Today I’m going introduce something a little sweet and dangerous for the fans (and soon to be fans) of The Almighty Johnsons. This series from New Zealand about the Norse gods in human form has made quite a splash here in the States with its campy humor and fun interpretation on mythology. In it, the gods reincarnated as humans and migrated to New Zealand generations ago to escape persecution in Scandinavia. Being a god is not all it’s cut out to be, and as mortals, their powers are severely weakened.
The show centers around the Johnsons, a family of four brothers, all gods. When Axl, the youngest one’s, god form awakens as Odin, all starts to go to Hel. If Odin finds the human incarnation of Frigg and joins with her, the gods’ powers will all come back in full force. If he dies before that, his whole family will die in the most epic, lightening-from-the sky-way possible. This fact, as you can imagine, puts just a little urgency into the situation — especially when the brother finds himself stalked by a gaggle of murderous goddesses fearful of his return.
You can find all three seasons on Netflix and I highly recommend it, however before you go binge watch for the next few days, I’d like to introduce you to Anders Johnson, played by Dean O’Gorman (aka: Fili in the recent film adaptation of The Hobbit). Anders is the slickest, slimiest PR agent you have ever met. He is also the incarnation of the Norse god, Bragi, the god of poetry. The man’s god-power is to persuade practically any mortal (in his case, mostly dumb blondes he wants to sleep with) to doing or believing anything he wants them to.
Understanding Anders himself is very much like reading poetry–you will only understand as far as you want to read into him. Anders, on the surface, is a caricature of an ultimately terrible person. Reading further, line by line, one can see a reason behind his every action when it comes to the people he cares about. Bragi, by nature, is a cad. That nature enables Anders to take the actions needed that no one is willing to be seen doing. He boldly makes stupid decisions because he can spin his own PR any way he wants to with his literally magical gift of gab. What’s striking about it, though, is that the only people he does not use his power on are his family. Since Bragi has made Anders capable of deceiving anyone he wants, the mortal side allows his brothers to hold onto the surface appearance because in a strange way, it keeps him honest.
In this sense, Anders has created a strange symbiosis with Bragi as the god side of his nature always pushes him towards deception, even when he is not actively using his power. Neither Anders nor Bragi are stupid or evil. As convoluted and selfish their schemes appear to be, they result in the greater good most of the time. Unlike his brothers, Anders has done well to not only embrace his inner god, but match his wits and live in a way that works for the both of them. If anything, Anders teaches Axel/Odin the lesson of how it is easier for one to come to terms with the darker side of one’s nature than repress it.
So today’s inspired dish is based off of this symbiosis. Anders/Bragi, to the mere mortal, looks attractive and benign, but has the ability to lure you in by the tongue and knock you out on your arse. We’ll be making Saffskeke, a traditional Norwegian cake made from lots of almonds, sugar, and butter, and a specialty cocktail I’d like to call the “Mead of Poetry”.
Now here’s little background on the Mead of Poetry because it is from Norse mythology. When the god Kvasir, the answerer of questions, was killed by two dwarves, they drained him of blood and mixed it with honey to make a mead that would make anyone who drank it a “poet or scholar.” Odin stole the mead for the gods and mankind by disguising himself as a giant and spending three very, *erhrm* entertaining nights with its guardian the Giantess Gunnlöd. Each night he drank a draught of the mead before stealing the rest of it away and passing it onto the world. It was not long before Gunnlöd bore a son, Bragi. Bragi is literally born from poetry.
So to make the mead of poetry, you need obviously need mead. I recommend Chaucer’s or Sweet Bea because they’re inexpensive and you can probably find at least one of them at Total Wine. As you might remember from the show, Anders does PR for a Norse-themed vodka company. The red wine is to give a fresh blood color to the brew. And the elderflower liquor and cardamom are to add an herbal, resinous flavor reminiscent of the world-tree Yggdrassil.
The Mead of Poetry
- 1 part vodka
- 2 parts mead
- 1/2 part red wine (for color)
- dash of elderflower liquor
- pinch ground cardamom
Now for some cake! This is a slightly different take on the traditional Norwegian recipe. Like Bragi, it’s born of three parts mead of poetry, one of which drowns the golden apple topping (just like poetry won over Bragi’s wife, Idunn, keeper of the apples of youth). There’s even more cardamom because it is a very commonly used spice in Norwegian cooking.
The Soul of Bragi Saffskeke
- 1/4 cup vodka
- 1/2 cup mead
- 1/8 cup red wine
- splash of elderflower liquor
- large pinch of ground cardamom
- 1 lb plain, unsalted almonds, reserve some for topping
- 1 lb powdered sugar
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 and 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup, plus big splash of heavy cream
- 2 shots of mead of poetry
- 10 Tbs unsalted, softened butter
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 2/3 cups granulated sugar
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 drop of vanilla extract
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 shot of the mead of poetry
- pinch fresh or dried rosemary
- dash cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 1 golden apple, cored, quartered and sliced thinly
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- In a bowl, mix the sugars and baking powder.
- Grind the almonds in a food processor to a fine meal, mix in to the bowl of dry goods.
- Using the whisk attachment on an electric stand or hand mixer, whip the egg whites until it forms stiff peaks (it will have almost a meringue-like consistency and will not move when you tip the bowl)
- Gently add the egg whites into the bowl of dry goods until all contents are moist.
- Line a 13×8 or 13×9 rectangular pan or casserole dish with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.
- Pour in the batter and spread in the pan or dish evenly.
- Bake in the oven for 45 minutes
- Allow cake to cool completely before transferring to a wire rack.
- Mix up “mead” portion.
- In a cup, mix cornstarch and “mead” together until for the most part dissolved.
- Add all ingredients except the butter to a medium saucepan, bring to a boil over medium high heat.
- Rapidly whisk the contents until the mixture thickens, turn off and remove from heat.
- Go ahead and make your apple topping while waiting for the cake and frosting to cool.
- When the frosting has cooled considerably, but still a little warm, whisk in the butter and what is left of the “mead”
- Cook up all ingredients in a small skillet on medium heat.
- Stir often until softened and the sauce thickened.
- When all three portions have cooled considerably, spread a thick layer of the frosting on top of the cake, smoothing evenly.
- Distribute apple mixture on top with some crushed almond.
- Chill cake in the fridge overnight before serving.