Norway’s National Cake for Syttende Mai
Meet the official US ambassador for Kvæfjordkake, commonly called world’s best cake
Taste of Norway Editor
When it comes to cakes, Norway has some of the best (in my opinion). So it comes as no surprise that the country’s national cake—Kvæfjordkake—would be commonly referred to as verdens beste kake, or the world’s best cake. With its layers of buttery cake, rich vanilla cream, and delicate meringue topped with chopped almonds, it’s an ideal celebration cake for Syttende Mai.
Kvæfjordkake has its roots in Kvæfjord, an agricultural community on the island of Hinnøy, about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The story goes that Hulda Ottestad—one of two sisters who opened a successful café called Café Alliance in the town of Harstad in the 1920s—purchased two cake recipes from a famous Danish baker for 200 kroner, which would have been a very high price at the time. Over the course of time, she worked at them, reworking and simplifying the process, until she came at what we know today as Kvæfjordkake.
In the decades that followed, the cake became known and loved worldwide, acquiring various names and several official ambassadors, including Mari-Ann Kind Jackson.
Jackson comes from Borkenes in Kvæfjord. When she returned for her 50th high school reunion in 2003, she was named Kvæfjordkake’s Ambassador to the United States, along with ambassadors for England, Japan, and Germany, in a celebration with the mayor, city council members, and Kvæfjordkakas Venner, the organization that promotes the cake.
Jackson’s memories of Ottestad’s café go back to her childhood when she and her parents had an assortment of cakes, including Kvæfjordkake: “Even during the Second World War, when I was a little girl or young girl, I remember going to Café Alliance in Harstad with my parents and having a cake,” said Jackson. “So she was able to make the cake—and other cakes of course also—even during the war, which was really difficult when we couldn’t buy much sugar, couldn’t buy much flour, and couldn’t buy many almonds at all. But she managed to do it.”
It’s that legacy and history that precedes the cake that is now known as Norway’s national cake, as pronounced by NRK, Norway’s national radio, in 2002.
With how popular it is in general, it’s no surprise that it is popular for Syttende Mai.
“Since I moved here in 1959, I’ve had the opportunity to be back in Norway for the 17th of May several times, in many different places,” Jackson said. “And every place I have been, that cake has been served.”
So what of its various names? The combination of kv and æ in Kvæfjordkake is hard for many people to pronounce, explained Jackson, so more people came to call it verdens beste, which was frequently used as a description for it.
“We have an expression in Norwegian which says a dear child has many names,” said Jackson. “And so that’s why I laugh every time I see verdens beste, which truly is the description, it’s not the official name of it.”
So is it truly the world’s best? Some say so. But regardless, it’s an important cake for Norway. And no matter what you call it, it’s certainly a good fit for Syttende Mai.
This recipe, adapted (barely) from the one provided by Jackson, uses two Scandinavian ingredients available at Scandinavian specialty stores: vanilla sugar, or vaniljesukker, and vanilla kakefyll, or cake filling. If you don’t have access to vanilla sugar, feel free to use a little vanilla extract instead. As for the kakefyll, which is a package of powder, you can make your own vanilla custard if you wish. However, Jackson says that the recipe most commonly used in Norway uses the packaged vanilla cream and that it’s just as good as using a custard made from scratch.
100 grams (7 tbsps.) butter
120 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 ½ tbsps.) sugar
4 egg yolks
160 grams (1 ¼ cup) flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla sugar
3 tbsps. milk
4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
½ cup chopped almonds
1 packet Freia Vanilla Kakefyll (cake filling)
3 dl (1 ¼ cup) whole milk
3 dl (1 ¼ cup) whipping cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a jelly roll pan (roughly 30×40 cm), then line with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper.
To make the cake, beat the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, incorporating fully between additions.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and vanilla sugar. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture a little at a time, alternating with the milk. Spread the batter into the pan.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
Using a spatula, carefully spread the egg whites on top of the cake batter. Sprinkle with chopped almonds and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meringue is dry and has turned golden. Cool in the pan.
While the cake cools, make the filling. In a large bowl, whisk the kakefyll with the milk. Let chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. In a separate bowl whip the cream, then fold into the kakefyll.
When the cake has cooled, cut it in half vertically. Place one half on a platter. Spread the filling over this, then top with the remaining half of the cake.
Daytona Strong is the Norwegian American Weekly’s Taste of Norway editor. She writes about her family’s Norwegian heritage through the lens of food at her Scandinavian food blog, www.outside-oslo.com. Find her on Facebook www.facebook.com/OutsideOslo; Twitter @daytonastrong; Pinterest @daytonastrong; and Instagram @daytonastrong.
This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.