Friday, February 03, 2012

Estonian recipes: Alexander cake (Aleksandrikook)

Alexander cake / Aleksandrikook
Alexander cake, March 2011, dyed with sea-buckthorn juice concentrate

I'm dedicating February to various Estonian recipes, so if you've travelled to Estonia and want a specific recipe or two, let me know. Aleksandrikook aka Alexander cake has been requested here on Nami-Nami on several occasions, so it's about time to listen to my dear readers and post a recipe :)

To start with, Alexander cake is not actually Estonian in its origin, even though it's rather popular here and found in many traditional coffee and pastry shops. Our Nordic neighbours, Finns, claim the cake as their own. But then I've even come across recipes for Alexander cake in Latvian cookbooks, so it's popular in all over the North-Eastern corner of Europe.

Apparently its history goes back to 1814 or 1818, depending on your sources, when Alexander I of Russia, the reigning czar, visited Helsinki, and was served this concoction on his birthday. The cake is mentioned in Kullo manor's ledger books from 1819-1821. By 1850s, the cakes were sold in Café Ekberg (they still are, gorgeously pink in colour and sandwiched with apple spread).

In principle, it's a simple cake. Two layers of shorcrust pastry, sandwiched with thick raspberry (or other) jam, and topped with simple icing. However, as one talented Estonian food blogger has written somewhere, it's actually a tricky cake to do well. First, it's important not to overmix the pastry, as it won't have the right texture. It's important to roll out the pastry evenly, as otherwise it won't bake evenly. To lift one cake layer on top of the other is tricky as well - if you're unlucky, it'll break apart. If you're making this in a cafeteria, then you'll need to cut perfectly even-sized rectangles, and the glaze needs to be pretty and pink (or cocoa-brown, if you're opting for the cocoa glaze).

NOTE: this should be baked and put together a day before serving, otherwise it'll be too dry and crumbly!

Aleksander's cake / Aleksanterin leivos / Aleksandrikook
Alexander cake, September 2009, dyed with fresh black aronia juice and white chocolate

I've included some links to Estonian and Finnish foodbloggers that have written about the cake - you'll find them at the end of this post.

Alexander cake
Cuts into 12 rectangles

Alexander cake / Aleksandrikook
Alexander cake, March 2011, dyed with sea-buckthorn juice concentrate

Pastry layers:
125 g caster sugar (150 ml)
300 g all-purpose flour (500 ml, about 2 cups)
1 tsp baking powder
200 g butter, at room temperature
1 egg

250 ml (1 cup) thick raspberry jam

250 g icing sugar/confectioners sugar (about 400 ml)
3-4 Tbsp raspberry or black aronia juice

Make the pastry by mixing all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter, and using your fingers for mixing, mix until you've got large crumbs. Add the egg and quickly mix the pastry until it comes together.
Take a parchment paper that fits your baking sheet. Place the pastry on top of the paper and using a slightly floured rolling pin, roll the pastry to fit the baking sheet.
Bake in a preheated 175C/350F oven until dry and light golden brown (about 20 minutes).
Take out from the oven, and cut into two even-sized rectangles (the final cake will be half the size of your baking sheet). Cool lightly.*
Spread the jam over one shortcake base. Then very carefully lift the other shortcake layer on top of the one covered with jam.
Cut into squares (but don't separate the pieces) and leave to cool completely.
Make the glaze by mixing some colourful juice into the icing sugar until you've got a runny sugar glaze. Pour and spread that over the cake pieces and leave to set.

* Note that there is an alternative way of baking this cake - you'll sandwich two shortcake layers together with jam BEFORE baking (obviously you'll need to bake it a bit longer then). I've never tried this version.

Alexander cake / Aleksandrikook
Alexander cake, March 2011, dyed with sea-buckthorn juice concentrate

Fancy more? Here are some links to other foodbloggers' posts about Alexander cake - these give you a good idea about the different ways of glazing the cake.

Aniitram (a classic cocoa frosting and white frosting, zigzag pattern), MARU (Estonian designer and food writer), Qsti, Ragne, Liina, Sille

Kinuskikissa (one of the most popular Finnish foodbloggers, she used a cappuccino-flavoured glaze), Jaana, Sarppu (apple version), Maija (she uses marzipan in the filling!).



Alanna Kellogg said...

Something twigged in me, that this is a Finnish cake -- even though I don't remember having.

So looking forward to more Estonian recipes, Pille!

I remember realizing when I visited South Africa that one benefit of some years of isolation is that your OWN traditions are stronger, less influenced by the outside world. This will change over time but bloggers can play an important role in preserving these traditional recipes for the future, putting them out there for the world to adopt rather than leaving them in a dusty cookbook.

armstrongsix said...

growing up in NY with Estonian parents this was the cake we had for every birthday (along with a kringel) - but this was my favorite and I still make it for my kids... thanks for sharing the recipe and different variations. Love your blog Pille!

laualamp said...

Ahh, Toome poes müüdi Aleksandri kooki... Tavaliselt me ostsime enne kunstikooli sealt Komeedi kommi, aga kui oli ikka suur nälg, siis kooki ka.
(Ragne lingi alt ilmub uuesti Qsti :))

Anonymous said...

Delicious-looking and I love the decorations. Congrats on your magazine appearance!

Eha said...

Tere from a 'golden oldie' from near Sydney in Australia! What a treat to find you: a number of my friends will have your site within their sights soonest :D ! Have been a 'foodie' forever. Remember collecting 'Time-Life' regional books some 50 years ago. There was one on the Baltics, Russia etc - wonderful!! Altho' a number of Esto/Baltic recipes [and good ones too!] were given, it was said that the ONLY real Estonian recipe was 'Alexandrikook'?!

Anonymous said...

"Even" Latvians?! Up until today, I didn't realize Estonians or Finns ate "Aleksandra kuka"!

Latvian style, the topping was usually a simple pale lemon glaze.

Pille said...

Alanna - I bet you did have it in Finland all those years ago!

Armstrongsix - thank you for your kind words about Nami-Nami blog! And how exciting to read this used to be your birthday cake!

Triin - ma ei suudagi ühtegi konkreetset Tallinna kohvikut nimetada, kus ma seda 1980ndail ja 1990ndail ostmas käisin, aga ostetud seda ikka sai :)

Paz - cheers :)

Eha - welcome to Nami-Nami! And here you go - this "only" Estonian recipe is also claimed by Latvians and Finns :)

Anon. - yay, we can have a tri-national food fight :D :D :D I've now also added a Latvian food blog to the list, hope that's fine?

Margie said...

So excited to find this blog. My father was Estonian, but I have never met another Estonian outside my family. (We live in America.)

I have made this cake, although it didn't turn out too well. Yours looks beautiful! It encourages me to try again. Your other recipes look fantastic too. Will definitely be back often to visit this site. :)