Following US-based food magazines and blogs can be a disheartening experience for someone living in Scandinavia. Well before any sign of spring here in Copenhagen, my newsfeed starts filling with asparagus and rhubarb. While I’m still picking through last season’s potatoes at the supermarket and making due with sad fruit flown in from overseas, an abundance of fresh berries taunts me at every turn of the page or click of the mouse.
But a few weeks ago we finally – finally! – turned a corner. The first locally grown potatoes turned up at the market, followed in quick succession by peas in their pod and spring cabbage. And while you may have moved on to apricots and peaches, we’re finally savoring perfectly sweet strawberries.
My sisters and I decided to make the most of it and went strawberry picking on Sunday. On an unusually hot, sunny day, clearly we weren’t the only ones to have come up with this brilliant idea: despite a bumper crop, we had to work our way through many rows of strawberries to fill a few buckets with the runts that everyone else had left behind. But we were rewarded for our diligence. What they lacked in size, they amply made up for in flavor. And what better way to showcase them than in a jordbærlagkage?
Jordbærlagkage – literally translated: strawberry layer cake – is similar to strawberry shortcake: a soft vanilla sponge cake topped with macerated strawberries and whipped cream. In Denmark we add a layer of konditorcreme, pastry cream that has been folded together with more whipped cream. Traditionally it’s served as a birthday cake, but I couldn’t wait for a birthday to roll around now that I had such an abundance of perfectly ripe berries on hand.
Lagkage can be made with any fruit that’s in season. Simply replace the strawberries with your favorite fruit or berries, though you may have to adjust the amount sugar in the filling. It’s best prepared a few hours ahead of serving, to allow the cake layers to soak up the fruit juices and for the flavors to blend. It will keep it in the fridge, covered, for a couple of days. (Well, not in my fridge, but maybe in yours.)
Adapted from Helt i Kage by Camilla Plum, who has also written an excellent English-language book of authentic Scandinavian recipes.
500-700 g (about 3 cups) strawberries
150 g (3/4 cup) sugar
Remove tops of strawberries and slice or quarter about half of them. In a large bowl, mix the berries with sugar. As you mix, crush some of the berries to release juice. Set aside.
20 g (2 1/2 tbsp) cornstarch
1/4 l (1 cup) whole milk
50 g (1/4 cup) sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean
In a small saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, milk, sugar and egg yolks. Split the vanilla bean, scrape out seeds and add both the seeds and the bean to the pan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens, about 5-6 minutes. Take the pastry cream off the heat, remove the vanilla bean and strain through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Place in the fridge until completely cooled, about 1 hour.
125 g (1 cup) flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 vanilla bean, split down the middle and seeds scraped out
175 g (a scant 2 cups) sugar
1/2 lemon, zested
50 g (1/2 cup) finely ground almonds
100 g (7 tbsp) butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip eggs, sugar and vanilla seeds on high speed until the mixture turns pale yellow and thick and the sugar is completely dissolved, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in lemon zest and ground almonds.
Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the melted butter and finally the flour mixture, until completely combined.
Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 30-35 minutes. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a cooling rack and peel off the parchment. Let cool completely.
Assemble the strawberry layer cake
1/2 l (2 cups) heavy cream
150-200 g (1 cup) strawberries, whole or sliced
Whip heavy cream just until soft peaks form. Set aside about a third of the whipped cream. Gently stir the rest of the whipped cream into the cooled pastry cream, adding a little at a time. Be careful not to stir too vigorously, as you will risk churning the cream into butter.
Using a serrated knife, horizontally split the cake in three parts.* Place the bottom layer on a serving platter. Spoon half of the strawberry filling onto the cake and spread evenly. Top with half of the pastry cream mixture, then place the second cake layer on top and press down gently. Spread with remaining strawberry filling and pastry cream, and top with the last cake layer. Evenly spread reserved whipped cream over top of the cake and garnish with whole or sliced berries.
Makes one 9-inch cake (8-10 servings).
*Since this was just a weeknight dessert for 4, I halved the recipe, baked it up in a 6-inch cake pan and kept it simple by sticking with two layers. I definitely recommend making three layers though. Since the layers come out thinner, the entire cake is soaked with intense strawberry flavor.