Have you ever had one of those days where absolutely nothing goes right?
You know the ones I’m talking about. The days where, as soon as you step out of bed, you know the universe is just not on your side. Nothing hugely bad happens, but lots of little maladies add up until you end up convinced that nothing but curling up in a fetal position in the corner with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s will make it disappear.
Well, today was one of those days. We woke up late, because the 4th of July now apparently means that people feel the need to set off fireworks all. week. long. We were all cranky from the collective lack of sleep, and our attempts at eliminating our sour moods did little to actually alleviate them.
One of my attempts to rid myself of my melancholy was to make a recipe from a book that I checked out from the library about Nordic living, called How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by Signe Johansen. When I got the book, I wasn’t planning on using it for the blog since it’s geared more toward how to live a simple and happy Nordic life overall, but when I saw how much eating around the table and enjoying food and life were central to a Nordic sense of “hygge” (actually pronounced “hoo-ga,” not “hig-ee”), I knew I had to try one of the recipes out.
Although most of the recipes looked scrumptious, I had a difficult time locating one that wasn’t a super-heavy winter meal (not too surprising, considering where Scandinavia is situated on the globe). When I came across the Midsummer Almond Torte recipe, however, I knew it would be the perfect thing to make on a 80+ degree day.
I already had a good chunk of what I needed to make the torte, and the other ingredients required for the recipe looked easy enough to source from my local grocers.
Famous. Last. Words.
Google told me that I could find elderflower syrup at my local Trader Joe’s. Elderflowers and the syrup they make are widely found in Nordic countries, and show up a lot in their cuisine. It has a subtle, sweet and slightly floral flavor that lends itself well to sweets especially.
So, I went to the Trader Joe’s in the next town over and came up empty handed. I also tried Whole Foods and another grocery store, and then came back cursing to Google. That’s when I found the most likely place it would be: a little Swedish furniture store that goes by the name “IKEA.”
I drove the 20+ miles to the nearest IKEA to obtain the syrup, and miraculously resisted the siren calls of inexpensive Swedish home goods, cinnamon rolls and 99 cent frozen yogurt to buy it. On my way home, I stopped at Aldi for the rest of the items I needed, and low and behold, they didn’t have any lemons, because my day just wasn’t lousy enough already. After that I went to yet another grocery store, got the lemons, but wasn’t able to find the vitamins I wanted (related more to my general bad luck happening that day than to the actual recipe itself).
By the time I got home, I was tired, annoyed and sick of feeling like Blackbeard spending years trying to find treasure on a crappy old map. To cheer myself up, I watched an episode of The Great British Baking Show, and cheered when bakers got it right and empathized when they got it wrong (like that poor guy whose custard collapsed in front of Paul and Mary…many hugs to you, my brave baking comrade).
Feeling a bit less cranky and more inspired after watching the British give it a go, I gave the recipe a shot. Once again, it called for superfine sugar (which is more widely used in Nordic countries), so I pulled out my food processor and got to work grinding down the sugar. After creaming together four egg yolks and the sugar, I ground some almonds and added them to the mix, along with the lemon zest, melted butter, vanilla and salt.
It was at about that point that I wondered whether I should have used almond flour instead, since the mixture was thick and a little chunky. The recipe called for ground almonds, and I thought that’s literally what the author meant – to get some raw almonds and grind them down.
Then, I took the egg whites and whipped them furiously with my KitchenAid mixer until they had stiff peaks. I then gently spooned the whipped whites into the almond mixture until everything was just combined, and poured the batter into a round, greased cake pan, and put it in the oven.
The torte was supposed to bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-35 minutes. Of course it took longer – more to the tune of 45-50 minutes. Since it was around dinnertime and I had to get my son’s pizza in the oven before he became hangry, I grew impatient and took it out, hoping that it was finally finished.
That is, until I let it cool on the cooling rack and went to turn it out. It took some finagling to get it out of the pan, but when it finally did, it came off in pieces, with a big gaping hole in the center.
It took all of my self control not to scream in frustration. The torte that I had worked so hard to get elderflower syrup and lemons for was a heaping pile of undercooked almond torte dough. Because the sad sight of the crumbled mess wasn’t enough, my son came up behind me, saw the torte and let out a startled “Oh no, Mama, the cake is broken!”
Yes, son. That cake was so f**king broken – past the point of no return. And so was any last vestige of any inspiration had by me that day.
I halfheartedly made the lemon and elderflower sugar glaze and poured it over the top of the torte. I then cut up some strawberries and placed a few raspberries that I had picked that afternoon from the bushes in our backyard on top of the torte in an attempt to pretty it up.
But then, I looked at the mayhem of a torte on my kitchen counter, lemon sugar glaze oozing off the sides like slime, and couldn’t help myself: I let out a giggle. The giggle became a laugh, and the laugh evolved into an hysterical guffaw that I couldn’t control. I totally put lipstick on a pig of a torte, and thought it was one of the funniest damn things I had ever seen.
Here are the results. You may or may not laugh uncontrollably by the juxtaposition of lovely photos with the really stinking ugly torte.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
And the pièce de résistance:
In terms of taste, well…it was okay. It probably would have tasted better if it was, you know, fully baked. To add insult to injury, the glaze topping was really overpowered by the lemon zest and juice. To be honest, I enjoyed the berries on top the most. My husband and kid liked it, though, so that’s something I guess…?
In failing at this baking attempt, I learned an important lesson. On a day where life throws you so many lemons, and you try making some lemonade, sometimes that lemonade just doesn’t turn out, and you make a huge mess. And that’s okay, as long as you learn something from it, and maybe try again another day where the lemons are in shorter supply – in this case, be patient, and no matter what these European recipes tell me, trust my baking instincts.
Would I make it again? Probably not. I have no desire whatsoever to perfect this recipe, and I can totally live with that.
However, if you’re interested in learning more about how a simple Nordic life could bring happiness, I would totally recommend checking out How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life! One of my favorite philosophies that was presented in the book was to get outside, no matter the weather – with the exception of a blizzard / hurricane / tornado / other extremely dangerous weather event, of course. I typically find that I put forth a lot of excuses for not going outside (i.e.: it’s raining, it’s too cold, it’s too hot, etc.), and this book took those excuses and went “Pfshhhh….you just don’t dress / plan appropriately for it! Get your butt out there and enjoy!” It really made me want to appreciate the simpler aspects of life, and also maybe to move back to the land of my forefathers and mothers….but that’s another story, for another time.
*This post contains affiliate links. Also, this recipe was made and adapted from How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life.