Tropisk Aroma-Kake, or tropical aroma cake, conjures up an incredible scenery in the mind. Thoughts of palm trees and exotic fruits, perhaps, or even a sandy beach and bright, blue waters. A cake laden with colors and tastes from paradise. At least that’s what my mind envisioned as the words fell out of my Norwegian friend’s mouth. She explained to me that there was this cake, which her aunt always made, which she adored, and which I just had to make myself. An old fashioned cake and a reminder of her childhood. A Norwegian cake, with a tropical name.
When Irene sent me the recipe, I eyed the ingredient list waiting to spot pineapple or banana or coconut. Instead, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to bring me straight to a lush paradise. A few spices, some cocoa, and I suppose what could be interesting in some eyes, the addition of strong coffee. I was a little surprised, a little curious. Perhaps even a little disappointed. Disappointed that I fell into the trap of reading into a name. But surely there was more to this cake.
There was a time when this combination of spices, chocolate and coffee, combined with the aroma they give off, was enough to evoke a feeling of an exotic place. Nowadays, these ingredients have become less evocative of such emotions as their use and their combination are more commonplace. Yet, this particular cake plays an important role in Norwegian baking. It’s a nostalgic cake (even a top favorite) that any quick search will allude to. But to truly understand this cake more is to view it from its original creation.
And that to me is the importance of understanding a dish. Any dish. Putting it into context. The when, the why, the who. While it was difficult to trace the exact origin of this cake from initial research (perhaps because I was looking in Norwegian archives), I was able to stumble on an article from 1923. And not from Norway, but rather the United States.
From the beginning it was a sensational cake – much too unusual even to be named in an ordinary manner. So it was sent out into the world with only its recipe to identify it – and the women of America were asked to name it. -Royal Baking Powder Company
Because it tells of the rich and spicy flavour and the tempting aroma of this unique cake, “Tropic Aroma” was selected as the name by which this delicious addition to the famous Royal Cake Family should be know.
I imagine a time when certain spices were deemed exotic. Chocolate was becoming more and more available, but it was still saved for that special occasion. Companies were pushing products for the kitchen, ovens were becoming a household commodity and marketing was centered around mom baking and cooking for the family in the kitchen. Cookbooks were created with brands in mind, and the kitchen was opening up to influences from all over the world.
This is one clear example of the influence of big business marketing. A recipe, sent around the world, and a competition to name it.
The question begs, when did this cake make its way to Norway? If the article is true to its word and the recipe was sent around the world, did it make its way here at the same time as it did the women in the US? Perhaps it arrived after it received its highly anticipated name. The earliest mention I can find in Norway is in the Nordisk Tidene Christmas Eve issue in 1925, which provides the recipe.
Whatever the exact timing that this cake entered in Norway is a little besides the point. This cake, for many Norwegians, is a big part of their cake culture and has been for generations. As much as it would have been for Americans in the 1920s and even today.
I would say that this name, which makes perfect sense in its marketing of a royal brand, still holds the same value today. It’s ability to transport to another time and place and to remind us that the exotic is in the eye of the beholder. The origins of the spices, the chocolate, the coffee. The history and the events which unfolded upon its creation. The memories of eating this cake in grandma’s kitchen. The new memories being made. All of these things make this cake more than it’s list of ingredients.
One thing the Royal Baking Powder Company did get wrong in its description of this cake, though, is that it not only took America by storm but Norway as well.
This marble cake is incredibly moist and is even better the following day. In Norway, it is usually served as a coffee cake or celebration cake, such as birthdays, baptisms or confirmations. Whatever the occasion, this is a cake that will certainly impress and drift you off to your own version of paradise.
Tropisk Aroma-Kake (Tropical Aroma Cake)
Recipe provided by Irene Mjøseng
(Makes four 6×6 inch cakes OR one large cake)
- 125g (1/2 cup or 1.1 stick) butter
- 225g (2 cups, not pressed) brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 275g (2 cups) flour
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 ½ dl (1 cup) milk
- 1 Tb cocoa powder
- 1 Tb hot water
- 2 Tb butter
- 250g melis (powdered sugar)
- 1 ½ Tb cocoa powder
- 5 Tb hot, strong coffee
- ½ tsp vanilla essence
In a large bowl or a food mixer, whisk together the butter and the sugar until light and creamy. Add the eggs and mix well.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and spices. Add to the egg and sugar mixture.
Gradually stir in the milk and mix until everything is well blended.
Take out 1/3 of the batter. Mix together the cocoa powder and hot water. Add this to the batter, giving you 1/3 chocolate batter and 2/3 plain batter.
If using the 6 inch cake tins, divide the plain batter among four of them. Then, divide the chocolate batter among the 4 cake tins and pour on top of the plain batter. With a toothpick or a skewer stick, swirl the chocolate batter into the plain batter, creating a marble-effect.
If using one rectangular cake pan (11×7″/28x18cm) or one springform cake pan (24cm/9″), then pour all of the plain batter inside and top with the chocolate batter. Again, take a toothpick and create a marble-effect by swirling it through the batter.
(You can also create a 3-tiered cake by taking two 8-inch cake tins and placing all of the plain batter in one tin and all of the chocolate in the other tin. When finished baking, divide the plain cake in half, creating two layers. One layer will be used for the bottom and the other for the top, with the chocolate cake in the middle. You will need to watch the time, as the chocolate cake will bake faster than the plain cake.)
Bake at 180°C/ 350°F for 18-20 minutes, if using four 6-inch cake tins or 25-35 minutes if using one large pan/springform.
While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze by mixing all of the glaze ingredients together. You will get a somewhat-thin frosting, which will begin to set not long after you have put it on the cake.
When the cake(s) are finished baking, allow them to cool completely. Assemble the layers by placing one cake on the bottom, topping it with the glaze and placing another cake layer on top. Add glaze on top of each layer until you have used all the layers. Finish the cake by covering the top and sides with the remaining glaze. Sprinkle a coating of cocoa powder and some shavings of fresh nutmeg if you wish. Enjoy!