Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cardamom - A Love Affair


I love cardamom. Always have, always will. The smell of it haunts my childhood memories, as do the so-not-plain cardamom buns my mother always made. My mother has taught me a lot of things, but the one thing I will always remember is this: Always use more cardamom than stated in any bun recipe!

Weird thing to remember, right? Well, what can I say--mothers are always right!


The state of supermarkets here in Munich is really quite horrible, and one item you will never be able to find in one is cardamom seeds. Maybe they're not easily available where you live either, but every little corner shop in Sweden sells them. That said, horrible supermarkets does actually come with a few advantages. For example, food- and farmer's markets can be found all over town, and since the supermarkets are so empty, there are quite a few little shops that specialise on, say, spices. We found a great little shop selling only spices quite close to the city centre, and since we wanted to make cinnamon buns, we soon paid them a visit. After having been interviewed for the local TV station doing short interviews at the shop (What are you looking for? Oh, cardamom, what is it for? Oh, cinnamon buns, is that a typical Swedish Easter dessert? No? Okay, bye then.) we found our precious cardamom, and the world made sense again.

Swedish Buns recipe as old as the hills (this particular one comes from Sju sorters kakor). Yields: depends on how big you make them.


150 g butter
500 ml milk, preferably full-fat and at room temperature
50 g fresh yeast
1/2 tsp salt
150 ml sugar
1 egg
2-3 tsp cardamom seeds, finely ground
1000 g wheat flour

Crumble yeast into a large bowl.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the milk and stir together. When it has reached 37 C, or body temperature, add a small amount to the yeast and stir until yeast has dissolved. Add the rest of the liquid.
Add the salt, sugar, cardamom, egg and about 800 g of the flour and start kneading the dough, either by hand or machine with dough hooks. Add more flour, little at a time, and knead until the dough is smooth, shiny and does no longer stick to the sides of the bowl. Be careful not to add too much flour--you don't want the dough to be dry, but you also don't want it to be sticky. (I usually knead it mostly using my hands instead of a wooden spoon, since it's easier to tell when to stop adding flour.)
Dust with a little bit of flour, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warmish environment for about 40 minutes, or until doubled in size.

In the meantime, make the fillings.

Cardamom and Almond paste
2 tsp cardamom seeds, finely ground
125 g almond paste
50 g butter, at room temperature

Grate the almond paste and mix together with butter and cardamom until smooth and spreadable.

100 g butter, at room temperature
100 ml sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Mix everything together until spreadable.

Divide the dough into two parts.

For the cinnamon buns, roll out a rectangle about 30 cm x 40 cm and spread the filling evenly. Roll it together, from bottom to top (i.e. at one of the longer sides), cut into equally large pieces and place on a baking sheet.

For the cardamom/almond buns, roll out the dough until it is rather long, and about 20 cm wide. Spread out the filling evenly. Instead of rolling, fold in in half along the long side and cut out strips, about 3-4 cm wide. Make a 3/4 cut from bottom to top, making sure it does not divide entirely. They should sort of look like a pair of legs, ending with a bit of stomach. Spin out each "leg" in opposite directions, and then tie them into a knot. Place on a baking sheet.

Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Pre-heat the oven to 225 - 250 C / 440 - 480 F.

Whisk together an egg with about a teaspoon of water and a pinch of salt, and lightly brush the buns. Top them off with pearl sugar (only for the cinnamon buns) and perhaps some chopped almonds.

Bake in the middle of the oven for about 10 minutes, or until lightly golden.


If you don't plan on eating the whole batch in one go, freeze them as soon as they've cooled off.

