A work of art

Elegant Swedish smörgåstårta makes a spectacular summer supper

smörgåstårta

Photo: Madison Leiren
The Swedish smörgåstårta is a true work of art. Constructed like a layer cake, it can be “frosted” with mayonnaise and crème fraîche and then decorated with sliced vegetables, lemons, herbs, and seafood.

CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American

Swedish smörgåstårta (Swedish for sandwich cake, or sandwich torte) is a specialty from Sweden, and it is also popular in Finland, Estonia, and Iceland. It’s just like the name sounds: a savory cake made of sandwich fillings and bread, constructed just like a sweet layer cake. It’s then “frosted” with mayonnaise and crème fraîche (or sour cream), and then decorated with sliced vegetables, lemons, herbs, edible flowers, and more. It is a true work of art!

Another benefit of smörgåstårta: It’s an all-inclusive meal. Host a memorable gathering with loved ones by serving a smörgåstårta. All you need is white wine or another chilled beverage.

As I browsed through recipes and design inspiration, I had fun diving into the history of the smörgåstårta. It is said that smörgåstårta was created by Gunnar Sjödahl in 1965 at his konditeri in Östersund in northern Sweden. But references to sandwich cakes date back to the beginning of the 20th century.

shrimp, cucumbers, zucchini, dilll, and tomatoes decorate the top of this torte

Photo: Madison Leiren
Fresh ingredients make for a perfect torte.

Swedish food historian Richard Tellström gave a brief history of smörgåstårta in a 2015 article for Taffel.se: 

“The Swedish Academy’s Dictionary states its first evidence for smörgåstårta in 1958, but as early as 1951, Vår Kokbok featured a recipe for a sandwich cake with a single layer, with toppings such as smoked salmon, mayonnaise, egg wedges, radish and chopped nuts, after the cake is first coated with soft cheese … In the 1950s, the sandwich cake became very popular, not least after a decade of war rations on fat and toppings.

“As early as 1947, the food writer Jochum (actually John Sjöstrand) describes how to make a cake of the sandwich type that he calls the Jönköping cake … the cake is made in three layers of bread with, among other things, butter and liver pie filling and a filling made from raw minced meat, and it is finally decorated with eggs, boiled carrots, parsley, cucumber slices or smoked salmon. The recipe can be found in his book Alla Tiders Smörgåsar from 1947.

“But even then, this construction of the smörgåstårta was not really new. Before 1940 and back to the beginning of the 20th century, there were different kinds of sandwich creations with several bread layers and fillings in between. In the formal sense, they were not smörgåstarta because they lacked both garnish and artfully made decorations on the outside … The spirit of the 1940s and 1950s led to the creation of the smörgåstårta as we know it.”

Chef Carina Johnsson stands by her seafood smörgåstårta

Photo: Madison Leiren
Chef Carina Johnsson shows off her work.

To learn more about the art of making an authentic Swedish smörgåstårta, we called up our friends at the Swedish Club in Seattle. Chef Carina Johnsson made one for us, and gave us her tips:

  1. It is hard to make the bread into a perfect circle, so be sure to remove all the crusts and use a springform pan as a guide.
  2. It is easier—and better!—to put together the cake the day before, except for the decorations. The bread will soak up some flavor. You want the decorations/garnish to be fresh, not wilted, so put them on right before you serve it.
  3. Swedish shrimps are my favorite ingredients to use, but over the years, people have become very creative.

I also spoke with Malin Jonsson, the operations manager at the Swedish Club. She advised me: “Remember that the recipe is a guide: You can add or subtract ingredients to your liking. And start the cake the day before you want to serve it, or in the morning if you plan to serve it in the late afternoon or evening. It needs time for the flavors to marry.”

Smörgåstårta can be very rich with all the types of seafood or meats, not to mention the mayonnaise and sour cream “frosting.” But I saw so many terrific ideas for vegetarian and vegan smörgåstårta, so I made my own take on it for people who don’t eat meat or fish. My vegetarian smörgåstårta recipe has two layers of pea-avocado purée with mint, which complements the rich egg salad layer in the middle. To decorate it, I pressed wild arugula on the sides and made a polka-dot pattern of sliced cucumbers and radishes on top. Much simpler than other versions, but still an impressive lunch for my taste testing crew.

Tack så mycket to the Swedish Club for crafting such a gorgeous (and unbelievably delicious) smörgåstårta for us!

Have you had smörgåstårta? What are your favorite combinations? I’d love to hear from you! Write to me at food@na-weekly.com.

a seafood smörgåstårta being put together

Photo: Madison Leiren
Chef Carina Johnsson puts together her seafood smörgåstårta.

