Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Potatoes" for Dessert

Susan was my assistant in the kitchen for this week's Scandinavian Saturday supper. This morning we consulted a cookbook by Trina Hahnemann and, because it is organized by month of the year, chose a few recipes from the section on March (and a soup recipe from February just because it looked tasty). With such an expert for an assistant, I felt emboldened to suggest a complicated item for dessert, and Susan was happy to oblige. Here is what we made:

Norwegian: spinat suppe ["spinach soup"]

Hahnemann recommends taking a thermos full of this soup (along with smoked salmon and avocado sandwiches on rye focaccia) to stay energized on a day of cross-country skiing in the mountains. We thought it would be a good re-energizing soup after an exhausting day spent earning "superior" ratings at the piano festival (remember?). We sautéed chopped onion and garlic in olive oil and then added cubed potatoes and water to boil and then simmer. Once the potatoes were tender, we added two pounds of fresh spinach, more water, ground mace, salt, and pepper. After the spinach was tender, we added cream, and then it was time to purée it all.

Because I did not receive the immersion blender that I requested for Christmas (ahem!), we could not use it as the directions recommended. Instead, Susan used her food processor, which did a sort of "rough chop" and left us with a soup with "texture." The girls really enjoyed it, and Susan and I thought it was fine. It could have used more seasoning, and swapping chicken stock for all that water would have helped, too--but it wasn't a bad way to begin the meal.

Swedish: biff Lindström [a spiced meat patty named after Henrik Lindström, a Swede raised in St. Petersburg who brought back this biff recipe with its Russian-inspired ingredients, including beets and capers]

stekt potatis ["fried potatoes"]

gröna bönor balsamiko ["balsamico green beans"]

We mixed ground beef with minced onion, minced capers, minced pickled beets, minced scallion greens, dried chives, egg yolks, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper and shaped them into patties that we fried in olive oil. I must have used a much larger onion than Hahnemann had in mind because we ended up with at least as much onion by mass in each patty as we did ground beef! It was pretty tasty, though. Hahnemann notes that biff Lindström "is sometimes served with a fried egg on top" and recommends the dish "as a Sunday lunch or as a hangover cure after a long night out." I don't see the hangover appeal, but I could get on board with the fried egg addition.

Hahnemann rounds out the menu with the potatoes and beans, both of which were pretty easy. We boiled two pounds of potatoes and then cubed them and fried them in butter and olive oil to crisp them. We seasoned them with salt and pepper. There were too many potatoes for our pan, so they didn't all brown evenly, but they were a nice mix of crunchy and tender--and a good counterpoint to the spiced beef.

Hahnemann's "balsamico beans" were super-simple: steamed green beans tossed in a dressing made of a little sugar simmered in balsamic vinegar. Although Susan would have preferred the beans plain, the rest of us liked the tangy addition of the balsamic vinegar--subtle but a good match for the beef patties.

Danish: kartoffelkage ["potato cake"]

Hahnemann explains that these traditional pastries, made to look like large potatoes (thus the name--no, potato is not an ingredient), are available in most bakeries throughout Denmark. Danish bakers must be very patient people. Susan agreed to execute this recipe on her own using her dessert-making expertise (while I quietly chopped onions and potatoes and molded ground meat). First she had to make a choux pastry. Then she had to use a pastry bag to pipe it into specific shapes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet before baking the pastries for a half-hour.

Then she had to make a vanilla cream filling. Once the pastries were baked and cooled and the cream was thickened and cooled, she had to split the pastries and fill them with the cream. Then she had to roll out marzipan, dust it with cocoa powder, cut it into shapes to match the pastries, and lay one cocoa-dusted marzipan oval atop each pastry to complete the soil-covered potato look. Whew!

The irony of it all is that the final result wasn't all that tasty. The pastry dough was unsweetened, so the not-sweet-enough-ness of the cream filling was especially noticeable. The cream, besides lacking sweetness, also lacked thickness--it was too runny. The unsweetened cocoa powder was overwhelming, but that was a moot point because we discarded the cocoa-covered marzipan coating once we got our first taste of the marzipan. Ish.

Hahnemann writes, "If you like to bake, then take the time one day to prepare this dessert. I promise: You are not going to regret it." I'll never believe another promise that comes out of that woman's mouth. (But I'll gladly make more of her recipes. One bland pastry filling among several tasty recipes must be the exception rather than the rule.)


  1. That dessert was a lot of effort for not much flavor. However, I do now know how to make choux pastry, so anytime you want cream puffs, let me know ;-)

  2. Reading this left my stomach growling!

  3. I'm reading this on St. Patrick's Day so the meal looks very festive (we had a green themed pot luck at work today). I can attest to the use of potatoes in dessert. There is a Spicer family recipe called Spud and Spice Cake that uses cold mashed potatoes. My dad won 3rd place for his age division in the Pillsbury Bake Off at the national level with it. He was a senior in high school and refused to take Biology (wasn't going to cut up any frogs) so the nuns 'made' him take Home Ec instead. As part of their class everyone submitted a recipe to the bake off. He and my grandma flew to California for the bake off and his story is imortalized in the cookbook from that year (I can often find them at garage sales). I believe he won $500 and a new stove for his ranking. We also have a very cool photo of him shaking hands with the California Govenor (Mr. Ronald Reagan) in front of the new stove. It's one of my favorite 'brushes with fame' stories, although I'm really not involved with it at all.

    Anyway, the Spud & Spice cake is not of Scandinavian heritage, but German. It was one of those passed down through the generations. If you ever have a 'mixed culture' night I'll send the recipe. I can include a couple of Eddie's family recipes as well. Wouldn't that make an interesting meal?