For more bread, sweet and savory, check out YeastSpotting over at Wild Yeast.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Homemade Strawberry Liqueur

Here's one from our personal archives: strawberry liqueur. Last summer, I worked right in the middle of Stockholm, only a stone's throw away from Hötorget (Hay Square), and its bustling fruit and vegetable market. This market is a lovely piece of unswedishness in the middle of Sweden: most, if not all, vendors are immigrants or children thereof, and as you walk between the stalls, they shout offers at you: "strawberries, 2 boxes for 20!", "fine plums, half price!", "beans, bananas, new potatoes!". I used to frequent a particular stall, often passing by on my way home from work, picking up fruits, nuts, and whatever vegetables we needed for dinner. By the end of summer, I bought a few kilos of lingonberries, and made jam.

One day, I arrived only fifteen minutes before closing time, and as I was browsing the produce, the vendor asked me if I was interested in some strawberries. The prime strawberry season was over by then, but he offered me 8 boxes (about 4 kg) for about €10, how can you resist an offer like that?

One of the things we tried with my accidental harvest was a homemade strawberry liqueur, which turned out to be a very nice base for summery drinks, going very well with some lemon or lime juice, vodka and soda water, or with juices for a sweeter touch. It also had a beautiful colour, and smelled heavenly. For all the aspiring hobby bartenders, this is a great recipe, a lot better than any store bought version.

Strawberry liquer

Makes about a liter.

1 kg of fresh strawberries (about 2 liters)
500 g sugar
1 liter of vodka

Trim the green parts off the strawberries. Place the berries, sugar, and vodka in a suitably large glass jar with a tight lid. Let sit in room temperature for three weeks. Every other day, turn the jar over a few times, so the sugar dissolves well. After the three weeks, pass it through a sieve and bottle. Keeps indefinitely, and will actually mature over the next three months or so.

The boozy left over strawberries can be served with some vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Because Yeast is Fun


As previously stated, I really love baking bread, but unfortunately I don't do it all that often anymore. Since it has been a few months since last time, I thought I'd start out with the simplest thing of all - whole wheat rolls. My mother makes the most wonderful whole wheat rolls, but instead of asking for her recipe, I wanted to invent my own.

I used this recipe as a reference, but I changed the original recipe quite a lot. Instead of doing it the old-fashioned way, with only whole wheat and all-purpose flour, I added rolled oats and ground almonds to give the rolls some more flavour, as well as keeping the crumbling factor low. A couple of days after they were baked, they were still nice and juicy, which is well done for a roll that tends to become dry as a desert within 24 hours.

Whole Wheat Rolls With a Twist, adapted from

I kneaded the dough by hand. If you have a Kitchen Aid or similar machine with a kneading hook, use that one instead. Unless, of course, you want a bit of exercise.

25 g fresh yeast
400 ml milk
25 g butter
3 Tbsp Honey
1 tsp salt
100 g ground almonds
100 g rolled oats
230 g whole wheat flour
220 g wheat flour, high in protein

Crumble yeast into a large bowl. On low heat, melt the butter, then add the milk. Let cool until lukewarm; about 37 C, or about the same temperature as your finger.

Add a small amount of the milk/butter mixture to the yeast, stirring with a wooden spoon until the yeast is completely dissolved, then stir in the rest. The reason for this is that it's much easier to dissolve the yeast in a small amount of liquid rather than a large.

Stir in honey and salt, then add almond and rolled oats, slightly crushed in the palms of your hand.

Add the flours in small batches, stirring vigorously as you do so. If the wooden spoon will no longer do the trick, knead it with your hands on a clean, floured surface until the dough is no longer sticking to your hands, the table or anything at all, and easily forms into a ball.

Put the dough back into the bowl, sprinkle some flour on it (so the surface won't dry out), cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 40 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 24 parts, and roll into small balls. Place on a baking tray lined with a baking sheet or silpat, cover and let rest for another 30 minutes.

In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to full whack, but remember to lower it to 225 C once the buns are in the oven.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Serve while still warm, with ridiculous amounts of butter on top.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Strawberry Lime Tiramisù


As you might have guessed by the picture, moderation isn't really my thing. At least not when it comes to strawberries.

