Going shopping on an empty stomach


I remember grocery shopping with my mom while growing up, armed with a delicious, dense, almond-filled pastry called fyrstekake from the bakery.

When I bought Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Scandinavian Baking Book this summer, the first recipe I decided to try was the Norwegian Prince’s Cake. A simple, easy cake with an almond filling, it sounded wonderful. Little did I realize at first that I was looking at a recipe for fyrstekake. (Never mind the fact that the Norwegian name was in parentheses directly under the English one.)

Scandinavians must be born with a taste for almond in their genes. Growing up, some of my favorite sweets involved almond. Closer to my heart than fyrstekake is kringle, an almond- and raisin-filled, pretzel-shaped pastry. And don’t get me started on marzipan candy!



Fyrstekake with Rosé-Poached Nectarines
Cake recipe adapted from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

While planning a dessert to bring to a dinner with friends recently, I decided to bake this traditional Norwegian cake. But I wanted to give the dessert my own touch. As promised, here’s the recipe. Nectarines pair nicely with the cake’s almond flavor and add some moisture and contrasting texture to the dense, dry cake.  I kept the poaching liquid very simple in order to let the flavor of the frystakake shine without overwhelming it or adding too many flavors. But if you’d like, a little cinnamon might be a nice touch.

Despite the decorative crisscross pattern, this is a very simple cake that doesn’t require an artist’s touch. If you keep that in mind while forming the crust, you’ll be just fine, and you’ll spare yourself the frustration when the crust inevitably breaks or does something you don’t want it to do.

Despite the cake’s dryness, it keeps surprising well. Serve leftover cake the next day with coffee.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup and 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, chilled and cut into slices
1 egg
1 cup whole almonds, unblanched
1 cup powdered sugar
2 egg whites
almond extract, to taste (optional)
wine-poached nectarines (recipe follows)
vanilla ice cream, for serving

Equipment: food processor, 9-inch springform cake pan

Sift the flour, sugar, and baking powder into a food processor. Add butter and combine; it will quickly develop the consistency of sand. Add one egg, and process until the mixture comes together into a dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill while making the filling.

Clean and dry the food processor. (You do not need to wash it; rinsing it in warm water and removing the bits of dough will suffice.) In the same bowl, use the food processor to finely chop the almonds. (Be warned, this is surprisingly loud!) The almonds will still have a rough consistency, which is okay; you’ll get a sense of when they’re ready. Add the powdered sugar and two egg whites, and process until combined. Taste the filling; it will have a delicate almond flavor, much softer than  marzipan. If you wish to have a more pronounced almond flavor, you might want to try adding a little almond extract to taste. Then cover the food processor bowl and refrigerate. (At this point, you may leave the dough and filling to chill for awhile, or proceed to assemble the cake. However, the dough may benefit from a little time in the refrigerator, as it should help it become more workable.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using 2/3 to 3/4 of the dough, create the bottom layer of dough. Feel free to simply press it into the bottom and sides of the pan (you’ll want it to go up to about 3/4 of the sides), or, roll it out on a floured board into a circle about 10 1/2 to 11 inches in diameter, then press it into the pan. The important thing to remember is that the crust doesn’t have to be perfect; this is a rustic-looking dessert. Once the bottom crust is ready, spoon the almond filling in and spread it evenly onto the crust. Roll the rest of the dough out onto a floured board and cut it into 1/2-inch strips, then arrange them on the filling in a crisscross pattern. Once again, resist the temptation to make them perfect. The dough will easily break when you’re lifting the strips from the board; it helps to take a flat utensil and run it between the board and dough to loosen it, then lift it up gently. If it breaks, just put it back together like a puzzle. Bake, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes, until the crust is golden.

One the cake cools, cut into slices, and serve with nectarines and ice cream. Drizzle a little of the reduced wine sauce on top of each slice and serve.

