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.


Rich chocolate and salted caramel cake

Salted caramel

I detest dry chocolate cake. The sugary sponge desserts found in some supermarkets or school canteens would put anyone off it for life. Yet chocolate mousse and elegant souffles are difficult to make, and often require lots of equipment. I found this recipe to be a perfect middle ground: it incorporates some of the stickiness of a Swedish kladdkaka, yet with all the richness of French chocolate creations. For all this, it’s still very easy to make.

Crushed chocolate

The ingredient list is rather simple, although the golden rule with chocolate-based desserts mustn’t be forgotten: the better the chocolate in the base, the richer the cake. Having the luxury of living in Brussels, I brought several slabs of almost smoky dark, as well as milk chocolate with me home to Sweden this winter (or, they were a gift for my stepmother, but she didn’t mind them being used this way… at least not once she got to try the result). I used light and nutty milk chocolate for the cake itself, and a dark, almost bitter chocolate for the topping.

Chocolate cake ingredients

For the cake, you’ll need:

  • 6 eggs
  • 250 g unsalted butter
  • 2,5 dl Sugar
  • 60 g flour
  • 250 g milk or dark chocolate, depending on taste

For the dark chocolate cover:

  • 100 g unsalted butter
  • 50 g honey
  • 100 g dark chocolate

And for the salted caramel topping:

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes
  • 1 dl Muscovado/brown sugar
  • 100 ml double cream
  • 50 g unsalted butter

Melting butter and chocolateStarting with the cake ingredients, melt the butter, and mix it with the chocolate until the chocolate has melted entirely and you have a smooth mix. Put the oven to 200 degrees, and use some of the butter to grease the spring form tin.

Chocolate and whisked eggsIn a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until fluffy (you can use an electric whisk if needed), and then fold it into the chocolate-butter mixture.

Sifted flourFinish making the base for the chocolate cake by sifting the flour into the chocolate mixture, folding it carefully so not to lose the fluffiness.

Cake in tin

Pour the mixture into the spring form, and bake in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes, but be careful not to overbake it. The cake should have just started to settle when you take it out, and sway lightly if you move the tin around. Leave it to cool uncovered. Once it has cooled to room temperature, put it into the freezer for a couple of hours, but remember to remove it from the freezer at least two hours before you plan on serving it.

Making caramel

When the cake is in the freezer, you can start making the chocolate topping, which is pretty easy: melt the butter and pour it into the dark chocolate, and mix around until you have a smooth cream. Add the honey into the mix, and put to the side to cool.

Then start making the salted caramel.

Melt the muscovado sugar in a dash of water on the stove. Be careful: just swirl it with large sweeps of the pan, and don’t use any tools in the pan with the sugar. Add the butter, and let it melt, again just swirling the pan. Once the butter has melted, add the cream, and let it bubble away for 5 minutes until it has thickened slightly. It will thicken more once it cools down, so you don’t want to thin it down too much. Finish by adding half a teaspoon of sea salt into it. Put to the side to cool.

Salted caramel sauce

Just before serving, spread the dark chocolate sauce evenly across the cake. Then add the caramel in long streaks across the cake, spreading it as elegantly as you can (as you can see below, artistry is not my strong side). Top off with a small dusting of sea salt flakes. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It will be dark, creamy and deliciously over-the-top, with a perfectly balanced saltiness in the topping.

Salted caramel cake


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.


Traditional New York style cheesecake with wild raspberries

One of my favourite things about Sweden is going foraging. But since foraging season has barely started, this past month back in Sweden I’ve had to go foraging in the freezer box instead (where last seasons foraging finds are kept) which then led to this mix of traditional New York-style baked cheesecake and wild raspberries. If you’ve ever tried wild raspberries you will know that they are incredibly different from commercially grown ones, and have one of the most floral and sweet yet full-bodied flavours of the forest (indeed so strong that my mum won’t eat them because she finds them over-powering). So they really add something to a voluptuous and creamy New York cheesecake. But you can, of course, melt any berries you like on top of this cake, it will still taste divine. Just be prepared – this cake doesn’t take up much of your time, but it takes a long time to make, and it HAS to be given its time in the fridge or you will be sorely disappointed.

I kind of followed Nigella’s recipe for this cake, and for the base, you’ll need:

  • 250 g digestive biscuits (guess it’s meant to be Graham crackers but they’re impossible to get a hold of in Sweden)
  • 150 butter (melted)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
For the filling:
  • 3 1/2 dl sugar (225 g)
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 600 g cream cheese
  • 6 eggs yolks
  • 6 egg whites
  • 3 heaped teaspoons vanilla sugar, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 150 ml full fat cream
  • 150 ml sour cream (I used Swedish gräddfil, it worked just as well)
  • the zest and peel of one lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
For the topping
  • Wild raspberries
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/1 tbsp cornflour
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+ Patience. The cake is best the day after you made it. A springform will be helpful, but I made it in a clay one.
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Start by crushing the digestive biscuits and mixing them with the sugar and butter. This is probably done easiest by using a food processor, but you can also crush the biscuits by hand (I did). It just takes some time. Then add it to the bottom of the form you are using (pre-greased with butter), and press it out evenly and hard. Put in the fridge to rest for an hour. When the base has been in the fridge for a while, put the sugar and cornflour together, then mix in the cream cheese. Don’t be fooled by my whisk below, at this early stage you’re better helped by something spatula-like (as I quickly discovered…).

After this is mixed together, add the cream, the sour cream, the egg yolks and the lemon zest & peel. Stir constantly whilst mixing these things together. Put your oven to 170 degrees.
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In a separate bowl, with a separate whisk (this is important or the eggs whites will react to the traces of other ingredients), whisk together the egg whites with that half teaspoon of salt. You need your whites to turn into stiff peaks, which takes a while since there is no sugar in this mix. Whisk, whisk, whisk until it look something like the thing below. You may also, as below, need some assistance in doing this, for it really does tire out you arms (I was up sawing birchwood on the morning of making this cake, and that seemed easier somehow…) .
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Then, very gently, fold in the egg whites into the cream cheese mix.
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Take out your base from the fridge, and fill it with the cream cheese mix. Smooth off the top with a spatula or something else flat.
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Bake in the oven for about one hour or a bit more, depending on your oven and the tin you are using. Mine ended up being a little over-baked in the edges so for beauty-reasons I cut off some of the upper ends before applying the melted berries. Once your cake has turned golden at the top, yet hasn’t settled properly in the middle, turn the oven off and leave your cake in there for another two hours without opening. Then open the oven and leave the cake in there for another hour with the door open. Towards the end of that hour, melt your berries on the stove with the sugar until they are all half-crushed. Then stir in the the cornflour, and when it is time to finally take the cake out of the oven, apply the melted berries evenly at the top, and put into your fridge to set for a few hours. Note that it REALLY needs a few hours in there or it won’t be smooth.
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It takes some time, but in the end you will have something as smooth, dreamy and beautiful as this to look at, and most importantly, to eat! And it’s really, really worth the trouble.
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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).