I grew up with two older sisters and two younger brothers, and my father was the sole provider - this might not sound very strange to you, but in Sweden, women generally keep working even if they have children. My mother stayed at home. Despite the fact that we hardly ever had money to spare, we always had food on the table and (thanks to H & M, often new) clothes on our bodies. I don't really know how they did it, but my parents always made ends meet without showing they had to struggle. The only time I felt we could have used more money was during strawberry season. Having to share 2 litres, or about 1 kg, of strawberries with all of my siblings and both mother and father was simply torture. I always wanted more and, unfortunately, so did everyone else. My father used to weigh the strawberries to make sure no one got too much or too little, which I guess was fair albeit a tad annoying.

I think Daniel, with his three older sisters, have similar strawberry memories - the first summer we spent together (which was also the first summer away from our respective homes) we both marveled at the amount of strawberries we were allowed to eat without having to share! I think we both ate more than our fair share of strawberries that summer, not feeling the least bit guilty about not offering someone else to have a taste. Two years later, I feel every bit as amazed at the amount of strawberries I'm allowed to eat on my own, and I still don't feel like sharing.

We originally planned to make the Rhubarb Strawberry Tiramisù that FX Cuisine recently posted about, but when we got to the store there was no rhubarb to be seen anywhere, so we had to rethink. It took me about two seconds to combine the strawberries with lime instead of rhubarb, and the dessert turned out just as amazingly delicious as I thought it would. I still want to try the rhubarb version, but the strawberry lime one is definitely a keeper. That said, the finger biscuits that go well in the traditional Tiramisù does absolutely nothing for me in the fruit versions, and next time I'll just leave them out, or substitute with chopped nuts (depending on the fruit I use) or a less spongy biscuit or cookie.

Strawberry Lime Tiramisù for two greedy persons, inspired by FX Cuisine


You probably won't need all of the mascarpone cream (we didn't), but you can keep it in the fridge until you buy new strawberries, or whatever other fruit that tickles your fancies.

500 g fresh strawberries, rinsed and sliced
250 g mascarpone
2 eggs, separated
50 g sugar
1 lime, zest and juice
1 shot cointreau, or to taste
Finger biscuits

Whisk together egg yolks, lime zest and sugar. Whisk this into the mascarpone, until the mixture is creamy and smooth.
Beat the egg whites until light and foamy, and gently fold them into the mascarpone cream.
Chop up some finger biscuits, and place in the bottom of a glass or serving bowl.
Mix together lime juice and cointreau, and cover the biscuits with a small amount each.
Layer everything in a fancy glass or serving bowl. Finish it off with a ridiculous amount of strawberries, and pour the remaining lime/cointreau mixture on top.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Chocolate cookies, or Märtas skurna chokladkakor

Most, if not all, Swedish families have a copy of Sju sorters kakor in their cookbook collection. The name, which literally means "Seven types of cookies/cakes", refers to the Swedish (and probably Finnish/Finlandish (yes, there is a difference) - or so my Granny has led me to believe) tradition of serving at least seven different types of baked sweets during a syjunta (sowing circle) or kafferep (lit. coffee rope) - think English High Tea, but with coffee and sowing or knitting instead of tea and scones. Sju sorters kakor was first published in 1945, following a competition in which homebakers all over the country were asked to send in their best cake/cookie/bun recipes, and the winners' recipes were published in this book. Today, more than 60 years after its first publication, this book is the over-all most sold book in Sweden, and more than one in three Swedes own a copy.

With a history like this, it is safe to say that everyone in Sweden has either baked or tasted something from this book. One likely culprit is Märtas skurna chokladkakor, or "Märta's cut cookies". I've been making these since I was about twelve, an all-time favourite in the cookie jar. They're also useful if you need a favour from someone, or as a bribe. Simple, all-purpose, dead-simple to make cookies. What more do you need?

