or...Verdens Beste. Kvæfjordkake. World’s Best. Well-loved cakes go by many names.
Midsummer's Eve was a couple days ago and this is the cake that graced our Midsummer celebration table. It seemed an appropriate enough cake since it’s the one reserved for all the big celebrations in Norway- weddings, baptisms, confirmations… It signifies importance and it’s a people-pleaser. Not everyone likes chocolate, not everyone likes marzipan, not every likes carrot, but everyone does like Verden’s Beste. And for good reason.
A little background: Verdens Beste is a meringue-based cake filled with vanilla cream and almonds. It’s the perfect blend of airy/crisp meringue and rich vanilla custard. Visually, it looks a bit complicated. Literally, it sounds a bit complicated. But in actuality, it’s a piece of cake.
Voted as Norway’s national cake in 2002, in fact beating out not only chocolate, marzipan, and carrot, but also the famed kransekake, Verdens Beste dates back to the 1930s. A café owner in the Kvæfjord region of Northern Norway bought the recipe for 200 kroner (about $30 is today’s currency- a lot of money for poor pre-oil Norway in the 1930s!) and it’s swept the nation ever since. I know all of this sounds a bit corny and over-the-top, but I write this in all seriousness. It's a mighty good cake.
This recipe comes
from my mother-in-law, the queen of cakes.
Tusen hjarteleg takk, Berit!
Kvæfjordkake (World’s Best Cake)
*Serves 10 - 12
For the cake:
1 stick (4 oz/125 g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
4 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue!)
1 cup flour (140 g)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons milk
For the meringue:
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice
1 1/2 cups (150 g) sugar
3-4 oz. (100 g) almonds, chopped medium-fine (alternatively, you could use hazelnuts)
For the filling:
3/4 cup (2 dl) heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (5 dl) vanilla pastry cream (*recipe below, alternatively you could use a favorite thick vanilla pudding recipe- Norwegians generally just use store bought)
1. Grease and parchment line a 13 “x 9 “ (25 cm x 35 cm) rectangular pan. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.
2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy Add one egg yolk at a time, beating well after each.
3. 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 pan. (Don’t be alarmed that this doesn’t seem like a typical cake batter, it should be a bit thick and sticky!)
4. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and vinegar or lemon juice until almost stiff. Gradually add the sugar, beating until very stiff and meringue-like. Spread this over the cake batter layer and sprinkle with the chopped almonds. Bake for 25-30 minutes- the cake layer will be fully cooked and the meringue top will have set and just start to turn golden-brown (you don’t want to over bake and burn the nuts!)
5. Cool the cake in the pan on a cooling rack. Once fully cooled, you can remove it from the pan and carefully, slice the cake in two from the top- giving you two halves with meringue on the top. (It’s best to use a thin, very sharp knife to do this). Carefully use your hands to lift up the least pretty half and place it on a serving platter, meringue side up.
6. Whip the cream and vanilla until firm and fold in the pastry cream (recipe below if making from scratch). Spread over the cake base (there may be a little cream leftover- save this for eating with berries or another dessert). Top with the other cake, meringue side up. And that's it! If you’d like, decorate with a few fresh berries (a string of red currants look nice), or alternatively sprinkle a few dried flowers over the top.
*For the vanilla pastry cream:
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
1 3/4 cup (4 dl) whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
To make the vanilla pastry cream:
1. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together very well.
2. 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.
3. While your egg and milk mixture is still simmering, add the cornstarch, little-by-little, whisking briskly. Allow the cornstarch to fully dissolve and the custard to thicken while stirring the entire time. It will take about 3- 5 minutes for the custard to thicken enough.
4. Allow to cool on a ice water bath before using.