FARGO - Come tomorrow, Norwegians around the world will join in the celebration of Syttende Mai, the 17th of May and Constitution Day, Norway's greatest national holiday.
Cities, town and villages across Norway and throughout the Norwegian diaspora will showcase their pride with parades, flags and bløtkake, a deliciously sweet Norwegian cream layer cake.
I have a few Norwegian specialties in my culinary repertoire, and I love to look for new dishes to add each year. The beautifully patriotic bløtkake caught my eye a few years ago, and I've spent the past month testing various recipes and learning more about this traditional Syttende Mai dessert.
Bløtkake (pronounced blehrt-kah-keh) is a layered spongecake filled with jam, custard and whipped cream, and decorated with whipped cream and berries in the colors of the Norwegian flag. The result is a visually stunning dessert, both inside and out, that tastes even better than it looks.
In my quest to master this specialty, I tested two different bløtkake recipes. While both used a combination of flour, baking powder, eggs and sugar to make the spongecake, each had a different method of preparation.
The first recipe made two 9-inch cakes to create a four-layer cake, using six eggs. Once separated, the egg whites and sugar were whipped into a stiff meringue, and the egg yolks beaten and then folded into the meringue with the dry ingredients.
I attempted this version twice, and each time the cakes came out darker and flatter than expected. Verdict: Not worth the fuss.
The second recipe makes one three-layer cake using a springform pan. The recipe calls for five eggs to be beaten with three-quarters cup of sugar until the mixture becomes pale yellow in color and thick enough that it falls in ribbons from the beater, which takes about seven or eight minutes to achieve. The dry ingredients are then sifted into the egg mixture in batches, just until incorporated.
Although the recipe I used called for all-purpose flour, I opted for cake flour instead as it is ideal for lighter cakes like spongecake. To make this adjustment, simply use one cup plus two tablespoons of cake flour for each cup of all-purpose flour. For this recipe, which called for one and a quarter cups of all-purpose flour, I used one cup plus two and a half tablespoons of cake flour.
I made this version three times with excellent results. Each time, the cake turned out a lovely golden brown on the outside, and inside it was light, airy and filled with a great sponge-like texture. Verdict: Easy to make, beautiful and delicious.
For the filling, I made the custard and whipped cream from scratch and used a good-quality strawberry jam from the grocery store. I used a long, serrated knife to slice the cake into three even layers and filled them with a layer of jam followed by the custard and whipped cream. Loosely translated, bløtkake means "wet cake." It is best when refrigerated overnight before serving, which gives the fillings time to soak in and moisten the cake.
Before serving, I covered the top with a generous layer of more whipped cream, and a thin coating on the sides so that the layers are almost visible. For a patriotic flourish, I arranged blueberries and strawberries on the top to resemble the Norwegian flag.
Sweet, fruity and filled with summer flavor, my Norwegian-Italian-American family has fallen in love with Bløtkake, and I hope yours will, too. Happy Syttende Mai!
Makes: One 9-inch, 3-layer cake
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups plus 2½ tablespoons cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
For the vanilla custard:
2 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups whole milk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the whipped cream:
3 cups heavy whipping cream
3 to 4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
For cake assembly:
Milk or juice
Fresh berries or fruit (especially blueberries, strawberries and raspberries)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper, cut into a circular shape. Grease the top of the parchment paper; set aside.
Use a stand or handheld mixer to beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes thick and pale yellow in color, about 7 to 8 minutes.
Sift the cake flour and baking powder together. Sift the flour mixture over the eggs in three separate batches to keep the eggs from deflating, folding gently after each addition until the flour is incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and place on top of a baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until cake is golden in color and the top springs back when touched. Insert a toothpick into the center to check for doneness.
Cool in the pan until the top is cool to the touch, then remove and finish cooling on a wire rack. To freeze, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Cut into layers once thawed.
Use a handheld or stand mixer with the whisk attachment to beat the sugar and egg yolks on medium-high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Add the cornstarch and blend on medium speed until the mixture is thick and pale yellow, about 2 minutes.
In a saucepan, add the milk and vanilla extract, and cook over medium-low heat until bubbles begin to form at the sides, without letting it come to a boil. Remove from heat.
In a slow, steady stream, add the warm milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly on medium-low speed to prevent the eggs from curdling. Keep whisking until the ingredients are well combined, then pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return to the stove.
Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens, then remove from heat and stir vigorously for one minute. If desired, the custard can be passed through a strainer to remove any lumps. Cool completely before refrigerating.
Press a layer of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard to keep it from forming a skin. Refrigerate for at least 3 days.
Whipped cream directions:
Use a handheld or stand mixer to combine the whipping cream, sugar and vanilla, starting at low speed and gradually increasing to high speed, until stiff peaks are formed.
Cake assembly directions:
Use a long, serrated knife to cut the sponge cake into three even layers. Place the bottom layer, cut-side-up, and use a spoon or pastry brush to lightly coat the crumb with milk or juice to moisten the cake. Spread a layer of jam over the cake, all the way to the edges.
Next, spread a thick layer of the custard over the jam, followed by the whipped cream, all the way to the edges of the cake. Place the second layer of cake on top, cut-side-up, and repeat with the milk, jam, custard and whipped cream.
Place the final layer of cake on top, cover cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. Remove from fridge and cover top with a generous layer of whipped cream, and a light coating on the sides. Decorate top with fresh berries. Serve and enjoy.
Refrigerate leftover cake for up to 3 days in an airtight container.
The spongecake may be frozen for several months, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored inside an airtight container. Cut cake into layers after thawing.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 13-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.