Thursday, January 19, 2017
Fika and fyriskaka
Last week at the library, I came across a really nice little cookbook called Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall. Both authors are Swedish-Americans; Brones is a writer and Kindvall an illustrator. Are you familiar with the concept of fika? I had heard of it before reading this book, but didn't know much about it. I learned a lot about fika from the book, which discusses the history of the Swedish coffee break, starting with their love of coffee. Did you know that Swedes drink more coffee than anyone else in the world? The book was fascinating; I read it cover to cover as soon as I got it home. It's much more than just a cookbook; it's full of cultural insight, stories and history too.
The word "fika" itself derives from the Swedish word for coffee, kaffe; someone inverted the syllables and created the slang word "faka," which eventually became "fika" (as a language nerd, I really enjoyed learning this). Fika is an important part of life in Sweden, a special part of the day when you sit down and relax with coffee or tea as well as baked goods. Many people observe fika twice a day! Swedes build fika time into their workday, and they also take fika on the go with them, packing thermoses of hot drinks and wrapped baked goods in their travel bags. The baked goods may be sweet or savory: cakes, cookies, scones and breads can all be found at fika time.
The book is filled with simple drawings like this one, depicting a cordial beverage and bullar (buns). Every recipe has a lovely bit of artwork to accompany it. There are also drawings of people sharing fika together, friends and coworkers taking a break from everything for a little while.
I also loved this illustration, which appears on pages separating each section of the book. I really enjoy kitchenware design (you may recall that time I stitched a whole sampler featuring nothing but!), and this simple kind of line drawing is so effective. I'd like a little bit of wallpaper like this, just one wall, maybe. Very eye-catching. The chapters in the book include: the history of Swedish coffee, modern-day fika, the outdoor season (which includes recipes for cordial drinks and jam), holiday celebrations (fancier cakes and cookies), and breads/sandwiches/fika as a lighter snack.
I was drawn to many of the recipes in the book, wanting to try almost everything. Swedish baking uses basic ingredients like butter and eggs, with spices, seeds, dried fruit and nuts for flavor. Caraway seeds, cinnamon and cardamom figure often. I decided to try a recipe called fyriskaka, or apple cake, first. Fyriskaka can be made with other fruits too (click here for a recipe on Johanna Kindvall's website for pear fyriskaka; it's the same recipe which appears in the book, only substituting pears for apples. You can also see more of Johanna's lovely illustrations on her site).
The recipe calls for cardamom, which I needed to prepare. We keep whole cardamom pods on hand for Indian cooking, usually using the pods whole and removing them before serving the dish. I needed the seeds on the inside for the cake recipe, so I opened the pods by crushing them with the back of a heavy knife, removing the tiny seeds inside and then grinding them finely (we have a dedicated Krups coffee grinder just for spices).
The recipe is simple. You melt butter and stir in the ground cardamom. While the butter cools, you peel and slice a few apples, then toss the apples in a mixture of cinnamon and brown sugar. For the batter, you mix the melted butter with sugar, eggs, flour and baking powder. The batter is spread in a springform pan with the apple slices arranged on top, and into the oven it goes. I ended up adding about 15 minutes to the recipe's suggested bake time because my cake was still wet in the center at the end of the recipe time.
It was baked nicely after the extra time, but did not rise much. I think it's meant to be a bit more like a tart. That's what mine was like, anyway. It was very tasty. The apples were perfectly spiced and still juicy, while the cake was a bit dense and soft in the center with crisp edges. I think the cardamom was a bit overpowering, though. It may be due to my using freshly-ground seeds, as opposed to pre-ground ones, but I think I would use about half the suggested amount next time. Freshly-ground cardamom can be potent.
In true fika spirit, the Bear and I had our fyriskaka with coffee, which mellowed the cardamom flavor some, so maybe it's meant to be strong, to go with the strong flavors of coffee. Either way, this was a nice recipe to make. I'm really glad I found the book in the library; I'm even considering buying a copy for my cookbook collection, which is saying a lot because I like to keep it rather spare. But the recipes are so interesting and the book itself so attractive, I think it would be a nice one to own eventually. I have a few other recipes in mind to try soon. I'll let you know how I get on. In the meantime, if you like Scandinavian culture, definitely give Fika a try; it's a great combination of history, style and everyday life.