Märtas skurna chokladkakor, from Sju sorters kakor, p. 94


200 g. butter, softened
250 ml brown sugar (regular works fine, too, I just like brown better)
500 ml all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp Cacao
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp vanilla sugar / extract
1 egg

For the glaze:
1 egg, slightly beaten
chopped almonds

Pre-heat oven to 200 °C / 390 °F.
Mix everything together in a bowl; the dough should be smooth and pliable.
Divide dough into six parts, and roll them out into equally long strips. Place them on a baking tray, greased or lined with a baking sheet or silpat. Flatten them somewhat with your hands. Brush with the egg, and sprinkle the chopped almonds on top.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, or until slightly crackled on top. While still warm, cut them into slanted rectangles, or parallelograms if you are mathematically inclined.

Reuben Sandwich

The other day, having a beer and a burger at a bar, an exchange student from MIT laughed at me and said "I've never seen anyone eat a burger with knife and fork before", to which I replied "This is Europe, we have culture".

Entirely false, of course. Not the part about Europe having culture, it has so many cultures that it's always been a favourite pastime here to attempt to wipe some culture or other out. No, I was just eating the burger with cutlery because I didn't feel like getting ketchup all over my hands. But the experience gnawed on me, I felt a need to reassure myself that I wasn't a barbarian by American standards.

So I decided to make Reuben sandwiches for Saturday dinner. I first heard of the Reuben while watching an episode of House, and googled it afterwards. The Reuben, like most popular dishes, comes in many local variants, and there's a bunch of different background histories to it. Whatever the truth may be, it is certainly a dish with Central European roots (or at least components). As a disclaimer, I want it to be noted that I've never had an authentic American Reuben, so if you feel this is oh my god all wrong, please tell me why.

Authentic or not, this is a delicious sandwich which scores a good 8 on the decadence scale, and if served with a side of fries, I think you'll be at about a 10. Since it's not something you come across in Europe, this recipe will be illustrated with more pictures than usual, so that this delicious decadence can conquer the continent.

I believe that the traditional meat to use for a Reuben is corned beef. We substituted a simple cured ham. There should be thousand island dressing, we used something called "cocktail sauce" instead. At least when it came to sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, we could get hold of the real stuff, so we used sauerkraut with Riesling wine, and a nice Appenzeller cheese from La Gruyère.

Reuben Sandwich, Central European style

Serves 2 reasonably hungry people. To go all out on the decadence, serve with fries. I'd rather have a nice green salad with a lemon dressing, but to each his own.

4 slices of good rye bread
2-4 slices of Swiss cheese
ca 100 g of cold cut meat
ca 150 g sauerkraut
thousand island dressing
butter, salt, black pepper

Put the sauerkraut in a small saucepan with a bit of water, and let simmer to heat the sauerkraut and let it absorb the water.

Gently fry the meat with a little butter to let it release some fluids and cook a bit. You don't want the finished sandwich to taste of raw cold cuts, do you?

Butter the bread slices on what will be the outside of the sandwiches. This will make a mess of your cutting board, but sacrifices must be made for the greater good. If using an assymetric bread, take care to butter the slices so that when recombined, they will form a nice sandwich. I learned that one the hard way. If you didn't understand the previous sentence, don't worry, you'll do fine.

Slather, but don't slobber, the other side of the slices with thousand island dressing. Cover two bread slices with the cheese, and the other two with the meat.

Place a generous slab of sauerkraut on top of the meat. Season with black pepper and some salt.

Place the cheese-topped slices on the other ones. This is when you might realize that your slices don't line up nicely, and cover the fact up by taking the photo from a dishonest angle.

Heat the frying pan to low to medium heat, and place the sandwiches in it.

Press down on them with a lid, and fry them under the lid for about 4-5 minutes, until nicely browned.

Use a small plate and a fork to flip the sandwiches and place them with the uncooked side down. You need the plate, because the sandwiches have a tendency to fall to pieces otherwise. Do it like this: you place the plate right next to the sandwich in the pan, and use the fork to flip the sandwich against the plate. Now level the plate so the sandwich slides back into the pan. Don't worry, It's much easier to just try it than to try to understand my explanation of it, I promise you. Fry under the lid for another 4-5 minutes.

