One morning, we left for Byske as soon as K. got home; with, for only reason, the two horses that he’d seen and wanted to show me.
In the distance, a farm broke through the wall of björkar [birches] that lines the road. As we approached, it became clear that the horses had been moved.
Instead, we stopped a few hundreds of meters later, way past the runestone that I’m still very curious about (note-to-self: go there again, please). We sat on the car and ate the two apples I had brought along. K. cut some birch branches for the påskris [Easter tree] that was to happen.
Another day, we sat in the setting sun; to the sound of a crackling fire, and geese heading north above our heads, not unlike a compass of some sort. There might have been korv and baguette, chocolate and kokkaffe. And before dusk settled behind the trees, Kalle threw his first cast into a river that had lost its winter ice.
Tonight, we heard raindrops against the glass rooftop of our veranda. And really, I had forgotten how wonderful rain can be after months made of silent snowflakes.
From what I’ve gathered, romtårta [litterally, roe cake; a savoury roe cheesecake] is a summer classic.
It does, however, get made as soon as the sun makes its return in the north; perhaps, not unlike a rain dance.
This recipe comes from my friend Suss, and I fell in love with it when she made in at the café for an Easter du jour special.
The earthiness of the bread, which I highly recommend to be a sunflower seed-heavy rågbröd, meddles beautifully with the lemon and the sea-saltiness of the roe.
Make sure to top your tårta with plenty of vegetables to add texture and freshness. I went for thinly shaved radishes and cucumber, sliced sugar snap peas, and bits of lemon segments.
You can make it either as a large tart, which I think would look stunning on a dinner table, or like I did, smaller individual tarts.
In any case, I truly think it will become an Easter tradition in our house. And perhaps in yours too.
A note on the gelatin
As you may know, I’ve been trying to write an article about gelatine for – literally – years. And every now and then, I become obsessed with it again.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, as it’s an ingredient that is so tremendously different from one country to another that it makes my job as a chef and a food writer quite difficult.
I won’t get into details about it now, but let me just tell you that in between France, the UK, and Sweden, I’ve had to adjust my recipes a lot to fit the gelatin available in each place.
When I first made this recipe, it called for 4 gelatin leaves. The gelatin we get from the supermarkets here is extra guld [extra gold], so I’m assuming its on the higher end of the bloom spectrum for gold gelatin, perhaps 220-230 bloom.
However, I have found that 4 leaves was slightly too much in this case, so I’ve reduced the gelatin in the recipe below to 3 leaves, bringing it to 5.1g of 220-230 bloom gelatin.
Please, note that the gelatin here in Sweden is much stronger than the gelatin found in French or English supermarkets, so you might need more. In fact, one leaf here seems to be almost the equivalent of a professional gelatin leaf, both in strength and weight.
If in doubt, go by weight: 5 grams; and add a couple of grams if your gelatin has a strength comprised between 160-190 bloom.
However, remember to start with less, as a cheesecake with a creamier texture – although it might look a bit messy – will always be better than an over-set one.
Makes 8 individual tarts or one 24cm.
For the base
200 g rye bread, pumpernickel, or even crackers
75 g butter, melted
a fat pinch of salt
For the “cheesecake”
3 gelatin leaves (around 5g, see note above)
300 g cream cheese
200 g crème fraiche
1/2 red onion, finely minced
juice and zest from a lemon
a pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
80 g fish roe
Prepare eight 8cm-wide rings or a large 24cm ring on a tray that fits in your fridge, and is lined with baking paper.
Blitz the bread into crumbs, and add the melted butter and salt. Divide the mixture in between the prepared rings, and press to form a base.
Set aside in the fridge until needed.
Make the filling
Soak the gelatin leaves in ice-cold water.
In a large bowl, mix half the cream cheese with the crème fraiche, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper.
Heat the remaining cream cheese – either in the microwave or over a bain-marie – until around 60°C.
Dissolve the gelatin in the warm cream cheese, and incorporate it into the crème fraiche mixture using a whisk.
Gently fold in the roe, and divide this cream into the prepared ring.
Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Unmould by running a small knife around the rim of your rings and top with prawns and sliced vegetables of your choice.
I intended for today’s post to be short – almost-wordless short. Really, it was just meant to be a recipe that I developped for a nut-free pâte sucrée.
And that what it is, in essence. With a few notes around it.
