Celebrating May 17th With A Decadent Marzipan Cake

17th of May is Norway’s Constitution Day – it is easily the most important day of the year for many Norwegians, as we celebrate our freedom, and our ability to call our country our own. Norway was for many years under the rule of other nations (including Sweden and Denmark), which is why this day is particularly filled with emotions as we look back on our history where we were not allowed to celebrate or walk in parades to mark the birth of our nation.  On this day you will see a sea of red, white and blue all across the country – the colors of the Norwegian flag. Flag waving is looked upon as something celebratory and positive in Norway, a sense of pride, happiness and belonging.  With only 5 million people, we are a nation of close knit countrymen, we have something special in common that is hard to describe.

The day typically begins with getting dressed in our customary, gorgeous handmade “bunad” outfits, they are unique to everyone and differs according to what region of Norway you are from. I have a “Sunnmørsbunad” as I am from the region of Sunnmøre in northwestern Norway, and like every other Norwegian, think that mine is the most beautiful. Here I am pictured in Norway two years ago when I was celebrating my niece’s confirmation in my hometown of Sykkylven:

SynnovebunadThe bunad is typically given to everyone when they are confirmed, and it is a very generous gift, as they tend to cost thousands of dollars.  But they last for a lifetime (just make sure you don’t gain too much weight from the age of 15 on, ha!) and is worn during weddings, confirmations and other celebratory events as well.

The celebration starts with marching in parades, which is then followed by a large lunch.  So what do Norwegians eat on this very special day?  Typically you will see lots of “koldtbord” spreads (Norwegian for “smorgasbord” – a table filled with room temperature dishes such as salads, decadent open face sandwiches, seafood, cold cuts, cakes and other desserts), and the kids will indulge in plenty of ice cream, soda and hot dogs in the afternoon at various arrangements at schools throughout the country.  You can read all about the tradition and importance of ice cream on May 17th in my recent article for the Norwegian American Weekly newspaper here.

Cake baking has always been a huge tradition in my home region of Sunnmøre, and May 17th is no different. While most cakes are filled with heavy cream (or rather whipped), eggs, milk and sour cream, I set out to find a recipe that would not use any dairy at all, being that I’m now vegan. The good news is that it is so easy to make most of these traditional cakes without resorting to dairy!  For those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy, hopefully this alternative will be a nice addition to any celebratory event.

Marzipan plays a huge part in Norwegian baking and has always been a traditional ingredient, particularly in the making of “bløtkake” (a fluffy sponge cake filled and topped with whipped cream and decorated with fresh fruit).  Decadent, yes – but May 17th is undoubtedly the best day to justify such a luxurious treat.

marsipan

Image from nrk.no

While marzipan showed up in the market in the year 900 (thought to have come from the Arabic world), it most likely didn’t arrive in Norway until the 19th century along with the arrival of confectioners’ shops, and was for many years just known as an expensive confectionary product. Initially, because the ingredients were so rare, it was only reserved for the wealthier crowd, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that it started developing into a popular product for everyone. Soon, the creation of the marzipan figurines such as in the shape of pigs (“marsipangris”) for Christmas and Easter began to evolve and it’s now estimated that almost every Norwegian eats one marzipan figurine each during Easter (about.4.5 million of these candies are sold each year).

julemarsipan

Image from nidar.no

More recently, cakes from marzipan began popping up in all variations, and is now common in every bakery and household across Norway.

I found a delicious recipe for an awesome vegan marzipan cake on the wonderful Norwegian blog, Vegetarbloggen – authored by Mari Hult, a vegan cook from Stavanger, who offers a ton of delicious recipes.  For those of you who speak and read Norwegian, I highly recommend her blog!  As I’m still learning to veganize the entire Norwegian repertoire of classic foods, I often refer to her for inspiration and tips.

For the cream bit, instead of using heavy cream, you can use a chilled can of coconut milk (the fatty part will harden and form a “lid” at the top of the can which you can remove and use as cream to whip), or alternatively, if you don’t care for the flavor of coconut, another really interesting item I discovered recently is chickpea brine. Yes, it might sound nuts, but adding a little cream of tartar to the drained liquid from a chickpea can whips up beautifully and you can flavor it any way you want. This way you can also make “Pavlova”, a meringue cake typically made with egg whites, and is another very popular cake to serve on Constitution Day.

The below recipe is an adaptation from Mari’s beautiful “Marsipankake” recipe – I hope you will try it!  Hurra for 17. mai!!

17TH OF MAY MARZIPAN CAKE (vegan)

Sponge cake:

400 grams or 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

240 grams or 1 cup organic cane sugar

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups plant based milk (such as almond, rice or soy)

3/4 cup organic vegetable oil

Vanilla Cream:

1/2 cup organic cane sugar

3 tbsp organic corn starch

1 vanilla bean, split

2 1/4 cup plant based milk

Decoration and montage:

1 can full fat coconut milk, left in fridge overnight

1/4 cup granulated, organic sugar

OR (alternative cream):

Drained brine from 1 x large can of chickpeas

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1/4 cup granulated organic sugar

——

1/2 cup of strawberry or raspberry jam

Fresh blueberries, raspberries and /or strawberries

500 grams (about 1 lb) of prepared marzipan (I like the Odense brand)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Oil or butter 2 x 9-inch round cake pan and dust with a little flour to coat.

Prepare the vanilla cream first. Whisk together the sugar and corn starch in a small pot. Add the vanilla bean. Whisk in the milk and heat up on the stove over low heat, while continuously stirring (this is important so it does not burn). The cream will begin to thicken as it simmers, keep stirring for another few minutes before removing it from the heat and placing in the fridge. The vanilla cream will continue to thicken in the fridge.

