My love for Minnesota summers is a bittersweet affair, marked by the ever-present knowledge of an impending separation. Slurping down ice cream from Sebastian Joe's and the Grand Ole Creamery, laying on a picnic blanket by the Mississippi River, eating sauteed CSA zucchini on our patio, walking around Lake Harriet, picking pounds and pounds of strawberries--the finite number of blissful summer moments makes each one more heart achingly lovely than the last. A couple of years ago, I decided to embrace the transience of the season with a Scandinavian-inspired Midsummer party, and after a hiatus last year (because we were actually in Scandinavia!) I hosted a belated Second Annual Midsummer Party this past Sunday.
The dinner menu was the same as my previous party: Finnish sour rye bread, new potatoes tossed with butter and dill, smoked salmon, Swedish meatballs with lingonberry preserves from Ingebretsen's, and deviled eggs garnished with fresh dill in a ploy to make them Scandinavian. Mike mixed up some excellent Dala Horse lingonberry cocktails with lingonberry syrup from Ikea, vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. For dessert, I made an Icelandic Hjónabandssæla, or happy marriage cake. The rhubarb jam filling makes it a perfect early summer dessert for cool climates, when sturdy rhubarb is the only produce you can rely on. The oatmeal-based cake has texture similar to fudge oatmeal bars, denser and much firmer than a typical cake. The sweetness level is subtle, making the leftovers eminently suitable for mid-morning coffee breaks.
If you don't have access to fresh rhubarb, you can use one cup of pre-prepared rhubarb jam for the filling, or substitute one cup of berry jam (I suspect raspberry would be delicious). Tightly covered, this cake keeps quite well for at least four days in the refrigerator.
Yield: one 8 inch by 8 inch cake (16 modest servings)
- 3 cups chopped rhubarb (about 3 medium stalks)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup rhubarb jam
- 1 3/4 cup quick oats
- 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 14 tablespoons (1 stick plus 6 tablespoons) butter, softened
- 2 eggs
- whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)
Combine the rhubarb, 1/4 cup sugar, and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb has completely broken down, about 25 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low if rhubarb starts sticking to the saucepan.
Remove jam from heat and cool completely.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Combine the oats, flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and baking soda in a large bowl. Mix in the softened butter until evenly incorporated. Add the eggs and mix until a stiff dough forms.
Grease an 8 inch by 8 inch baking dish, using the wrapper from the stick of butter if desired. Evenly press about 2/3 of the dough into the prepared dish.
Spread with about 1 cup of rhubarb jam (see instructions above to prepare the jam).
Using the remaining 1/3 of dough, take a Ping Pong ball-sized piece of dough and flatten it between your hands. Place piece of flattened dough on top of rhubarb jam. Continue in this manner, using smaller pieces of flattened dough to fill in the gaps between the larger pieces, until the rhubarb jam is completely covered.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until top of cake is lightly browned.
Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.