A Swedish Fetish + A Smörgåstårta Recipe

Smörgåstårta Recipe | Umami GirlHaving already shown you how to cure your own gravlax and promised you the recipe for a savory Swedish birthday or tea cake called Smörgåstårta, I probably don’t need to spell out in further detail that I have something of a Swedish fetish. It’s a good thing, too, because Smörgåstårta is kind of a nightmare to spell. And even once I’d wrangled those umlauts and crazy A’s into submission (or wised up and made Command + S the Smörgåstårta key on my computer, because what could go wrong there?), I still wouldn’t be able to enunciate the term “Swedish fetish” with any accuracy, replicability, or lack of projectile saliva. Finally, I doubt many of you have tried to style a Smörgåstårta for a photo shoot. If you have, please get in touch with me privately to pass along any suggestions you may have for post-traumatic-stress recovery. At any rate, I’m grateful at least that I don’t have a Finnish fetish, because that would be even harder to say, and people might think I’d said I have a spinach fetish, which I do. I have no idea where that would leave us, but I’m certain it wouldn’t be anywhere good.

As it is, my Swedish fetish (and to be fair, it’s mostly a Swedish food, design, and crafts fetish — so the Swedes among you can go ahead and uncross your legs now unless you’re hiding any meatballs or whimsical paper mobiles in there) has won me no small amount of free swag. It includes not just one but two beautiful Swedish cookbooks, an IKEA coupon, arguably several years’ worth of payments on a rental apartment, and most recently a somewhat alarming quantity of jarred herring and smoked salmon courtesy of Vita Foods. (No clothes yet though, aHe&M.)

I have to admit that while I buy or make smoked salmon on a regular basis, I’d never been tempted by pickled herring before. It’s not part of my cultural heritage the way it is for people in many parts of the world, and despite the fact that I frequently ingratiate myself with friends, their friends, and their friends’ parents to solicit dinner invitations (or simply show up uninvited), no one has ever served it to me. And on the supermarket shelf — let’s be honest — a jar of herring can have a slightly sinister aspect.

But herring has a lot to recommend it, from its high levels of umami and healthy Omega 3s to its relative environmental friendliness and food-chain lowliness. Pickled herring is also a staple among Swedish comfort foods and an ingredient in several popular versions of Smörgåstårta, the kitschiest possible Swedish recipe. What kind of fetishist would I be without even having tried it?

As for the Smörgåstårta itself, I’m not sure why, but it’s one of those things. The moment I saw it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest until I’d made one. (That was even before I realized it would give me an opportunity to say things to the toddler such as, “Finish your Smörgåstårta and then you’ll have your nap,” and “No, this is not your birthday cake.”) Anyway, I first laid eyes on a Smörgåstårta in January, so I’m pretty exhausted at this point. That could explain a lot, actually.

You can judge for yourself whether Smörgåstårta is your idea of a birthday cake, and whether pickled herring is for you. As for me, I’d like to think that I’m a little more satisfied for having indulged my fetish. Which is pretty much how it always goes with fetishes. Or so I’ve heard.

Swedish Smörgåstårta Recipe
Serves 4 to 6 and can be doubled for a crowd of brave souls such as yourself. Adapted from Lotta Jansdotter's Handmade Living. For a more time-intensive version with homemade bread, check out the beautiful book Very Swedish by Annica Triberg.
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For the Salmon or Herring Filling
  1. 4 ounces smoked salmon or pickled herring (drained), finely chopped
  2. 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  3. 1/3 cup whipped cream cheese, at room temperature
  4. 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh dill (or 1/2 teaspoon dill weed)
  5. 1 teaspoon grated fresh horseradish or prepared horseradish sauce
  6. 2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and finely chopped
  7. Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the Shrimp Filling
  1. 1 pound cooked shrimp, shelled and finely chopped
  2. 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh dill (or 1/2 teaspoon dill weed)
  3. 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  4. 2 Tablespoons whipped cream cheese, at room temperature
  5. Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To Assemble the Smörgåstårta
  1. 8 slices firm white bread, crusts removed, and 3 of the slices cut in half crosswise
  2. 1 cup whipped cream cheese, at room temperature
  3. 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  1. To make the salmon or herring filling, combine the salmon or herring, mayonnaise, cream cheese, dill, horseradish, eggs, and pepper in a medium bowl and stir to combine well.
  2. To make the shrimp filling, combine the shrimp, dill, mayonnaise, cream cheese, and pepper in a medium bowl and stir to combine well.
  3. To assemble the Smörgåstårta, lay 1 1/2 bread slices on a cutting board to form a long rectangle. Top with half the salmon or herring filling. Layer another 1 1/2 bread slices on top, and top with half the shrimp filling. Repeat with the remaining bread and fillings, ending with a layer of bread. You will have half a slice of bread left over. Press gently on the sandwich from the top and sides to compress the layers a bit.
  4. To "frost" the Smörgåstårta, spread the top and sides with a thin layer of cream cheese. (Stir in up to a couple of tablespoons of milk or cream if the cream cheese is too thick, since texture varies by brand.) Sprinkle with the chopped parsley, cut into slices, and serve. Can be refrigerated for up to a day, either before or after frosting.
Umami Girl http://umamigirl.com/

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  • Hilarious! I’m too lazy to try it myself but I’d love to taste it! The photo looks great too – worth it!ReplyCancel

  • Frida

    I love that you have a Swedish Fetish!
    The Smörgåstårta is now going through a revival here in Sweden right now after having been something grandmother and mother would serve and all of a sudden it´s supercool. I´m not surprised that umamigirl caught that trend!ReplyCancel

  • Eva Weems


    This looks and sounds delicious. We both love pickled herring and smoked salmon. I actually loved those before Dennis, but he’s a good eater and seems to love all foods. I know it will be a big hit!ReplyCancel

  • JanAnd

    Gotta make this! I was married to a Swede long ago and came out of the marriage with two wonderful children and an abiding love for pickled herring (which my family called ‘bait’). Costco has big jars of it.ReplyCancel

  • I must admit that I was expecting a sweet cake but I am pleasantly surprised. I fell in love with pickled herring when we were in Kiel, Germany for 2 weeks. I had it for just about every meal and prepared in numerous never-in-my-wildest-dreams ways. This is definitely novel. Come to think of it, this “cake” is like a layered sandwich! I don’t know if I’ll have the guts to make it but a lovely, entertaining post all the same!ReplyCancel

  • I too was afraid of the pickled herring… Now I have tried it, and it made me lick my licks for about an hour and a half afterwards, I too have a fetish.

    This cake looks right up my street!

    Love your blog.

    Jenny from Silver Screen Suppers xReplyCancel

  • […] got kind of giddy about being in Finland (perhaps somehow related to my Swedish fetish?) and took some screenshots of maps and our attempts to find salads without meat in them. It was […]ReplyCancel

  • […] got kind of giddy about being in Finland (perhaps somehow related to my Swedish fetish?) and took some screenshots of maps and our attempts to find salads without meat in them. It was […]ReplyCancel

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