The pernicious “bigger is better” myth even threatens to influence the selection of cookbooks for my ever-growing collection. I tend to think that biggest bang for my book buck is a hefty, substantial tome–the more recipes the better, right? (How many do I use? Don’t ask). Meanwhile, I’ll admit to sometimes looking askance at the more modest ones: how much am I going to use a little book? Surely it always seems that they’ll just take up shelf space–and surely you’ll not get that much use out of it right?
But now it’s time to dredge up another cliché: quality over quantity always wins. Perhaps big books are just too overwhelming, or perhaps it’s just a question of picking the right books: If that slender little volume is full of amazing recipes, it’s most definitely the better value. A carefully curated set of great recipes is more valuable than a book that just flings lists and instructions at you, none of which are particularly compelling. No secret that I turn to Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain more often than perhaps is wise, or Anupy Singla‘s Indian Slow Cooker which is at least as virtuous as it is easy to fit into a workday. And now I’ve found another–Miisa Mink’s utterly charming Nordic Bakery cookbook, based on favorites from her bakery in London. Since it opened in 2007, my stay in London only just barely overlapped with its arrival, which, while sad, may be a good thing. But now that I have this cookbook in hand, I’ve already baked several recipes in a matter of days, all of which disappeared in a blink of an eye.
I love Scandinavian baking for its use of whole grains such as rye and oats, its generous use of cinnamon and cardamom, and its unabashed enjoyment of the tiny delicate fruits of summer–berries of all sorts, from lingonberries to the poetically named cloudberries–as ephemeral as their name, and which are gathered wild (though you can buy jams from both at Ikea rather than foraging north of the artic circle).
More to the point here, what I love about this cake its slightly different (but decidedly unfussy) way of bringing familiar ingredients together. Oats, berries, milk, flour–all the components of a classic morning quick bread, but united in a slightly different way: soaking the oats in hot milk, then mixing into the batter. Berries strewn on top of a gently sweet and moist cake. I made it on a Friday evening when Marie was coming to visit for breakfast the next day, and it barely made it to see the morning light.
One comment on this cookbook: as I said, I’ve made several recipes in the past few weeks (some, like this one, more than once) and they’ve all been delicious. And in some cases the amount of butter seems excessive–in particular where the butter is melted as the final touch on buns or smear into cinnamon rolls before shaping into logs. I’ve always had extra left over and I’m not shy about using butter. I’d almost say that something got lost in the translation from British to US measurements, except that everything has turned out remarkably well. I’m left to think I may not be so profligate with the butter as I think, which is almost as happy a thing to think about as this recent news item about salt intake.
To sum up, though, don’t be deterred by this book’s slim profile. You will find plenty to make. Trust me. I’ve bought a lot of cookbooks. I have wisdom to share on this point.
Scandinavian Oatbake with Blueberries and Raspberries
Notes: In this recipe, a 2lb loaf pan is called for; I used a 1 1/2 pound (9X3 inch) pan which is more standard and got a shallow but well-risen loaf. You might think you should bake it in an even smaller loaf pan when you see the amount of batter, but the additional surface area is a nice platform for all those berries! As I stated above, count on increasing the baking time if using frozen berries, or just defrost slightly (a bit frozen is still OK) before proceeding to bring things more in line with the timing below. I’ve also not generally needed quite as much hot milk as called for in the recipe.
- 3/4 c old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 1/4 c hot milk
- 6 1/2T unsalted butter, softened
- 5T sugar
- 3T honey
- 1t pure vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1t baking powder
- 1c all-purpose flour
- 1 heaping cup blueberries
- 1 heaping cup raspberries
- powdered sugar for serving (optional)