Old recipe boxes and rhubarb cake

Somewhere–lurking among all the storage boxes, motorcycle parts, and old tapestries in the shop–I have a collection of Grandma H.’s recipe boxes. At the age of 90 last fall, it was time for Grandma to transition to a retirement home. During the downsizing I acquired her collection.

Those boxes are treasure chests full of yellowing paper and fading ink, little pieces of history told through butter, sugar, and flour.

Each card contains a memory. Often marked with the name of the person who gave Grandma the recipe, the cards make me wonder about the stories told and the memories created over a particular cake, salad, or casserole. For example, did Grandma’s friend give her a recipe for her rhubarb cake because they had shared a couple of slices together at a sewing circle or party?

The memories are fleeting, perhaps, and certainly not passed down to later generations, myself included. But somehow, hints or reflections of those memories are preserved through those handwritten notes.

Old-fashioned rhubarb cake

Inspired by recipes for Norwegian rhubarb cake from The Transplanted Baker and Cooking Books, I flipped through the cards in Grandma’s boxes, hoping she would have a recipe. Sure enough, she did. This is an adaptation of it.

1 ½ cups brown sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups raw rhubarb, sliced lengthwise and then into half-inch pieces
Pearl sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and brown sugar in a stand mixer. Add milk and eggs and mix to combine. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together, then add to the batter, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in rhubarb. Pour into a greased 9-inch pan and sprinkle with pearl sugar and cinnamon. Bake for 45-55 minutes.

*The original recipe called for vanilla, but with no mention of amount. I omitted it this time, but will try about a teaspoon the next time I make it.

Scandinavian baking ideas: Biscuits, buns, and more

Spring has passed by my world more quickly than an oncoming metro train; making a momentary appearance in those dark tunnels, it’s gone in a flash. However, since I spent my spring preparing for a European road trip, I can’t expect you to feel sorry for me, or for my lack of time spent baking.

I’m still dreaming about Paris and all the raw energy of the metro contrasted with the tranquility of the banks of the Seine. I can still feel the brisk marine wind of Normandy whipping through my hair. Likewise, the images of the countryside rolling by are still seared in my memory–the gentle, verdant hills of northern France, the tree-lined hills and valleys of Belgium, and the pastoral landscape of southern Germany.

The remaining weeks of spring won’t allow for much baking either, but if you’re looking for Scandinavian baking ideas, look no further than this list:

Touted as “one of the best-loved Norwegian pastries of all-time” by Siri of The Transplanted Baker, skolleboller are cardamom-scented buns filled with vanilla custard and dusted with coconut. Just go to Siri’s blog and take one look at those buns, and you’ll want to reach in and pull them off your computer screen, bite into one, and wash it down with a steaming cup of coffee.

On gray, damp spring mornings when you want to stay indoors in your bathrobe, a warm, freshly-baked biscuit topped with Norwegian brown goat cheese sounds about as cozy as you can get. The cheese–known as gjetost or brunost–was a favorite treat for Jenn of The Leftover Queen when she lived in Norway some years ago, and now she loves these buttermilk biscuits topped with a thin slice of brunost and a little jam.

Whether it’s paired with brown butter, white wine and vanilla bean, or the classic marriage with strawberries, rhubarb is one of spring’s most generous gifts. Taking advantage of rhubarb’s delicious tang and combining it with almond paste, Dagmar of A cat in the kitchen got creative and gave a twist to the traditional almond-filled pastries known as mazarins. These toasted oat flour mazarins with rhubarb are the result.

Inspired by a Norwegian candy bar, the bloggers at My Little Norway have created what they call Troika cake, a chocolate cake layered with raspberry jelly and cream, then topped with a layer of marzipan. Growing up in a Scandinavian family, marzipan cakes have always been one of my favorites. I love the combination of textures–the slightly chewy marzipan with the soft, pillowy cake and a blanket of cream–plus the flavors of almond, sugar, and fruit.

I’ve been wanting to make a Scandinavian apple cake for quite a while, but haven’t known which recipe to try. Until now. Anne of Anne’s Food uses words like “dense,” “rustic,” “delicate,” and “cinnamon-scented” in her description of this apple cake with almonds. With almond paste as a primary ingredient, along with crème fraîche and fresh apples, how could it not be delicious?

What are your favorite Scandinavian recipes? Leave a comment and let me know!