Having been away from Iceland (where I was born and raised) for 17 years, there are certain things I miss. Like cold black volcano beaches, midnight sun during the summer months, and dancing northern lights in the winter. Nostalgically, I miss the food, the flavors and textures of simple ingredients grown on the heath and collected by locals in the fall. Most of all, I miss my amma ("grandmother" in Icelandic)’s baking. She would effortlessly whip up a cake or a tower of crepes, and her freezer was always stocked with home-baked goods for unexpected guests and my munch-hungry grandpa.
When writing and creating the recipes for my book, From the North: A Simple and Modern Approach to Authentic Nordic Cooking, I looked back at my heritage and where I'm from, and Iceland seemed to pull me into the kitchen with a creative fervor. I felt empowered to take the flavors that I knew so well and push them to new heights.
So when making this tangy toffee tart, I was thinking of my amma’s caramel cake, but wanted the caramel to be thicker and more dulce de leche–like. Instead of using evaporated milk, I caramelized skyr—the Icelandic power yogurt that's taken the world by storm in recent years. Even though Icelanders have been eating it for over 1,100 years, it wasn't until the mid-2000s when tourism started to bloom on the island and visitors discovered this protein-rich, low-fat gold.
Skyr is such a versatile yogurt (though it’s actually a closer cousin of cheese) and can be used in a hundred different ways. Traditionally it's eaten with a splash of heavy cream and sometimes fresh berries. Excellent as a low-fat dessert, skyr has a very low sugar content as well, and its tangy flavor and thick texture make it an ideal ingredient for this caramel filling.
The beauty of this caramel is that it has a lovely sour taste due to the skyr, which brings freshness to something that would otherwise be too sweet. There's a tiny bit of salt in there too, which adds depth. And pouring all of this into a buttery chocolate tart shell makes it a thousand times better.
Being berry season now—and since nothing is prettier than a berry-topped dessert—I've used both fresh and freeze-dried blueberries here. Blueberries are perfectly balanced, never too sweet nor too sour, always fresh. Plus, I love how they pop in your mouth. My go-to berry for desserts is usually blueberry, or bilberry if I can get it.
If my amma were alive, she'd probably tell me that caramelizing skyr for a tart is a waste of time and that I could have taken an easier route. And that skyr is best eaten plain with a splash of heavy cream and blueberries. But I also think that she, as a baker, would have come around eventually, tried it herself, and told all her friends how genius it is to take that classic combination and refashion it into a more modern application. I think she would've been proud of my new Nordic chocolate tart.
This recipe comes from my book From the North and is reprinted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co., 2018.
For the tart shell
- 1 stick butter
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the caramel filling and toppings
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 cups unflavored skyr
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons white chocolate chips
- Several drops coconut oil
- 1 handful freeze-dried blueberries, for garnish
- 1 handful fresh blueberries, for garnish
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons Kahlúa