Sponge cake baked with meringue and almonds becomes the centerpiece of this delightful layer cake filled with custard and whipped cream. It began its inception in the north of Norway and has earned it’s nickname as verdens beste, “the world’s best”.
On the island of Hinnøya in the town of Harstad, along the main street, once stood Café Alliance regarded as the finest cafe in town. It opened in the 1920s by Hulda Ottestad and her sister who were from the neighboring area of Kvæfjord. Known as one of northern Norway’s cafe pioneers, Hulda expanded her cake offerings by purchasing two recipes from a Danish pastry chef in the 1930s for the high price of 200 kroners. One of these recipes was kongekake “king cake”. It contained an excessive amount of almonds and since almonds were quite expensive at the time, Hulda modified the recipe to contain less.
Over time, the cake became widespread in Harstad and Kvæfjord, and eventually took on the name Kvæfjordkake because of the association of where Hulda was from. The recipe was passed from hand to hand, meaning the exact recipe that Hulda used in her cafe remains somewhat of a mystery. But today, the agreed consensus is that the cake and meringue layers should contain either vanilla custard or rum custard and it is up to the baker whether to mix the custard of choice with whipped cream or not.
It’s popularity went from a regional delicacy to a nationwide favorite around the 1970s, when Brita Edland, better known as Mor Hubro, wrote several articles about kvæfjordkake in the publication Norsk Ukeblad (Norwegian Weekly Magazine). It was known by other names as well; marengsterte, drømmen, kongekake and pinocchiokake. Though kvæfjordkake and verdens beste are the titles most used today.
In 2002, an NRK radio show called Nitimen named Kvæfjordkake Norway’s national cake after it’s listeners voted 69% in favor of it over the other choices. Ola Bremnes, a Norwegian author and muscian, immortilazed the cake in his song aptly tiled “Hymne til Kvæfjordkaka”.
“Ho ligg der og byr sæ så nydelig frem
– fin og fager.
En hit av de store som alltid gå hjem
– ja, en slager!
Øverst på lista i årevis
ho skulle hatt sæ en egen pris!
Kvæfjordkaka, go som gull
Går det an å ta munn førr full?
Kem kan avspise ho med et nei?
La det lyne i spade og skei!
Best uta alt det de baka:
Kvæfjordkaka tar kaka!
Med ei slags dyne av krem og marengs
strødd med mandla
send ho fornuften direkte til sengs,
vi blir forvandla.
Verden blir mjukar en stakket stund
under en himmel av kakebunn.
I barsel og bryllup og konfirmasjon
– tel kaffekoppen,
etter begravelse og kremasjon
ho er toppen.
Ho er som bygda ho sogne te:
Verdens beste og vel så det….!” – Ola Bremnes
Kvæfjordkake is luxurious and dreamy and has earned its title of the world’s best cake in the eyes of most Norwegians and those who have had the pleasure of eating it. It’s reserved for celebrations – weddings, baptisms, confirmations, anniversaries, birthdays, and high holidays – and rightly so. This is not a difficult cake to make and you can make it a day in advance to let the flavors come together even more. You can also swap the vanilla in the custard for run essence if you prefer a rum custard.
Kvæfjordkake: World’s Best Cake (Verdens beste)
For the cake:
- ½ cup (112 g) butter
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 g) granulated sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons milk
- 1 ¼ cup (150 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
For the meringue:
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (50 g) sliced almonds
For the vanilla custard:
- ¼ cup (55 g) granulated sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
- ½ vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the whipped cream:
- 1 ¼ cup (300 ml) heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 325°F / 165°C.
In a large stand mixer set to medium or a large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, while whisking, and add in the milk. Combine the flour, baking powder, and vanilla sugar in a medium bowl and add this to the mixture, whisking until combined. The batter will be somewhat thick.
Grease a 12 x 16-inch (30/32 x 40 cm) rimmed baking sheet. Cover with a piece of baking parchment, pressing the parchment so it sticks well to the baking sheet. Gently spread the batter evenly and thinly across the baking sheet, as far to the edges as possible, with a rubber spatula while maintaining a rectangular shape. The batter is quite thick and sticky, but it will spread out with a little patience (and because greasing the baking sheet earlier means the parchment paper won’t move around). Also, it may seem like there is not enough batter to make a full cake, but don’t fret because the cake will rise some while baking.
In a clean, large stand mixer set to medium-low or a large mixing bowl whisk together the egg whites until foamy (when making meringue, it is crucial there is no trace of yolk in the whites). Add the sugar a little at a time and continue to whisk until glossy, stiff peaks form. Gently pour the meringue evenly over the batter with a rubber spatula. You can form little peaks throughout the meringue by lifting upwards for a nice design when it is finished baking. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly across the meringue. Place in the middle rack of the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the meringue is dry and lightly golden. Remove and set aside to cool.
While the cake is baking, prepare the vanilla custard and whipped cream. Make the custard by whisking together the sugar and egg yolks in a bowl. Add the cornstarch and blend until the mixture is pale yellow and thick. Place the whole milk in a saucepan and add the vanilla beans by scraping them from the pod and discarding the pod afterwards. Warm the milk just before it begins to boil, without letting it boil. Take it off the heat. Steadily and slowly, add the milk to the bowl with the sugar mixture, whisking constantly to avoid any curdling of the eggs. When you have mixed everything together, pour it back into the saucepan and return to the stove. Over medium heat, cook the mixture until it has thickened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
In a large stand mixer set to medium or a large bowl, whisk the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the cooled custard.
When the cake has cooled, lift it out with the parchment paper and place on a cutting board. Cut the cake in half. Take one half and peel it from the parchment paper. Gently turn it, taking caution not to break the cake, over on a serving tray so the meringue side is facing downwards. Another trick is to place the serving tray gently on top of the meringue, place one hand under the cake and one hand on top of the tray and then flip over. Spread all of the custard cream over the cake and gently place the remaining half on top, with the meringue side up.
Best to chill for an hour or so before serving, but this is not necessary. Serve with fresh fruits, such as strawberries. Keep covered in the refrigerator up to 3 to 4 days.
Like most cream cakes, kvæfjordkake gets better the longer it sits, giving the cake time to soak up the custard cream. This is another reason for having the meringue side on the bottom and top, so the sponge cake is sandwiched between the custard cream.