To prepare the sponge cakes: Sift the flour, sugar, and baking powder into the bowl of a standing mixer (or large bowl). In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, oil and vanilla extract. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients until all the flour is incorporated and no lumps are left, be careful not to overmix. It should take less than one minute.

Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, and let them cool  for 10 minutes before moving them onto a rack.

Let the sponge cakes cool completely before decorating with the whipped cream and berries.

To prepare the whipped cream, scoop out the top, thick layer of the coconut milk (it will have stiffened overnight in the fridge), and discard or save the liquid for another use.

Place in a bowl of a stand mixer with a teaspoon of vanilla extract and sugar and whisk until stiff peaks. Place in fridge while you prepare to layer the cake.

Place one of the sponge cakes on a plate. Spread a generous amount of strawberry or raspberry jam on the surface and let sit for a bit to have it soak into the cake.  Add some whipped cream, then vanilla cream on top.  Add another generous amount of jam onto the second cake layer and place that on top, jam side down.

Roll out the marzipan large enough to fit the entire cake (top and sides alike),and place it gently on top of the layered cake.  Fold the spillover against the sides to neatly fit.  Decorate the cake as in the photo with berries and you can also use additional marzipan by braiding it into roses (or ring) or other decorative figures. The options are endless!

marsipankake

Image by vegetarbloggen.no

May 1st: The Cuckoo’s Day

The first day of May is traditionally a holiday in Norway, where most people take off and take a break from work (although one could argue that this year this is no different than any other Friday, as the trend in Norway is going towards a 4 day work week, with a lot of people getting in the habit of taking Fridays off).  But what is the history of this day, known as the “International Worker’s Day”? It started with a world congress in Paris in 1889.  Workers in the United States had fought a long time for an 8-hour work day and  May 1st was their gathering date. On this congress in Paris it was decided that this day were to be an international demonstration day. This has since developed into an observed holiday in many countries.

In Norway, it’s a sign of that spring is in full arrival, with a bit of green appearing on the birch trees, while the snow capped mountains light up the background, all of it surrounded by the stunning blue fjords. What could be more beautiful? Here is a photo my friend Pia took of my hometown of Sykkylven just a couple of weeks ago:

sykkylvenpia

Photo Credit:  Pia Janet Yksnøy

This day was historically also called the “Cuckoo’s Day” (gaukedagen).  The name may have stemmed from the pre-Christian name of the first summer month, the Cuckoo month.  (For those that don’t know, the cuckoo is a medium sized bird, not seen in the United States, but more in Europe and Asia).

Guira Cuckoo

On this day, it was important to notice which direction one would hear the first cuckoo from. For instance, it was a bad sign if one would hear it from the north.  Another rule was, when the cuckoo sang, the kids were allowed to go barefoot. This was something the children really looked forward to;  as soon as they heard the cuckoo’s hooting call, they threw off their shoes and socks and ran across the field in their bare feet.  To hear the cuckoo was important for various reasons, as it would signify what weather to expect; from rain, to cold , to sunshine and warmth.

May 1st is an important day for many, and is marked in different ways, such as participating in parades and giving speeches, celebrating workers and their rights. Others celebrate the day off with a long and delicious breakfast, and perhaps set the year’s first celebratory table out in the garden.  The day has brought both snow, sleet and gorgeous sun throughout the years, so when the weather agrees, it’s a particularly fun day for Norwegians!

Freshly baked goods and a few flavorful salads are typical additions common when preparing a delicious May 1st breakfast.   “Tebirks”, also called “breakfast bread”, is a type of pastry that is popular to include, and can be made savory or sweet.   It is also commonly seen in Denmark, where it goes by “tebirkes”.   These pastries were particularly popular in the late 60s, but I love them even today, as it is a nice break from the traditional whole wheat breads that are offered at breakfast, and are a bit more decadent and festive.

As I’m not off on May 1st here in the U.S., I am planning on making these this weekend instead, but wanted to include a super simple recipe in time for today regardless, and have included a few pictures of what they look like.  Hope you all enjoy and that you will try to replicate a Norwegian May 1st breakfast this weekend too!

tebirks

Photo Credit: klikk.no

TEBIRKS  (vegan)

1 1/2 cups  plant-based milk (soy, almond or cashew milk works great, you can also use water)

50 grams/2 oz vegan butter (about half a stick – I like to use Earth Balance)

25 grams / 1 oz fresh yeast (or 1 packet dry yeast)

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

about 1 lb of all purpose flour

50 grams/2 oz (about half a stick) vegan butter, melted

water or plant based milk for brushing dough

poppy seeds for decorating

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 500F (250C).  Dress two baking sheets  with parchment paper.

Heat up the milk and butter until the mixture reaches a temperature of about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celcius).  Be sure to not overheat the liquid, as the yeast will die. Add in the yeast, followed by the sugar, salt and flour. Work the dough lightly together, it should not be too stretchy, but light.  Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for about 1 hour.

Place the dough onto a floured surface and roll the dough out to a  8 x 32 inches rectangle (20x80cm).  Brush the dough with a the melted butter, leaving about an inch butter free around the edges.  Fold the dough in three parts and turn the folded side down towards the table and cut the dough into 2 inch pieces.  Let rise for another 30-45 minutes.  Brush the pieces with some plant-based milk and sprinkle poppy seeds on top.  Place them on the prepared baking sheets and bake in oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown on top.  Serve them warm, fresh out of the oven with butter,  home made strawberry jam or topping of your choice!

tebirkes2

Photo Credit: bakkedal.info

Tebirkes

Photo Credit: