Ethiopian coffee, and my favourite cake in Brussels

Passionfruit and almond cake

Time to write about one of my favourite cafés in Brussels: Aksum. Their great coffee, sprinkled with nutmeg, is hardly a secret, and housed in a small venue decked out with vintage ethiopian furniture, they are often busy. Their hot chocolate is perfect, standing strong against the stiff competition in Brussels. But for me, the true star of this café is a cake – the passionfruit dacquoise. A thin layer of crème brûlée makes it perfectly crispy on top, which is followed by a velvety, intense passion fruit cream inside, and finished with a soft and chewy bottom of almond meringue. I cannot get enough of it. This beauty is actually not made by Aksum, but sourced from a local Marolles patisserie called Secret Gourmand (a hidden gem for ordering whole cakes). Apart from the delicious passionfruit dacquiose, they also serve pistachio and cherry cake, lime and almond cake, and a chocolate cake I never had the pleasure to try. But these cakes, coupled with the friendly service, delicious coffee and nice venue, makes it a good place for a Sunday treat.

Cherry and pistachio cake

Should you be heavily into coffee, Aksum is also a good place to shop – they import coffee beans from around the world, which is ground in a lovely old school grinder by the door. If you want to take some home, they have a selection of different beans and ways of grinding them. The Finnish owner gives clear advice about the best kind of coffee (and takes the time to answer emails about it). Finally, a little trivia for the Swedophiles: you might think of Italians first when listing coffee drinking nations, but people in the Nordics are even more crazy about their caffeine.


Caramelised almond cake (toscatårta)

Me and my brother had a joint 25 and 30 year old birthday party this weekend and I was responsible for desserts. Panicking over what to make – desserts aren’t my strong side – I decided on toscatårta, because it’s delicious and not too hard to make. Essentially toscatårta is a creamy Swedish sponge cake with a divine topping of caramelised almond. It’s one of my gran’s classics and I’ve finally learnt how to make it. (or, at least this variation of it got her approval, and since she’s known as queen of the cakes in my village, I’m more than pleased with that verdict.)

For the sponge you need:

  • 2 decilitres plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 decilitres white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 decilitre double cream (this is the secret to the creaminess of the sponge)
  • 50 grams butter

For the topping:

  • 50 gram almond flakes
  • 50 grams butter
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 decilitre sugar 

You also need a round cake tin with detachable sides, and butter and fine bread crumbs to make it non-stick. Start by putting your oven to 175 degrees and butter the tin on the inside (the best way of doing this is through putting a small knob of butter on some kitchen towel and grease it all over). Add fine bread crumbs by pouring some in the middle and then moving the tin around until it is all covered in them. This is the Swedish way of greasing a tin for any cake, but I suppose you could also line the tin with baking paper.

Then melt the butter on the stove and let cool whilst you whisk together the eggs and the sugar for a fluffy mix. You can do this by hand, but your cake rises better if you can fluff it up with an electric whisk.

Fold in the butter, flour, baking powder and cream, and pour the mixture into your greased tin. Put in the oven for 25 minutes whilst you make the almond topping.

Making the almond topping is simple. Just mix the butter, milk, flour, sugar and almonds in a pan on the stove, and let melt slowly whilst the cake is in the oven. The butter should become completely liquid and the sugar should dissolve, but it doesn’t need more heat once that’s done.

Pardon all the instagrammed photos… left my camera in London.

Once the cake has had its 25 minutes in the oven, take it out and apply the topping carefully all over the cake. Just make sure it doesn’t collect in one hole in the middle. Put back into the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the topping has gone a light golden brown.

Once your beautiful cake is done, the almond should have caramelised at the top, and the sponge gone a light brown at the bottom. Carefully separate the upper edges of the cake from the form with a knife, as they become difficult to separate once the sugar has stiffened. Let rest for a few minutes, and then carefully move the cake from the form to a plate. Decorate with berries and mint, and serve with strong, sweet coffee.


