Name: Signe Johansen
Blogging since: spring 2008
Location: Bloomsbury, London
Blog url: www.signejohansen.com/
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Where to start? My parents were living in Munich when I was born, which no doubt explains my predilection for sausage and beer. Dad being Norwegian, we moved to Oslo when I was four and we spent fifteen years in Norway. Mum being part English, part American, insisted I go to an international school so I grew up speaking Norwegian, English, German and French.
Summers were split between my Norwegian grandparents’ farm in the picturesque valleys of western Norway, and an idyllic part of New England on the New Hampshire coastline with my American relatives. My English grandmother lived in West Sussex and introduced me to Wodehouse novels and the joys of Welsh rarebit!
Being quite rootless I reckon the most consistent theme of my childhood was food. As a kid I loved the cardamom buns, sour cream waffles and fresh seafood we had on my Norwegian grandparents’ farm, and the days spent picking strawberries, cherries, raspberries and plums and fishing for Norway lobsters in the nearby fjord are some of my happiest memories of living in Scandinavia. New England introduced me to lobster rolls and clam chowder, and my love of roast beef, yorkshire puddings, horseradish and delicious fruit crumbles definitely came from my English Nana. There’s also some Lithuanian, Jewish, Irish, German and Scottish blood in me, so basically I’m promiscuous when it comes to food. I love pretty much everything edible. Suffice to say there was a brief phase during my early teens when I grew outwards before growing upwards, I was known as “Sig-Pig” by one of my less charitable aunts!
How would you describe your blog?
Scandilicious started out as a blog about Scandinavian baking, and frankly it took a lot of persuading on Fiona Beckett’s part for me to start one. At the time Fiona was blogging about frugal cooking for her forthcoming book The Frugal Cook (Absolute Press) and it seemed like a fun way of sharing ideas and recipes so I asked her advice as I was sceptical I’d have anything interesting to blog about. I’d been working as Fiona’s assistant at the time, doing research on features such as tea and chocolate pairing, German wine and of course student recipes while I was doing my MA in the anthropology of food at SOAS. The Scandinavian baking idea was Fiona’s and I loved sharing favourite Scandi baking recipes as a novice blogger so I stuck with that for a year or so, taking part in the odd monthly Daring Bakers’ Challenge. Eventually I found the baking theme too narrow a remit and would go for long stretches without posting anything as I didn’t have time to bake while I was nose-down in my MA studies. Last year I switched to a broader Scandinavian remit and that helped spur on more blog posts, though I’m not as prolific a blogger as I’d like to be! Basically I now share recipes and anecdotes of my Scandinavian heritage and hope to feature more posts this summer and autumn on foraging, a time-honoured activity across Scandinavia and so easy to do here in the UK where there’s a wild larder of delicious food to be foraged!
Where do you find inspiration for your cooking and blogging?
Predictably, as many cooks do, from my mother and grandmothers. My dad also is a great foodlover and was keen to introduce me to different food cultures from a young age and eating together was an integral part of our family life. Food is so imbued with nostalgia and many of my favourite recipes are ones I grew up with; I sometimes wonder whether I would be so excited about sharing waffle recipes on my blog if I still lived in Norway, so in some ways this is a diaspora-inspired blog.
Otherwise, a recent visit to Copenhagen’s Noma (according to Restaurant Magazine now the world’s best restaurant) has proved inspirational – I love Rene Redzepi’ principled approach to cooking, one that uses the best local ingredients in tune with the seasons; a “Nordic terroir” if you will. It was exciting to see Redzepi and his chefs use modest ingredients such as sea buckthorn, wood sorrel, lumpfish roe, smoked cheese, chamomile flowers, rye bread (the list goes on!) and apply some serious chef’s alchemy to these ingredients without resorting to molecular gimmickry. It’s a pared-back but sophisticated approach to cooking and I suspect we’ll be seeing Noma’s influence percolating through in restaurants and food writing over here before long.
What do you like most and least about blogging?
Blogging is all about sharing ideas, recipes, rants, rambles and even the odd nugget of profound analysis. There’s something anarchic, yet democratic about blogging which really appeals to me, I love the growth of illustrated blogs out there and sharing recipes with readers and other bloggers. The photography of some bloggers is second to none and I find that inspirational as an amateur (very amateur!) photographer. The only downside is there are so many great blogs to read out there, I never seem to find the time to sit down and consistently follow my favourite blogs, thus necessitating occasional splurges of blog-reading when time permits!
Do you have a favourite recipe you’d like to share?
Of all the recipes I’ve collected and tested over the years, “tropisk aroma” or Norwegian spiced chocolate marble cake, is one of my favourites. You’ll find spices used in sweet and savoury dishes across Scandinavia and not just for Christmas. We crave big bold flavours throughout the year. My grandmother used to make this cake for birthdays and special occasions, so I thought I would share the recipe I adapted from her original which was layered rather than marbled.
The nutmeg really adds something special to this riff on a chocolate marble cake, and with a coffee-chocolate icing you can see it’s pretty indulgent – serve with a cup of good coffee or make a pot of tea, sit down with friends and solve all the problems of the world together I
250g refined spelt flour
250g golden caster sugar
150g butter, softened
2 medium eggs
120 ml whole milk with 2 tbsp plain yoghurt
2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp strong coffee or espresso
Filling and icing:
200g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tsp coffee powder (depends how much coffee you like)
Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly oil 23cm round cake tin and fit the bottom with baking parchment
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar til pale and fluffy (around 5-8 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time along with a spoonful of flour to stop the mixture splitting, whisking after each egg to incorporate into the mixture. Add the spices, remainder of flour and alternate this with the milk and coffee to create a thick cake batter.
Take 1/3 of the cake mixture and place in a smaller bowl, add the cocoa powder and stir through until the mixture looks even.
Place half the plain mixture at the bottom of the cake tin, then layer the chocolate mixture on top. Cover with the remaining half of plain mixture and using a fork, swirl through the two mixtures to create a marbled effect. Bake on the middle shelf for 35-40 minutes. The cake is done when a skewer is inserted and no wet mixture remains on the skewer.
While the cake cools on a wire rack, make the filling: cream the butter whilst adding the icing sugar, coffee and cocoa powders, and vanilla extract, taste as you go along as icing is subjective – some like it very buttery, others intensely sweet. I like a balance of butter, sugar and chocolate/coffee myself!
When the cake is completely cool, spread the icing all over. Sprinkle extra cocoa powder on top if you like a cocoa hit or simply leave it plain. This cake will keep in an airtight tin for a few days and as my grandmother always used to say, tastes best on day 2 or even 3 after baking as the nutmeg really gains potency.