I was looking over my recent festive posts and I noticed that the “Twelve Cookies of Christmas” posts have been a bit of a gastronomic tour around Europe – we’ve covered Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Britain. So where next?
Well, I feel we need to show some solidarity with the good people of Norway, who are in the middle of a butter crisis. Some blame a recent craze for low-carb (and thus high butter) diets. Some blame a poor summer, which resulted in lower dairy yields. But whatever the reason, this is having a major, major impact on Christmas baking. People are bringing butter back from trips aboard. People are getting into frenzied online bidding wars. I mean – people are getting arrested for butter smuggling. Arrested! All for butter!
So, let’s show the burghers of Oslo, Bergen, Lillehammer and Tromsø that we’re thinking about them. Today’s post completes the Scandinavian family (we’ve done Sweden and Denmark) with Norway’s (apparently) famous Mor Monsens Kake (Mother Monsen’s Cake). And yes – this majors on the butter!
Now, the obvious question – who is Mother Monsen? If I’m going to make her cake, it seems only polite to make at least an attempt to find out.
Well, it seems the answer is…eh…no-one really knows. The Norwegians love her cake, but it’s not clear who she was. I’ve found out that the recipe is over 160 years old, and it seems to be famous after being name-checked in a famous cookbook written by Norway’s first female novelist, Hanna Winsnes, back in 1845. If anyone knows more, do leave a comment!
To the relief of many, I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that this recipe does not involve any weird or wonderful ingredients (potassium carbonate and salt of hartshorn – I mean you!). No leaving dough to sit for hours, days or weeks (as is the case with Aachener Printen!). No elaborate preparations involved (Honninghjerter spring to mind…). Nope, this is a simple if somewhat buttery cake with currants, almonds and pearl sugar. It’s actually quite a nice contrast to all those rich, sweet, spicy biscuits and mince pies at this time of year, so great in the morning with a cup of coffee before or after a bracing walk.
One thing about this cake that was a little unclear was what I should add to flavour the batter. Leave it plain? Add vanilla? lemon zest? Cardamom even? Different recipes do things differently. After a not-very-representative poll via Twitter, I got some views and settled on both lemon zest and a hint of vanilla extract. I actually really like lemon and vanilla, so that pairing suits me down to the ground, but go with what you prefer.
There are a lot of versions out there, but I’ve worked out one that has a texture akin to that of the Dutch boterkoek – dense but crumbly, and very, very buttery. Light and fluffy this ain’t! You spread the cake mixture in a large tray, then sprinkle over the currants, almonds and pearl sugar. During baking, it will puff up a little, and some of the fruit and nuts will sink down into the batter (like magic – no mixing involved!). Once golden, remove from the oven and cut into pieces – diamonds or triangles are the traditional shapes.
This can be stored for a few days in an airtight container, but also freezes very well for those times you fancy a bit of cake at short notice.
So as they say in Norway – Gledelig Jul! And let’s hope the butter crisis comes to an end soon. Norway – we’re thinking of you!
To make Mor Monsens Kake:
• 225g butter (yes…precious butter!)
• 225g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• 130g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 25g blanched almonds, cut into slivers
• 40g currants
• 20g pearl or granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a deep baking pan (30 x 20 cm / 12 x 8 inches).
In a bowl, mix the flour and baking powder and set aside.
Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. At this stage, and electric mixer or hand blender will be your friend – you want fluffy, fluffy, fluffy!
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extra and lemon zest, then fold in the flour.
Spoon the batter into the baking tray and spread level. Sprinkle over the currants, almonds and pearl/granulated sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Cut the cooled cake into diamonds or triangles to serve.
Worth making? This is a quick and easy recipe to make, using mostly store cupboard and fridge ingredients. While it’s a traditional Christmas bake, it’s also a lovely rich cake that goes fantastically well with a cup of coffee.