I remember the first time I made something specifically labelled as “Norwegian.”
It was when I was in 8th grade, and was tasked with making a dish from my family’s culture for my History class. Being German, Polish and Norwegian, and living in an area that had an overabundance of German-descended people, I wanted to make something other than strudel, spaetzle, or German Chocolate Cake.
I scoured through all of our cookbooks at home, trying to find something Polish or Norwegian to make, without too much luck. Those were the days before the Internet – at least, before I was able to easily look up recipes online, since I would be forced to sit through a dial tone, beeps and bleeps, until it finally connected, and then after all of that I’d still have to wait patiently for pages to load.
Remind me when I’m complaining about my computer being slow, it’s still a hell of a lot faster than AOL was back in the day.
Anyway…after flipping through cookbook after cookbook, I finally struck gold – a Norwegian Honey Cake recipe, in a long neglected baking book that likely belonged to my mother. It looked simple and delicious, and was the only Norsk recipe I could get my hands on, so I decided to make it.
It turned out pretty well, despite a bit too much powdered sugar blanketing the cake, and I felt pretty darn special when I was the only kid in class to bring a Scandinavian-themed dish to class. I’m pretty sure I earned an A, and if not….I should have!
Now, I’m not in 8th grade, nor am I doing this because I have to for a class. Instead, I’m baking something Nordic and sinfully sweet just for the hell of it.
I discovered my new favorite cookbook, The New Nordic: Recipes from a Scandinavian Kitchen, while on vacation in Michigan last summer. I meandered into a Nordic-themed store (you know the one – where you can get souvenirs that say clever, unique things like “Made in Norway!” or “Uff Da!” on a magnet; also, I may or may not have bought one of those magnets). It was in this store that I discovered this beautiful cookbook.
Seriously. I mean, look at it. Sometimes I open it just to look at the pictures, to help virtually whisk me away to my ancestral homeland to which I’ve never set foot (at least not yet). Granted, this book focuses more on how Nordic cuisine is being modernized, but the original spirit and heritage that it’s based on are still very much intact.
I’ve made one recipe from this cookbook before – Stout Lamb Stew, on a particularly snowy day that practically begged for a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meal. Now that it’s rainy and dreary outside, I was looking for an excuse to brighten my day, and found it: Carrot Cardamom Cake.
I’ve made carrot cake previously, but never with cardamom. According to The New Nordic, Scandinavians have had a love affair with the flavorful seeds since the Vikings conquered lands in the Middle East many moons ago. I’ve encountered the spice in my youth in curries, rice and rice pudding. Marrying the two – spice and sweet – would be a match made in Nordic Heaven.
In making the recipe, I found that cracking open cardamom pods is far simpler if you have a meat mallet on hand. Just give the pod a gentle tap / whack, and the small seeds nestled within come right out. Mashing the seeds outside of the shell, however, was a different story; the task definitely required a mortar and pestle, of which I was woefully without. I attempted to mash them as best I could with the end of a wooden spoon, but after a few minutes of halfhearted mashing I gave up, resigned to the fact that we would have some more concentrated amounts of cardamom in the cake than the recipe called for.
Another ingredient that is apparently pretty popular in Scandinavian cuisine is Caster Sugar, which is sugar that has been ground down so it’s superfine, but hasn’t quite graduated to the powdered stage. I had a heck of a time tracking it down in grocery stores near me, and was unable / unwilling to after going to three stores and coming up empty handed. In this time of mild crisis, I turned to my old pal Google and discovered that I could actually make Caster Sugar with my food processor. Literally, all you do is put regular old sugar in, blend it for a bit until the consistency is superfine, and you’re done. Kitchen hacks for the win!
A fun tidbit about this book, for my fellow Americans: it’s written by a European author (Simon Bajada), so he uses the good old Metric System. It mostly worked out alright, especially since I had a kitchen scale and was able to measure everything out in grams / kg. However, when it came to the oven temperature, that’s where it got a bit hairy and I had to use my baking instincts to save the cake.
The recipe calls for the cake to bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit / 200 degrees Celsius for 30-35 minutes, which I thought was a bit high, but figured the author was smart and knew best. Thank God I put it in for only 30 minutes, because when I checked it, the sides were burning and the middle was jiggly and nowhere near done. After a mild panic attack on my part, I reduced the temperature to a much more reasonable 350 degrees and put it back in for about 20 minutes. The outside ended up being a bit dark, but the inside was baked quite well.
Feast your eyes on the result:
The cream cheese frosting was infused with lemon juice and zest, and the inside was quite moist and delicious and not too sweet, which was surprising given the whole almost burning it at a temperature that was clearly too high issue.
Would I make it again? Yes, definitely! Although, I’d make sure to crush the cardamom more, as we found ourselves crunching on the seeds a bit as we were eating the cake (my husband called them “Pops of Flavor”; our son didn’t even notice and gobbled his slice down in 10 seconds flat). I’d also bake it longer at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, as 400 degrees Fahrenheit was obviously way too high. I may also add more walnuts, but that’s just because I really like my nuts.
*This post contains affiliate links. Also, this recipe was made and adapted from The New Nordic: Recipes from a Scandinavian Kitchen.