I've often wished I could find one cookbook that would hold all of the traditional Hungarian recipes my grandma and my mom used to make. How nice it would be to reach for one book from the shelf rather than having to search through several Hungarian cookbooks to find the recipe for flaky crescents filled with plum jam that my mom loved or the light and fluffy raised donuts my grandma would spend a whole day making.
If you happen to be of Scandinavian descent, you are in luck. Minnesota author Pat Sinclair has collected, tested and perfected treasured recipes that have become a tradition in many Scandinavian families.
"The recipes in my new book, 'Scandinavian Classic Baking,' have been prepared for generations in many families," said Sinclair. "One woman paged through the book and was so excited to find all four of her family's favorite recipes."
One glance at the cover photo of Danish Almond Tea Ring will get you salivating. Flip through a few pages of the book and you'll not want to put it down. You'll want to get into the kitchen with your own copy of "Scandinavian Classic Baking," and a supply of butter close at hand.
In her book, Sinclair explains that in Scandinavia, almost every occasion is celebrated around a "coffee table" containing yeast breads, buttery cookies and delectable cakes. The recipes in the book are arranged in the order they would be served, beginning with yeast breads and ending with simple pat-in-the pan pastry filled with seasonal fruit to the more complex Danish pastry. Light, delicately flavored cakes and buttery cookies are tucked into the middle of the book.
Beautiful photographs, educational and interesting cultural information and a sidebar with every recipe offering baking tips and techniques makes "Scandinavian Classic Baking" more than just a cookbook. It's a travelogue, as well. And, with recipes ranging from those requiring little baking experience all the way to more complex recipes, "Scandinavian Classic Baking" becomes a gift anyone will treasure.
I had a terrible time trying to decide which recipe to try first. I was tempted to purchase frozen rhubarb to make tarts that look divine. The Swedish Kringle was alluring. But finally, it was Sinclair's recipe for Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars that won me over.
It didn't take much time to mix flour, powdered sugar and butter together before patting it into a foil-lined baking pan. After just a short time in the oven, the rich shortbread crust is slathered with apricot preserves, then topped with egg whites whisked together with more powdered sugar and flavored with almond extract. A sprinkling of toasted slivers of almonds finishes off the pan of irresistible flavors. Another trip into the oven and the bars are ready to eat. Well, I had to taste one while they were still hot, blowing it first to cool off the hot apricot preserves. Pat Sinclair would have admonished me. Her recipe clearly warns to allow the bars to cool completely before removing from the pan and cutting. I only ate one little corner. I waited for more until they were cool. And then, I couldn't eat just one.
With a tummy-full of Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars, I can tell you from the bottom of my German-Hungarian heart, you don't need to be Scandinavian to enjoy Pat Sinclair's "Scandinavian Classic Baking."
Scandinavian Apricot Almond Bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup apricot preserves
2 egg whites
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 13-x 9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, extending the foil over the long sides of the pan. Lightly spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
Combine the flour, confectioners' sugar and butter for the crust in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press into the baking pan, pressing about 1/2 inch up the sides.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.
While the crust is baking, toast the almonds. Place the almonds on a small baking dish and bake about 8 minutes.
Beat the egg whites with a whisk until foamy. Beat in the confectioners' sugar and almond extract.
Spread the apricot preserves over the crust. Spoon the egg whites over the preserves without covering the preserves completely. Sprinkle with the almonds.
Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. Run a metal spatula along the short sides of the pan to loosen the pastry. Cool completely on a wire cooling rack. Using the foil, lift the pastry from the pan and cut into bars.
Makes 24 to 30 bars.
Recipe from "Scandinavian Classic Baking," by Pat Sinclair. Pelican Publishing Company. 2011.