Ostkaka, literally cheese cake in Swedish, is a specialty of the Småland region. Historically its earliest mention is in the 1520s in a list of foods served on New Year’s Day in the household of Bishop Hans Brask in Linköping. Today you can buy it ready-made in any supermarket making it an easy and popular dish to take to parties and Christmas celebrations.
If made in the traditional way, rennet is needed to convert milk into cheese that is broken up and mixed with eggs, cream, flour, sugar and almonds. But the preparation can be greatly simplified by utilizing cottage cheese. There are recipes in Vår Kok Bok (essentially Sweden’s Joy of Cooking) for both the traditional recipe using rennet and the simplified version using cottage cheese. My family has our own recipe that was brought to us by my grandmother, or farmor.
My farmor (Swedish for my father’s mother) was a full-blooded Swede born in the U.S. Her father immigrated to Lanyon, Iowa in 1888 where there was a small but strong Swedish community and her mother was born in the U.S. to Swedish parents from Småland. Some of my favorite Christmas food traditions have been handed down from my farmor. Particularly her rye bread which was one of my first posts, Swedish meatballs, and this ostkaka recipe which was always the highlight of Christmas Eve for me.
This recipe differs from the recipes I have seen in Sweden. It has at least double the sugar, doesn’t include flour, and uses almond extract instead of chopped sweet almonds. The vanilla extract and cardamom are also atypical but I think the cardamom is a fitting touch since it plays a big role in Swedish holiday baking and it adds visual appeal sprinkled over the top. Despite these differences my Swedish in-laws have confirmed that the taste and consistency of this recipe are as they should be. And of course it is infinitely better than what can be bought in the supermarket.
Not only is this ostkaka simple to do, it’s flat-out delicious. My favorite part is the chewy browned-bits that form on the top. In my home we always topped our ostkaka with strawberries and whipped cream. This year I busted out the Swedish strawberries we picked this summer and froze for special occasions. They did not disappoint.
My farmor, Laverna Rohden (Brindley), at about 20 years old around 1929
Sadly, my farmor passed away nearly eight years ago at the age of 93. Even though my family lived in Utah and she was in Iowa, I was fortunate to get to know my her well, particularly in my adult life. It seems a fitting tribute to share one of her recipes this week since I have been thinking of her so much. If you give this recipe a try, I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does.
If you can’t find dry curd cottage cheese, just buy regular cottage cheese (not reduced fat), put it in a colander, and rinse it until all of the milky juice is gone. Then let it sit for 10 minutes or so for the rest of the water to drain out. It doesn’t really matter if you use small or large curd cottage cheese, but if you have a choice, I’d recommend going with the small curd. I don’t ever make this recipe with chopped almonds, but if you would like to give it a try use 1/4 cup sweet almonds coarsely chopped, skip the almond extract, and let me know how it turned out. The original recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar but it can do with less if you prefer. If you don’t like super sweet desserts go with the 2/3 cup (130g). My personal preference is 3/4 cup (150g). If you find you didn’t add enough sugar for your taste you can always add more sweetener in the strawberries or whipped cream.
2 cups (480ml) half & half (10-18% fat cream)
2/3 -1 cup (130-200g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (500g) dry curd cottage cheese
ground cardamom to sprinkle over the top
16 ounces (450g) defrosted sliced strawberries and whipped cream to serve
(you can also use a berry jam instead of defrosted berries)
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).
2. Whisk eggs, half & half, sugar, and extracts in a large bowl until well blended. Add the dry curd cottage cheese and mix well. Pour into an ovenproof baking dish and bake in the center of the oven for 1-1 1/2 hours until a knife comes out clean. The baking time is dependent on the size of the baking dish you use. I use a 7″ souffle dish and nearly always bake it for the longer amount of time so I get the chewy bits on the top. Just keep an eye on it so it doesn’t get too brown or dried out.
3. Serve lukewarm (I like it cold too) with defrosted sliced strawberries and whipped cream. Refrigerate any leftovers.