Ode to Ostakaka

Within an hour of our house, we can satisfy a craving for almost any ethnic food — Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Spanish, Afghan, Indian, Vietnamese, German, Salvadoran, Brazilian, French . . . you get the idea.  Inconspicuously absent from that list, though, is Scandinavian food.  My husband says this is because the world has spoken . . . and Scandinavian food sucks.

He makes an exception for Swedish Fish.

scandinavian-food
Does it suck?

Well, for sure no one is ordering any Lutefisk take-out (if you’re unfamiliar with Lutefisk, click on the link and prepare to be enlightened).  And I’d have to be pretty hungry before I’d dig into a can of Surströmming (fermented herring).  Why this never surged to the top of the World’s Most Popular Snack Foods list is a real mystery . . .

surstromming-300x234
No. Just . . . no.

And the last time I was in Sweden, I accidentally ate a reindeer.  I thought I was eating summer sausage.  Until my dad asked, “How’s Rudolf?”  And then I connected those dots. Seriously?!?  Several thousand dollars in therapy later . . .

I’m not doing much to counter my husband’s brazen attack on the culinary traditions of my people.  Wait.  I’ve got it!  We have IKEA within an hour of our house!  And IKEA has meatballs . . . and lingonberries.   Meatballs and lingonberries are outstanding ambassadors of Scandinavian food.  And let’s not forget about Swedish Pancakes . . . who doesn’t like Swedish Pancakes?!?

ostakaka

And that brings me to the Ostakaka . . .

Hail Ostakaka
Harbinger of Christmas Joy
Memories Abound

OK, so it’s more of a Haiku than an Ode.   I never had much love for poetry, anyway.

As long as there’s Ostakaka, you’ll never convince me Scandinavian food sucks (but the Vikings can keep their fermented herring and Rudolf sausage).

So what the heck is Ostakaka?  Ostakaka is a Swedish almond-flavored cheesecake . . . with an unfortunate name.

In Swedish, kaka means cake.  It doesn’t mean caca.  But try convincing my husband and teenager.  They insist nothing with the word kaka in its name can possibly be good.

Haters.

Technically, Ostakaka is more of a cross between a cheesecake and a custard.  It’s not quite cheesecake, and it’s not really custard.  And it does have an unusual texture — think cottage cheese mixed with flan.   Traditionally, Ostakaka is served at Christmastime, but I’ve been known to preempt Christmas and make it for Thanksgiving.  And Ostakaka is almost always served with lingonberries, the official mascot of Sweden.

My Grandma Ruby made the best Ostakaka.  Grandma Ruby lived on a farm in rural Nebraska.  She used eggs fresh from the hens, and she made her own “cheese” with rennet tablets, straining the mixture for hours over bowls covered with cheesecloth.  It was an epic process.

rennet
This is exactly how I remember Grandma Ruby’s rennet.

Here is Grandma Ruby’s recipe for Ostakaka, written in her own hand.  Old, handwritten recipe cards make me happy . . . talk about an endangered species.

Fast-forward to today . . . I don’t live on a farm.  I don’t have hens.  And I don’t have time (or the desire) to mess with rennet.  So I have a shortcut recipe for Ostakaka:

1 container large curd cottage cheese (16 oz)
3 eggs, well-beaten
2 cups half and half
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons flour, mixed with cold water to blend
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract

Beat eggs, sugar, half & half, salt, vanilla and almond extract.  Add flour & water mixture and blend.  Stir in cottage cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until set and slightly browned and bubbly on top.  Serve with lingonberries.

DSCN4194
This is what my last batch of Ostakaka looked like when it came out of the oven.

I can’t get anyone in my family to eat Ostakaka.  Even my foodie daughter won’t eat it.  She says it’s the texture.  So, on Christmas Eve, my brother came over and we ate our Ostakaka
. . . and we did a little wine pairing experiment.

DSCN4242
The Lineup

Admittedly, Ostakaka and lingonberries is a bit of a pairing paradox.  The Ostakaka is creamy and sweet, and the lingonberries are tart.  They play well off each other . . . but will they play well with wine??

Mon Ami Vidal Blanc Ice Wine 2010
I picked this up at the winery on a visit to my folks’ house last summer.  It’s no Inniskillin, but it’s not bad.  Decent splash of acidity to balance the sweetness.  Not a disaster with the Ostakaka, but no wow moment, either.  $35.

Rinaldi Bug Juice Moscato d’Asti 2011
Moscato d’Asti has its place . . . it’s just not with Ostakaka.  The Ostakaka turned the wine almost sour, and the back end morphed into a weird mineral-metallic finish.  Not pleasant. It’s a no.  $20.

