For the past five or six years, our annual Midsommar Picnic has signaled the beginning of our outdoor dining season. Aligning with the end of the school year, it feels like the joyous beginning of summer. And having so many Scandinavian friends, the food game is always off the charts. Our friend Helena always makes aquavit that is encased in ice and flowers, Jonas and Clare make home-cured gravlax and at least three kinds of Swedish desserts, Cecilia brings the meatballs, and there are usually at least two authentic potato salads, not to mention the tubed caviar (from IKEA!). And our specialty? Well, that’s the smörgåstårta.
Smörgåstårta is Swedish for a savory sandwich cake that is a staple of Midsommar celebrations. Instead of sponge cake, it’s layers are traditionally made of rye bread with layered filling that can range from liver pate to shrimp salad to smoked salmon to olives. What’s your favorite sandwich? It can be that. The first couple of years I made it, I followed this recipe from Saveur magazine, which is pretty labor intensive, but leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. You make a homemade rye bread (using a round cake pan to give it shape), layer it with fillings like egg salad, smoked salmon, and cucumbers, the frosting is a cream cheese/sour cream combo, and you can garnish it with eggs, radishes, cucumbers and herbs.
Over the years, however, I have come up with a few sandwich cake hacks that make the whole process easier and (I think) more delicious. First of all, I dispensed with the homemade bread. I love a good loaf of bread, but honestly, when smothered in egg salads, cream cheese and dill, it doesn’t shine like it needs to. Plus, honestly I love the soft chewy texture of your good old grocery store sandwich bread. Mix it up! White, Whole Wheat, Rye!
This year, for the obvious reason, we didn’t have a gigantic Midsommar picnic, but that wasn’t going to keep me from my ongoing experiments with the sandwich cake. Instead, we opted for a small, socially-distanced fête and I decided to make individual cakes, rather than something big and communal. I started with a couple of loaves of sandwich bread and used a pastry cutter to shape them into 4″ circles.
For the fillings, I made a few of my favorites: a smoked salmon cream cheese, traditional egg salad, and cucumbers. I also used some leftover shrimp salad, too!
Once the layers are stacked, it’s time to frost! For six small cakes, I used 2 blocks of cream cheese mixed with 2 cups of sour cream, seasoned with salt and white pepper. It almost wasn’t enough, which is the Murphy’s Law of frosting that I never seem to learn.
Next comes the fun part: garnish. As you can see here, there are endless ways to decorate your cake. Hard boiled eggs are popular, vegetables, herbs, flowers. There are no rules! As I was in a bit of a rush, I kept it simple with some radishes, chives and lemon zest.
The best part about these individual cakes is that they are essentially a whole meal. About as much sandwich as you would want. In the end, I was happy that I went light on the frosting, as the ratio of bread-to-filling-to-cream cheese was just about perfect.
Normally we make this just once a year, but they were such a hit that I can’t wait to experiment with different sandwich fillings and garnishes. Whitefish? Avocado? Caviar? What would you use?