Ostkaka: Swedish Cheesecake Recipe from Mikael


ostkaka swedish cheesecake recipe
As much as I love blogging, one of the things that come with putting yourself in public is that you get strange things in your mailbox. Every day — and I mean every day — my mailbox is inundated with stolen content notifications, invitations to join a mail-order bride club, offers for a product that’s supposed to enlarge a body part I don’t have, etc. If you catch me in front of the computer muttering and saying bad words under my breath, chances are I’m checking my email.

But interspersed with tooth whitener offers and 24-hour free passes to websites of dubious nature are kind notes from my readers who take the time to tell me how appreciative they are of this little blog. If there’s any truth to a definition of (divine) grace as “an undeserved favor,” well, then I have to say I’ve found myself at the receiving end of grace quite frequently ever since I started blogging 16 months ago. If you catch me in front of the computer flapping my arms, grinning like an idiot, and whimpering with joy, chances are I’m checking my email.

I woke up one morning last November to an email from a reader from Sweden, Mikael Zayenz Lagerkvist, a doctoral student from Sweden, who described himself as “a Swedish guy that a) loves cooking, and b) loves Thai food.” He wrote: “… what I would like to say with this letter is that I found your blog a few weeks ago, and you have truly inspired me to new heights in the kitchen. To date I’ve done Laab Gai with home-made Khao Khua, your peanut sauce, sweet sticky coconut rice with mango, and a coconut-curry based on a recipe from you. All your recipes have turned out wonderful, and I love the Laab Gai (one of my favourite dishes of all time in general). My girlfriend is also really happy that I found your blog, since she gets all sorts of new and wonderful dishes …”

If that doesn’t make one’s day, one is probably dead.

Mikael’s initial email came with some questions and a few requests, so he and I were exchanging emails for a bit after that. Since the closest thing to Sweden I have been to is IKEA, every bit of information about the country, the culture, and the people of Sweden which I’ve learned from my new friend has been truly fascinating.

Of course, we had to talk about food. To my amusement, I’ve learned that the common Thai dish, chicken and cashew stir-fry (ไก่ผัดเม็ดมะม่วงหิมพานต์), has been thoroughly indigenized by the people of Sweden to the point where it has become a Swedish dish in much the same way as how Tikka Masala is a British dish.

But what about the Swedish cuisine? Cloudberries, rhubarb, strawberries, and blue berries are also used quite a bit in Swedish desserts. According to Mikael, waffles with cloudberry jam, rhubarb crumble, and strawberries with milk are all very typical. Swedes are into berries and apparently proud of their local produce. “Swedish strawberries are in season around June, and they are excellent. The cold Swedish climate seems to be perfect to get them really sweet and tasty. I’ve never tasted really good strawberries outside of the Nordic countries,” Mikael said.

Other than the aforementioned berries, Mikael has noticed that, when it comes to dessert, Swedes seem to have a special affiliation for cinnamon, cardamom, almonds, and golden syrup. In an email, Mikael gave me a few detailed examples:

  • Semla: A wheat bun, spiced with cardamom, and filled with almond paste and whipped cream. Some eat it as is; others dip it in warm milk. Eating semla used to be connected to Shrove Tuesday, but the connection is not very strong nowadays.
  • Cinnamon rolls: “… a few web pages seem to indicate that cinnamon rolls were in fact “invented” in Sweden. Not sure if I buy that,” wrote Mikael. Regardless, cinnamon rolls are very common in Sweden. A typical Swedish cinnamon roll is lightly spiced with cardamom and has chopped almonds on top.
  • Cookies: Small cookies are very important when having a fika, a Swedish coffee break – a tradition that started back in the 19th century. “Swedes are notorious coffee drinkers,” wrote Mikael. One should serve at least seven types of cookies when having guests, he added. A typical fika cookie is bondkaka (“peasant cookie”), which is made from wheat flour, sugar, golden syrup, baking soda, almonds, and butter.
  • Knäck: A Christmas candy containing both golden syrup and almonds. Mikael commented that while the recipe is very simple, getting the exact right consistency takes some experience. A reliable candy thermometer comes in handy here.
  • Per my (somewhat odd) request, Mikael also sent me a few photographs of his neck of the woods. As it turned out, Sweden in the winter looks very similar to, um, Minnesota in the winter.swedish cheesecake recipeswedish cheesecake recipehow to make ostkaka
    Unfortunately for my Swedish reader, my curiosity didn’t stop there. You give a mouse a cookie and you know it’s going to ask for a glass of milk. You give Leela a few pictures of your snow-covered neighborhood, you know the nosy person is going to ask to see the contents of your refrigerator.I don’t know if Mikael bought my lame excuse of how seeing what people from a different culture eat helps you learn about their culture. All I know is that a few days after I made that rude and odd request, lo and behold, a photograph of a Swedish refrigerator and what resided therein came into my mailbox. Who knew a lack of manner would be met with even more kindness? Now, this is why I talked about grace in the first paragraph.

