In anticipation of Norway's Constitution Day, on the 17th of May (Syttende Mai), I decided to bake a Verdens Beste Kake...World's Best Cake. Apparently in 2002, Norwegians voted that this cake be their "national cake", beating out the famed Kransekake (Norway's Ring cake). If you've ever tasted Kransekake, you know this was quite a feat!
According to legend, a cafe owner in the Kvaefjord region of Northern Norway bought this recipe in the 1930's for 200 kroner...that was a lot of money in those days! The recipe became famous and spread throughout Norway. Verdens Beste, like Kransekake, is served at big celebrations, such as weddings, baptisms, confirmations, and Setten de Mai, of course.
I was first introduced to this cake by my Norwegian friend, Heidi. Now... though I am 100 percent Norwegian, I have never lived in Norway nor do I speak the language, I'm sad to say. I do know a few key phrases...like Uffda, Mange Takk, Var sa god, God Jul, Jeg Elsker Deg, and Gratulerer med dagen. I know...a pretty pathetic vocabulary. Oh, and I know my dad's favorite Norwegian table prayer, I Jesu Navn! (Learning to speak and understand Norwegian is on my bucket list). Heidi, however, is a true Norwegian, having grown up in Norway! Anyway, we have sons the same age and one day, when they were in Middle School, Heidi brought this cake to school for a teacher appreciation day. I just happened to be volunteering at the school that day and one of the teacher's gave me a little bite....it was heavenly! Melt in your mouth goodness...
She made it for several other occasions and I knew I had to learn how to make this cake. Her recipe was in Norwegian, with their measuring system...so I searched until I found the recipe online. The Transplanted Baker came to the rescue! I have made it several times now and it is always a hit! Heidi almost always puts fruit on hers so that is how I make it too.
Verdens Beste Kake
For the cake:
1 stick of butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons milk
For the meringue:
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds
For the filling:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups vanilla pastry cream (recipe at end...or use a vanilla pudding recipe)
You can use a 9 X 13 pan or two 9" round pans (I use springform pans).Grease and line with parchment. Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add one egg yolk at a time, beating well after each.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar, alternating with the milk, beating until smooth. Using a spatula, spread batter into your prepared baking pans. This batter is thick and a bit sticky.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and lemon juice until almost stiff. Gradually add the sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Spread this over the cake batter layer and sprinkle with sliced almonds.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The cake layer will be fully cooked and the meringue top will have set and just started to turn golden brown.(Don't overbake and burn the almonds.)
Cool the cake in the pan on a cooling rack. Once fully cooled, you can remove it from the pan and carefully remove the parchment paper. (If you used a 9 X 13 pan, you cut the cake in half to make two square layers). Place one layer on a pretty plate or platter.
Whip the whipping cream and vanilla until firm and fold into vanilla pastry cream. Spread over the cake base. Top with the second layer, meringue side up. If you are going to add fruit, spread pastry cream mixture on top layer and add the fruit last.
Vanilla pastry cream:
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together very well. Bring the whole milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Slowly pour the egg yolk mixture into the milk, whisking briskly. Add the vanilla. While your egg and milk mixture is simmering, add the cornstarch, little by little, whisking continually. Allow the cornstarch to fully dissolve and the custard to thicken while stirring the entire time. It will take 3 to 5 minutes for the custard to thicken enough. Allow to cool on an ice water bath before adding in whipped cream.
Var sa god! Thanks, Heidi, for introducing me to Verdens Beste! Hope to see you all at the Syttende Mai parade in Ballard at 6 p.m.!