Fika: the Art of the Swedish Coffee Break with Recipes for Pastries, Breads, and Other Treats is an irresistible cookbook for this Swedish-American with a life-long love of coffee. Even many of us attenuated Scandinavians born in America maintain that love of coffee and all the ritual of a coffee break, making this just the perfect book for me.
Fika is a Swedish neologism that reverses the syllables for kaffe, the Swedish word for coffee to indicate a coffee break. The immigrants who came to Minnesota left Sweden before the word was coined, but long after the tradition of taking a coffee break, a real coffee break, began. Having coffee is social, not like running to Starbucks and walking out with a paper cup to drink at your desk. It was sitting together, drinking coffee, eating coffeecake, rusks, or cookies. In my family, mom would make a pot of coffee, and put out a plate with snacks, some rye crisps, knÃ¤ckebrÃ¶d perhaps, molasses cake or oatmeal cookies, maybe a pie. Everyone had coffee together, even the kids. I do not remember when I first began to drink coffee. It was well before kindergarten, though it was probably two-thirds milk to one-third coffee. So this book reminds me of childhood, of the social communion that coffee represents.
Reading Fika, I was reminded of Halldor Laxnessâ€™ Independent People, the book that probably garnered him the 1855 Nobel Prize for Literature. Coffee is ever present, mentioned more than a hundred times at least. There are several times when Laxness gets to the heart of coffeeâ€™s special place in Scandinavian culture, during a wedding, a funeral, and this amazing scene when a young boy is waking up, listening to the coffee being made.
â€œBut his grandmotherâ€™s ritual grumbling was never so protracted that it did not carry with it the promise of coffee. Never was the smoke so thick or so blue, never did it penetrate the eyes, the nose, the throat, the lungs so deeply that it could be forgotten as the precursor of that fragrance which fills the soul with optimism and faith, the fragrance of the crushed beans beneath the jet of boiling water curving from the kettle, the smell of coffeeâ€¦This was morningâ€™s hallowed moment. In such a fragrance the perversity of the world is forgotten and the soul is inspired with faith in the future; when all was said and done, it was probably true that there really were far-off places, even foreign countries.â€
This book brings me back to my childhood, to my family, and recalls so many rich and treasured memories that I canâ€™t be trusted. I love it unreservedly. It also reminds me of the many cooking utensils my mom had, like her notched rolling pin, kruskavel, that was so perfect for rolling crackers and some cookies. I love it, but it is not without flaws
The recipes are familiar, rich in the spices that make Swedish baking so distinct, with lots of nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom. There are many of the delicate cookies and crisps, the ones that make a hundred cookies out of the same amount of flour, butter and eggs that might make a couple dozen American cookies. However, some of the most familiar recipes of my childhood are missing. There are no recipes for krumkake, rosettes, or fattigmand. I imagine this is because three of them require special baking equipment though there is a recipe for the mandelmussor that require special tins.
This is a book of recipes for things to eat with coffee, not for making coffee, but I was also surprised to see no mention of Swedish Egg Coffee. Egg coffee is so smooth and delicious that it would be great to introduce it to American coffee lovers. Nonetheless, the book is full of delicious recipes from crackers to cakes to cookies, from the more everyday to the holiday-oriented special items. It is illustrated with drawings rather than photos which makes it feel very quaint and homey, which is exactly what fika should do.