Cut each sandwich into two slices, and serve with a cold beer.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Black-Bottom Cupcakes

I love muffins. I especially love the muffin's crust, the best part of the whole thing, and the sole reason for making them. I always eat the bottom first, saving the crusty top for last. Oh, and I always break the top in half to eat it inside-out, really saving the best for last.

I rarely make cupcakes, though. They are always so sticky, messy and sometimes difficult to eat that I never feel compelled to make any, despite the fact that they're almost always delicious. These black-bottomed lovelies are, as you might have suspected by now, an exception.

Chocolatey? Check!
Mess free? Check!
Easy to make? Check!

I originally made these cupcakes for Daniel and his co-workers last summer. I used to bake almost every day back then (oh, those were the days...) and since I always made more than the two of us could handle alone, I donated most of it for the afternoon fika at his office. I would always feel satisfied when Daniel came home from work telling me how one of them had eaten so much he got a stomach ache, saying It was worth it! It was probably just as well he only worked during the summer, or all of them would have gotten too fat to move.

Black-Bottom Cupcakes by David Lebovitz, via Leite's Culinaria


For the filling
8 ounces cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

For the cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup unflavored vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Beat together the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the chopped chocolate pieces. Set aside.

Adjust the rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F (175°C). Butter a 12-cup muffin tin, or line the tin with paper muffin cups.

In a medium bowl sift together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients, stirring until just smooth. Stir any longer and you will over mix the batter and end up with less-than-tender cupcakes.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Spoon a few tablespoons of the filling into the center of each cupcake, dividing the filling evenly. This will fill the cups almost completely, which is fine.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the tops are slightly golden brown and the cupcakes feel springy when gently pressed. These moist treats will keep well unrefrigerated for 2 to 3 days if stored in an airtight container.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Looks That Deceive, or Boiled Vegetables are Fun

Today, I want to give you the most boring recipe you'll ever read. It goes like this: carrots, butter, lemon, salt, pepper. Well, not quite, as you can see in the picture, but it could. Before you remove us from your feed reader, please, pretty please, try this recipe. You'll be surprised at how delicious something so simple can be.

I first got the idea of making these vegetables as a side dish to fried swordfish with salsa, but we thought they wouldn't go that well with the spicy salsa, so we turned them into a starter instead, and I'm really glad we did, because this was a dish that could, and should, stand on its own. This is also a smart way of adding vegetables to a meal where you can't really fit them in anywhere else; serve it as a starter, like we did. Or serve these on bruschetta to a pre-dinner cocktail. Or eat them as a light lunch.


The core here is simple: boiled vegetables. The trick is simply to treat them lovingly: put your vegetables in a pot with plenty of lightly salted water, bring to a boil and simmer until they've got just the right consistency. They should still have some bite, but not be raw in any way. Once boiled, pour the vegetables into a colander, then let them steam dry on a kitchen towel.

Afterwards, dress them simply. We cleared some butter and dressed them with that, a bit of lemon juice, some salt and pepper. You could also use butter without bothering with clearing it, or olive oil, or cold pressed rapeseed oil. You could substitute vinegar for the lemon juice, you could add herbs or other spices. Simply put: treat them like salad.

We boiled small carrots, tiny little asparagus spears and some broccoli. Be mindful of the different boiling times your vegetables will need: add the carrots first, then after a few minutes the broccoli, and so on. Poke them with a fork, or even pick up a piece and eat it to find out when they're done. Simple as that, just give them a bit of love, and they'll give you more back.

You could make this with pretty much any vegetable that you think sounds good: carrots, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, mangold, spinach, asparagus, small onions, pretty much anything you find at the greengrocer's. This time of year, fresh vegetables are quickly popping up all over, and they are so full of taste. Try this, and let yourself be amazed at the lovely flavours one can coax out of them with so little effort.