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Entries in sweden (5)

Saturday
Mar122011

Spectacular Semlor: A Sweet Trip To Lux Dessert och Choklad With Cake Gumshoe Nicholas

CakeSpy Note: So, I have a totally sweet customer named Nicholas. He's basically the ideal customer: he comes in and buys stuff, and then tells me all about the delicious sweets he eats when he travels the world. Just looking at his pictures is bound to evoke some seriously sweet wanderlust. Here's where he's been recently:

More treats! This time from Lux Dessert och Choklad in Stockholm. This is a Semla (Semlor in plural), and it's a seasonal pastry here.

It used to be that it was served only in the days before lent, but now it's available from Christmas to Easter.

This particular one was ranked best in the city, and it was really really good. The bun is cardamom, which has been hollowed out and then filled with a sweet almond paste, which is then topped with fresh whip cream and the top of the bun. 

Yeah, that's right. Get yourself to Stockholm! Curious to learn more? Learn more about Lux Dessert och Choklad here.

Saturday
Jan222011

Totally Swede: Cake Gumshoe Nicholas Shares Sweet Finds from Cafe Saturnus, Stockholm

CakeSpy Note: So, I have a totally sweet customer named Nicholas. He's basically the ideal customer: he comes in and buys stuff, and then tells me all about the delicious sweets he eats when he travels the world. Just looking at his pictures is bound to evoke some seriously sweet wanderlust. Here's where he's been recently:

I tried a new cafe here in Stockholm and check out the size of these buns:

Pretty delicious! Cafe Saturnus is a small cafe in the middle of Stockholm which has a pretty strong French theme (although all the pastries are Swedish). I haven't tried the savory food, but it looks very very good.

This is the "kanelbulle" (CS Note: here's a link to a recipe for these Swedish cinnamon rolls!), which is a cinnamon bun. This one was enormous and had a little more vanilla than usual.

Not that this is such a bad thing. Oh, and btw, Nicholas included another picture for good measure:Yeah, that's right. Get yourself to Stockholm! Curious to learn more? Find Saturnus online here.

Monday
Oct112010

Sweet Inspiration: Dessert Travels with Cake Gumshoe Nicholas

So, I have a totally sweet customer named Nicholas. He's basically the ideal customer: he comes in and buys stuff, and then tells me all about the delicious sweets he eats when he travels the world. Just looking at his pictures is bound to evoke some seriously sweet wanderlust. Here's where he's been recently:

First, how about some macarons from Per Olsson Choklad & Konditori, in Stockholm? Nicholas picked a very nice duo of Raspberry (pictured at the top of the post) and Licorice (pictured below)--don't you wish you could have been there, too?
But if macarons aren't your thing, he also took another totally sweet shot at Gateau (which he previously reported on) of the bakery case, just to give us all something to dream on.

Sweet armchair travels to all! Rumor has it that Nicholas is off to Turkey next, poor thing--can't wait to see the photos!

Thursday
Mar262009

Totally Swede: A Loving Look at a Sweet Bun Called Semla

Semla from Svedala
Semla. There are so many things to say about the sweet treat (which we recently scored at local Swedish bakery Svedala), but first let's just get acquainted, shall we?

First, what is it? Delicious, that's what. While there are different variations, what it comes down to is a cardomom-spiced yeast-raised wheat bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream. 

What's with the funny name? According to the internet, the word "semla" actually is derived from the Latin similia, which means "fine wheat flour". Apparently in Sweden "semla" can be a catchall phrase for "bun"; therefore it may also be known in Nordic regions as "Fastlagssemla" or "Fastlagsbulle" or "Fettisdagsbulle" (thoughts from readers from these Nordic regions?). But for ease of use, let's stick with Semla.
Semla!

 

Where does it come from? Semla is a pastry which has roots in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Estonia, but is probably most closely linked to Sweden. 

When is it available? Semla is most commonly associated with Shrove Tuesday (we call it "Fat Tuesday") as a fatty and decadent kickoff to that season of deprivation perhaps better known as Lent; however, according to Sweden.se ("the official gateway to Sweden"), the delicious treat "has arguably outgrown its religious symbolism", noting that 

The plump, cream-filled buns traditionally eaten on Tuesdays begin appearing in shops as early as January 1. Fat Tuesday would be more aptly named fat January, February and March.

Semla from Svedala
How is it eaten? Apparently, the traditional way to eat Semla is served in a bowl of hot milk; however, as we were assured by the owner of Svedala Bakery in Seattle, eating it on its own (at room temperature) is really just fine, and as we discovered, even finer with coffee or hot tea. Of course, as we also learned from Sweden.se
in Finland, the bun is sometimes filled with strawberry jam instead of almond paste, and bakeries in Finland usually offer both versions. (Many bakeries distinguish between the two by decorating the traditional bun with almonds on top, whereas the jam-filled version has powdered sugar on top).
Where can I get it? Well, if you're in Seattle and are willing to order enough to warrant her baking a batch, the owner of Svedala would probably make you some; check out their webpage here. 
In Portland, OR, Broder seems like a good place to try--after all, their motto is "Sweden in Portland".
In NYC, a little bird tells me that Semla can be found at Fika Espresso Bar on West 58th Street.
In Sweden, one famous retailer of Semla is Nybergs Hembageri, a cafe which has served the Semla-hungry masses since 1949; during the peak Semla season, they'll make over 350 semlor a day. That's a lotta love (and cardamom)! 
Could I make it myself? Sure, why not? We found this recipe online. If you make some, please be sure to make enough to mail some to the CakeSpy Headquarters.