In France – or at least at the pâtisseries where I worked, and in books and magazines – pâte sucrée will always call for ground almonds (or some other kind of ground nuts, depending on the finished tart). This gives the dough a short, crumbly texture, and a wonderful roasted aroma. No questions asked.
But here in Sweden, I’ve found that many people have food allergies, so I’ve had to improvise. And after many trials, I’ve finally worked out a nut-free recipe that I’m happy with, and that stands against the pâte sucrée I grew up making.
Now, I could tell you a few stories about chefs that I worked with in London and their relationships with customers who have allergies or dietary requirements. But I think it would be 1) too mind-your-French kinda stories and 2) too long to tell them all.
I must, however, share my favourite of all. Picture a couple of vegetarians asking about options in a very meaty menu. All I heard in response went along the lines of: “Do I go in a *insert swear-word of your choice* vegetarian restaurant and ask for a *insert swear-word of your choice* rib-eye?”.
Of course, a beautiful vegetarian tasting menu was promptly made, but this sentence somehow stuck with me, and I love to remember it fondly every now and then, and of course, to tell it to anyone who cares enough (or not) to listen.
This is the recipe that I started with. It’s absolutely beautiful – a given when it comes to Pierre Hermé, really.
However, over the years, I’ve come to adapt it into an easier-to-work with dough; which to this day remains my standard and usual recipe.
Pierre Hermé’s pâte sucrée
300 g unsalted butter
190 g icing sugar
60 g ground almonds
1 tsp sea salt
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
100 g eggs
500 g plain flour
This recipe, which I think stems from a combination of Pierre Hermé’s, Valrhona and a few tweaks here and there, is as its name reveals without a hint of suspense, my favourite.
It’s one I can make with my eyes and my recipe notebook closed.
Of course, I always make a much bigger batch, somewhere along x5.5, which gives me enough to dough to roll fourteen 28.5x45cm sheets (a format, rather than being practical, obeys the rule of the baking paper that we have in kitchens: 45x57cm, which religiously gets cut in half in the morning, forming large piles that fit into gastros and baking trays, and lasts us through the day).
For those of you wondering about regularity of thickness between sheets, read further down to Notes, where you’ll find the answer.
Fanny’s favourite pâte sucrée
255 g unsalted butter
190 g icing sugar
70 g ground almonds
1 tsp sea salt
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
100 g eggs
510 g plain flour
A nut free alternative
When I realised many people here had food allergies, it made me question everything I had learn, heard or done in the past.
In France, at least, back when I was living there, very few pâtisseries catered to dietary requirements; yes, [to be said with a French accent] eat the tart or don’t. It was not something I’ve ever seen anyone – chefs or customers – think about, let alone be concerned.
In Sweden, it’s on the literal opposite of the spectrum, so much, that I always make sure to have at least three or four gluten-free options, two dairy-free alternatives, a couple of nut-free pastries, and a lactose-free crème brûlée (flavoured with tonka bean at the moment, because I think tonka and winter were always meant).
And this is why I had to give up my favourite pâte sucrée. I started working on a recipe, with mixed results – from my perspective only judging by how quick the lemon tarts sell out every time I put them in the display.
But after a few batches, I found the one that I’ve now been using for the past few months. A crisp, golden-brown crust that stays so.
Fanny’s nut-free pâte sucrée
280 g unsalted butter
180 g icing sugar
1 tsp sea salt
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
100 g eggs
40 g egg yolks
545 g plain flour
Or simply follow this process:
1. In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cold butter (see note n°1 below), icing sugar, ground almonds (if using), salt, and vanilla, until just smooth.
2. Add the eggs (and yolk for the nut-free recipe) one at a time, mixing well after each addition, a minute or so. If making a larger batch, the eggs can be added a couple at a time.
3. Mix in the flour (read note n°2 below if making a larger batch) and work on low speed until just combined.
4. Divide the dough into three pâtons, roughly 350-360g each. Flatten each onto a feuille guitare (cf note n°3) using the palm of your hand and top with another feuille. Roll, always from the centre upwards, giving the dough a quarter turn every time, into a large disk, around 3-4mm thick. Place the dough onto a baking tray and set aside. Repeat with the other two pâtons; and either freeze for up to two months, or chill in the fridge for at least two hours or for up to a week.
