Savory Pickled Herring Cake for Swedish Midsummer
Every time I tell people I’m making a herring cake there is an immediate silence, followed by “a what??”
Even my own Swedish mother wasn’t convinced when I was recipe testing and told her I would bring one over for dinner. Maybe “herring cake” is a little misleading, leaving you to think of a weird dessert where a cake is piled with pickled herring on top.
Trust me, you’re not going to be eating this for dessert (that’s hat jordgubbstårta is for). I had my first silltårta a few years ago in Sweden. It was brought to a midsummer party, and I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I love pickled herring, and here it made for a beautiful savory cake that incorporated all of the traditional midsummer flavors. So when I was asked to teach a class on Swedish midsummer food at Book Larder, I knew the herring cake would have to be on the list.
If you’re still weirded out by the idea of a herring cake, think of it more like a glorified open-faced sandwich. The bottom is a layer of sweet, dense rye bread which is then topped with herring, chives and eggs. Traditionally, the herring is mixed together with sour cream and cream cheese or quark, and then gelatin is used to firm it up. I never have any of the above on hand in my kitchen, so my twist is to use yogurt, straining it first to thicken it and make a kind of labneh, that is then mixed in with the herring.
For those planning on celebrating Swedish midsummer, make a little space on the table for this recipe. And be sure to serve with some aquavit. My current favorite is Regnig Dag from Oregon’s Bull Run Distillery.
Herring? Check. Aquavit? Check. Glorious Swedish midsummer celebration? Check. All you need now is a bouquet of wildflowers and you are ready to celebrate long into the summer evening.
Savory Pickled Herring Cake
1 cup (240 milliliters) yogurt
About 7 ounces/200 grams rye bread (about 5-6 slices, depending on size)
5 tablespoons (70 grams) butter, melted
16-ounce (453 grams) jar of pickled herring
Salt + pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped dill
3 eggs, hard boiled
1 large shallot, finely chopped
A large bunch chives, finely chopped
Dill for garnish
Before preparing the cake, you want to strain your yogurt so that it’s a very thick consistency (like the Middle Eastern Labneh). This is easily done by lining a mesh strainer with cheesecloth and letting it sit to strain. My preferred option is to strain it through a coffee filter. Let the yogurt sit and strain for at least two hours, and longer if possible.
When you are ready to make the cake, crumble the slices of rye bread into a bowl. Pour in the melted butter and mix together, using a fork to mash any remaining larger pieces of rye bread.
Press the bread and butter mixture into a springform pan, pressing it down evenly in the pan. Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Using scissors or a knife, cut the pickled herring into smaller slices. In a bowl combine the pickled herring with the yogurt, a little salt and pepper and chopped dill. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and spread the mixture on top of the bread layer.
To garnish, cut the boiled eggs into smaller pieces (or mash with a fork) so that you have a crumbly consistency. Starting in the middle of the cake, sprinkle a straight line of crumbled egg. Working your way out, add additional lines of chopped shallot, chives and eggs, so that you get a “striped” cake.
Chill until ready to serve.
More recipes for Swedish midsummer:
Marinated Cucumbers with Mint (try this recipe with dill or cilantro too!)
A Look at 'Comestible' - The New Indie Food Quarterly (Win a Copy!)
Bonjour Kale: A Story of Greens and More (Plus a Recipe for a Kale Gimlet)