Sunday, January 24, 2010

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Skål! a Swedish Smörgåsbord

For January’s “24, 24, 24” program, I present to you all a traditional Swedish smörgåsbord in honor of A Little Night Music’s current revival on Broadway!

A traditional Swedish smörgåsbord is a buffet of bread, cheese, cold soup and fish dishes, and a number of hot dishes, so our Saturday Smörgåsbord menu had the following courses (click links below for recipes!):

Looking over the menu I’d created for Saturday’s smörgåsbord, I realized that I had never cooked any of these dishes before. Had I gotten in over my head? Was this going to be a huge disaster?

Luckily, everything was surprisingly simple to make and delicious to eat!

Just a few of the ingredients purchased that morning for Saturday’s Swedish smörgåsbord.

Most of the ingredients were easy to find. The wonderful, knowledgeable butchers at Ottomanelli & Sons had plenty of roasting ducks for me to choose from, and even had time to answer a few questions about scoring the skin and properly rendering the fat.

The ammonium carbonate for the drommar cookies, however, was impossible to get a hold of. The folks over at Epicurious claim that your pharmacist can prepare ammonium carbonate for you, but I got ridiculed off the phone by the people at “the nation’s oldest apothecary” (aka “C.O. Bigelow”) – if the nation’s oldest apothecary can’t help you, who can? After follow-up calls to Whole Foods, Dean and Deluca, and a desperate plea to Rite Aid fell flat, I called C.O. Bigelow one more time, and this time they said they could help me! Which would have been great, if it were true. But they only had liquid smelling salts and a deodorant made from ammonium-something-or-other (“It’s all natural, you can just shave off pieces and bake with that!”) - no thank you, Bigelow. After popping into a few other specialty grocery stores in the West Village, I had to settle on using baking powder and just hope for the best.

For a dinner party starting at 5h00 Saturday afternoon, cooking started six hours earlier at 11 am. I had a wonderful helper in the kitchen, who was kind enough to let me put him to work prepping various ingredients, taking pictures, and providing second opinions on these foreign recipes.

Limpa bread

The first thing made was the limpa bread dough, which needed a lot more flour than the original recipe implied would be necessary. While that dough was rising, I made the cookie dough (which went into the refrigerator to chill) and then started the blueberry soup, which would need to chill for several hours. The original soup recipe called for twice the amount of sugar I used, but any more sugar would have turned this refreshing soup into puréed blueberry pie-filling!

**Note**: Make sure you remember an apron for the soup’s puréeing step! Blueberries leave some serious stains, as the sleeve of my formerly-favorite blouse can attest.

Blueberries, lemon, cinnamon, and sugar simmer to make the blueberry soup
The soup went into the refrigerator to chill, and once the dough was ready, I split it into two loaves and put them in the oven for about an hour.

After a quick break for lunch, the cookie dough was properly chilled and it was time to bake the cookies (5 dozen cookies?? thank goodness for office-mates!) and then start on the cabbage to go with the duck.

Preparations for wine-braised cabbage

The purple and orange of the red cabbage and oranges looked so pretty when it was just starting to cook, and then after about 90 minutes on the stovetop, it cooked down to a deep, jewel-toned purple and the original orange slices had practically disappeared.

Because of a timing mistake, the meatballs had to be cooked during the first 20 minutes of the duck’s roasting time, but I don’t think it hurt either dish. While the meatballs were baking, it was time to create the Swedish gravy-sauce - once the meatballs had cooked, they went right into the saucepot to stay warm on the stove until they were ready to be served.

During this last flurry of activity, guests started to arrive, so while I was whisking the Swedish gravy-sauce and stirring the cabbage, my “sous chef” was busy helping to slice bread, set out cheese, and make the gravlax appetizers.

Limpa bread, with goat’s milk butter
“Wow, you can really taste the orange in here - it’s a symphony of flavor!” (apparently that’s how they talk in Canada...)

The gravlax was cured by Citarella, with juniper berries and a generous dose of dill. A thin slice of gravlax was placed on top of a cocktail pumpernickel square spread with cream cheese, and topped with a few capers.

Gravlax on pumpernickel, with cream cheese and capers
“I don’t really like salmon, but this doesn’t taste fishy at all - I think it’s the dill, it tastes so fresh!”

Finally, the only thing that still needed work was the duck in the oven, so we let that keep roasting and sat down to the blueberry soup.

Blueberry soup, topped with a dollop of Greek yoghurt.
“The lemon in this reminds me of a lemon verbena syrup I had once in Ireland - it tastes like summer!”

The blueberry soup was so different from anything I’d had before. Light and refreshing, with a ton of flavor from the blueberries and lemon, there’s also a little dash of warmth that comes through from the cinnamon sticks that simmered in the broth.

Swedish meatballs
“These meatballs have a lot of breadcrumbs in them - it's great for soaking up the Swedish gravy-sauce.”