Chateau Doisy Vedrines Sauternes 2005
Easily the best solo dessert wine of the group, and my favorite with the Ostakaka.  Tastes like someone drizzled honey over warm peaches.  Lovely structure and finish.  $25.

Banfi Brachetto d’Acqui Rosa Regale 2011
A pretty wine, slightly sweet and bubbly.  Not especially complex.  Gave some balance to the lingonberries, not so much to the Ostakaka.  I think this would have been far better with chocolate.  $17.

Overall, I’m underwhelmed by all of the wine pairings.  None of them blew my socks off. What am I missing?  What other wine pairings would you try with Ostakaka?  (Assuming you’d try Ostakaka . . . 😊).

I suspect it’s not the wine, it’s me.  Ostakaka tastes like a childhood memory to me . . . and maybe that’s pairing enough.

Skål!

24 comments

      1. According to his memoir, it’s not his restaurant–he was the chef who made it famous but they’ve parted ways and he now has his own place (I think it’s called the Red Rooster or something, it’s in Harlem and quite a bit less expensive than Aquavit). I’d like to visit them both!

        I just saw the Aquavit cookbook at the library–a huge thing with lush photographs.

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  1. I bet Marcus would make it for you if you went to his restaurant. I know him pretty well, as I see him on Chopped all the time. That jerk Conant wouldn’t make it for you, but Marcus would. 😉

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  2. I am not really knowledgable about Scandinavian food other than meatballs and lingonberries. When I think of food from Scandinavia I think of Babette’s Feast and the food portrayed was pretty dismal, but I know thats not always the case. I think if I were pairing a wine with the Ostkaka it would be fruity and light and a bit sweet I think I would try a Vouvray either sparkling or not.

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  3. My roots are 100% German, but I love ostakaka…and pickled herring…and even venison sausage. Have you tried a tawny port as a pairing? The taste buds in my imagination think they would play well together.

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  4. Ostakaka is an acquired taste but I really like it! I just can’t do the Lutefisk! I am 1/4 Swedish and I have the Carlson’s Blue eyes!

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  5. Sounds very interesting! I would probably not attempt making it, as based on the texture you are describing, I would be the only one to eat it in the family.

    As far the pairing goes, not every dish is meant to be paired with the wine. May be your childhood memories are the best pairing… and a glass of milk?

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  6. Thanks for the story about Ostakaka. I have a friend who is undergoing chemo and radiation treatment for cancer. I asked him what we could make for him, and his quick answer was Ostakaka. It is the only thing that sounds good to him now–and will hopefully take him back to his carefree, childhood days.

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  7. My mother was Swedish American and my father was born in Norway. I don’t have an Ostakaka recipe, but I wish I could read grandma Ruby’s recipe. If you can type it from the handwritten “recipe card” I would love to try making it. My parents made it for us when I was a child and I loved it. I hate pickled herring and blood sausage, but I LOVE OSTAKAKA! Once, my dad did get me to try Reindeer meat, but that was my only experience. I kept thinking about Rudolph.
    Please print the Ostakaka recipe, so I can read it and print it.
    Thanks!

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    1. Hi Sonja! Thanks for stopping by! Grandma Ruby’s recipe is tough to read, so I asked my aunt for hers:

      OSTKAKA

      Carolyn Peterson
      Stromsburg Swedish Festival
      Swede Capital of Nebraska

      1 ½ – 2 gal. whole milk
      1 c. flour
      1 rennet tablet
      5 eggs
      1 c. sugar
      2 c. cream
      1 tsp. almond flavoring
      1 tsp. vanilla

      Heat milk to lukewarm. Add flour mixed with a little milk and the crushed rennet tablet to the lukewarm milk; set aside. After ½ hour, use a knife to cut through the product. Curds will begin to form. Drain whey off the curds thoroughly. Them beat together the eggs, sugar, cream, and flavorings. Break up the curds with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl; pour egg and cream mixture over the curds, mixing well. Bake 15 minutes at 375 degrees, and additional 45 minutes at 325 degrees, or until when a knife inserted just comes out clean, like custard.

      Our hints: it’s OK to use two rennet tablets (we usually use Junket rennet, commonly available near the pudding mixes in the grocery). Sometimes the curds take a while to form: it’s OK to wait longer than ½ hour, and cutting or stirring with the broad side of a knife can help the curds to form.

      Enjoy! This makes a big batch.

      Cheers!!

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  8. Hi!

    I’m a sommelier in Newfoundland. We often pair lingonberry (called partridgberry here) with Pink Moscato from Victoria, Australia. We really like the wine “Innocent Bystander.” If you want ‘less sweet’, go for a rosé from Nova Scotia: Jost Selkie Rosê made with marquette, or Nova 7 made with muscat… Also, I’d be really curious to try a cabernet franc icewine with this. Not cheap, though.

    Scott

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