Smörgåstårta med lax och skaldjur

Sandwich cake with salmon and shellfish
Recipe courtesy of Carina Johnsson, chef at the Swedish Club in Seattle

1 round loaf sourdough bread (store-bought works well) 

Filling:

6 hard boiled eggs, chopped

6 ounces cooked crab (canned works well here)

4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into small bits

½ cup light crème fraîche or sour cream

½ cup light mayonnaise

Garnish:

1 cup light mayonnaise

½ cup light crème fraîche or sour cream

1 pound shrimp

4 – 8 ounces smoked salmon

1 jar red caviar

½ English cucumber, thinly sliced

1 lemon, thinly sliced

1 tsp. horseradish (optional)

¼ cup fresh chives, finely chopped

¼ cup fresh dill, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Specialty equipment: springform pan

Here’s how you make it:

1. Slice off the crust from the bread, and cut the bread into three layers.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the filling ingredients: chopped hardboiled eggs, canned crab, smoked salmon, crème fraîche, mayonnaise, chives, and dill. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. 

3. Add the first layer of bread in the springform pan. Spread half of the mixture evenly on one round of bread. Place another round of bread on top, and top with the remaining mixture. Place final round of bread on top. At this point, you can chill in the refrigerator for 12 – 24 hours.

4. When you’re ready to decorate, transfer the cake carefully to your serving platter with a spatula. Release the springform latch and remove it.

5. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and crème fraîche for the garnish until thoroughly combined. It’s okay if the mixture looks thin.

6. With an offset spatula or knife, spread the mixture on the cake, evenly coating the top and sides.

7. On top, add the garnish: Shrimp, smoked salmon, and caviar, with a few slices of cucumber and lemon.

8. Decorate the sides with rounds of cucumber.

9. Slice into wedges and serve with glasses of chilled wine. Enjoy!

a vegetarian Smörgåsårta (sandwich cake) covered in mayonnaise, arugula leaves, radishes, and cucumbers.

Photo: Christy Olsen Field
Smörgåsårta can be made in different ways, including varieties that vegetarians can enjoy.

Vegetarisk smörgåstårta

Vegetarian sandwich cake
By Christy Olsen Field

8 slices of sandwich bread (store-bought white, whole wheat, or rye work well)

Green layer:

1 garlic clove, smashed and chopped

2 cups green peas (thawed if using frozen)

1 avocado

1 lemon, juiced and zested

¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped 

1 tbsp. olive oil

Salt to taste

White layer:

6 hard boiled eggs, chopped

¼ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup crème fraîche or sour cream

Salt to taste

Garnish:

½ cup light mayonnaise

1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream

1 tsp. grated horseradish (optional)

4 chives

2-3 radishes, thinly sliced

English cucumber, thinly sliced

Arugula or flat-leaf parsley leaves

Special equipment: Food processor, plastic wrap

Here’s how you make it:

1. In a food processor, combine garlic, peas, avocado, lemon juice, lemon zest, and chopped mint. Pulse until combined. Drizzle in 1 tbsp. olive oil, and pulse again. Season with salt to taste.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the eggs, mayonnaise, and crème fraîche. Add salt to taste.

3. Now you are ready to assemble. Slice off the bread crusts so you have even sides. Place two slices of bread side by side on your serving dish. Add half of the pea mixture, and spread to the edges.

4. Add two slices of bread on top of the green layer. Spread on the egg salad mixture in an even layer. You might not use all the egg salad, and that is okay!

5. Add two slices of bread on top of the egg salad layer. Spread on the remaining pea mixture in an even layer.

6. Top with the final two pieces of bread. Take a piece of plastic wrap and cover the sandwich cake, pressing the plastic wrap to the exposed sides so the pea-avocado layer doesn’t oxidize too quickly.

7. Chill in the fridge for three hours or up to overnight.

8. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, crème fraîche, and the horseradish. Spread on the top and sides, smoothing it with a knife or spatula. Take care to cover all the sides so no bread is showing.

9. Now it’s time to decorate! For my version, I pressed arugula leaves to the sides for a decorative design. I added chives to make a frame on top. I thinly sliced cucumber and radish on my mandolin slicer, and I pressed them gently on top in an overlapping polka dot pattern.

This article originally appeared in the June 18, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Christy Olsen Field

Christy Olsen Field became the Taste of Norway Editor in April 2019. She worked on the editorial staff of the Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012. An enthusiastic home cook and baker, she lives north of Seattle with her husband and two young sons. She is also a grantwriter for small nonprofits in the Seattle area.

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