White chocolate ricciarelli

Perhaps these ought to be called bastard or fake ricciarelli, if they can be called ricciarelli at all. Real ricciarelli are meant to be this beautiful, and not have white chocolate anywhere near them. Perhaps think of this as the rural cousin of the ricciarelli, with a weird accent, ugly dress and too much make-up. The white chocolate adds an almost buttery base to the fresh and sweet almond crispness of the biscuit, and they are perfect snack size for your afternoon coffee. They are also quick and easy to make!

For the recipe, which is based on this Swedish post, you need:

  • 250 g almond flour
  • The peel of 1/2 lemon
  • 150 g sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 drop of bitter almond extract
  • 100 g white chocolate

Start by mixing the almond flour and half of the sugar in a bowl. In a different bowl, whisk the egg whites into a foam , then add the other half of the sugar, whisking along until you have a shiny kind of meringue base. Carefully add the lemon, almond-sugar mix and almond extract. You’ll get a sticky mix, which you can shape into little rounds or whichever shape you prefer (these are the quick and dirty sort of ricciarelli after all). Put them into the oven at 160 degrees for no more than 10 minutes, and keep a careful eye when they bake as they easily dry up. Take them out of the oven and let them cool whilst you melt the chocolate in a water bath. Dip the bottoms in the chocolate (or smear it on if that’s easier), and then let them rest on a sheet of baking paper. If you’re the restless kind, you can hurry up the stiffening of the chocolate through putting them in the freezer.

Enjoy a handful of them with your afternoon coffee.


Nigella’s apple & almond cake

This cakes really melts in your mouth, because it contains no flour. It contains no flour because it is Nigella’s cake for passover. However, flourless, eggless and yeastless as it is, it is absolutely delicious and therefore you should make it. Imagine a dense, slightly coarse mousse made out of tart apple and ground almonds. This looks like a cake but in fact it tastes very little like one, and therefore I love it (because most of the time I don’t really like cake). It should be noted that this is the kind of cake I make when someone else is paying for the ingredients: almond flour is expensive (but so incredibly flavoursome and lush to bake with) and 8 eggs for one cake may seem a bit frivolous (although as a southern Swede I feel some affinity with this*). But it’s a winner for special occasions (or if you need to make cake for a gluten-allergic, with different frosting it could definitely pass for a posh birthday cake). You will need the following ingredients:

  • 376 g almond flour
  • 250 g sugar
  • 8 eggs (!)
  • 3 apples
  • 1 lemon
  • Flaked almonds
  • Pearl sugar (optional; Swedish topping as described in this post)
  • Plus a spring form, baking paper and a food processor/mixer for making it. Lacking this it might be difficult to make. Although perhaps one can experiment with muffins tins and stuff.

Start by melting the apples together with the sugar and some lemon juice on the stove. While they are bubbling away, mix all your other ingredients (apart form the pearl sugar and flaked almonds) in the food processor (if you, like me, only have a mixer, you can pre-mix the stuff in another bowl and the blitz as much as you can get into the mixed bit by bit). The apples should be a bit cooled down lest they start cooking the eggs prematurely, so after they’ve softened ont he stove for ten minutes you may want to create a makeshift cold water bath int he sink to speed up their cooling process before you mix them with the rest.

Once you’ve blitzed all your ingredients and put them in the cake tin (greased and lined of course), put it in the over at 180 degrees for about 45 minutes. The result will be a bit gooey and wet, but it’s meant to be. Nigella says to eat it whilst it is stilla little bit warm, but I actually preferred it two days old. It’s so juicy the concept of “stale” goes nowhere near it.

* Swedophiles may be interested to learn that old southern Swedish cooking usually involved obscene amounts of eggs. Partly this was the result of an attempt to distinguish southern cuisine as rich in eggs, cream, and butter from that of the starving North, and particular the bastard Stockholmers. (The Treaty of Roskilde making Skåne Swedish was signed in 1658, but not everyone is over it yet).