After we finished the soup, we moved on to the Swedish meatballs, followed by a celebratory shot of Aquavit! The group had mixed feelings about Aquavit, a vodka-like liquor flavored with caraway seeds - one person loved it so much he added some to his serving of glögg (Swedish mulled wine), but another guest could barely keep hers down.

As people recovered from their Aquavit consumption (“Skål!”), it was time to take the duck out of the oven, pour off the fat, and make the prune-red wine reduction sauce using the leftover pan drippings.

Roast duck with prune-wine reduction sauce and wine-braised cabbage
“I love this prune sauce - is it weird that I kind of want to pour it over cake and vanilla ice cream?” (Maybe, but it did taste really good!)

The duck was very tender, and made a perfect bite when joined on a fork by a bit of sweet prune and some of the tart wine-braised cabbage. The wine, vinegar, and cranberry juice in the cabbage made it reminiscent of sauerkraut, which some people loved and others didn’t. It was interesting, though, to taste the orange and cinnamon through the tart cranberry juice, and the sauce cut nicely through the richness of the fatty duck meat.

One of my main concerns about this dinner was that there wouldn’t be enough food for everyone, but at this point, people were starting to show the pleasant signs of an oncoming food coma, so at least everyone was well fed! We put on a pot of coffee to rouse the crowd, while ladling out mugfuls of glögg and passing around the drommar (Swedish “dream” cookies).

Drommar cookies
“These remind me of shortbread at Christmas, and the coconut flakes give them a really different texture.”

With a mug of coffee in one hand and a drommar in the other, the five of us sat around listening to “The Night Waltz” from A Little Night Music, thinking about Sweden, and enjoying our first culinary foray into Scandinavia.

Was it an authentic evening? Well, we tried, but if there are any Swedish readers out there, please leave a Comment or write in to Little Scarlet and tell us how we did!

Thank you, Foodbuzz, for giving Little Scarlet the chance to make this Smörgåsbord! Please check out what the other 23 participants did for their “24, 24, 24” on


  1. I want to eat it all again!!! Sooooo gooooood...that BREAD! Still dreaming about it... And wouldn't mind taking a swim in that meatball gravy again. Mmm...

  2. Looking at the pictures are making me hungry again...I should've smuggled some meatballs in my pockets while I still had the chance.

  3. DOOD! I need to make those meatballs. I just go to Ikea if I need a fix. Hmmm, I do need wine glasses (drinking wine out of a tea cup makes me feel sad about my grad school existence since I already drink everything else out of plastic beer mugs from the leafe)so maybe I should go and pick up some meatballs too. I can has meetballs??

  4. that looks delicious!! why wasn't i there??!?!

  5. It's fun (and brave) to cook all new dishes for a dinner party. It's an experience for all involved. Your feast looks great though!

  6. everything looks awesome! now i'm at my desk hving just finished my breakfast, but i'm so ready for a big meal now!

  7. You know something ... in spite of the amount of work here, this fabulous meal has the perfect compliment of hot and cold dishes to make entertaining more than do-able, really fun! SKOL, Little Scarlet and friends; you've inspired me to try this out on my group! Pass the duck, the gravlax, and the Aquavit!

  8. Great job on your first Smorgasbord! I have been celebrating Christmas Eve my whole life with a traditional Scandinavian smorgasbord. Glogg, Swedish meatballs and gravlax are must haves. We cure our gravlax with aquavit (another must have). It took about 25 years for aquavit to grow on me, but once it did... well... I think it pumps through my blood. (See if you can get your hands on Linee--every bottle goes over the equator and back.) I'm going to put blueberry soup and limpa bread on next year's menu! Cheers.

  9. This is beautiful! I haven't been to a traditional Smorgasbord in 4 years, so I am feasting with my eyes!

  10. Great job, everything looks amazing!!


  11. It all looks wonderful! Braised cabbage is an all time favorite of mine!

  12. Quite an undertaking but the food looks great!

  13. A very nice attempt, but if you're intrested I have a few remarks:
    Drömmar are supposed to be pale white, duck is not at all common food in Sweden, the gravy goes on the side, glögg is only served at christmas and blueberry soup is for breakfast- and its skål not skäl.
    The food looked great though, and it's the taste that matters anyway!

  14. I feel like I've just returned from a short trip to Sweden. Thanks.

  15. Looks like you pulled of an amazing dinner!

    Some things, as "Anonymous" said Duck is not all that common in most parts of Sweden.
    The reason you want ammonium for the Drömmar is that they rise in a completley different fasion becoming much more airy and crisp. The smelling salt offered by the apothecary is acually not that far from what you want (although I'd stay far away from the deodorant O.o). The Swedish product used is called "Hjorthornssalt" I think the translation is "Hartshorn".
    For the rest I must say that it looks amazing. The blueberrysoup looks scrumptious! I feel like going home and making a batch of my own.

    A thing about aquavit. My Gran who lived to a revered age of 92 never in her life drank a glass of aquavit without shaking her head saying "Oh that is just horrible" (Albeit more graphically). So just hang in there! I'd recommend "Hallands Fläder" if you can get a hold of it, it's gentler with a tang of Elderberries (Fläder)