 bunch dill
2 cups sugar
1 cup salt (I use kosher)
3-4 tablespoons vodka or aquavit
Line a large baking sheet with plastic wrap, leaving enough over the ends to wrap over the salmon. Top this with a layer of parchment paper similarly sized. (The double layer helps to contain the mess when draining the excess liquid, although a single layer of plastic wrap will do in a pinch.)
Rinse the salmon and pat it dry. Remove any pin bones and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet.
Thoroughly wash and dry the dill, then rough chop the whole bunch, including the stems (you’ll be removing the dill later, leaving just its essence behind). In a medium bowl, mix the dill, sugar, salt, and vodka or aquavit, then scatter it on top of and underneath the salmon, being sure to pack the cure ingredients on every part of the fish. Wrap the salmon, first with the parchment and then the plastic wrap.
At this point, you can refrigerate it immediately or take Mark Bittman’s advice and place it in a cool location (he recommends below 70 degrees) to rest for about 6 hours before refrigerating it, which will shorten the amount of time it needs to cure.
Check the gravlax every 12 hours or so, pouring out excess liquid (some is okay and can be used to baste the fish, but drain some out if it’s excessive) and turning the fish. After the salmon has cured to your liking (at least 24 hours, or as long as two days), drain off the liquid and pat the salmon dry, removing excess curing ingredients from the surface (alternatively, you can rinse them off and then pat dry if you don’t like the little flecks of dill left over). Slice very thinly.
Leftovers, if you have any, should last about five days and can also be frozen. I’ve also taken the advice of Michelin starred chef Titti Qvarnstrom, previously of Sweden’s Bloom in the Park, who taught at Seattle’s Nordic Culinary Conference last year, and briefly steamed thicker portions of leftovers. These make a wonderful addition to salads.
When the leaves begin to turn and the air becomes laced with a chill, I know that fall has finally arrived. It’s my favorite season, the one that brings back memories of crunching through fallen leaves as a child, picking out the perfect pumpkin to carve, and sipping steaming cups of apple cider to brace against the cold.
This time of year it seems as though either pumpkin or apple arises as an individual’s favorite fall flavor. Pumpkin doesn’t have much of a place in traditional Norwegian cooking and baking, but apple sure does, with apple cake (eplekake) being a true favorite. Typically a rich buttery sponge cake with apple slices wedged in the batter, it’s as simple as can be, requiring little more than good ingredients to create a comforting cake.
I’ve begun experimenting with alternatives to gluten, dairy, eggs, and even sugar in my baking, and I recently decided to see if I could convert my own eplekake recipe into one that would work with a number of dietary restrictions. The first time I put it to the test, I used gluten-free flour, which I had never used before, swapped out the butter for a vegan butter spread, used coconut sugar instead of cane sugar, and tried my hand at a flax “egg.” Honestly, I almost didn’t serve it to the guest who was coming for coffee—I was nervous that I had tried too many modifications at once. But my guest was pleased and I think the results were just right; upon making the cake this way again since, I’ve found that I prefer it. While it’s hard to improve upon a classic, this version has a heartier texture and dare I say tastes a little healthier, which is a good thing when I want to enjoy a slice with my morning coffee.
If you’d rather use all-purpose flour, real butter, and brown sugar, then by all means go ahead. And the flax egg (which is simply ground flaxseed soaked in water) can be swapped out for two real eggs. I’ve made this cake both ways, and while the results are different depending on the ingredients, both versions of this cake are delicious.
Norwegian Apple Cake with Autumn Spices (Gluten-, Dairy-, and Egg-Free)
(Glutenfri norsk eplekake med høstkrydder)
2-3 large apples
2 cups gluten-free flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour)
2 tsps. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon, plus more for dusting
½ tsp. freshly-ground cardamom
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup unsalted vegan butter spread (I use Earth’s Balance), at room temperature
¾ cup coconut sugar, plus more for dusting
2 tbsps. ground raw flaxseed/flaxseed meal
5 tbsps. water
2 tsps. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 8-inch springform pan.
Peel and thinly slice the apples and set aside.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. To prepare the flax egg, stir the ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl and let rest for five minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter spread and sugar until it’s pale and silky and mousse-like, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flax egg, mixing well. Stir in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and stir until incorporated.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Arrange the apple slices in a decorative circular pattern around the bottom of the pan, starting in the center and working your way out.
Dust cinnamon and sugar over the top of the cake. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, checking occasionally. The top will be deeply colored, but feel free to place a sheet of foil over the top if it’s coloring too quickly. Cool on a baking rack, then remove from the pan.
It was some years ago when I realized I loved September. I don’t think I had actually thought about it until I was an adult, but Septembers have been peppered with sweetness throughout my entire life. Some people gravitate toward the warmest months, while others among us lean into the slower, calmer time, the quieting into autumn. September, to me, means a new school year (oh how I loved this time of year when I was a student!), shopping for pencils and notebooks, gentle breezes rustling a symphony of newly-colored leaves, and my wedding anniversary. It alternates between blue skies and rain showers, flip flops and a mental note to start wearing my boots. September exists in a place in between–neither summer nor fall, warm nor cold, entirely rainy nor dry.
The salad we’re talking about today reflects that transitional nature. Its very ingredient list celebrates a slight window of time in which figs and chanterelles mingle in season, those sensual bites of fruit nestled among forest gold. I created this chanterelle, fig, and blue cheese salad in September a few years ago and am sharing it this week in The Norwegian American. The produce itself is luscious enough on its own, and a scattering of blue cheese crumbles elevates it to something extra special. It’s substantial enough to be a light meal in itself, perhaps with a little protein on the side if you’re so inclined. Head on over to The Norwegian American for the recipe. I hope you’ll give it a try!