Happy “Belated” Syttende Mai

May 17 (“Syttende Mai”) is Norwegian Independence Day. Until I searched the Internet for its significance, growing up, I had no idea what the story was behind this celebratory day. My Mor Mor (or “Momo” as I know her) adorned the formal dining table with her mother’s embroidered tablecloth, stumpy red candles, and the miniature replicas of the Norwegian flag. She’d serve her Norwegian meatballs with potatoes and dessert might have been some Sandbakkels or a cream cake topped with, what else, whipped cream and fresh berries. Before digging in, we’d merrily cheer “Skål!” (“Cheers” in English.)

But, back to why the Nordes observe this day. After the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte’s European empire, Sweden gained control of Norway in the treaty of Kiel. In response, Norwegians peacefully held elections to further liberate their nation, and on May 17, 1814 the Constitution of Norway was signed. Much like our own Fourth of July holiday, Norway continues to proudly celebrate this momentous occasion.

I’ve missed many Syttende Mai dinners with my family since moving away from Southern California 7 years ago. But, I wanted to relive the tradition by preparing a Norwegian/Scandinavian favorite. Initially, I had planned on baking the distinctly Norwegian potato flatbread “lefse” (forget lutefisk – dried cod soaked in lye), but this past weekend’s festivities of unlimited pinball and the conclusion of the Amgen Tour of California’s Stage 1 through downtown Sacramento left me with little time to spend in the kitchen.

But, I’ve got something special up my sleeve, something so simple to assemble. In fact, I get giddy thinking about it because it means that there is one less jar of Ikea lingonberry preserves on my cupboard shelf.  It’s a tart with a lingonberry filling on top of a short bread-esque crust. Almond extract and lemon zest gets mixed in along with a couple of tablespoons of strawberry preserves to help cut through some of the lingonberry and lemon’s tartness. It’s a sliver of Scandinavian scrumptiousness.  It might only be improved and made more authentic by adding ground almonds to the crust – akin to many Norwegian sweets such as the tiered almond ring cake Kransekake.

What crumbs are left on my plate will be graciously complimented with the one of the few Norwegian phrases I know – Tak ver maten, Amen.

(Thank you for the food, Amen.)

 

Lingonberry Preserve Tart

Adapted from Bon Appetit

The original version instructs that extra dough is used for an additional layer of pastry arranged in a lattice pattern on top of the tart. I think this is too much crust given the meager thickness of the jam filling, so I save the leftovers for other baking projects.

2 cups all purpose flour

4 ½ tbsp. sugar

¾ tsp. salt

14 tbsp. (1 ¾ sticks) chilled, unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 tbsp. or more cold water

1 ½ cups (about 14 ounces) Swedish lingonberry preserves from Ikea Food

2 tbsp. strawberry preserves

1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel

¼ tsp. almond extract

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in food processor 5 seconds or whisk in large bowl if using pastry blender. Add butter, and blend until coarse meal forms. Add egg, egg yolk, and water. Blend until moist pea-sized clumps form, adding teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball, divide into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other. Wrap and chill at least 1 hour and up to a day.

Roll out larger dough onto floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Fold in overhang and press, forming double-thick sides.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir preserves, lemon peel, and almond extract in small bowl to blend. Spoon filling into crust in pan. Bake tart for 55 minutes or until crust is golden and filling bubbles thickly. Cool tart in pan and store at room temperature.

J-A-C-K-P-O-T

Substitutions happen. What else are you supposed to do when the plain yogurt isn’t in stock no matter how many times you look behind the rows of other flavors?

Instead, you impulsively grab a container of plain Greek yogurt. Then, you bravely add it to your banana bread batter before marching the loafpan off into the oven. When the loaf is cool and ready for consumption, you hesitantly slice off a piece and plop it into your mouth. That’s when you know you’ve discovered gold – banana bread gold.

Now, I’m not typically a bandwagon-er, especially when sports teams are involved (I’ve been a Steelers fan since birth and crushed on Tom Brady when he was the QB for Michigan), but you can’t go wrong with substituting some Greek yogurt for its non-strained counterpart in your banana bread recipe.  In fact, I’ve decided it’s a must.

I sweated this substitution more than the video poker machine at the Bellagio a few weeks ago.  I just didn’t know what to expect. I had eaten Greek yogurt before, and I recalled its tanginess, akin to sour cream.  For some illogical reason, I decided that its tart flavor would botch the bread’s overall sweetness. But, my ripe – almost rotten – bananas just couldn’t sit another day on the kitchen counter, and I had a momentary panic attack in the dairy aisle. My mind agonized over the act of substituting one ingredient for another – not an easy feat when it comes to baking. It took a good 5 minutes for me to put the Oikos container in my grocery cart.

This gamble paid big, definitely a gutsier move than the $2 I bet and lost in Vegas. (Yea, a lame $2. But, I knew that spending big bucks on a lavish dinner at Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico had better odds. Take a look: Alaskan halibut with crab-stuffed squash blossoms and a Bolivian mojito garnished with a stick of sugar cane.) I have never eaten banana bread as moist and flavorful as this one. Each slice looks like an inviting crushed velvet seat cushion; you can’t help yourself from wanting to brush your hand across it. It’s worthy of your finest china.

What’s more is that for the past year or so I’ve patiently waited for bananas to shrivel and blacken countless times so that I could try the latest and greatest recipe. The latest was the Hallelujah Banana Bread. Each time I find that that the new loaf I’ve created is just not quite what I’m looking for. Either the banana flavor is muted or the bread does not have a soft, chewy bite.

For this Greek yogurt experiment, I tried the coffee banana bread recipe from Oxfam America. Printed on a 3×5 card and folded in half, I’ve held onto this recipe for a few years because I thought the addition of coffee was, rather, weird. But, I went with the Greek yogurt, so I went with the coffee. I even threw in a quarter cup of white chocolate chips, which was pointless because they melted into the bread. I did pair the white chocolate with dark chocolate chips, though, and they are the emerald and ruby studs that accent the crown. You would love the bread without them, but they make it just a smidgen more special.

How else can you explain my urgent need to get home from work every day as quickly as possible? Some people pour themselves a glass of Pinot, but I would have a slice of this stuff instead. It puts me at ease and tides my taste buds until dinnertime. I know I should freeze some of the leftovers but I conveniently convince myself that the water crystals will funk with the flavor and dreamy texture of this banana bread.

And, if you’re as much of a fan of and interested in bananas as I am, you should read Saveur’s article on the history of what was once considered by some a forbidden fruit. It’s a fascinating piece on the history and future of the banana.

Coffee Banana Bread

Adapted from Oxfam America recipe

I omitted the standard ½ cup of nuts because I prefer my bread without them. But, if it’s not banana bread to you without walnuts or whatever, go ahead and mix in as much as you like. Just don’t omit the Greek yogurt.

2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 tsp baking soda

1 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup very strongly brewed coffee

1/2 – 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and brown sugar in a large bowl and set aside. Mash bananas in a medium bowl. Add the Greek yogurt, melted butter, beaten eggs, and coffee to the bananas. Then, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.

Grease loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray or butter and pour batter into the pan. Bake for 1-1 1/4 hours until a toothpick or fork comes out clean. Let bread sit in pan for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and finish cooling on a wire rack.