Cook the Books – Nordic Light

. October 05, 2016
Photography by David Parker.
Cook the Books – Nordic Light

The recipes in Scandinavian-inspired Nordic Light look a little complicated at first – David Parker put a couple to the test to see if this new cookbook is as useful as it is beautiful. 

Everyone seems to be jumping on the Nordic/Scandinavian bandwagon over the past couple of years. This is largely thanks to the success of the award-winning Copenhagen restaurant Noma – it was a meal at Noma in 2006 that inspired Australian photographer Simon Bajada's love of Nordic food. Now based in Stockholm he has been working on this book of Nordic-inspired recipes, but he also takes a lot of inspiration from healthfood trends... Sigh. 

At first I hadn't noticed the health aspects but as I read through ingredient lists I started to notice some recipes that seemed a little suspicious, but the recipe that really confirmed it was a chocolate mousse made with dates and avocados... Only then did I realise I'd been tricked into another healthy book! There are lots of recipes with low-gluten/gluten-free flours (bah humbug) but thankfully gluten, sugar, dairy and, heaven forbid, baking haven't entirely been eradicated from Nordic Light and the food looks quite interesting. There are lots of intriguing ingredients and the food is plated beautifully (although rustic) making it hard to work out how difficult the recipes would be to make. 

I decided to try Cherry Spelt Cakes with Mascarpone & Liquorice Sugar, mostly because it contained the magic word "mascarpone". Surprisingly, the liquorice powder for the liquorice sugar was really easy to find – I found it at Safka, a Scandinavian and continental foods store. However, I soon realised that the spelt cakes were really just pancakes and I didn't know if I could judge a book on just pancakes, so I decided to make the beetroot crispbread as well. 

I'd seen crispbreads in a couple of other Scandinavian books recently and they never appealed to me, but I figured it was high time I gave them a whirl. 

I started by making the seaweed butter. The book says to cook the sheets of seaweed over a naked flame for 20 seconds or in an oven for 10 minutes at 220°C. I don't have a gas hob so I put them in the oven, after about 1 minute smoke was pluming out of the oven and the sheets were mostly burnt to a crisp. I double-checked the times and temperatures, I think they must've meant 1 minute, because my second batch became perfectly crisp after 1 minute.

Once cooled I crumbled the sheets and added them to unsalted butter with sea salt and lemon juice, then combined the butter and put it in the fridge to set up. 

Then I grated the beetroot with a fine grater and mixed it together with milk, yeast, and fennel seeds before adding the rye and plain flour. When the mixture had come together I left it to rest for 20 minutes.

After resting I split the dough in two, then I rolled one of the pieces out to make a large rectangle, then I cut that rectangle into two and rolled the rectangles out again. I rolled them between two sheets of baking paper to stop the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and tearing. Then I repeated this process for the other half of the dough. Then I sprinkled the top of the sheets with sesame seeds and salt, although they didn't seem to want to stick at all, I hoped heat would change that somehow?

Then I placed them in the oven to bake. About 5 minutes into the crispbread baking I realised I had forgotten to prick them all over with a fork! Hopefully this wasn't vital, because it was too late now.

Thankfully the crispbread seemed to work out alright despite the lack of fork-pricking. They were very, very crisp, but still chewable. The beetroot flavour was quite mild, actually they weren't very flavoursome, I guess they're essentially crackers so what did I expect? There was far too much salt, though – I only used three of the four teaspoons to sprinkle on top of them and even after most of the salt had failed to actually stick to the crispbread they were too salty... I thought this book was meant to be healthy? The sesame seeds were also a bit of a failure at sticking to the crispbread – there were sesame seeds everywhere. My friend Kate came up with a good technique of spreading the seaweed butter on the crispbread to stick the sesame seeds back down with. Speaking of the butter – it was a little contentious. I didn't think it was that bad, others liked it but a few hated it. I guess they didn't particularly like seaweed though. I think it worked well with the crispbread but I also thought it would work really well with hummus maybe? I'm not sure what Nordic people would think of that though.

After my foray into crispbread I made the pancakes... Sorry – Cherry Spelt Cakes with Mascarpone and Liquorice Sugar. Spelt flour is milled from a grain in the same family as wheat and still contains gluten. It's available from most healthfood stores and nowadays should be easy to find at most decent supermarkets. 

I whisked together the egg and milk, then gradually added the spelt flour while whisking before adding the baking powder and salt to form a batter. Cherries aren't in season and the book said I could use frozen instead, but after failing to find frozen cherries I figured tinned cherries would probably work fine too. I cut the cherries in half and added them to the batter.

To make the liquorice sugar I mixed the liquorice powder and brown sugar and then set aside. Yep this recipe is so easy!

I cooked the pancakes in an oiled frying pan one at a time and then served with the mascarpone and liquorice sugar. 

My first bite was of a naked pancake, no sugar, no mascarpone and I was really disappointed, they were very bland, not exciting at all. But what a difference a little topping makes! I wasn't convinced they'd be okay but just a sprinkling of the liquorice sugar and a spoonful of mascarpone really transformed them into delicious creamy sweet pancakes.

The liquorice was pleasantly mild, I was worried it'd overpower everything and make everything taste of liquorice but in the end it was just like a sprinkling of cinnamon or something. I think if I didn't know it was liquorice I'd have had a hard time putting my finger on it. I think looking at the photo, their pancakes seemed to be a fair bit darker than mine and I wonder if they used a wholemeal spelt flour as opposed to the 'white spelt' flour I had, the book didn't specify but I think mine came out very nicely anyway. 

The Book Cooked
Level of expertise required: This is a tricky one, the photos and names make the recipes look harder than I think they actually are, for instance I didn't realise the Cherry Spelt Cakes were just pancakes with a fancy name. While not all of the recipes are as easy as pancakes I don't think you should worry about being out of your depth skill-wise. Other recipes do take a lot more work and time though and there's a chapter at the end of the book titled “Weekend Food” of all the various preserves and stocks and other staple ingredients to make from scratch. 
How many trips to the supermarket required? There were a few recipes I wanted to make but didn't know where to start looking for hot-smoked salmon tails or rosehips... I think most recipes won't be too hard to shop for though and supermarkets are getting much better at stocking ingredients like alternative flours.
How closely did your dishes resemble those in the book? I thought my food looked pretty similar to the photos, and although neither of them tasted how I expected them to, they were nice.
Ease of readingThe book seems to be mostly pretty well written and simple to follow, although I struggled a little with the crispbread instructions. 
Pretty on the coffee table or designed to be battered through overuse?  Of course a book coming from a food photographer is probably going to be beautiful with very nice photos and they certainly achieved that but I actually think there's a lot of interesting recipes in here too – it's quite innovative and fresh. I'm not really a fan of things like cashew cheesecakes, cauliflower couscous or avocado chocolate mousse or the dreaded bliss ball (at least name them something more apt, like disappointment ball) but it's really interesting to see the Nordic flavours and ingredients presented in this way. Plus, I think some of the recipes just look genuinely delicious and I'm pleased to see a good balance of 'health' in the recipes without (in my very unhealthy opinion) overdoing it.