    swedish cheesecake recipe
    Apologizing for taking the picture on a day when the refrigerator was under-stocked (!!), Mikael declared his refrigerator contents as follows:
    Top shelf: cream, sour cream, mango juice, passion fruit juice, and leftovers.
    Second shelf: butter, bread spread, crème fraîche, red and green curry, some sauces
    Third shelf: oil, leftovers, cilantro,
    Fourth shelf: cabbage, pickled herring, various canned goods such as pickled bell pepper, apple sauce, some stocks, etc.
    Fifth shelf: Pork and salmon, tahina, jams,
    Drawer: Bell pepper, cucumber, salad, cheese

    [No meatballs. Hmm.]

    Looking at the contents of Mikael’s refrigerator, it’s quite obvious some serious cooking takes place in his kitchen.

    A lot of computer science people like cooking,” said Mikael. “There is a disproportionate amount of food geeks among my computer scientist friends.” As I was told, Swedes are exact cooks; they always have a scale in the kitchen as well as a digital thermometer. Mikael himself considers a kitchen scale an absolute necessity, “I’m not quite sure how one can cook without it.” Handling measurements is easier if one is trained in math, he added. Flunking math since first grade, my ego took a hit.


    But not for long.

    In one email, Mikael gave me a report on his Thai cooking adventure: “… I’ve tried my hand on Tod Man Pla (turned out wonderful) and Mushroom Stir Fry with Brown Sauce (very nice). Our last dinner guests got Tod Man Pla as a starter and Laab Gai as the main course …,” Mikael wrote. “… They really liked it, and asked for the recipes later on. The dessert was Swedish Cheesecake …”

    Upon seeing the words Swedish cheesecake, my heart started racing. ‘This had better not be just a tease,’ I thought to myself. Graciously, Mikael included a recipe for ostkaka, a quintessential Swedish dessert, in his email. Right away, I knew I had to try it.

    When Mikael was younger, his parents used to buy him a pre-made ostkaka every now and then, and that’s when he discovered the dessert. With some jam and whipped cream on the side, the young future computer scientist gleefully gobbled up this almond cheesecake. As a grown-up, Mikael now prefers liqueur-spiked fruit compote with his ostkaka.

    Ostkaka these days, according to him, comes in several different flavors and with different add-ins. This recipe, however, produces the traditional version of the dessert — the kind that is entrenched in the southern county of Skåne.

    Ostkaka is admittedly quite plain and appears uninteresting on the outside. One bite, though, and it’s no longer uninteresting. The texture of this cheesecake is different from the more common type wherein cream cheese is used. While the texture of the latter is smooth and, well, pasty, the former boasts an interesting texture of smooth, creamy, curdy, and lumpy all in one bite. Add the subtle taste of almond to the mix and you got a winner. All I can say is that this Swedish cheesecake will definitely be a regular in my kitchen.

    Having made ostkaka several times after having received the recipe, I think I have reached a point where I can make this cheesecake blindfolded. It’s very easy to make to begin with. Everything is mixed in one mixing bowl. Neither a spring-form pan nor a water bath is necessary. It’s one of those fuss-free recipes that yield very impressive results.

    swedish cheesecake recipe
    Ostkaka is mildly sweet and is often served with some sort of fruit-based sauce, so you probably want to make some sort of fruit compote to go along with it. (I served my last batch (shown above) with my blood orange-star anise confit). Saftsås, a mixture of fruit-flavored liquor and fruit purée thickened with starch, is also a common ostkaka accompaniment. Any kind of fruit sauce works, actually. I even improvised a pineapple-palm sugar-coconut milk compote to serve with my 4th batch of ostkaka (in the Hey-Sweden-Meet-Phuket-Thailand manner). It was delicious.

