Välkommen! How are you all? The end of summer is approaching, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t made anything with cloudberries, which I normally do for Midsommer. You may be wondering “what are cloudberries?” or maybe have never heard of them, and if that’s the case, that’s totally OK. I hadn’t heard of cloudberries either until my first visit to the American Swedish Institute, so hopefully this post will introduce you to both the wonders of ASI and the delicious flavor of cloudberries, and of course, the recipe below.
While driving around Minneapolis in 2018, Dan and I noticed an impressive mansion very much looking like a castle with a towering turret and steep, pitched roof similar to those of a French chateau. It even had gargoyles and decorative lions! Finally one day, we got around to visiting the Turnblad Mansion, affectionately known as “the Castle,” stately sitting on Park Avenue, the only remaining relic from the heyday of Minneapolis’ “Golden Mile” on that street. The Castle was commissioned for the Turnblad family, and was built between 1904 and 1908 using stones from the same quarry as the Empire State Building. The family lived in the mansion for a short time and, in 1929, donated it to what is today the American Swedish Institute: a combination of cultural education center, museum, and event venue featuring a garden, gift shop, and café. Since that first visit, ASI is one of our favorite places to visit throughout the year, and especially during the summer for its cocktail party and Midsommer festivities, which sadly had to be cancelled during the pandemic. It is a wonderful place to learn about Swedish culture and has helped us understand the Scandinavian legacy of some of Minnesota’s earliest settlers. Roughly 1.25 million Swedish men, women, and children came to the United States between 1845 and 1930, with over ¼ million of them settling in Minnesota, more than in any other state. They have left a big mark on the culture, food, and customs here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, which I now call home, and—”you betcha”—their impact continues to this day. When learning about Swedish culture and geography at the museum, we couldn’t help but notice the similarity of Swedish lakeside and coastal living with Minnesotan lake culture. It could be that this inspired the early Swedish immigrants to settle here, but they had practical reasons to settle here, too, as there were so many opportunities to obtain land, settle a homestead, or find employment. The Swedish settlement first started in St. Paul and Swedish settlement in Minneapolis did not take off until the 1870s, starting along the north side of the Mississippi River, where the Swedes created churches, schools, lodges, Swedish-language newspapers, and other community institutions, many of which survive to this day. These Swedish clubs and associations were hubs for social activities, helping immigrants to become Americans while retaining their identities through activities in the Swedish language and celebration of traditional holidays. They also homesteaded many little houses on the prairie in Greater Minnesota. The ASI today continues much of this legacy of community building and cultural education, and it is a gathering place for all people regardless of their heritage, and they have created some really fun events around themes of culture, immigration, the environment, and the arts, with links to Sweden and Scandinavia.
ASI is one our favorite museums to visit in the Twin Cities because they always have new exhibits and seasonal activities, and somehow, every time we go we walk away with pepparkakor in our pockets! One of the activities we attended was a Nordic Table cooking class, during which we broke into groups and learned about Fat Tuesday and how to make semla from scratch, prepared authentic recipes, and also learned about uniquely Scandinavian flavors. Foraged berries, caraway, root vegetables, salmon and other fish, cardamom, licorice, vinegar, and gamey meats are some of those quintessentially Swedish flavors that come to mind when you think of the cuisine of Sweden. After that class, I sampled cloudberry jam and had been wanting to make something with it ever since. If you’ve never heard of cloudberries, you’re not alone. They grow almost exclusively in Northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland, although you can find them in Russia, Canada, and Alaska sometimes too. They are truly an elusive gem, growing very much like an orange-colored raspberry, but growing on a plant similar to a strawberry plant. In Scandinavia, they create ground cover in meadows, leaning toward mountain lakes and streams. They die after the first frost, but come back in the spring, and the berries are harvested in late summer. They are tart and sweet and very delicate, with a floral note because they are part of the rose family, and for me they are the most heavenly of berries. Truly magical! The flavor has hints of raspberry, apricot, mango, and passion fruit, with a hint of citrus. They are a rare delicacy. You can’t find them in markets unless you’re visiting one of the local areas where they grow or dine at a restaurant in Scandinavia with a chef who knows how to source them. I’ve tried growing them, and some areas up north in Minnesota can produce cloudberries, which have to be raised from seeds. They have to get plenty of sunshine, but the temperatures have to be cool even during the summer—they can’t handle the heat. They thrive in acidic soil. My experiment to grow cloudberry unfortunately was not a fruitful one, no pun intended, because summer in the Twin Cities is too much of a scorcher for the berries to thrive. There are no cloudberries sourced in this area, so I had to opt for using cloudberry jam for my dessert, which yes—you guessed it—was bought at the ASI gift shop.