If making a bigger batch, please refer to note n°4.
5. Line your tart ring and chill or freeze for an hour or two. Blind bake (see ressources below for a link to one of my posts “A few notes on blind-baking”).
N°1. The butter does not need to be at room temperature as many recipes might suggest. Yes, it makes for an easier mixing (especially by hand, which I suspect this rather obsolete step comes from) but it also makes the water contained in the butter more available to bind with the flour proteins, hence developing gluten more than cold butter would.
The quick mixing of the cold butter with the sugar acts as a mechanical (as opposed to physical) softener. And before you know it, you’ll have a smooth paste, ready to receive the eggs.
N°2. If making a large batch – larger than 5 kilograms in total weight – I’d recommend adding around 10% of the flour to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and working on low speed until incorporated; and then adding the remaining flour and mixing until just combined. Never overwork the dough as it would make the tart shell tough instead of crisp and crumbly.
N°3. Feuille guitare, litterally guitar-leaf, is a transparent polyethylene/acetate film that is somewhat rigid. Although it can be replaced by baking paper, I would – if given the choice – always use it to roll dough. It prevents the formation of creases in the dough (which could later results in cracks during baking) and yes, it looks neat.
They are also amazing for chocolate décors, which i could show you if you’re interested (let me know!).
N°4. When I make a x5.5 batch, I divide the dough into 14 pieces, around 450g each. And then roll them into 28.5x45cm sheets, making sure to trim the edges into a neat rectangle. This way, I can store my dough in the freezer in an airtight plastic gastro, and take out sheets when I’m making a tart shell mise-en-place.
By weighing each pâtons and rolling to the exact same size every time, I ensure an even thickness throughout the batch. This produces a dough that bakes uniformly, making sure all the tartelettes on one baking tray will be ready at the same time.
N°5. My absolute favourite rings when it comes to tarts are not the traditional tart rings that have rolled edges. I like simple entremet rings from Matfer. They’re 35mm-high and are completely smooth, with no welding mark.
I find that with 35mm-high rings, I get more use out of them. If I want to make a 2cm-high tart, then I simply cut a 2cm strip of dough that will become the edges of the tart. However, if I’d like to make a deeper tart, perhaps chocolate or pecan, then I simply line the ring up to its rim.
I know DeBuyer has recently come up with perforated rings in collaboration with Valrhona; and although I’ve tried them a couple of times, with great results in term on crumb texture and even baking, I don’t really like the marks they leave on the outer edge of the tart case.
N°6. I always bake my tarts onto Silpain – a variation oriented for bread bakers of the now-famous Silpat. I find that it gives the quickest and most even baking.
La cerise Le citron sur le gâteau [The cherry lemon on top]
Just like I did in Paris Pastry Club (almost its two-year birthday!!), I can’t resist to share the lemon tart recipe that has followed me for years – despite the MANY other lemon curds that I’ve tried to like. Of course, it’s from Pierre Hermé. And really, trust me, it’s the best you could, and will, ever make.
The recipe will leave you with some extra lemon curd – that always tend to disappear on top of ice-cream if my mum and sister are around. Or you could also, divide what’s left in piping bags, tie them tighly and freeze for up to 2 months.
Tarte au citron meringuée
Makes one 24cm tart, serving 12-16.
one 24cm blind-baked tart shell, using the pâte sucrée of your choice (or as I do in my book a lemon shortbread topped with a lemon sponge).
for the lemon curd 240 g caster sugar
zest from 3 lemons
200 g eggs
140 g lemon juice (around 3 large lemons) 300 g butter, cubed, at room temperature
Place the sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl, and rub the zest in the sugar for a minute or two. This step, although optional, diffuses the fragrant lemon oils into the sugar, resulting in a deeply flavoured and more complex lemon curd.
Whisk in the eggs (I like to handblend the eggs before adding them to the sugar as I find it gives the smoothest texture) and the lemon juice.
Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook the lemon curd until it reaches 81°C, stirring every minute or so.
remove the bowl from the bain-marie and allow to cool down to 55-60°C. Then whisk in the butter, one cube at a time. Handblend the curd for 6 minutes then pass through a fine-mesh sieve into a plastic container.
Clingfilm to the touch and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours or better yet, overnight.
