Finnish Blueberry Shortcake (Aleksanterit)
What a fabulous looking Scandi cake this is! It’s a bit brighter and bolder than the ones you usually find in Scandinavian countries, hence why it caught my eye in a Helsinki bakery. It's a very old cake, named after King Alexander II of Russia, who used to rule over what its now Finland and Estonia. This cake has shared origins in either country. I first ate it in a bakery in a market hall down by the docks in Helsinki. I ate a few cakes tbh: I bought a mix and match box of them without really knowing what I was buying. One was a Prinsesstårta - Swedish classic - much beloved in Finland with it once being Swedish territory. One of the other ones, an iced, powder-pink slab of biscuit with a berry jam filling, was to die for! Gorgeous with a cup of coffee, which, Finland being one of the highest consumers of coffee, is easy to get ahold of.
What appeals to me so much about this cake is that it really embodies Finland's foraging culture. It's filled with a berry jam and glazed with a berry juice icing - that's a lot of berry. Finland is over 80% woodland and forest - that's a lot of wild. Lots of wild means lots of wild berries. The Finnish people often wander into the woods during late Summer-Autumn to forage for mushrooms and berries, each year setting a target for how many they aim to pick. I met one man in a sauna there who told me that he and his family aim to pick 80 litres of bilberries every season! They make juices, syrups, cakes and jams to store for the long winter. Similar to other Nordic countries, Finland has something called 'jokamiehenoikeus', 'the right to roam', meaning a person can roam wherever they please and harvest the land's natural produce (fruits, mushrooms and herbs) regardless of the land's ownership. Although this sort of foraging is a hobby all over Scandinavia, the Finnish have the largest playground and means to do it!
This cake is just one of Finland's great ways to use up a spare 80 litres of foraged berries left from the season's forage. A light and buttery layered shortcake, sandwiching a tart berry jam and glazed in a hotly-coloured berry juice icing. Cut it into slabs and have it with a cup of tea. It's wildly addictive!
FINNISH BLUEBERRY SHORTCAKE
300g Plain Flour
150g Caster Sugar
225g Unsalted Butter
1 Free-Range Egg
1tsp Vanilla Extract
250ml Blueberry Jam (or any berry jam you wish)
250g Icing Sugar
3 Tablespoons Blueberry Cordial (or any berry juice/cordial you wish)
Preheat the oven to 180C. Take a Swiss roll tin or a baking tray and grease with a little butter, around the bottom and up the sides. Line with baking paper, pressing it right into the corners, and leaving a little overhang out of the tray.
Sieve 300g of plain flour into a mixing bowl and add 150g of cold unsalted butter, ideally cut into cubes. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until it is pale yellow, and no large clumps of butter can be seen. You may also use a food processor to do this, it's the best way. The premise of this cake is like making shortbread - you want to keep the butter as cool as possible. If it becomes too warm and melty, it can makes the cake tough.
Add the 150g of caster sugar and 1 teaspoon of baking powder and stir through the buttered crumbs. Lightly beat the egg with a teaspoon of vanilla and add to the crumbs also. Mix through with something blunt, like a knife or the handle of a wooden spoon, until it just begins to clump together into a dough.
Press all of the dough together with your hands until it sticks into one large ball of dough. If it's a little too dry, add a tablespoon of milk at a time until it sticks together. Once it's a ball, take it out of the bowl and briefly roll it around on the countertop for about 10 seconds to stick everything together well. Place the ball of dough into the lined baking tray, and using your fists or a small drinking glass, press and roll the dough to cover the entire sheet as evenly as you can.
Take a sharp knife and draw a line right down the centre of the dough, across it's shortest width, using a ruler if you need to. Place into the oven without delay, and bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly puffed up, softly golden around the edges and still a little soft to touch.
Take out of the oven and leave to cool. Taking your knife, cut into the incision line you marked on the dough earlier, while the cake is soft. Leave to cool for a couple of hours until it's hardened.
When the cake has cooled, remove from the tin with help from the overhanging baking paper. Using a spatula, gently ease each slab of cake away from the baking paper underneath, placing onto a cooling rack.
Heat a jar of jam in the microwave for about 10-20 seconds until it's a bit runny. Spread one half of the shortcake with a thick layer of jam, right to the edges. Gently lift the other layer of shortcake up and place atop the jammed shortcake, gently pushing into place and forcing some jam to ooze out of the sides. You can swipe this up with your fingers!
Once the shortcake is assembled, sift 250g of icing sugar into a small bowl and add the berry juice/cordial a tablespoon at a time, mixing with each addition until you get a dramatic, pink icing with a consistency of double cream. Pour this icing over the cake, using a knife to ease it to the edges and allowing it to dribble over the sides.