The giant Swedish sandwich layer cake makes an over-the-top presentation that is creamy and satisfying.
Sarah Gannholm, of Seattle, tasted a smörgåstårta for the first time at a family funeral in Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, in the Baltic Sea about 15 years ago.
Although she initially found the giant Swedish savory sandwich layer cake a little absurd, it went from being a curiosity to a part of her culinary repertoire.
It’s a project, filled with a variety of ingredients, from egg salad to smoked fish. It is built in advance and chilled, ready to slice and feed a crowd, like a savory cake iced with mayonnaise or cream cheese instead of frosting.
Her grandmother came from Norway, and her husband’s family is Swedish. “I’m not one of those people creeped out by mayonnaise,” says Gannholm, 48.
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A smörgåstårta can be a festive, savory centerpiece for a family dinner or prepared ahead as a party dish.
And it is stunning.
“There is something amusing about such an over-the-top presentation turning out to be a very fresh and savory all-in-one party dish,” Gannholm said.
Although the project looks daunting, she said the fillings and assembly are easy.
She recommends making the bread for the smörgåstårta because “it tastes better and provides better structure,” she says. “This is a very easy bread to make, even if you have little bread-making experience.”
However, good quality store-bought bread — white, whole wheat or Swedish rye (with no caraway) — can easily be substituted. And you need not be bound by a round cake shape. A smörgåstårta can be prepared as a long, layered, filled loaf, which slices easily.
When Oregon shrimp are available, she may make a smörgåstårta that sandwiches homemade bread with a shrimp salad for her husband and three children. Farmers markets offering local fish, vegetables and pickles can be a great source of inspiration, she says. Creamy layers can be made with ham salad, or fresh herbs and farmers’ cheese, for example.
But she says a more modern filling of fresh cheese mixed with roasted peppers and arugula would not be out of place. Her “frosting” varies, but she recently lightened cream cheese with buttermilk, flavoring it with a little grated garlic.
She said smoked salmon on Swedish rye bread with a horseradish cream cheese is a nice option, garnished with wedges of just boiled egg and dill fronds.
It’s traditional to serve a slice of smörgåstårta on its own, with nothing else on the plate, but Gannholm can’t resist making a small green salad to go on the side. “Even though my husband is against it,” she said.
SARAH GANNHOLM’S TRADITIONAL SMÖRGÅSTÅRTA
Makes a 10-inch sandwich cake that easily serves 10 to 12 people
3 packages of dry active yeast moistened in 2 tablespoons water
2 ½ cups of milk, heated to 98 degrees
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
6 cups all-purpose flour
1. Slowly whisk the yeast-and-water paste into the milk until smooth in the bowl of a mixer. Add the rest of the ingredients, holding back a handful of the flour. Mix with a dough hook until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl and feels springy to the touch. Dust the top with flour and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place for 40 minutes.
2. After 40 minutes, knead the rest of the flour into the dough by hand, then form the dough into a round. Place into a 10” springform pan. Prick the top of the dough with a fork. Cover the dough with the kitchen towel and leave in a warm place for 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 475.
3. When the dough has risen, remove the towel and place the pan in the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the oven off and leave the bread for another 20 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven and place the kitchen towel over it until it has cooled. The bread will keep for three to five days in plastic wrap on the counter. In the deep freezer it will keep for nine months.
1 cup Oregon shrimp
⅓ cup minced chives
⅓ cup minced dill
1 cup mayonnaise
Zest of a small lemon
Lemon juice to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk mayonnaise with lemon zest. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Fold in shrimp, chives and dill. Chill until ready to assemble smörgåstårta.
Quick Pickled Cucumber
1 English cucumber
A dill crown
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons salt
Slice the cucumber into ⅛-inch slices. Place them with the dill crown into a clean 12-ounce Mason jar. Stir the distilled vinegar, water, sugar, mustard seeds and salt together. Pour over the cucumbers and twist the lid onto the jar. Place in the refrigerator. The pickles can be used after a few hours.
4 hard-boiled eggs
½ cup quick pickled cucumbers (store-bought pickled cucumbers may be substituted)
½ cup minced arugula
½ cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop the eggs and the pickled cucumber into medium dice. Fold the eggs, cucumbers and arugula into the mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to assemble the smörgåstårta.
Cream Cheese Frosting
3 packages of cream cheese, softened on the counter
¼ cup buttermilk
1 small clove of garlic, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
In a mixer or a food processor, briefly cream the cream cheese until smooth. Add the buttermilk and process until fluffy. Season with garlic, salt and pepper to taste.
A lot of the fun in making a smörgåstårta is in the garnishes. I prefer that the garnish reflects what is inside the layers, but you can use anything you think looks fresh and delicious.
• Whole parsley leaves
• Minced dill and chives
• 1 organic unwaxed lemon, sliced
• 12 large peeled and deveined shrimp, poached until pink in 2 cups water, 1 cup dry white wine, 6 peppercorns, half a lemon, a Turkish bay leaf and a pinch of kosher salt — about three or four minutes
• An English cucumber thinly sliced lengthwise, rolled into curls
• A small jar of tobiko (flying fish roe)
• Wedges of boiled egg
Assembling the Smörgåstårta
1. Slice the bread into three even horizontal layers, about ¾” thick.
2. Set the bottom layer on a large flat serving platter or cake stand.
3. Spread all of the shrimp salad over the bread and cover with the next layer of bread. Spread all of the egg salad over that layer. Top the egg salad with the last layer of bread.
4. Attend to any of the filling that may have escaped the edges of the bread so it doesn’t show through the cream-cheese frosting.
5. Using a long, offset spatula, spread the cream cheese over the top and sides of the smörgåstårta.
6. Carefully arrange the parsley leaves around the sides of the cake.
7. Using halved cucumber slices, make scallops around the edge of the base.
8. On the top of the cake, arrange slices of lemon, cucumber and shrimp around the edge.
9. In the center, stand the shrimp up to make a centerpiece, arranging lemon slices and cucumber rolls around the shrimp. Scatter minced herbs and tobiko over everything. It should look exuberant and fun.
— Sarah Gannholm