Semla
Do you have any Semla trivia to share? But of course! Via Wikipedia and Sweden.se:

 

 

  • Sweet Surrender: King Adolf Frederick of Sweden died of digestion problems on February 12, 1771 after consuming a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring and champagne, which was topped off by 14 servings of semla, with bowls of hot milk. Semla was the king's favorite dessert. (CakeSpy Note: One should hope so!)
  • Gimme some sugar: Semla was the sweet chosen to represent Finland in the Café Europe initiative of the Austrian presidency of the European Union, on Europe Day 2006.
  • Swede Fancy: Each Swede eats five semlor per year on average.

 

Wednesday
Nov122008

Royal Dilemma: Why is the Princess Cake Green?

Why is the Princess Cake Green?
Princess Cake shown is from Miette in San Francisco; photo credit Frankie Frankeny.

Some of you may trouble yourselves mysteries of the natural universe: What is the meaning of life? If a tree falls in the woods, can anybody hear it? Why on earth is Paris Hilton famous?

But we Cake Gumshoes choose to ponder a much bigger (and more delicious) mystery: why is the princess cake green?

First things first though. For those of you not acquainted with the princess cake (or princess torte), we'd like to clarify that we're not talking about the "Princess Cake" that has a severed Barbie doll stacked atop a dome of frilly buttercream (though that one has its moments). No, we're talking about the Princesstårta, a cake which hails from Sweden, where it was invented in the 1930s by cookbook author Jenny Åkerström, who is said to have made it in honor of Sweden's three princesses at the time--Margaretha, Märtha and Astrid. While it's not as common in bakery cases as say, Red Velvet, it's not an exceedingly rare cake either--most urban areas will have at least a couple of bakeries that offer the sweet confection, which is made of alternating layers of light, airy cake, thick pastry cream, and jam, all topped with a sweet jacket of marzipan--often in a dome shape. But perhaps the most striking thing about this cake is how it's nearly always green.
Princess Cake
Of course, there are exceptions. For instance, famed Los Angeles restaurant Scandia offered a chocolate-topped version back in the day (which, with the help of pastry chef Chris Jarchow, we made it recently; see above); some bakeries will offer an off-white or pink version. However, it seems to us that most frequently--or at least frequently enough for us to have noticed-- it's an attractive and very signature pistachio tone of green.

So what gives?

Unfortunately, this proved to be quite the challenge. Here's a summation of our epic journey to discover the truth:

First Stop: The Library

 

First, we hit up the library, where we consulted the serious tome of a book The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg, in which we found the following passage:

"I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I do not have a definite answer as to why is the marzipan on top of a Princess Cake traditionally colored green. This is a question I have been asked time after time, and believe me, I have tried to find out. It would at least make more sense to me if the cake were flavored with mint or pistachio. Princess Cakes are often made with other colours..."

 

Our buddy over at ReTorte referenced Friberg's quote too, adding that "My fancy French pastry books do not even mention Princess cake..my only theory is that, as with a lot of stuff in the pastry world, it's green because of tradition. They do A LOT of stuff just out of tradition, even though it makes no sense otherwise!"


Larsen'sSwedish Cultural Center

 

Princess-ish cake from Larsen's

Second Stop: The Experts
We figured if anyone would know, it would be the good Nordic population of Seattle!
Unfortunately, the mystery only deepened with a call to the Swedish Cultural Center, where they had not a clue as to why the green-hued cake persists; however, they did point us in the direction of Larsen's in Ballard as a spot to pick up a particularly delicious one.
While the employees at Larsen's were friendly, unfortunately they were unable to shed further light upon the cake's color. "Maybe it was the princess' favorite color," one employee muses; "maybe it was the colors of her wedding flowers" adds another, referencing the fact that it's frequently topped with a pink flower.
Last-ditch: The Internet
Just when we were beginning to despair, we found a very informative bulletin board on chowhound.com that answered some of these questions--one user's comments in particular were very helpful. Turns out, the confection's invention may hold the answer.

Original princess cakes
Remember how that cookbook writer invented the recipe for three princesses in the 1930s? Well, as it turns out, "it appears that Åkerström had not one, but three different princess cakes, one for each of the princesses. They were very elaborate cakes, not terribly suited to the home baker. Astrid's cake most closely resembles the princess cake in its current form." (Cakes pictured, above). As it turns out, the article continues, "Annika Larsson, a baker at the Grillska Konditoriet in Stockholm, is credited with combining features from the three cakes and creating the princess cake that has become a tradition--that is to say, the green one. It appeared in Finland not long after it became popular in 1930s Sweden and has remained a traditional cake ever since, particularly for graduation and end of school year parties."
While this doesn't completely answer the question of why the cake is green, it does shed some light on the subject and leave it open to some guesswork. Perhaps when Annika was combining the best aspects of each cake, she simply preferred the green hued one as a matter of personal preference. Perhaps she had a surplus of green dye and it was done for more practical reasons. 
Of course, we like to think maybe it was something truly poetic: perhaps green was a color caught on with the Swedish audience because it represented the hope of spring, like the first gentle blades of grass coming up in the cold, dark winters.
But whatever the reason, one thing is for sure: the Princess cake is certainly iconic, and we certainly feel happy whenever we see the green-hued confection turn up on our table.

 

P.S. Wanna try to make the Princess Cake? A fantastic recipe can be found on Tartelette, as well as some seriously beautiful pictures!

 

 

 

 

 

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