    My utmost thanks go to Mikael Zayenz Lagerkvist who has graciously and extensively collaborated with me on this post. Much of what you see here is the result of his research and data compilation. Thank you so much, Mikael!

    swedish cheesecake recipe

    3.0 from 1 reviews
    Ostkaka: Swedish Cheesecake Recipe from Mikael
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Cuisine: Swedish
    Serves: 6-8
    Ingredients
    • 750 g (~1.7 lbs) cottage cheese, strained (see notes)
    • 4 large eggs
    • ½ dl (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
    • ½ dl (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour (see notes)
    • 1 dl (1/2 cup) almond meal
    • 3-4 bitter almonds, ground (see notes)
    Instructions
    1. Whip the eggs until fluffy. Stir in sugar, flour, and cottage cheese. Add the almonds. Pour into a buttered pan (at least 1.5 liters in size -- see notes), preferably flat. Bake in oven at 225°C (see notes) for 1 hour (cover with tin-foil when starting to brown).
    2. You want to let the cheesecake cool before serving as that is when it tastes the best. According to Mikael, ostkaka is best served cold or lukewarm.
    Notes
    1. I have found that using cottage cheese alone results in a a cheesecake that is too wet, lumpy, and salty. My theory is that cottage cheese in the US is made differently from cottage cheese in Sweden. After a few experiments, I have come to like the flavor and texture derived from using half whole-milk small-curd cottage cheese and half whole-milk ricotta cheese. Being a bit overzealous, I even made my own ricotta using the paneer method, except I use vinegar instead of lemon juice and don’t squeeze the curds so dry.

    2. You can also use cornstarch, potato starch, or rice flour.

    3. Bitter almond is commonly used in Europe, but it is banned in the US as it contains hydrocyanic acid, making them poisonous. (You have to eat a lot of bitter almonds in one sitting, though, to suffer from the cyanide effect.) Apricot kernels can be used as a substitute. Otherwise, add a tablespoon of Amaretto to the batter to mimic the distinct flavor of bitter almond.

    4. I use a 9″x13″ ceramic pan.

    5. I bake the cheesecake at 425°F.

31 Responses to Ostkaka: Swedish Cheesecake Recipe from Mikael

  1. Manggy March 5, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    Mikael is definitely very generous in spirit. I love the rapport that the two of you have formed. I haven’t quite reached the level of asking my closest net friends to show me their fridge, but hey… (no continuation)

    I beg to differ on its alleged plain-ness. It look spectacular from here, my kind of cheesecake with the Maillardy top. Is the cottage cheese 750g before or after straining?

  2. Bob March 5, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    What a sweet guy. I also like knowing whats in other peoples fridges. Heh. I get it from my mom, she likes to go to open houses just to see what people keep in their kitchen.

    Swedish cheesecake sounds very appealing to me!

  3. 5 Star Foodie March 5, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    Oh, I absolutely have to make this Swedish cheesecake! A slice of it would be perfect with the cloudberry liqueur my husband has brought from his trip to Sweden.

  4. Rick March 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    That’s an interesting read. I love to read into the photos of others, may be there’s a series of blogs on the contents of readers refrigerators and pantries…

  5. Mel- GourmetFury.com March 5, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    I want to bury my face in this – stat! No dessert for 1 month is killing me.

  6. ingo March 5, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    How fun to read about your own country and about ostkaka, which actually has its own society and therefore also its own day of celebration – on the 14th of November every year.

    I just have to point out that this variety with cottage cheese,is one of two varieties often called “false ostkaka”. In the other “false” version zucchini is used.

    A real ostkaka should contain milk and, according to my dictionary, cheese rennet (in Swedish “ostlöpe” if your dictionary is better than mine).

  7. Danielle March 5, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

    Great post! What a wonderful correspondence and I know what Ostkaka actually is. Looks amazing.

