17th of May is Norway’s Constitution Day – it is easily the most important day of the year for many Norwegians, as we celebrate our freedom, and our ability to call our country our own. Norway was for many years under the rule of other nations (including Sweden and Denmark), which is why this day is particularly filled with emotions as we look back on our history where we were not allowed to celebrate or walk in parades to mark the birth of our nation. On this day you will see a sea of red, white and blue all across the country – the colors of the Norwegian flag. Flag waving is looked upon as something celebratory and positive in Norway, a sense of pride, happiness and belonging. With only 5 million people, we are a nation of close knit countrymen, we have something special in common that is hard to describe.
The day typically begins with getting dressed in our customary, gorgeous handmade “bunad” outfits, they are unique to everyone and differs according to what region of Norway you are from. I have a “Sunnmørsbunad” as I am from the region of Sunnmøre in northwestern Norway, and like every other Norwegian, think that mine is the most beautiful. Here I am pictured in Norway two years ago when I was celebrating my niece’s confirmation in my hometown of Sykkylven:
The bunad is typically given to everyone when they are confirmed, and it is a very generous gift, as they tend to cost thousands of dollars. But they last for a lifetime (just make sure you don’t gain too much weight from the age of 15 on, ha!) and is worn during weddings, confirmations and other celebratory events as well.
The celebration starts with marching in parades, which is then followed by a large lunch. So what do Norwegians eat on this very special day? Typically you will see lots of “koldtbord” spreads (Norwegian for “smorgasbord” – a table filled with room temperature dishes such as salads, decadent open face sandwiches, seafood, cold cuts, cakes and other desserts), and the kids will indulge in plenty of ice cream, soda and hot dogs in the afternoon at various arrangements at schools throughout the country. You can read all about the tradition and importance of ice cream on May 17th in my recent article for the Norwegian American Weekly newspaper here.
Cake baking has always been a huge tradition in my home region of Sunnmøre, and May 17th is no different. While most cakes are filled with heavy cream (or rather whipped), eggs, milk and sour cream, I set out to find a recipe that would not use any dairy at all, being that I’m now vegan. The good news is that it is so easy to make most of these traditional cakes without resorting to dairy! For those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy, hopefully this alternative will be a nice addition to any celebratory event.
Marzipan plays a huge part in Norwegian baking and has always been a traditional ingredient, particularly in the making of “bløtkake” (a fluffy sponge cake filled and topped with whipped cream and decorated with fresh fruit). Decadent, yes – but May 17th is undoubtedly the best day to justify such a luxurious treat.
Image from nrk.no
While marzipan showed up in the market in the year 900 (thought to have come from the Arabic world), it most likely didn’t arrive in Norway until the 19th century along with the arrival of confectioners’ shops, and was for many years just known as an expensive confectionary product. Initially, because the ingredients were so rare, it was only reserved for the wealthier crowd, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that it started developing into a popular product for everyone. Soon, the creation of the marzipan figurines such as in the shape of pigs (“marsipangris”) for Christmas and Easter began to evolve and it’s now estimated that almost every Norwegian eats one marzipan figurine each during Easter (about.4.5 million of these candies are sold each year).
Image from nidar.no
More recently, cakes from marzipan began popping up in all variations, and is now common in every bakery and household across Norway.
I found a delicious recipe for an awesome vegan marzipan cake on the wonderful Norwegian blog, Vegetarbloggen – authored by Mari Hult, a vegan cook from Stavanger, who offers a ton of delicious recipes. For those of you who speak and read Norwegian, I highly recommend her blog! As I’m still learning to veganize the entire Norwegian repertoire of classic foods, I often refer to her for inspiration and tips.
For the cream bit, instead of using heavy cream, you can use a chilled can of coconut milk (the fatty part will harden and form a “lid” at the top of the can which you can remove and use as cream to whip), or alternatively, if you don’t care for the flavor of coconut, another really interesting item I discovered recently is chickpea brine. Yes, it might sound nuts, but adding a little cream of tartar to the drained liquid from a chickpea can whips up beautifully and you can flavor it any way you want. This way you can also make “Pavlova”, a meringue cake typically made with egg whites, and is another very popular cake to serve on Constitution Day.
The below recipe is an adaptation from Mari’s beautiful “Marsipankake” recipe – I hope you will try it! Hurra for 17. mai!!
17TH OF MAY MARZIPAN CAKE (vegan)
400 grams or 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
240 grams or 1 cup organic cane sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups plant based milk (such as almond, rice or soy)
3/4 cup organic vegetable oil
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
3 tbsp organic corn starch
1 vanilla bean, split
2 1/4 cup plant based milk
Decoration and montage:
1 can full fat coconut milk, left in fridge overnight
1/4 cup granulated, organic sugar
OR (alternative cream):
Drained brine from 1 x large can of chickpeas
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup granulated organic sugar
1/2 cup of strawberry or raspberry jam
Fresh blueberries, raspberries and /or strawberries
500 grams (about 1 lb) of prepared marzipan (I like the Odense brand)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil or butter 2 x 9-inch round cake pan and dust with a little flour to coat.
Prepare the vanilla cream first. Whisk together the sugar and corn starch in a small pot. Add the vanilla bean. Whisk in the milk and heat up on the stove over low heat, while continuously stirring (this is important so it does not burn). The cream will begin to thicken as it simmers, keep stirring for another few minutes before removing it from the heat and placing in the fridge. The vanilla cream will continue to thicken in the fridge.
To prepare the sponge cakes: Sift the flour, sugar, and baking powder into the bowl of a standing mixer (or large bowl). In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, oil and vanilla extract. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients until all the flour is incorporated and no lumps are left, be careful not to overmix. It should take less than one minute.
Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, and let them cool for 10 minutes before moving them onto a rack.
Let the sponge cakes cool completely before decorating with the whipped cream and berries.
To prepare the whipped cream, scoop out the top, thick layer of the coconut milk (it will have stiffened overnight in the fridge), and discard or save the liquid for another use.
Place in a bowl of a stand mixer with a teaspoon of vanilla extract and sugar and whisk until stiff peaks. Place in fridge while you prepare to layer the cake.
Place one of the sponge cakes on a plate. Spread a generous amount of strawberry or raspberry jam on the surface and let sit for a bit to have it soak into the cake. Add some whipped cream, then vanilla cream on top. Add another generous amount of jam onto the second cake layer and place that on top, jam side down.
Roll out the marzipan large enough to fit the entire cake (top and sides alike),and place it gently on top of the layered cake. Fold the spillover against the sides to neatly fit. Decorate the cake as in the photo with berries and you can also use additional marzipan by braiding it into roses (or ring) or other decorative figures. The options are endless!
Image by vegetarbloggen.no