Column: On the Table with Cambridge Cookery’s MD Tine Roche
Autumn’s arrival triggers childhood memories of warming Scandinavian sweet treats, writes Cambridge Cookery’s MD Tine Roche
I grew up in Denmark and Sweden, in a family of outstanding female cooks and bakers. Most of my early childhood memories took place stove-side and I am often no longer sure if they relate to my beloved aunt Thyra, to my mother Brita or to my grandmother Greta, who lived way up north in the Polar circle. I simply recall a non-too-tall woman, wearing a striped linen apron over what seemed to me quite a glamorous dress for a day in the kitchen, talking me through what they were doing and passing me tit-bits as they went about it.
A city girl from the south, I found my grandmother’s world in the polar circle fascinating. Hunting, foraging, skiing and the northern lights were things of wonder, but more than anything, it was the activities of the warm kitchen that I loved most.
My grandmother and my aunts would pluck freshly shot snow grouse or ptarmigan, feathers flying over worktops clad in newspapers so the mess could be gathered up at the end of the job. The birds were roasted on the stove top, in huge cast iron pots, regular splashes of water being added, then copious amounts of cream and little lugs of sweet sherry going in at the end. Wild mushrooms, straight from a forest forage, were brushed cleaned with pastry brushes, the little bits of emerald green moss and pine needles filling the whole kitchen with resinous scent.
But it is the memories of baking which stand out most vividly. So clearly, in fact, that I can still smell the buttery scent of freshly baked Finnish almond biscuits; fragile vanilla scented Dreams; hazelnut-flecked Uncle’s Cigars, their ends dipped in melted chocolate; and King Oscar II’s Cake, aka “success cake”. Two moreish discs made from a batter of freshly grated almond, melted butter and egg white and baked to chewy perfection before being layered with a rich, cooked buttercream made from egg yolk, sugar, cream and butter and topped with toasted almond flakes, this is not so much a cake to look at as a flat pancake, but delicious beyond belief to eat.
My grandmother loved being in her kitchen. She reigned supreme in a little kingdom of pale yellow Formica cupboards and walk-in larder. In my memory, she always wore an apron. If she ran out of eggs or sugar, she would throw her coat on over her apron and half run, half power walk down the icy road to the corner shop. In the kitchen, she tied a scarf around her hair in an attempt to stop it from smelling of cooking fat. If the scarf was on, then something buttery was about to be heated to a high temperature and I could be in for the ultimate treat - rån.
How to describe this other-wordly delicacy? Wafer-thin galettes, cooked in a small, circular, cast-iron waffle iron, which opened and closed with the aid of two long handles. The iron had to be put straight on a hot plate, so there was a certain amount of risk and danger involved in the process. The iron itself would become insanely hot, and the batter which was pressed between its two discs would ooze out and land on the hot hob. But most impressive of all was the super-quick rolling up of the still-hot, wafer-thin, beautifully-patterned discs. My grandmother Greta’s rån were legendary and her asbestos fingers, glistening with grease from the butter-rich wafers, transfixed me.
Eking out the minutes - or seconds - it took to devour these beauties presented me with a bitter-sweet dilemma: to behave like a responsible and mature child and bite straight into them, or to eat them horizontally, “unrolling” them with my front teeth and lips as I went along. Naturally, the latter made the eating of the rån last a little longer, and resulted in a huge mess of crumbs and a mild scolding from my grandmother.
She passed away when I was 17, and to that day she baked me rån whenever I visited her in her woodclad little house in the land of the midnight sun - and, let’s face it, interminable dark winters - and to that day I begged her to make me rån so I could savour them horizontally, getting myself covered in crumbs while Greta rolled her eyes.
I share some of these recipes in our Christmas holiday classes and, when we have time, some go on the counter, alongside our signature cinnamon buns.