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There’s a serviceberry bush in front of our condo complex that, until the past few days, had me thinking it wouldn’t bear a crop this year.
Thankfully I feel its — and our —fortunes changing because the sun is out. The mercury is on a slow and steady ascent. And I feel certain we’ve seen the last of the snow fly. It feels like every plant, shrub and tree has been photosynthesizing to the max to make up for the lost time after winter overstayed its welcome.
My daughter and I adore serviceberry season. Ever since it ended early last July, she’s asked when the berries will be back. It’s nice to finally say “Soon, my bear, soon.”
We do our best to beat the birds to the bounty, grabbing a handful before heading to the Welland Canal to watch boats together. A stand of serviceberry bushes also lines the sidewalk to my mom’s place around the corner, keeping us and the birds in purple stains for weeks after our own crop has been pilfered and picked over.
I love that my daughter knows what serviceberries are, and that she loves to eat them. That serviceberries are our thing.
Serviceberry Blossom. Photo by me.
An Instant Classic
Growing up in Norway, cookbook author Marit Hovland spent a lot of time outdoors with her mother. The elder Hovland was a botanist, ready and willing to answer questions about the plants her girl encountered. It fed Hovland’s curiosity about the natural world surrounding her, instilling her with a wonder for it all. And I’m sure if serviceberries were native to Norway, Hovland and her mom would have eaten handfuls of them on early summer days, too.
Instead they had blueberries, birch trees, mushrooms, flowers of all sorts, and conifers with their prickly branches and craggy trunks. There were river rocks to skip during outdoor adventures, and seashells to glean.
Hovland paid attention to what Mother Nature offered. It shows in her new cookbook Bakeland: Nordic Treats Inspired by Nature (Greystone Books), where she shares the images she sees in nature as edible and artistic treats.
It’s a photogenic volume filled with cookies that resemble tree rings, birch bark, pine cones, and blue skies. There are cakes topped with skillfully sculpted icing evergreens. Cupcakes are dressed with daisies of sprinkled sugar. Bonbons look the part of river rocks and seashells.
Bakeland is pure eye candy, and one of the most inspired cookbooks to come my way in a while.
The recipes are divided by season and range from adorable (the spice cake with cinnamon almonds that look like acorns) to stunning (Norwegian almond cake with coconut frosting that looks like a decorated Christmas tree). Think of Bakeland as Mother Nature’s biggest fan translating her love of the outdoors into 50 jaw-dropping desserts and sweets.
“Since I love nature, it was natural for me to be inspired by it,” Hovland said. “There is endless inspiration in nature, so I knew I would never run out of ideas.”
It’s easy to feel daunted by Bakeland’s recipes once the awe of Hovland’s artistry quells. This book can seem downright intimidating to non-bakers who lack a steady hand. But delve deeper and you’ll see that Hovland, who was always welcome to help and experiment in the kitchen as a child, has considered all skill sets in her book.
For every seemingly complex recipe, there are simple instructions. Templates and stencils tucked into the back pages help achieve the precise lines of icing snowflakes adorning Hovland’s ginger cookies, and perfect points on her maple leaf cookies.
The tools she uses to make her creations are the everyday sort found in most kitchens, with the addition of a couple paint brushes and tweezers to help make some of her creations more reminiscent of the real thing.
My Blueberry Crepe Torte. Photo by me.
Anything else required is found in nature, like the seashells that become moulds for Hovland’s white chocolate shells with raspberry filling, or the weathered wood that provides the texture for her chocolate wood with berries and nuts.
It took a lot of trial and error to not only make the recipes foolproof, but accessible, Hovland said.
“Many questions needed to be asked along the way to get the right look and taste for the recipes. Which foods are in the right shape or colour? How do I do this in a way that everyone can do? Will it taste better if I do it another way? It was important to me that the result should look as natural as possible,” she said. “I was very keen to find simple techniques that everyone could handle.
This book truly is “a tasty trip through an entire year of Norwegian nature.” Still, you don’t have to live in Norway to get it. Bakeland is an ode to the natural world that evokes mindfulness in the kitchen and outdoors. You never know what you might see — or create — if you just pay attention to the world around you.
If snowflakes elude you in your corner of the world, no worries. Hovland writes that her ideas are easily adapted to nature where you are, and to traditions and flavours familiar to you. Like baking with serviceberries in June instead of waiting for blueberries in July. Or in this case, caving and eating the imported berries in April as I did because I got swept up in the sheer beauty of Hovland’s blueberry crepe torte.
Still, I dare you to pick up this book and not get caught up in it, too.
Excerpted from Bakeland: Nordic Treats Inspired by Nature, by Marit Hovland©, published April 2018 by Greystone Books. Reproduced and adapted with permission of the publisher.
For the filling:
- 2 3/4 cups (400 grams) blueberries, fresh or frozen
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup (75 mL) lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon fruit pectin powder
For the crepes:
- 5 eggs
- 4 cups (1 L) 2% milk or favourite non-dairy alternative (see note)
- 2 3/4 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- butter for frying
For the decoration:
- 1 cup (150 grams) blueberries
- twigs from a blueberry bush
For the filling:
Combine the blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for a few minutes before stirring in the fruit pectin.
Let it boil for 1 minute more. Let the filling cool a little before you put it in the refrigerator to cool completely.
For the crepes:
Whisk the eggs together with about 1 cup (250 mL) of the milk.
In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and cardamom. Sift the dry ingredients into the egg mixture and whisk until you have a smooth batter. Gradually add the rest of the milk, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Let the batter sit for about 30 minutes so the flour swells, which makes the crepes lighter.
Heat a little butter in a skillet. (I used a 10-inch cast-iron skillet.) Ladle in some batter and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan. Cook until the edges are brown and the batter is set, then flip the crepe over and cook for another minute. Repeat with the remaining batter. You will end up with about 12 crepes.
Pile the crepes and cover with a clean kitchen towel until you're ready to assemble the torte. The crepes should be completely cooled. You can make them a day in advance and keep them in the refrigerator or on the counter, covered with a towel
For the decoration:
To assemble the torte, spread a thin layer of blueberry filling on each crepe, and stack the crepes together. Spread a layer on top of the torte, too, so the loose berries will stick. Stick a skewer into the middle of the cake, pull it out, and insert a couple of blueberry bush twigs.
It is essential that your crepes have cooled to room temperature, at least, before spreading the filling. Otherwise, it will run and pour over the edges of the torte, which is what happened to me. It looked awful but still tasted wonderful. If you can, make the crepes a day ahead.
I used ready-made blueberry jam for my filling. I used 1 1/2 250-millilitre jars of Greaves wild blueberry jam. Hovland suggests using ready-made blueberry jam — or jams of other fruits, berries, chocolate or nut spreads — as an alternative to making your own filling.
I also used almond milk instead of 2% milk called for in the recipe and found no issues with my crepes.