When ready to assemble the tart, make the Italian meringue.
for the Italian meringue
100 g egg whites
1/2 tsp sea salt
200 g caster sugar
60 g water
Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place the sugar and water in a small pan, and bring to the boil over medium heat.
When the syrup reaches the boil, start whisking the egg whites on medium speed.
Cook the syrup to 118°C and pour over the soft peaks egg whites, making sure to run the syrup along the sides of the bowl to avoid it from splashing around the bowl.
Increase the speed slightly and keep on whisking until the meringue feels barely warm.
In the meantime, pipe a generous layer of lemon curd into your blind-baked tart shell using a piping bag fitted with a 12mm nozzle.
Pipe the meringue on top into a pattern, or simply pile it on and swirl. Burn using a blowtorch, making sure to rotate the tart to get every nook and cranny.
It’s still very much winter here in Skellefteå. In fact, we’ve had a blizzard over the weekend; snow, at times twirling around with the winds; and at other times, falling almost horizontally. A western under the snow. Not unlike the Dyonisos album that lullabied my teenage years.
Oh love me, Oh kiss me,
I’m lying on western under the snow
You’re the sky of my heart
So come to me and take off your clouds
But there’s been something different in the air. It might have started on a Monday, almost a month ago.
There are the birds. And a sun warmer and brighter than it’s been for months. There are the morning walks by the river. And the temperatures that have risen from -26°C to -10°C.
Today, we opened our windows as the sun rose – the crisp air filled our flat while we were safely nested under the duvet. A make-believe spring of some kind. Something only we know; or perhaps, something only we make up.
Not much has happened in our kitchen. Dinners made of glass noodle salad with barely-warm roasted salmon. A few nights made of crispy rice and red wine. And Kalle’s wonderful breakfasts; the latest edition involving tomato sauce with plenty of onion and garlic, golden-brown bacon, eggs – with a yolk runny as it should be, perhaps some beans too. But most importantly, the råg or vete-kakor [soft polar bread] that he cuts into four and fry in the rendered bacon fat until almost burnt.
You’d also find a glass-jarful of biscuits on the counter. Sometimes, drömmar or syltkakor; but mostly our favourite cinnamon shortbreads.
And just like we were in love with a crispy cinnamon biscuit recipe last year (which you should try too as they’re on the opposite spectrum of the shortbreads I’m showing you today), 2016 has been about kanelkakor.
Our favourite cinnamon shortbreads
Adapted from Leila Lindholm’s A Piece of Cake.
In Swedish, these shortbreads are called spröda kanelkakor; literally brittle cinnamon biscuits. And they are just that. Crisp and golden. With cinnamon just so. And when bitten, they’ll crumble into tiny morsels.
I like to bake them until golden-brown, which would be considered an offense by any Swedish mormor [grand-mother]. Yes, here, most biscuits are likely to be baked into the palest shade of gold; when the base just starts to brown around the edge.
But no matter how far north I now live, you can’t take the French in me away from deep-caramel tones.
The original recipe calls for a tablespoon of water, which I of course replaced with vanilla extract. Yes, vanilla never is a bad idea. And yes, you can forever-quote me on that.
The dough itself comes together in a minute or so. And perhaps, that’s why we’ve baked these shortbreads more than any other over the winter.
And although the recipe rightfully suggests to leave the dough wrapped in clingfilm in the fridge for at least an hour before baking, I haven’t found it necessary when I used cold butter. However, if your kitchen temperature exceeds 18°C, I’d recommend going ahead with this step to make sure your shortbreads won’t spread too much.
Our favourite cinnamon shortbreads
Makes 12 larges biscuits or 16 smaller ones.
For the dough 225 g plain flour
75 g icing sugar
60 g potato starch
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
225 g cold butter, cut into 0.5cm cubes
For the eggwash one egg, beaten
For the cinnamon sugar
Combine: 100 g granulated sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
Line two baking trays with baking paper and preheat the oven to 175°C (165°C for a fan-assisted oven).
Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on low speed until it forms a dough.
Roll the dough into a log and cut it into either 12 or 16 even slices, depending on the size you want your shortbreads to be.
Roll each slice into a ball, then flatten it onto the prepared baking tray. Repeat with the remaining slices.
Press a fork into each shortbread, then brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 to 24 minutes, or until golden-brown. Allow to cool down completely before placing them into an airtight box. These will keep for at least a week; although they’ve never lasted this long in our home.