Serves 8-10

Rosé-Poached Nectarines

2 nectarines
1 cup rosé*
1 tablespoons sugar

While the cake is baking, prepare the nectarines. Cut them into eighths, and put them in a saucepan with the rosé. Bring to a boil, then simmer for approximately ten minutes, or until cooked, but still al dente. Stir frequently, turning the nectarine slices over to make sure they’re cooked evenly. Don’t be afraid if they lose their skin; most of it will inevitably  fall off. When the nectarines are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon, and discard the skin. Reduce the wine sauce, stirring frequently, until it turns into a thin, jammy syrup.

*While I used rosé, white wine would probably have very similar results. I happened to have an open rosé in the fridge. The important thing is that you use an inexpensive wine, but one that you enjoy drinking, because the nectarines are the stars here.

You may want to double the nectarine recipe, depending on how many servings you need. I made it to serve four, but come to think of it, it could easily have served 6-8.

Too late at night to be thinking–or writing–about coffee

(Yes, it’s after midnight, I should be sleeping, and I’m writing about coffee.)

There’s almost nothing better in the morning than waking up to the smell of freshly-brewed coffee, still too hot to drink, and discovering that it’s been brewed for you by a husband who’s standing at the side of the bed, waking you up with a mug of the fortifying tonic.

These days, a freshly-ground, fair-trade Nicaraguan coffee brewed in a humble coffeemaker or French press hits the spot more than the fancy drinks I used to order regularly: mix-and-match concoctions with any combination of flavorings, extra shots, milk selection, etc. The unassuming black coffee is like a classic, well-tailored suit contrasted with a bold, trendy ensemble that’s sometimes accessorized almost to the point of being gauche.

Before you think I’m being harsh, remember, my coffee tastes didn’t always reflect this sensibility, and I still love a good latte, cappuccino, hot chocolate or chai.

I was still a kid when lattes became cool in Seattle, before people started making jokes about there being a coffeehouse on every corner. But once the drinks caught on, I was one of the shops’ most serious young customers.

One day, it must have been back in elementary school, my friend and I approached the bakery counter at the neighborhood grocery store. Oh, how we thought we were cool, ordering triple or quad lattes—I can’t even remember now which one it was—unaccompanied by an adult. Having already earned the right to call myself a coffee-drinker (a big deal at that young age), we were adventurously moving onto the next symbol of pride: how many shots our coffee cups held. Wisely, the woman behind the counter took one look at us young girls and laid down the law: There was no way she’d be serving us so much caffeine.

Fast-forward to college, I was way beyond getting my coffee at the bakery; rather, I was now getting my pastries at the coffeehouse. I discovered that these places were perfect for studying or writing; I could surround myself with people, but still get to be alone. (The Seattle mystique is often true, sorry to say—Seattlites are often most comfortable cocooned in their invisible-walled shells, where they can watch their surroundings in safety and solitude. If you come to visit our beautiful city, please don’t take it as an offense, but try to see it as a cultural experience.)

After graduating, and finally landing a job in line with my career goals, my coffee habits took on a new dimension: frequent, near-nightly trips to the 24-hour drive-through on the way to work. I had accepted a position working pitiable hours, and while other people were sleeping, I was taking my hot, freshly brewed latte to work. In the alternate reality I seemed to be living by working at night and sleeping during the day, the coffee was like my blankie, serving as a constant, comforting thing as I walked into the artificially lit building at 1 a.m. (One of the few good things that came out of that habit was making friends with one of the baristas, who ended up being a bridesmaid in my wedding.)

Back to the beginning of the story. These days, one of the most pleasant aromas to me comes from a bag of coffee beans, just waiting to be ground and brewed. The fragrance is so full of warmth and comfort that it seems like just the thing to have on a cool, autumn evening, like the ones just around the corner. Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way that I should avoid having caffeine too close to bedtime. (And, I probably shouldn’t be writing about coffee at 12:30 a.m. on a work night.)

However, my experience (at least in my own family) is that Norwegians aren’t afraid to enjoy a nice cup of coffee in the evening. If you enjoy after-dinner coffee, too, I have a treat for you:


This Norwegian almond cake, accented with poached nectarines, would be a perfect pairing with that evening coffee as summer turns into fall. I’ll share a recipe soon. In the future, I plan to explore coffee traditions in Norway. If you have insight or experiences you’d like to share, please let me know.