There are so many reasons to celebrate. Daily ones in fact. From the sweetest smiles to the dearest conversations to the sun’s rays dancing across the trees. It would be unfitting to overlook the simple delights that each day brings and which call for even the smallest hint of celebration.
That’s what bløtkake is all about. It’s a celebration cake. The quintessential Norwegian party cake, because it always makes an appearance. From the light and fluffy sponge to the delightfully tangy and sweet berries. It’s essentially a layer cake with cream, and sometimes custard, sandwiched between vanilla sponge. It can be topped with cream and fruit or enclosed with marzipan. It’s one of those cakes where anything goes. You pick the fruit, the fillings and the toppings, just keep the sponge and cream.
Layer cakes say a lot about celebrations because, just like the cake, a reason to celebrate is usually a build up of many things that culminate into an integrated and splendid outcome.
Last week I was in New York for the Saveur Magazine Food Blog Awards. It was a special time, for many reasons. Firstly, I got to visit this remarkable city which I had never been to before (yes, surprisingly). My parents and my sister flew in to spend the days with me and the time was more meaningful because the last time the four of us travelled together was when I was a teenager. I also met some incredible people from all over whom I now call friends. I indulged in foods served straight from the soul; at least that is what I can only imagine. I photographed a city with not only my lens but my memory and eyes as well. And for a few short days, I did my best to savor the parts of the city which were allocated to me.
The days concluded with the Saveur Awards activities and ceremony where North Wild Kitchen was awarded the Editor’s Choice for Best New Voice among a group of incredibly talented and creative bloggers. And in a moment, which can only be described as surreal, Blog of the Year also went to North Wild Kitchen. It took me some time to get over the initial shock and surprise but when I did it was even clearer to me that culture, tradition and creativity have an immense reach and importance. Sharing the stories about the people who are the caretakers and historians in our food system crosses boundaries and connect us through our shared values and desire for good food. The awards are truly reflective of the relevance and importance of highlighting a culture’s cuisine – it’s background, it’s evolution, it’s traditions and it’s innovation all in one. It also doesn’t hurt that Norway is one beautiful and stunning country.
Returning home on such a high note, I wanted my next recipe to mark the occasion and sum up my experience. What better recipe to make than Norway’s celebration cake topped with autumn’s vibrant berry?!
Bløtkake has a long history. The sponge cake itself is referred to as ‘sukkerbrød’ or sugar bread. The name sukkerbrød, according to the classic, German book Deautshes Wörterbuch, refers to the general term of an old fashioned baked good as well as a bread topped with sugar. It was first introduced in a cookbook written by Helle Schrøders in Denmark in 1692. Here is a link to the earliest recipe to be found in Norwegian/Danish tradition.
It is also interesting to note that wild forest berries, such as tyttebær, only became part of the Norwegian diet at the end of the 1800s when sugar became widely available. Before this time, berries were used as medicine or emergency provisions in difficult times. The use of jam was exclusive and attractive to the upper class as well as using the berries for punch or liquor and served with cream during the summer months. Therefore, it was more common to pick wild berries to sell them rather than use them for personal use. (Source)
When the Norwegian bløtkake of sukkerbrød and berries with cream and marzipan began to unfold is a little uncertain, yet the consensus seems to be around the 1900s as it made its way into being an important aspect of celebrations and jubilees. And today it remains a permanent fixture on any Norwegian festivity.
Tyttebær is a berry that many people steer clear from because it can be quite tart, sometimes even bitter. But with the right amount of sugar they can be very delightful. In this cake, the cream and the sponge give it a nice balance and the sugared berries offer a good texture against the softness of the cake. So you get a little tartness when you bite into it but then the flavors blend. This is a beautiful cake, one that can easily be made in the winter as well because of the vibrant colors.
Bløtkake med Tyttebær (Layer Cake with Lingonberries)
(Makes 1 cake)
*I also recommend following grams over cups for better accuracy
- 5 large eggs
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (175 g) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups (175 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 cups (150 g) tyttebær/lingonberries (or cranberries if you can’t get a hold of lingonberries)
- 1 1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
- 2 cups (200 g) tyttebær/lingonberries (or cranberries)
- 2 cups (480 ml) water
- 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar, plus more for rolling
- 3 cups (720 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 165°C/329°F. Place a parchment sheet in the bottom of a spring form cake pan so that it fits just right (cutting it into a circular shape and greasing the bottom so it sticks) and grease the sides of the pan and top of the parchment sheet. For this cake, I used a 22cm/9inch pan.
Combine the eggs and sugar in a kitchen mixer on medium/high speed for 5-8 minutes, until the mixture becomes stiff and light in color. This is really important because you want the sponge cake to rise when it bakes and become airy and light.
Sift (very important!) the flour and baking powder over the batter and mix gently with a spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared spring form cake pan and place on top of a cookie sheet. Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.
When the cake is done, allow to cool. You can also freeze the cake for future use.
To prepare the sauce, place the tyttebær/lingonberries (or cranberries if using) in a small saucepan with the sugar and a spoonful of water. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for about 10-15 minutes, or until the berries soften and burst. (You can add some orange zest if you so desire)
Set aside and allow to cool.
To prepare the sugared berries, place the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a small simmer letting the sugar dissolve, but do not let it boil. Turn down the heat to low.
Add the tyttebær/lingonberries (or cranberries if using) to the sugar water and let sit for 2-3 minutes. If using frozen berries, just let them sit in the sugar water a little longer.
With a slotted spoon, place the berries on a wire rack or sheet with small holes and separate them so they can dry. Tyttebær/lingonberries tend to be quite small and can fall through a a general wire rack so use any type of metal sheet with small holes. The process of drying takes around 20-30 minutes.
When the berries are dry, roll them in granulated or caster sugar. They are now ready for use.
To make the whipped cream, place the cream and the sugar in a kitchen mixer and whip on medium/high for a couple of minutes until the cream is stiff.
To assemble the cake, take your sponge cake and cut it into 3 separate layers. On the bottom layer, add half of the sauce and gently spread it across the entire cake. Top with a good amount of the whipped cream and spread it out to the edges of the cake. Place the second layer of sponge on top and repeat with the last layer of sauce and some more of the whipped cream (reserving enough to cover the cake). Place the final layer of cake on top and cover completely with the rest of the whipped cream, sides and all. Take the sugared berries and place on top of the cake. Bløtkake is one of those cakes that actually tastes better the next day because the cream and sauce has had some time to soak into the sponge cake. You can, of course, serve this cake immediately and it’s still delightful, but seconds on the day after will be even better. Enjoy!