By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
Our band of hardy travelers– my sister Marcia and two suburban Detroit friends, Becky and Shelly– started on the road on June 19. Our goal was to experience the summer solstice as far north as possible. After spending a couple of days in Kiruna, Sweden, 100 miles inside the Arctic Circle, it was quite a contrast to journey on to bustling Stockholm on June 23, the day the Swedes celebrate Midsommar. What a gorgeous city!
Stockholm, which is comprised of 14 islands connected by 57 bridges, has a natural beauty from all of the water. In the heart of the city, the Royal Palace, and the government buildings, opera house, theaters, and other stately structures, add to that beauty.
Sweden is so civilized! Stockholm is clean and orderly. The people are polite and helpful. There is good public transportation and generally the service is top-notch. From my observation, there seem to be few “riffraff” hanging around. The Swedes also take their bike riding and hiking seriously, as do the other Scandinavian citizens.
Let me say this: the women whom I traveled with know how to move. I barely had time to do Wordle each day! My normal life is way slower-paced than this trip. Hence, after walking about five miles on cobblestone, I strained my leg, but continued to hobble five miles a day using a cane. I didn’t want to miss a thing.
The food was surprisingly delicious. I don’t know why I expected otherwise. We did not dine in particularly high-brow restaurants. I’m a peasant at heart and any food that is tortured or comes close to tweezers (when chefs use them for garnish placement), is not my style. That said, the meals were beautifully presented with natural ingredients. (I had a premonition I was headed in the right direction when I was served a lobster fennel radish salad on the KLM plane!)
Our first lunch was across the street from our lovely hotel in central Stockholm. It was one of those “order at the counter and they bring it to you” places. I wasn’t holding my breath for brilliance. A lovely salad of mixed greens with piles of cold smoked salmon, pickled fennel and potatoes, and radish garnish was placed in front of me. Delicious!
On one of our other dining ventures, we just had to have traditional Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes. They were truly outstanding. Light, not densely packed, served on a silky, creamy sauce– the real deal. All of the food I ate was well seasoned in the salt and pepper arena. It really brought out the flavors of the ingredients.
Fika is an age-old Swedish tradition. It means. loosely, “taking a break for coffee, cake and conversation.” Any time of the day is appropriate. This is my kind of country! Sitting with coffee and dessert is acceptable behavior? Sweden, where have you been my whole life? One can fika any time of day. I may have to move to Stockholm!
There is no shortage of places to pop in and enjoy cake and coffee in Stockholm. What is remarkable is that most of the cafes have amazing pastries. The quality and variety are unequivocal. I believe that the Swedish desserts rival the French. Coming from someone who trained in classical French baking at the Cordon Bleu, I can attest to this. I was so into fika that one afternoon in Stockholm’s Old City, I had dessert for my lunch - two of them!
Besides eating (is there anything else??), we did a city tour on a bus to get the lay of the land. We traipsed through the Old City, where Stockholm originated and visited the Royal Palace. We toured the Vasa Museum, which houses Sweden’s version of the Titanic–except this seven-story masted ship was built in the 17th century and never made it out of the harbor. It sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, about 1,000 meters after it set sail. A major design flaw, I think!
One day we took a 30-minute boat ride to the Archipelago Islands. We walked around the island of Fjäderholmarna, where we visited artists’ studios and dined on beautiful salads in the harbor. This island actually reminded me of the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan. Birch trees and pines abound, just like in the northern part of my home state.
Well, readers, I’ve been holding out on you. The food highlight of each day was the spectacular breakfast buffet provided by our hotel. When I first saw it, I palpitated with excitement. The food was A-mazing. As with many of these Scandinavian breakfast spreads (which I enjoyed in Norway and Iceland), each buffet table is a different “food group.” The hot food included sausages, porridge, hard and soft-boiled eggs, quiche without crust, charred cabbage with other veggies, and the best bacon I’ve ever had.
On the pastry table, various croissant and other puff pastry sweets were hot out of the oven, along with cardamom sweet bread. There were fresh fruits, cheeses, charcuterie, a table of crusty breads with your choice of butter, margarine or a vegan option, plus a large jam selection.
The yogurt station, don’t ask. Four kinds of real yogurt, with fresh lingonberry compote, mangos, mixed fruits, and honey. The vegetable table had something on it that I’d never seen before. It was a tray of different living sprouts in their soil, with scissors next to it to snip what you wanted. Come on, really?
The highlight of the breakfast for me was the waffle and pancake station. My friend and neighbor Marie, who is of Swedish descent and spent time living in Sweden, had told me, “Don’t miss the pancakes.” Sage advice.
The pancakes are not as fluffy as American ones and not as thin and crispy as French crêpes. They are eggier with a texture similar to Ethiopian injera bread. Next to the pancakes were sautéed apples, lingonberry compote, jams, and of course, fresh whipped cream. Confession: I had these each day. People also eat these pancakes for fika.
Now that I’m back in California, I have time to experiment with making these Swedish pancakes, that are served with breakfast or coffee and conversation. I’m pairing them with fresh plum compote. Plums are in season here in California. You could use apples, pears, peaches, or cherries. You can make the pancakes ahead, fold them in quarters, and warm them in a low oven.
Tell us here at The Insider if you’re interested in including the great Swedish tradition of fika in your life and what you might enjoy at your own coffee and conversation table. Remember, we only go around once, so make it count!
Swedish Pancakes with Fresh Plum Compote
SEE BOTTOM NOTES BEFORE MAKING PANCAKES
Yield: @ 24 pancakes
4 lg. eggs
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 oz. melted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. flour
2 c. milk
oil for pan
Put the eggs, sugar, melted butter and salt in a blender or food processor. Whip until well blended. Mix in the flour. Scrape down sides as needed. Add the milk and blend on high speed until smooth. Allow batter to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Put an 8” nonstick skillet on moderate heat. Add a little oil. When pan is hot, add 3-4 Tbsp. batter. Using the pan handle, tip and roll the batter around the hot pan. Pour off excess into the batter.
Cook for 2 minutes. Loosen the edges of the pancake with a heat-resistant spatula. Invert the pan onto a flat plate and tap on the counter to cause the pancake to come out. Pick up the pancake and return it to the pan, top-side down for 1 minute. Remove it and fold into quarters, top-side in.
Continue with all of the batter. When the batter begins to stick, add oil and roll it around; discard. This whole process will take time and patience.
Reheat pancakes, covered, in a 200° oven for 15-20 minutes. Serve warm with Fresh Plum Compote and Chantilly Cream.
Fresh Plum Compote
2 lb. ripe plums, pitted
1 oz. butter
5-6 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cardamom
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Cut each plum in half from top to bottom. Cut each half into 4.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over moderate heat. Add the plums, sugar, and spices. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has softened and a syrup has formed, about 5 minutes. Store in the fridge. Serve at room temperature or reheated slightly in a microwave oven.
Chantilly Cream (Sweetened whipped cream)
1c. heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Place bowl and beater in the freezer before whipping the cream. When very cold, whip the cream on high speed until soft peaks. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.
NOTE: It is essential to have proper equipment. An 8” non-stick skillet is a must. Also, have a heat-resistant spatula and a completely flat pan. (I use the bottom of a springform).
Making these pancakes is “touchy” business! It will take a few tries to get it right. You need to balance the heat, how much batter, and pancake removal. Fortunately, there’s a lot of batter so you can practice!
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.