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« Smash! and Brown Cheese | Main | Cherry Hazelnut Cake »
Wednesday
Jul202005

The Norwegian Cake Table


The Wedding Cake Table, Day 2

I know what they say about Scandinavian winters driving people to madness, but southern Norway in summer is quite possibly one of the most heavenly things you might ever hope to experience. Sparkling blue fjords reach like willowy fingers through the landscape, lush forested hills roll gently down to greet them at rocky outcrops and golden beaches, crystal blue skies glow warmly into the night, and on the cool breeze floats the scent of hundreds of thousands of flowers blooming furiously as they attempt to make up for lost time. And all this is not lost on Norway's inhabitants, who basically spend the summer outdoors fishing, cycling, slow-baking themselves to various shades of deep golden brown, and of course celebrating every last thing that can be found to celebrate - preferably with copious amounts of food and even more copious amounts of drink.

Naturally summer is also the perfect time to get married in Norway, which explains why I had a good excuse to spend the better part of last week there. Guro and Nash were two of the first friends I made when I moved to Edinburgh, when we all lived together in University accommodation and cooked together and ingested frightening amounts of chocolate as an antidote to the miserable Scottish weather. I had been looking forward to their wedding for months, and when Guro called me up a few weeks before the wedding and asked if I might be interested in helping out with the food, I naturally fell over myself with joy. The wedding reception was going to take place in the garden of her parents' house, and they were planning to serve a mixed Norwegian-Lebanese buffet (to honor the couple's respective home countries) which would be mostly catered by a local restaurant. "But we were wondering if you would mind making something as well" she inquired. Was she kidding? "Of course, anything!" I hastily responded, starting to sift through my mental lists of canapés, dips and party snacks. "Oh I'm so glad! Would you make your chocolate cheesecake?"

Of course I was happy to make my chocolate cheesecake, as I knew the cake had sentimental value for all of us. Back when we lived together I made this cake on such a regular basis that some people in the building knew me only by its reputation. I stopped making it when I moved out of the residence hall because I realized that not having an eager group of mouths around to help me finish it was far, far too dangerous, considering how wickedly good it is. Yet although I agreed without hesitation, her request that I make a cake, even if it was this one, left me slightly confused. I knew already that they had ordered a traditional wedding cake, and as far as I was aware, wedding etiquette dictated that no one should even dream of making a cake that might steal some of the limelight away from the wedding cake. Especially not a rich cheesecake, which, heaven forbid, might fill people up before they even have a chance to sample the wedding cake. But I figured the cake had probably been requested for sentimentality's sake, and chances were it wouldn't even find its way onto the wedding buffet table.

What I was soon to learn is that Norwegians come from a very different school of wedding cake philosophy. Apparently, while every wedding has the 'traditional' wedding cake, no one in Norway would dream of providing only that to their cake-hungry guests. In fact, I gathered that the abundance of wedding cake offerings has some kind of direct correlation with perceptions of the host's generosity and wealth, and even at a modest wedding the hosts will strive to have as many cakes on the table as possible. And it soon became clear that I was not the only one making a supplemental cake. Guro's mother, father and sister were all making cakes. In fact, they were all making TWO cakes. In addition, friends and relatives had been commissioned to bake cakes which would be dropped off the morning before the wedding. "We ask them to bring one but sometimes they bring two, just to be generous," Guro's sister informed me. "And besides the wedding cake and the homemade cakes don't forget the Kransekake, which is traditional at any Norwegian celebration. We've ordered a 24-ring version." I was feeling weak at the knees. A quick count told us that there would be minimum of sixteen cakes for approximately 45 invited guests, or around one-third of a cake per person. And this would all come after a buffet dinner. "Oh, and the caterer's menu includes dessert, which is a chocolate cake with blueberry sorbet." This was madness.

But what delicious madness it was. After a beautiful ceremony in the church, and a long and leisurely buffet served under the airy marquee in the garden, and after the chocolate cake with sorbet and tearful speeches and lots of wine, just shy of midnight the cake table was laid. It was stunning. The wedding cake, three tiers high, contained marzipan-covered sponge cake filled with strawberries and cream, and had been decorated with tiny blue borage flowers from the garden. The Kransekake, ordered from the same bakery, was a towering pyramid of thin brown rings of baked almond paste, deliciously soft and chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside, all decorated with white icing and tiny Norwegian flags. Guro's mother had made two Norwegian cakes: a Mandelkake, a flourless almond cake with yellow buttercream frosting, and a Firkløverkake, which had layers of chocolate cake, whipped cream, hazelnuts and melted hazelnut-praline milk chocolate. Guro's father made two versions of his famous Bløtkake, which consisted of light-as-air sponge filled with fresh strawberries and peaches and more fluffy cream. Guro's sister made her favorite recipes for carrot cake and lemon cheesecake. Apart from that there were brownies, more cream cakes, mousse cakes, cakes I couldn't identify, and of course my very own chocolate cheesecake. It was a veritable cake orgy, and I ate until I could barely stand upright.

