Norwegians undoubtedly have a love for almonds, cardamom and cinnamon when baking, and this cake is no exception. A buttery dough with a moist filling of almonds, confectioners sugar and the aforementioned spices, it is decadent but still a bit humble in its appearance. Although not the most beautiful cake to look at, looks can deceive, as we know, and once you bite into it, all is forgiven! Norwegians (and Scandinavians in general) are known for their use of cardamom in baked goods, and I believe might be the only people who use this spice in sweeter foods. The Arabs use it in their coffee, while the Indians use it in their curries. An ancient spice, no other internationally known spice has such an uneven geographical food pattern; but over half of the production is being consumed in the middle East and Scandinavia. We sure love our cardamom! By the way, never use the store bought ground cardamom, I always toast whole cardamom pods in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute) and grind them in a mortar and pestle and remove the outer shells – SO much more aromatic and flavorful! Often referred to as the queen of spices, you can find both green and black cardamom- I tend to prefer the black in baking but either one will do.
“Fyrste” means prince or head of principality in Norwegian, so this really is a cake fit for a prince (or princess) ! The cake is an old classic that never goes out of style; moist and tasty and always pleases, especially nut lovers. In many households, fyrstekake is traditionally baked around Christmas, as one of many varieties of cookies and cakes made during this holiday. What I enjoy about this cake is that it is not overly sweet, it’s almost like a fancy breakfast bread and has somewhat of a savory quality to it due to the cardamom.
I always used to get fyrstekake when visiting my best friend from childhood, Renate’s house; her mom had the cake perfected. Although I tried to make my mom make it, she just didn’t seem to want to expand her existing cake selection. I suspect it was because she wasn’t taught how to make this cake by her own mother while growing up. Again, each family has their own traditions! Surprisingly many Norwegians I’ve spoken with, have not tried baking this cake at home either, despite consuming it regularly, but rather choose to buy it ready to eat in bakeries and shops. Lucky for me, Renate lived only two blocks away, so I made sure to make frequent visits :) In my mind, fyrstekake used to be a cake all grandmothers would bake – it was a cake that was considered quite a luxury back in the old days because of its generous almond content. In fact, during the second World War, the filling was often made with mashed potatoes to make up for the shortage of almonds, which made the texture silky smooth and even. Some chefs choose to still incorporate some mashed potatoes in the filing to this day, with great success. If you don’t like almonds, are allergic to nuts, or want to lighten the calorie load of this cake, you can also select to fill the cake with apples or rhubarb or raspberry jam, all popular choices that have worked well for fyrstekake fans.
Photo Credit: dinmat.no
A perfect coffee cake to bring as a snack accompanied by your coffee when going on a ski trip (as many will be doing this week in Norway during their winter break), or equally impressive to serve to guests on a special occasion – fyrstekake definitely belongs in your repertoire of Norwegian baked goods!
For the crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, preferably freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons whole milk or heavy cream
For the filling:
2 cups ground almonds
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3/4 tsp freshly ground cardamom
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
3 large egg whites
Whisk flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter and sugar in a medium bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and milk. With mixer running on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients and beat just until thoroughly combined.
Pat dough into a ball; break off one-quarter of dough. Form each piece into a ball. Flatten balls into disks.
Cover separately and chill dough disks for at least 2 hours or overnight.
For filling and assembly:
Butter tart pan or spring form pan (I use a 9 or 10 inch pan).
Break larger dough disk into small pieces and scatter over bottom of tart pan. Using your fingertips, press dough onto bottom and up sides of pan. Use the flat bottom of a measuring cup to smooth the surface and trim the edges.
Roll out smaller dough disk to about 1/8″ thick.Using decorative cookie cutters, cut out shapes and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Or, you can cut 1/2 inch long strips and place three strips across the cake, then three more across the other strips. Cover and chill crust and cutouts for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F. While dough is chilling, pulse almonds, powdered sugar, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon in a food processor until nuts are finely ground. Transfer dry ingredients to a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and vanilla in a medium bowl until medium peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into dry ingredients.
Whisk egg yolk and 2 teaspoons water in a small bowl to blend. Fill chilled crust with almond mixture; smooth top. Arrange cutouts on top and brush cutouts with egg wash.
Bake tart until crust and cutouts are golden brown and filling is set, 30-35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool. DO AHEAD: Tart can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.