reviewed by Bakery Boy
I’ve long had a warm place in my heart for Minnesota. It might have been my only warm part during the long cold winters I spent visiting my sister there and getting involved in Great Frozen North activities such as ice fishing, cross country skiing, sled dog racing, pond hockey, and trying to keep my car—a native Southerner like myself—in running condition.
Those Nordic experiences are partly why I’m drawn to Pat Sinclair’s book, Scandinavian Classic Baking (from Pelican Publishing Company, $16.95). Based in Edina, Minnesota, this author, food consultant, and recipe developer’s baked goods remind me of coming indoors from arctic winter weather, being pleasantly surprised to find something delicious baking in the oven, and looking forward to that first still-steaming bite.
Given the Upper Midwest’s abundance of Scandinavian descendants—all of them more accustomed to extreme cold that I am—those goodies fresh from the oven usually reflected the cuisines of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark. The aromas of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peels dominate baking days, often accented by the yeasty smell of rising breads, by colorful tarts loaded with berries, and by pastries bristling with nuts.
At first the names of some of the recipes threw me. But under Pat’s guidance I soon learned that aebleskiver means pancake balls, fattigman is poor man’s cake, and pepparkakor translates to spicy cookies. Also, lefse is a sort of sweetened and fried potato crepe served with butter and sugar, toscakake involves a top layer of sliced almonds covered with buttery caramel, and sandbakkels are butter cookies whose dough gets pressed into fluted tins before being baked and are later filled with whipped cream, jam, lemon curd, or chocolate ganache.
Pat got my attention with 42 recipes ranging from coffee breads (especially the Danish Almond Tea Ring shown on the cover), cakes (the Norwegian Toscakake stands out), cookies (I tried the Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars recipe first and it won’t be the last time I make them), tarts (from blueberry to rhubarb), and pastries (such as Swedish Kringle made from a paste similar to that used in making éclairs).
Stunning food photography by a fellow Minnesotan Joel Butkowski, whose shots illustrate every recipe, kept me focused and occasionally salivating. (See Joel’s work at www.MinnesotaFoodPhotographer.com.)
An intriguing addition to the format is Pat’s sprinkling of sidebar-style vignettes that elaborate, like a travelogue, on Scandinavian culture, traditions, celebrations, foods, and popular destinations. One brief entry explains the importance of cardamom, a member of the ginger family, in Scandinavian baking and recommends splitting the pods and grinding the seeds with a mortar and pestle right before use in order to release fragrant oils for the most flavorful results. Another encapsulates 700 years of Viking shipbuilding and exploration starting in the 5th Century.
Still more of these side notes expound upon reindeer, the candle-filled Feast of St. Lucia, the joy of eating Shrove Tuesday Buns the day before the Lent starts, the Land of the Midnight Sun effect north of the Arctic Circle (lots of daylight in summer but long dark winters too), Norway’s fjords and 11th-century Stave Church construction, Denmark’s ornate Amalienborg Palace and famous Tivoli Gardens, Sweden’s ancient city streets and modern architecture, Finland’s saunas, and more.
So besides offering goodies to bake and eat, Scandinavian Classic Baking provides quick lessons in foreign culture too.
Once I tried baking a few of these recipes, the at-first strange terms quickly became familiar, joining the lexicon and the baking rotation at my house. Tonight, with spring coming on strong here in Alabama and with what most likely will be the last snowstorm of the season blowing across the northern tier states, I think I’ll bake Meringue with Peaches and Raspberries, the book’s most summery recipe. I remember bone-chilling Minnesota winters vividly, but a summer dessert like this seems just the thing to serve as a farewell to the cold and a harbinger of warmer days ahead.
See author, food consultant, and recipe developer Pat Sinclair’s blog at PatCooksandBakes.blogspot.com.
Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with a recipe for Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars from Pat Sinclair’s Scandinavian Classic Baking.
Click here to see a separate Bakery Boy Blog post with a recipe for Finnish Browned Butter Teaspoon Cookies from Pat Sinclair’s Scandinavian Classic Baking.
Click here to see a brief video of Pat Sinclair demonstrating her Finnish Brown Butter Teaspoon Cookies recipe during an appearance on Minneapolis-St. Paul television station KARE-11.