Perhaps the most perfect place in all the world exists in Stockholm. On an island you can walk to from the city, in what was once the Swedish royal family's game park, is a biodynamic garden called Rosendals Trägåd. Amid the neat rows of plantings and greenhouses, and the nut-brown ladies with wispy white hair working in them, there's a café selling food made from what they grow, which you can take on a tray to picnic tables scattered about an orchard of ages-old pear and apple trees and lounge about in the dappled light, eating or reading or chatting.
I spent a week in Stockholm and went there three times. Three visits, three cakes. The first was a Swiss roll, sweet and sticky with jam. The second a fat slice of cardamom cake, speckled with spice. The third was a technically not a cake, but a cinnamon bun, so much better than any I've ever had at IKEA.
What I like so much about Scandinavian baking is its simplicity. There's nothing tricked up or fussy about it. Its modesty is magnificent - just like Rosendals Trägåd and so many other places in Stockholm. When I got home I craved it and the calm of cooking after so long away from a kitchen. So I made a cake - Swedish, naturally.
From Anna Brones and Joanna Kindvall's very lovely cookbook Fika (the Swedish word for the ritual of pausing expressly for coffee and something sweet) I baked the hazelnut coffee cake. This is not so much a coffee cake in the American sense, but one that contains coffee, a flavour that melds beautifully with the ground hazelnuts and butter to produce a simple but stunning cake that suitably sums up Scandinavia.
Hazelnut and coffee cake
Adapted from Fika by Anna Brones and Joanna Kindvall
If you like this, I'd highly recommend some other Fika favourites: cardamom cake and Swedish coconut cookies.
150g unsalted butter
1/2 cup raw hazelnuts
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons cold coffee (preferably espresso)
1/4 teaspoon salt
150g (white) sugar
Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C. Grease and flour a 9 inch (23cm) springform tin.
Melt the butter. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Toast hazelnuts in a dry frying pan til they are slightly browned, then grind them in a food processor til almost finely ground.
Separate the eggs.
In a bowl, whisk egg yolks and brown sugar til frothy and sugar is dissolved. Pour the slightly cooled butter into the yolk and sugar mixture and whisk together. Sift the flour and stir it carefully into the batter together with the hazelnuts, coffee and salt. Stir as little as possible til you have a smooth, even batter.
In a separate bowl (make sure it's grease-free and very clean), whisk egg whites - an electric mixer is the go here if you have one. When soft peaks form, add the sugar little by little and mix til you have stiff peaks.
Carefully fold the egg white mixture into the batter and keep folding til it's evenly blended - being careful not to overstir - and pour directly into the tin.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick or skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. If the cake starts to brown much earlier, remove it, cover it with foil and return it to the oven keep cooking. Once it's done, allow to cool before turning out of the tin and serving.