Monday, December 12, 2011

In Honor of St. Lucy: Swedish Soft Spice Cake

In honor of St. Lucy’s Day, I am making Swedish Soft Spice Cake or Pepparkaka.

This recipe comes from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas.  Beatrice first wrote the book over twenty years ago.  My edition is dated 1999 and was a gift from Walter’s sister.  The cookbook includes both sweet and savory baked goods, such as Raisin Beer Bread, Viipuri Pretzel, Filled Doughnuts, Sarah Bernhardt Cakes, Blueberry Sour Cream Pie and Meat and Apple Pasties, plus flatbreads, coffee cakes and pancakes from all over Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.
Many of the recipes are incredibly simple, like this Spice Cake, but some are a little daunting.

I follow the recipe as written:

Makes 12 to 16 servings

Vanilla wafer or zwieback crumbs for coating
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9” fancy tube-type pan or Swedish spice cake pan and dust with vanilla crumbs or zwieback crumbs.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until smooth; add the eggs and spices and beat until light and fluffy.  Mix in the flour, baking soda, and sour cream until batter is smooth.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the cake tests done.  Cool 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack and finish cooling.

You can use any sort of sweet or buttery cracker crumbs to dust the pan.  I only have a hand mixer, and it works fine.  The cake is particularly pretty in my pine tree bundt pan, sprinkled with powdered sugar.  You can serve it alone or with a vanilla, caramel or nutty ice cream.
St. Lucia or Lucy was a young, wealthy Sicilian woman who lived during the late 3rd and early 4th centuries – a time of great persecution of Christians.  She was martyred for her beliefs on December 13, 304.  Celebration of her saint’s day is especially popular in Italy and northern Europe and, of course, the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, and has always combined folk, pagan and Catholic traditions.  Luce means light.  In the Julian calendar, December 13 was probably the winter solstice.  And Juno Lucina was the Roman goddess of light and childbirth.  St. Lucy is revered for her commitment and constancy of faith, but she has also come to represent the conquering of light over dark… both literally and symbolically.  Since the late 19th century, St. Lucy’s Day has been an integral part of Christmas time in Scandinavia.

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