However, in spite of our valiant efforts to eat the table clean that evening there was barely a dent made in the sugary bounty. The next night brought a second effort as guests were invited back to help finish the leftovers, but still far too much cake remained. Looking sadly at the table I asked Guro's sister what would happen to the leftovers after we'd all gone home. She shrugged casually. "I suppose we'll have to throw some of it away." It broke my heart to think of all these painstakingly-made creations ending up in the trash, and so later that night in the grips of my own madness (for I couldn't have eaten another bite of cake if someone had held a gun to my head), I snuck back out to the marquee and uncovered the remains of my cheesecake. Glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one was witnessing my gluttony I wrapped and stowed a mushy piece into my bag for the flight home the next day. After all, I rationalized, I surely needed a souvenir of this wonderful if slightly crazy tradition to take home with me, now didn't I?

chocolatecheesecake.jpg
Amazing Chocolate Cheesecake

Amazing Chocolate Cheesecake
Serves: 12 easily
Source: This is one of the few 'old family recipes' I possess. Actually, I seem to recall that it's an adaptation of a cheesecake in The Vegetarian Epicure (by Anna Thomas) which my mother wrangled from an old cheesecake-conoisseur colleague of hers. At any rate, it's been around as long as I can remember and is one of those rare recipes that I have never felt the slightest need to tinker with.
For metric conversions, please see my links on the glossary page.

Crust:
1 1/2 c. fine graham cracker or digestive biscuit crumbs
1/4 c. melted butter, or as needed
1/2 t. cinnamon
3 T. brown sugar
pinch salt

Cheesecake:
1 1/2 lbs. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
8 oz fine bittersweet chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons liqueur of choice (I used Bailey's this time; Cointreau, Amaretto, Frangelico etc. are also fabulous) - optional
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Topping:
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (or to taste)
2 tablespoons liqueur (same as above)

Crust: Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Work the ingredients together with a fork until they are well blended.  Press evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch springform pan and press it flat.

Cheesecake:  Beat the cream cheese with an electric beater or food processor until it is fluffy, then gradually beat in the 2 c. sugar and the eggs.  Continue beating until perfectly smooth.  Melt the chocolate with the cream in a small saucepan over low heat (or the microwave), then beat into the cheese along with 1 c. sour cream.  Add the liqueur and vanilla, and beat a few minutes more.  Pour the cheese mixture into the springform and bake for about 1 hour, or until the center is slightly puffed (it will seem very jiggly, but it shouldn't seem liquid). Cool completely in the pan for several hours (this is important to get the right texture), then refrigerate until completely cold (at least six hours - overnight is best).  Carefully run a knife between the crust and the pan to loosen and remove the springform. With a long bread knife trim the top and sides so they are smooth and uniform (these trimmings are the cook's sneak-preview!). 

Topping: Beat together the sour cream and sugar.  Add the liqueur and carefully pour over the top of the cheesecake, so it completely covers the top. Let it spill over the edge in a few places to create a decorative effect*.  Chill 90 minutes before serving.  Just before serving, sift some dutch cocoa over the top and decorate with fresh flowers.

*Alternatively, you can place the springform back around the cake before pouring on the topping (so it all stays on top) and put it back in a preheated 375F/190C oven for 10 minutes. This creates a firmer top layer.


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Reader Comments (29)

This is so unfair. I _swear_ I didn't see _all_ those cakes on the table when I was still there. Wedding cake, yes, and kransekage as well. But not all of this abundance..
Also, it's no wonder that I didn't get any of your amazing chocolate cheesecake. I clearly remember Nash (the groom) saying in his speech to stay away from the chocolate cake with a white flower, as he wants to keep it!
I thoroughly enjoyed the Norwegian/Lebanese buffet, your writeup of it - and the wonderful photo. Thanks!
July 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPille
Hi Pille - You know, the funny thing was that apparently everyone understood that Nash was warning people to stay away from the flowers, not the cake itself, so everyone dived into the cake but carefully avoided the flower-topped part like the plague!
July 20, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Oh.I was thinking of the British tradition (?) of keeping the wedding cake for ages, and was convinced the whole cake was a no-go area:)
Well, as you've now kindly shared the recipe for the cake, I can always make it, decorate with a white flower and pretend I'm at Guro&Nash's wedding in Tjøm in Southern Norway:)
July 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPille
That was such a great story Melissa. I loved reading it. The cheesecake looks fantastic! I know just the friend it would be perfect for. :)
July 20, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterclare eats
Gorgeous pictures! The flowers are stunning touch. I can't imagine all the cake there was to eat. I would be so torn: wanting to eat it without care, but the other part of me wanting to exercise at least a little bit of restraint.
Good job on sneaking some away though, I highly approve of the sneakery for the sake of further chocolate indulgence :)
July 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMichele
*weeps* If only I were there... Discarded dessert is such a tragedy! Esp your chocolate cheesecake. That looks divine!
July 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAugustusGloop

I know you are mostly trying to tell timely stories, but you have brought up events from the past occasionally. I would love to see the story of your OWN wedding (and cake) posted one of these days. We do have some nice photos, you know.
July 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMom
Melissa - your mum has a wonderful suggestion! I'm sure there would be plenty of bloggers keen to read about your own wedding cake and other delicious dishes on the table. You've released some details before (looking for edible flowers etc), so probably about time to come clean with the whole story:)
July 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPille
Hi Clare - Thanks! Your friend doesn't know how lucky they will soon be... ;)

Hi Michele - What is this strange word you use - 'restraint'? I don't think I've ever heard it before. I didn't hear anybody else use it there either. Knowledge of it must not be essential to cake-enjoyment... ;)

Hi Augustus - A tragedy indeed. I prefer to think that hungry little elves appeared at the last moment and made off with all the leftovers... Better to live in a fantasy world than think of cake in the trash! :-0

Hi Mom and Pille - Well, I may just have to give in to the request! But I'll wait for a suitable occasion - namely, our first anniversary coming up in a few short weeks! Stay tuned...
July 21, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Hi Melissa,
what a wonderful wedding cake table! And your recipe is bookmarked - I never had a chocolate cheescake to-date...obviously a big mistake!
Huge wedding cake tables are not so unusual on German weddings, at least in the countryside. As my grandma had many relatives, I attended lots of weddings during my childhood. After each wedding party every guest got a generous doggy bag including pieces of all the different cakes... That was my favorite part :)
July 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNicky
ummm...dreaming of chocolate. I too have a divine chocolate cheesecake but must soon to some comparison cooking. I bet Mr. Food Musings would be happy to help me with the tasting...
July 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine
Oh! I just love the image of you "sneaking" a piece of your own luscious chocolate cheesecake. (Another one of your fabulous recipes I hope to re-create sometime.) I swear, I would have done the same. It actually reminded me of a casual dinner I hosted once in TA where one of my guests caught me happily eating my bolognese sauce out of the pot, alone in the kitchen, long after dinner was over! I will get to your long overdue meme soon. It's nice to be back....
July 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
Hi Nicky - Sounds like it's time to broaden some culinary horizons! (It's a good excuse, anyway - I'm always looking for good 'excuses' to make this cake...) That's interesting what you have to say about German weddings - the only wedding I went to in Germany didn't have any cakes at all! :-0 Maybe this tradition is more common than I thought, and it's only us anglophones who have this 'one cake' hangup...

Hi Catherine - Comparison-tasting, now that's a good excuse! ;) Do report back on your findings, one can never have too many recipes for something this good!

Hi Heather - Great to have you back! I'm so glad you'd admit to similar gluttonous behavior - sometimes I really have to wonder if I should be revealing these things to other people... ;) And take your time with the meme - I'm sure it'll be worth the wait!
July 22, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Hi Melissa and everyone,

I love wedding celebrations, reading descriptions, and seeing the pics. Sounds like your friends had a beautiful ceremony and festive celebration. I especially like how everyone -- family and friends -- contributed to the cake-making.

Melissa, your mom has a great suggestion! I'd LOVE to read about and see some pics of your wedding. ;-)

Paz
July 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPaz
After reading your description, I wish I was back in Copenhagen since I just spent a year living there finishing up my degree. While winter may be miserable weather in Scandinavia, I have some of my fondest memories from that time and everyone seems to celebrate EVERYTHING at the time. Christmas celebrations begin in November!