  8. Jenn March 5, 2010 at 9:03 pm #

    I love the browned crust. I’m saving this one.

  9. Mikael March 5, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    @ingo: Milk and rennet makes cottage cheese.

    I know that one should really make it correctly with home-made cottage cheese, but this version is so much simpler and easier. On the other hand, I’m from Stockholm, so I’m allowed to make “false” ostkaka 🙂

    I’ve never heard of one made with zucchini though. Is it still a dessert then?

  10. Mikael March 5, 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    @Manggy: The 750 gr is before straining the cottage cheese (at least when using Swedish cottge cheese, American seems to be a bit different)

  11. Quasi Serendipita March 6, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    Looks delicious! I am speechless that you asked for a picture of the fridge!

  12. Anonymous March 6, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    Beautiful!!!! Now I can use cottage cheese…lol

    Happy baking!
    LeeYong

  13. Heather March 6, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    My mother’s side of the family lives in Minnesota, and Ostkaka has been a staple in our holiday food repertoire for as far back as I can remember. I was so happy to see it featured here!

    I’ve never heard of it made with cottage cheese though, I think Grandma would probably turn her nose up at that hehe, she’s a die-hard rennet and milk fan. I will see if I can send you a copy of her recipe to try out. 🙂

  14. Leela March 6, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    Feedback from Twitter: http://twitter.com/robvogt/status/10094094934

  15. Leela March 6, 2010 at 11:27 pm #

    More feedback from Twitter: http://twitter.com/QSerendipita/status/10089113587

  16. Chocolatesa March 9, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    My mom is from Sweden and this reminds me of when I ate this when we visited Sweden when I was 14. You’ve reminded me of my future project of blogging about Swedish food, thank you!

  17. LeeAnn November 21, 2010 at 12:06 am #

    My husbands cousins are from Sweden and beg me to cook for them every time they visit. I can’t wait to surprise them and bake this the next time they come to the states!

  18. Jennifer March 8, 2011 at 7:17 am #

    This is definitely easier than the way my grandmother/aunt make it, with raw milk and rennet. Or, if the government’s reading, um, totally pasteurized milk, yep, cooked clean.

  19. Emily April 9, 2011 at 1:05 am #

    I live in a town that claims to be the Swedish center for our state (Nebraska) and this is one of the first things that I was told I had to try. LOVE it! Here they make it with the raw milk and rennet. The grocery store imports tons of lingonberries at Christmas time so that they can have it with a traditional berry.
    The local butcher also produces hundreds of pounds of potato bologna and they sell pickled herring and lutefisk as well. I’ve enjoyed trying (most) of these food since moving here.

  20. Kitty November 24, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Funny, Having moved from the states TO Sweden…
    I’ve had this, but I wasn’t… won over by it. The texture is too odd too me. I have eaten swedish cottage cheese and it really doesn’t seem too different from the american variant. I am a bit north of him though, as a comment seemed to show he was in stockholm. I am in the middle of sweden on the coast. Last year I could have walked through a field of snow and it would have gone up to my.. armpits. I’m not exactly short either. nearly 6′ 🙂 give or take a inch.
    We (me and my sambo, the reason I am here) will occasionally buy a premade swedish cheesecake and I enjoy them but to me they are not the same cheesecakes from back home. And everytime I make a cheesecake people seem to want more.

  21. Elena December 23, 2011 at 5:16 am #

    Wonderful dessert and looks great ! Thank you , Mikael!
    I think, it’s possible to replace bitter almond scent with Mahleb ( grounded kernels of wild cherries).

  22. Elaine Westreing December 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Being from a German family, I was a movein to our Swedish community in nebraska but i fell in love with all things Swedish and have almost forgotten that I’m not Swedish. BUT..the recipe for Ostkaka is way off base. My mother-in-law would throw up her hands in horror at making Oskaka with cottage cheese.
    Want an authentic recipe for Ostkaka? Write to me at littleblueriver@hotmail.com and I’ll email the recipe to you. And if you’d like to try some I’ve made, come to our Swedish Festival the 3rd weekend of June every summer and you will be able to enjoy real Ostkaka.

