Back in early fall of 2015, we started a dialogue with Magnus Nilsson about his then soon-to-be released cookbook, The Nordic Cookbook. He was coming to New York to do some press so we asked if he’d like to film some recipe demos with us. So we turned our attention to what recipes to choose from amongst the thousands in his book that weighs over five pounds and contains 767 pages-worth of traditional nordic foods. Then someone (brilliant) on his team suggested Smörgåstårta, a “savoury layer cake” containing smoked fish, baby shrimp, lemon with a mayonnaise and cream cheese frosting, something Magnus describes as “surreal.” At the same time, we were having a second dialogue with Bushwick’s godfather, Carlo Mirarchi of pizza-fame Roberta’s and elevated, fine-dining-fame Blanca. Carlo was curious as to what Magnus was planning on making and when I mentioned Smörgåstårta (a word not many Americans are familiar with) as a possibility, he emailed back immediately saying, “OMG. Please, please, please have him make Smörgåstårta!” We’re not sure if Carvel will start making these any time soon, but we suggest you skip the tired cupcakes and try out this slightly bizarre, brilliantly kitschy and surprisingly delicious layer cake at your next celebration.
Reprinted with permission from The Nordic Cook Book by Magnus Nilsson
A man named Gunnar Sjödahl is claimed to have invented the sandwich torte while working at Wedemarks coffeehouse in the Swedish city of Östersund, incidentally also the city where I grew up. Even though it was only popularized as late as the mid-1960s, this oddity of a dish has become a modern classic. Often served at occasions like weddings, funerals, birthdays and other festivities when a lot of people are to be fed in a practical way, it is usually consumed with beer and Aquavit on the side.
The sandwich torte is made up of layers of white bread (instead of cake) and savoury fillings such as seasoned mayonnaises and the like (instead of pastry cream). The stack of bread and fillings is then covered with a mix of mayonnaise and crème fraîche or mayonnaise and whipped cream – much like a cream torte is covered in whipped cream.
This savoury layer cake can be topped with almost anything and wild combinations like salmon, meatballs, grapes, shrimp, cucumbers, pineapple, cheese, preserved mandarin wedges and ham are more common than they are uncommon.
However surreal it might sound, if you make it from proper bread, put some effort into the seasoning, and use tasty combinations of toppings, all of which are great in quality, then it is basically just a tasty, giant sandwich – which is easily cut into pieces and conveniently feeds a huge number of people. Highly recommended.
The recipe below is for a seafood torte, but feel free (and get excited) to add or subtract anything, seafood or not.
Preparation time : 30 minutes
Serves : 20 for lunch
2 loaves good white bread
400g / 14 oz (1 2/3 cups) cream cheese
35g / 1 ½ oz ( ¾ cup) finely snipped chives
1 quantity Mayonnaise (page 674)
500ml / 17 fl. oz (2 cups plus 1 tablespoon) cream
salt and pepper, to taste
For the topping:
500g / 1lb 2 oz cold-smoked salmon of Gravlax (page 216), thinly sliced
500g / 1lb 2 oz cooked shrimp (baby shrimp), peeled
grated horseradish, to taste
2 lemons, cut into 20 wedges
Cut the bread into 1.5cm / ¾ inch slices and trim off the crust.
Combine the cream cheese, chives and half the mayonnaise in a mixing bowl and season well with salt and pepper.
You will be making 4 layers, so divide the slices into 4 even sets. Lay out the first set of bread slices on a serving platter in a rectangle and spread with one-third of the cream cheese mixture. Continue to layer with more slices of bread and filling until you have all 4 layers with 3 layers of filling. Make sure you get nice straight edges on the assembled stack of bread – it should look neat, not just like a pile of bread.
Whip the cream to stiff the peaks and mix it with the remaining mayonnaise. Season well with salt and pepper. Spread the mayo cream all over the torte, covering the top and all the sides fairly neatly. You could even pipe on some decorations with a piping bag if you want to.
Arrange the salmon, shrimp and horseradish daintily on top of the cake and, if you want, around its edges. Finish with the dill fronds, horseradish and lemon wedges, arrange them in a way that seem pleasing to you.