I finally feel really settled here in Sweden. I say ‘finally’ because there was a period at the start of my time here when I would spontaneously burst into tears at the mention of things like ‘library card’, ‘photocopier’ and ‘bank account’.
The good vibrations Sweden and I are currently surfing on can be attributed to one phenomenon. The word is ‘Fika’. Simply put, ‘fika’ is a hot drink (tea or coffee) and a bun eaten with friends. A race of people who coin a phrase especially to describe this are a race among whom I am comfortable. Very comfortable. No longer must I hide in my room like a viciously hungry squirrel eating full packets of biscuits by myself. Here I can engage in the culturally valid tradition of ‘fika’. It’s all good (and it’s especially good with cream and lingonberry jam).
‘Fika’ can be used as a noun or a verb. To ‘fika’ or to have ‘fika’ – that is the question. The question that silly people ask while the smart people (i.e. me) have eaten all the cake.
In Sweden you can track the months by cake. Right now in November saffron infused soft buns called Lussekatter herald the season. The spicy aroma of Pepparkakor imbues you with the spirit throughout Christmastime (helped by the ‘Glögg’ or mulled wine!)
Pancake Tuesday (or “Fat Tuesday” – Fettisdagen – as its called in Sweden) is marked by a ridiculously gigantic semla bun filled with an equally ridiculous amount of cream and sweet almond paste. The swedes take their semla buns so seriously that there is a self appointed critic called ‘Semmelmannen’ who ate a bun in over 80 bakeries in Stockholm during lent last year! ‘Kanelbullensdag’ falls on October 4th and celebrates that typical Swedish confection, the Cinnamon bun. As you can see this is everybody’s kind of calendar! (Except for the coeliacs – the aftermath of that would not be pleasant.)
On our various ‘fika’ adventures (I like to call them ‘adventures’ to avert attention from the fact that we usually eat so much that we are distinctly unadventurous/static for about three hours) around Uppsala we have visited a lot of quaint little coffee-shops and beautiful nation houses.
I have judged all of them by the size of the cup in which they serve my tea. Despite the fact that there are almost always free-refills in Sweden, I still love a massive cup of tea. The magic of a free refill is sullied when I have to walk somewhere in order to avail of it.
In my favourite tea shop ‘Café Lineé’ I was intrigued by a biscuit (a cookie for my American friends!) which had a little name-tag attached. “Sarah Bernhardt” it said, giving me the unnerving feeling that the biscuit could speak (the thought of a biscuit uprising is very distressing to me due to the amount of them I have eaten in my time). Once I swatted away this thought on the basis of its ridiculousness (worryingly on the late side), I looked around for this Sarah who had reserved all the biscuits. How dare she? “How very dare she?!” Oh sorry I didn’t mean to scream that last one.
Despite this being quite a ridiculous assumption I didn’t order the biscuit due to fear of what the cashier would demand of me. A passport? My signature? Worst of all – a personnummer? (I wouldn’t be surprised, damn you personnummer for impeding me in every venture!! See above reference to bank account, photocopying etc)
When I went home and looked up ‘Sarah Bernhardt cookie’ I learned that Ms. Bernhardt had been a famous French actress who had once eaten a delightfully good biscuit. She loved it so much that the bakery named the biscuit a ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ in her honour. I’ve recently realised that despite the cuteness of this story these biscuits are better known in Sweden as ‘biskvi’! I went back and bought one the next day and they were so good I needed to learn how to make them when I wasn’t in Sweden.
The biscuit is made up of an almond macaroon base, topped with chocolate buttercream and coated with chocolate. They are the best tasting biscuits I have ever made, and my friends loved them. However when one of the girls asked for the recipe and I started unapologetically with the words ‘butter, sugar…,’ she stopped me and chose to live in blissful ignorance. These really are the most indulgent biscuits I have ever made. The creamy filling melts into the chewy almond biscuit perfectly and the smooth layer of chocolate works perfectly with the luscious creamy chew. Make them if your expecting friends – it’s for your own good.
Sarah Bernhardt Biscuits (Makes 16)
Macaroons for base
200 g (small packet) almond paste (almond paste is a staple in Swedish cooking which is a bit like marzipan but less sweet. If you can’t come by it you can make your own by combining 3/4 cups ground almonds with 3/4 cups icing sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoon egg white)
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 egg whites
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar (not icing sugar… trust me!)
50 grams dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
Plus – 150 grams dark or milk chocolate for coating
and salt flakes (optional)
- Line a large baking tray with baking parchment.
- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius/350 fahrenheit
- Grate the almond paste on the large grater.
- Add the sugar and egg white to the almond paste and beat until smooth.
- Fill a piping bag (or a small ziploc bag with a small hole cut at one corner) with the batter and pipe round shapes on the baking tray.
- Bake for about 11 mins or until the biscuits are golden .
- Leave to cool for a few minutes before using a knife to flip over and leave to cool fully upside down.
- In a small pot, heat the flour and milk and beat constantly until it thickens. Ignore how disgusting this looks right now – and remember the story of the ugly duckling!
- Remove from the heat and leave mixture to cool. If I’m in a hurry I pop it into the freezer for five minutes – but do remember to take it out after five minutes! It has to be cool before the next step or it will melt the butter.
- While the paste cools, cream the butter and sugar well until fluffy. Then add the milk and flour paste and beat and beat and beat! Once well mixed, melt the dark chocolate and beat into the mixture.
- Spread the buttercream on the flat side of the macaroons and shape into a dome shape with a spoon.
- Put the biscuits into the fridge for ten minutes.
- After ten minutes melt 150 grams of chocolate (dark or milk) and dip each cake in the chocolate.
- Sprinkle some salt flakes on top.