When creating this dessert, I wanted to capture some of those uniquely Swedish flavors in an American dessert with a European flavor profile. Because of the lightly tart and delicately-sweet jam flavor of the cloudberry jam, I thought it would go especially well with this dense, barely sweet, and super creamy homemade cheesecake. The cheesecake itself is very much the filling of an American New York-style cheesecake, except that it is not overly sweet, and it has the slight tanginess of sour cream, the soothing, sweet flavor of vanilla, and a hint of lemon to bring out the tartness of the cloudberry topping. Finally, the crust is made using another Scandinavian staple: Swedish rye crispbread, or knäckebröd, mixed in with cardamom, a touch of hazelnut, and browned butter. The whole-grain rye crackers have no added sugar, so I added a tiny bit of sugar to the crust to balance it out. You can buy these here or from ASI. If you don’t have access to rye crackers, you could always use a traditional graham cracker crust. I think the rye adds the perfect crunchy, rustic contrast to the creamy sweetness of the cream cheese filling and topping. Baking the cheesecake above a pan of water might seem like a fussy technique that over-complicates matters, and might guarantee an “uff da” protest from many a Minnesotan mouth, but I think the effort is really worthwhile because your cheesecake will be evenly-baked and won’t have cracks in the top, and you’ll be able to sink your fork into a creamy, velvety filling rather than something tough and dense. And there you have it: a recipe that combines both American and Swedish traditions in one simple dessert truly worthy of Minnesota! This has definitely become one of my favorites, and it has inspired me to try other Scandinavian and European flavors, like making a cheesecake with quark, which I will hopefully try soon.
I promise my obsession with Scandinavian culture and food won’t have me quoting Garrison Keillor or retelling one of his jokes, or telling you about Lutherans, or becoming overly obsessed with lutefisk, but I really do think that you might see a repertoire showing Minnesotan recipes and other dishes with a Scandinavian profile, not just because of my family heritage, or because I live in Minnesota, but there’s something so wholesome and simple in Nordic cuisine, where food is seasonal and uncomplicated, and ingredients are straightforward, and there’s something so winning about that. I hope you’ll try this American Swedish Cheesecake, and if you live in Minnesota, I hope you will visit the ASI.
American Swedish Cheesecake with Cloudberry Topping
Prep time: 20-25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 mins
Cooling time: 45 mins
For the Crust:
- 1½ cups ground rye crackers
- 3 tbsp hazelnut flour
- 3 tbsp sugar
- ¼ tsp cardamom
- 6 tbsp melted browned butter
For the Filling:
- 2 lbs cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- 1 cup +3 tbsp sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
- 1 cup sour cream
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
For the Topping:
- 1 cups cloudberry jam
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Bring 6-8 cups of water to a boil, or enough water to fill a large roasting pan halfway.
- To make the rye cracker crust, break the Swedish rye crackers into smaller chunks and pulse them in a food processor until very finely chopped, the consistency of coarse sand grains.
- In a small bowl, combined the ground crackers with the hazelnut flour, cardamon, and sugar, stirring to combine.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter until it reaches a caramel-brown color with a nutty aroma. Immediately remove from the heat and add to the cracker mixture. Mix with a whisk until well-combined. The mixture will be thick, coarse and sandy.
- Press the rye cracker crumb mixture into the bottom of a 9- or 10-inch springform pan. Make sure the crumbs are tight and compact. You can use the bottom of a measuring cup to press it down. Set aside.
- For the cheesecake, place the cream cheese in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix the cream cheese on medium-low speed, or beat with a whisk, for 5 minutes until completely smooth. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Add the sugar, salt, lemon peel, and vanilla extract into the cream cheese. Mix for another 3 minutes, scraping down the sides and making sure the mixture is smooth without any lumps.
- Reduce the speed to low and add in the eggs and yolk one at a time, only adding each egg after the previous one has been fully incorporated.
- Add the sour cream and mix until the batter is creamy and uniform, about 1 minute.
- Finally, whisk in the flour, making sure it is well-combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared rye cracker crust. If you’re using a 9-inch springform pan, you may have leftover batter. You could make this in a miniature cheesecake mold, or fill to the brim, making sure not to spill. It is a very generous recipe!
- Whichever pan you use, smooth out the top, then rap the bottom of the springform pan on the counter a few times so that the filling settles in nicely and air bubbles can escape.
- To bake, place a large roasting pan on the bottom rack of your oven. Then carefully pour the hot water into the roasting pan.
- Then place the cheesecake pan on the rack above the roasting pan and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. I recommend checking for doneness at 1 hour, since ovens can vary. To check for doneness, the sides should be puffed and set, and the center 2 inches of the cheesecake should jiggle when the pan is moved. Once the cheesecake is done, turn the oven off and leave the oven door open and allow the cheesecake to cool inside the oven for 45 minutes. This method will allow for an evenly-baked cheesecake with no cracks. I promise you the extra steps are worth it!
- Once the cheesecake is fully cooled, remove from the oven and place on a wire rack. T unmold the cheesecake, carefully run a thin knife around the edges of the cheesecake before unlocking the spring of the springform pan. If necessary, warm a metal spatula under hot water, dry it, and then run it around the edges of the cheesecake to smoothen the sides.
- For the topping, carefully spread the cloudberry jam over the top of the cheesecake with a small offset spatula. Make sure to leave a ¼ to ½ inch border by the edge of the cheesecake free of jam. Spread the jam evenly.
- Chill the bowl of a large stand mixer in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Assemble your stand mixer with the refrigerated bowl, making sure it is really dry.
- Add whipping cream and beat until the cream starts to thicken. Start from low speed and increase to high gradually as it begins to firm up.
- When it has started to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating from medium high to high for 60 to 90 seconds until stiff peaks form. Make sure you don’t over-beat, or the cream will become butter and it will have a grainy consistency.
- Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto the edges of the cheesecake using your favorite decorative tip.
- Makes 8-10 servings. Store in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
© 2021 Carol’s Baking Adventures