    • Alice Moriarty (nee Rosengren), Alice June 3, 2014 at 7:13 pm #

      My grandparents (all 4 of them) emigrated to the US from Sweden in the late 19th century. I had ostkaka as a child and had forgotten it until after I married. I bought some Rennet tablets and, lo and behold, that little wooden tube had a recipe for ostkaka tucked into it. My Irish husband loved it, as did I. I made it many times. It called for rennet (& I recall that’s what my grandmother used too). Over the years I lost the recipe. I wrote to Junket company and found the company had been sold to Salada Tea company who could not give me the recipe. I just let it go but recently thought I would try again. (Some 50-60 years later) The internet is wonderful. You can find just about anything! After that long story, may I have your recipe? Thank you so much. Alice

  23. Juliana December 22, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    I was an exchange student to Sweden many many… to many to list…. years ago. It was there that my love for cooking was born. I came home driven to discover for myself how to make everything. As for Ostkaka after much experimentation with 1) how to make “proper” ostkaka starting with milk and rennet, 2) making it from cottage cheese, and 3) learning how to make cheese at home I’ve settled on the best compromise for all involved.

    If you are in a hurry forget the cottage cheese. Go straight for the freshest ricotta that you can find. In my opinion ricotta produces the closest to “real” ostkaka that you can make without starting from scratch, read as whole milk and rennet.

  24. Christie December 23, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    My swedish descent family has been making ostkaka in here in Texas in the traditional way with 2 gallons of milk gotten straight from the dairy and rennet tablets. I can empathize with your wariness of “getting it too dry” as that was my mooma’s grandest concern as we precisely strained the curds. Since I am in charge of Christmas Eve this year, I have decided to try the cottage cheese method. One thing surprises me, though. In our family, we have always put one whole almond into the oustkaka. On Christmas Eve, when the ostkaka is served at our open house, the person who finds the almond gets a prize. Usually a small christmas ornament. I’m looking forward to trying your ostkaka. God jul.

  25. Pam Johnson January 11, 2013 at 5:14 am #

    I make ostkaka from scratch. I was taught by my husbands swedish family that passed the recipe down. Its anything bit simple but worth trying! You take 2 gallons of milk and get it to 110 degrees. Dissolve (my recipe called for two rennit tablets but in the olden days they were much larger) I use 6 after talking with the dairy in my area. If you can get your hands on a pail of milk straight from the cow this turns out so much better! I have added buttermilk and even cream to the whole milk to make it richer. You also add a 1/2 cup of flour thats been blended into some of the milk first then blended into the batch. You leave it sit to separate the curds from the whey. Seperating can be difficult and even the climate of the day can effect the outcome. Its harder to separate due to processes the milk goes through. The old way is to strain the curds with cheesecloth. Then you whip up whipping cream eggs and sugar and fold the curds into it and bake.

  26. Ann March 23, 2013 at 1:16 am #

    Hi Leela!
    As a Swede living in Ohio since august last year, this recepie was a true gift.
    I tried it with almond extract and small curd cottage cheese from Breakstones and it tastes amazing!
    Will never buy one in the store when I go back home.
    Give my thanks to Mikael and thank you!

    Ann

  27. Meeks July 29, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

    A Swedish friend sent me a link to this post specifically for the recipe, but once I was here I really enjoyed the rest of the post as well! Thank you. I’ll be back. 🙂

  28. Pam McMartin May 30, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Yesterday I bought a cook book at an estate sale, in it were numerous recipes for Ostkaka. Being 1/2 Swede I am interested in some of these Swedish recipes. I read your interesting exchange with your Swedish friend and thoroughly enjoy it, especially the pictures including the inside of the fridge!!! I would probably have done the same!!! Bless you and I am going to try the recipe you posted. thanks much and keep on asking dumb questions!!

  29. Suzie September 8, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

    Ostkaka tastes best with lingonberry jam. You can get it at IKEA

  30. sarah November 23, 2015 at 9:21 am #

    does not look like the way my family makes it because you’re suppose to use unpasteurized milk not cottage cheese. But yes cottage cheese can replace the milk but it will have a different teacher and taste. And yes it is hard to find the milk but you would have to have a friend that has cattle and would let you have some. 🙂