And I can only imagine what the summer is like there right now. I got a little taste last summer and shortly before I left. Scandinavians know how to appreciate weather and there is ALWAYS a need to celebrate.
July 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterbrandon
students these days! :)
when I was one, we used to make pizzas under the grill out of 1 mushroom 1/4 tomato and a couple of rings of onion, 1oz of cheese on a piece of baguette. We would eat it every day for half a week to use up the whole tomato/bread. And to drink - thunderbird or martini. the cheapest stuff.
oh if only we had been able to afford fine plain chocolate, cream and liqueur in those days.
The epitome of exotic for us back then was spinach lasagne and garlic bread with a bottle of mateus rose.

the wedding sounds grand, i have never made it that far north before. well, i worked in sweden for a while and they had the best cakes I have ever tasted anywhere. Sounds like Baking is a Scandinavian gift!
July 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersam
Hi Paz - I agree completely, it's a wonderful tradition and I think everyone loved being able to contribute something - I know I did! And I'll definitely post something about my wedding cake soon. I think I've recovered enough by now to talk about it... ;)

Hi Brandon - A year in Copenhagen sounds wonderful. People who know how to celebrate well have a special place in my heart - maybe that's why I came home wondering how hard it would be to get Norwegian citizenship!

Hi Sam - Actually that doesn't sound too far off from how I lived my first time as a student. By the time the second stint came around a few years later I wasn't prepared to live on noodles and ketchup anymore, so I found a way to afford the chocolate and liqueur, even if it meant going around with my clothes in shreds!
July 23, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
I think we used to go round with our clothes in shreds on purpose!!!!!!! :) (Actually I am not kidding, and no you can't see the pictures)

You are very brave to have twice been a student.
If I ever went back to academia I would definitely be a sophisticated a student as possible too. I think have enough clothes to last me by now
July 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersam
Amazing Indeed.
July 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterFlavooor
Hi Sam - I do remember that time, though it was a few good years before I got to University! ;) I remember my mom throwing a fit one year because I had taken a pair of scissors to most of my new school clothes, despite the fact that I kept telling her but that's what's in fashion!

Hi Flavoor - Thanks! :)
July 25, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
hi dear mel, the whole family has been reading, or being translated your article, we thouroughly enjoyed it, n felt quite proud i dear say, it was lovely!

n the way u described the summer here was beautiful.

dont worry about the leftovers from the leftover party,they have all been handed out carefully to friends: our almost 90 year old neighbour got the last piece of your cake, with the flower and all i think, our midwife friend n her colleagues shared the bottom layer of the wedding cake, my dad's cousin's wife got the leftovers of her two cakes back for a boat trip. etcetera ect.
so they were all enjoyed in "round 3" as well.

n we count it as a blessing that you were there with us for the run-up and the wedding!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! we will do our best to get u norwegian citizenship, n help you find a cute house close to us, n if u do i will surely bring nash with me n move back to tjøm!
love n kisses!
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commentergoogs
Hi googs! I am *so* relieved to hear that no cake was wasted - the thought was simply too much for me to bear! :) I'm also glad to hear that you made it back safely - give everyone in your family a hug from me and tell them I had such a lovely (and educational!) time...and I'm seriously tempted by your offer of Norwegian citizenship. But I guess before that happens I'll have to work on acquiring a taste for brown cheese... ;)
July 26, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Lovely post. The pictures are fantastic. Last year I went to Norway and I agree on many things you say. Thanks for sharing with Us your adventures :)
July 27, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
must put norway on holiday list rightaway! those cakes look so yummy..
July 28, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLil
Hi Melissa - Thank you! It's a wonderful country, isn't it?

Hi Lil - Sounds like a good plan -- the only difficulty might be getting yourself invited to a wedding while you're there! ;)
July 28, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Yay! Melissa gives out the cheesecake secret :)
As a best man, I pretended to help with wedding arrangements as I opened the fridge to satisfy my curiosity and check what's there....and that was it, love at first sight. You know they say weddings are the best place to meet your other half. I'm not suprised that mine was a cake. I've noticed earlier that I like that type...I should have known...but I never saw her again after the wedding :( and now, I get to know more about that cheesecake :)
Like an artist, I'm going to recreate the one I miss in my house, kitchen actually, but it doesn't matter... I'll have the cheesecake all for myself!
Thanks Melissa, was lovely meeting you at the wedding and I've become a fan of the lunchbox.
Cheers
Louis (a.k.a Best-man)
August 2, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLouis
Hi Louis! I'm blushing, you know, I had no idea there was such explosive chemistry between you and that cheesecake... ;) But of course I'm only too happy to help bring two love-birds back together! I hope you've recovered from the wedding, and thanks for bringing back all the happy memories. Maybe we'll have a chance to get together and reminisce next time you're in Edinburgh. :)
August 3, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
i woundering if there is a history about boston-bløtkake,and whay it is a traditional cake to eta in America? GRO FROM NORWAY
I would like to take a 3 months course in cake making. I live in Norway. Can you advice me where i can take this course please.
October 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterIvy

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