While Scandinavian winters must be trying to the soul–or character-building, depending on your point of view–the arrival of summer is surely joyous enough to make all those dark nights worthwhile. Norwegians celebrate Constitution Day, otherwise known as Syttende Mai, or the 17th of May, like we do July 4th. Parades with bunting, marching bands and lots of flags herald the arrival of long, summer days and commemorate the signing of the Norwegian constitution in 1814. While other countries have moved to make their independence celebrations increasingly militaristic or patriotic, Syttende Mai celebrations emphasize peace and inclusion, in part because they often center around a children’s parade. Interestingly, for a festival commemorating the formation of the modern Norwegian state, elected officials keep a purposely low profile during celebrations, which are understood to be for the people and the country rather than for the government.
The cake table is a major feature of Syttende Mai, so we thought we’d try our hand at a cream cake, or Bløtkake, which reminds us of our very own strawberry shortcake. It’s a fine-grained vanilla sponge cake, sliced into layers and slathered with whipped cream and jam, then served with fresh berries. Essentially, it looks like heaven and tastes like summer.
Bløtkake (Norwegian Cream Cake)
This cake is best assembled several hours or even the day before you serve it, to give the cake layers time to absorb the moisture from the cream and liqueur. Store lightly covered in the fridge, and if using berries, decorate just before serving. Norwegians use cloudberries and cloudberry liqueur, but we used the best raspberry jam we could find.
For the cake:
- Nonstick cooking spray (we like Baker’s Joy or Pam with Flour)
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup/120 grams cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
For the filling and frosting:
- 3 cups/720 milliliters whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 3 tablespoons raspberry or blackberry preserves
- ⅓ cup raspberry liqueur (such as Chambord), or berry juice of your choice
- 1 pint fresh raspberries or blackberries, for decorating
Preheat oven to 350℉ and lightly spray the inside of an 8” springform pan (you can use a 9” if that’s what you have) with cooking spray. Sift together the flour and baking powder: we like to place the bowl and sieve directly on the scale and spoon the flour into the sieve.
Separate the eggs. Whip the egg whites in an electric mixer with the whisk attachment until they begin to hold soft peaks, then gradually beat in the sugar. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks and vanilla together. Beat yolk mixture into the egg whites, then with a spatula, fold in the sifted flour mixture–you may have to fold for a while to make sure there are no pockets of flour.
Pour batter into pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. While cake bakes, clean the mixer bowl and whisk. Cool cake completely before removing from pan–it may settle as it cools: don’t worry, because whipped cream hides a multitude of sins.
Once cake has cooled, remove from pan and use a long serrated knife to slice horizontally into two (or, if cake is high enough, three) layers. Beat cream with the whisk until stiff, then gradually beat in in sugar. Spoon ⅓ of whipped cream into a medium bowl, into which gently stir the preserves.
To assemble cake, put top layer–cut side up–on plate and prick with a toothpick all over, then sprinkle with half or one-third raspberry liqueur or juice. Cover with a layer of the cream and jam mixture: use half if you’re making three layers, or all if only two layers. Add middle layer if using, also cut side up, prick and sprinkle with liqueur, then add another layer of cream and preserves. Finish with top cake layer, cut side down, and more liqueur. Once cake is assembled and filled, frost all over with sweetened whipped cream. Decorate with fresh berries just before serving.