Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break

Fika Cover
by Anna Brones (text) & Johanna Kindvall (illustrations)

Facts: Ten Speed Press, 188 pages, $17.99 (or Amazon Hardcover $14.21, Kindle $9.99)
Photos: Lots of illustrations
Recipes: 39

Swedish cuisine seems to have maintained a low profile for decades but it’s now bloomed in the USA. Chronological history in a nutshell (according to my limited knowledge): Ann Sather opened in 1945 – the only Swedish restaurant in Chicago for decades. Aquavit opened in 1987, Marcus Samuelsson popularized it and authored a cookbook of the same name. IKEA opens Swedish Market, Restaurant & Bistro… so much for low profile.

Aside: About ten years ago I had a fabulous dinner in the heart of Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm, at Fem Små Hus (Five Small Houses). The restaurant is subterranean in the vaulted cellars of the (now connected) five houses. Marinated Salmon, Fillet of Reindeer and Cloudberries were heavenly. I would recommend it to anyone visiting Stockholm. Perhaps the cuisine has been under our radar because we don’t have enough reindeer?

When Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break, with Recipes for Pastries, Breads, and Other Treats landed on my desk I was vaguely familiar with the word “fika”. It’s a verb and a noun. Literally it means to drink coffee, but the larger meaning is to take a break with a cup of coffee (or tea) and definitely with a baked something (preferably home baked). It’s a smallish but jam-packed (no pun intended) book.

Anna Brones & Johanna Kindvall do a great job explaining the history of Swedish coffee with recipes for traditionally served sweets like Kardemummakaka (Cardamom Cake), Fikonrutor (Figs Squares) and Syltgrottor (Jam Thumbprint Cookies). They interject Swedish words built around fika such as fikarum (the fika break room), fikasugen (to have a fika craving), and fikapaus (taking a break to have fika).

Modern-day baked goods recipes for fika include Kinuskikaka (Kinuski Caramel Cake), Mandelkaka (Almond Tart), and Kokostoppar (Coconut Peaks) – and also under the “modern day” heading, a Swede never boards a train or embarks on a long car ride without a fika moment. Other notable recipes are Semlor (Swedish Cream Buns), Glögg,  and Pannkakor (Swedish Pancakes).

Most every heritage has a traditional coffee-break but doesn’t fika make it sound more fun? Even Rick Steves touts “When sightseeing Stockholm, it’ll all go better if you do as the locals do…and enjoy an occasional fika.” Bake these Chocolate Coffee Squares and invite a friend to share a fika with you.


Chocolate Coffee Squares

Makes 24 squares

Kärleksmums is one of those bake-at-home recipes that always makes you feel good, no matter what kind of mood you’re in. In Swedish, the interjection of mums means “yummy,” and added to kärleks, it directly translates to “love yummy.” Just like other recipes that have been passed along many times, this one has several names, including fiffirutor, mockarutor, and snoddas.

These cakes are the perfect blend of dark chocolate and strong coffee. Kärleksmums is classically made with a confectioners’ sugar frosting, but we think it’s nicer with the more luxurious ganache. Save a few tablespoons from your morning cup of coffee so you can add it to the ganache when you bake these later in the afternoon; the perfect thing to enjoy on a cold autumn day.

For the cake
10 tablespoons (5 ounces, 142 grams) unsalted butter
2 cups (10 ounces, 284 grams) all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup (7 ounces, 198 grams) natural cane sugar
3/4 cup (180 milliliters) milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the ganache
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) heavy cream
3 tablespoons cold coffee
4 ounces (113 grams) 70% bittersweet dark chocolate
2 tablespoons (1 ounce, 28 grams) butter

For the topping
About 1/2 cup (1.5 ounces, 42 grams) unsweetened shredded coconut

Make the cake
1. Preheat the oven to 375F (190C). Grease and flour a 9 by 13-inch (23 by 33-centimeter) baking pan.

2. In a saucepan, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, coco powder, baking powder and salt.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs together with the sugar until frothy. Add the milk, melted butter, and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Sift and fold in the flour mixture and keep folding until you have a smooth and even batter. Pour the batter into the baking pan.

5. Bake for 12 to 17 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Make the ganache and topping
1. To prepare the ganache, heat the cream and coffee in a saucepan over medium heat until the liquid starts to bubble around the edges. Lower the heat and add the chocolate, stirring constantly until melted. Turn off the heat, add the butter, and stir until melted. Let cool for about 1 hour.

2. Spread the ganache over the cake and top with shredded coconut. Cut into 24 equally sized squares to serve.

Note: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or in the freeze.


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