Some of the Swedish Midsummer customs may be a bit tricky to wrap your head around. Dancing around like frogs, anyone? But I’ll give you a simple pro tip so you’ll immediately fit right in. There are two things to swear about: the sun (or lack thereof) and the prices of strawberries. See, the Swedes all want strawberry cake.
I can’t guarantee you’ll have good weather for Midsummer (whatever that means to you). But, you can always have the cake… It is often called jordgubbstårta, but is also known as sommartårta (summer cake) and gräddtårta (cream cake).
Click here to skip straight to the recipe for strawberry cake.
Strawberry cake munching during the 1900s
Svensk Konditorbok from 1924 features a large section with cream-filled cakes of various sorts, topped with exotic fruits or berries in advanced patterns. Even the strawberry cake are fancier, often using the berries for mousse filling.
A few of the older strawberry cake recipes in Svenska Dagbladet are based on a shortbread crust, filled with strawberries and topped with meringue. Not really the cake we think of today. However, in the 30s, we start to see ads (with illustrations) that show the classic cake:
“You bake it easily yourself, this delectable refreshing strawberry cake”, chirps an add for Rumford’s baking powder in Svenska Dagbladet in 1934. The cake is topped with whipped cream and whole strawberries. You could print the recipe in any Swedish magazine today and no one would bat an eyelid — although some may find the filling of just mashed strawberries a bit unglamorous. Why only have two layers when you can have three, right?
We seriously started topping semlor with whipped cream in the 20s and 30s, so maybe the use of whipped cream between the world wars increased in other areas of baking, too. (I’ll have to investigate that further, though, before I make any claims)
“Fru Karla” has a tip in Svenska Dagbladet but published in 1951: those who don’t have whipped cream for the cake can make a custard instead. While custard is a classic patisserie filling, its roll in strawberry cake may also have started out of convenience.
How to make a sumptuous Swedish strawberry cake
This cake is easy to adapt to your tastebuds and what you have at home. Are strawberries incredibly expensive at the moment? Fill the cake with jam instead, and cut up a few strawberries on top. It is just as delicious with any berry or fruit — raspberries are another favorite. Use the very large or less “aesthetic” strawberries for the filling. The cake tastes even better if you let it rest for a few hours before you serve it. Store it in the fridge. For one cake, about 12-14 slices:
For the cake
butter and breadcrumbs for the springform pan
1 dl (2/5 cups) flour
1 dl (2/5 cups) potato starch
1,5 tsp baking powder
2 dl (4/5 cups) sugar
For the custard
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp potato starch
1 dl (2/5 cups) milk
1 dl (2/5 cups) cream
1/2 tsp vanilla powder (or 2 tsp vanilla sugar)
For the strawberry filling
4-5 deciliter (1 3/5 — 2 cups) strawberries
3 tbsp sugar
lemon zest and lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
For topping and decoration
4 dl (1 3/5 cups) cream (whipping cream)
1 liter (4 cups) strawberries
- Set the oven to 200°C (390°F). Prepare a springform cake pan, about 22-24 cm wide (I used 23). An optional but recommended step: cut out a round piece of baking paper that fits the pan. Grease the sides of the pan and coat it in breadcrumbs. If you’re not using baking paper, grease and bread the bottom of the pan, too.
- In a small bowl, sift flour, potato starch, and baking soda, and stir until it is well combined.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together with a hand mixer until the batter is high, white and fluffy. It usually takes 5-10 minutes.
- Sift the flour mixture into the large bowl and fold in the flour into the eggs. Pour it into the baking pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until it is golden and a toothpick comes out clean, without crumbs.
- Once the cake is out, let it cool in its pan.
- Add the yolks, sugar, potato starch, milk, and cream into a saucepan.
- Put it on low heat — do not let it boil! — and whisk until it thickens.
- Once the custard has thickened, pour it into a small bowl to cool. Once it has cooled slightly, stir in the vanilla powder.
The strawberry filling
- Prepare the strawberries by removing the stalks and cutting up the berries. Put the berries in a bowl and add the sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir it and mash it slightly until you have a thick, raw jam with large strawberry pieces.
Assembling the cake
- Whip the cream until it is thick, but don’t let it become grainy. Remove the stalks from the strawberries and slice the berries, or use whole strawberries if they are small.
- Cut the cake into three layers. On the bottom layer, spread the vanilla custard.
- On the middle layer, spread the strawberry filling.
- Add the top layer. Add all the cream in the middle and gently push it outwards with a spatula. Use a little bit of the cream to coat the sides of the cake to lock the crumbs in, then use more of the cream to cover it.
- Decorate the cake with strawberry slices however you wish!
Make it gluten-free? Just use potato starch instead of potato starch and flour.
Save time: buy ready-made cake layer and make (thick) custard from a pack.
For the filling: you can swap the custard for a frangipani sauce, lemon curd, or why not a chocolate mousse? Instead of this raw strawberry jam, you can use any other kind of berries, regular jam, or mix strawberries and banana together.
Top the cake however you like! Large strawberries can make it difficult to cut the cake, so I tend to slice the berries. How about topping the cake with flaked almonds, chopped nuts, edible flowers, or herbs like mint or Melissa?
If it’s difficult to cut the cake into three layers, you can cut it into two. First spread the custard, and then add the strawberry filling on top of that.