Many months ago, while scanning the digital isles of a well-known online book shop, I stumbled across a most curious book with a beautifully illustrated cover called Fika: the art of the Swedish Coffee Break. It’s absolutely no secret that I’m a bit obsessed with Scandinavia, but further to that, I’m also a huge cook book collector, so on finding the book my eyes grew wide and before I knew it, I’d popped it into my digital shopping basket and pre-ordered the mystery title with little more to go on than just the lovely, enticing cover artwork.
Months later I received an email notifying me that my order was on it’s way so I headed straight over to twitter to squeal my delight at the books author, Anna Brones, and illustrator, Johanna Kindvall, in less than 140 characters. To my joy they both consented to share some of their insights about the book and Swedish coffee culture in general – a thing very close to my own heart – so I’m pleased as punch to be sharing that today. I will be sharing Anna and Johanna’s recipe for Fig Squares soon, so keep your eyes peeled for that too!
What inspired you to make your beautiful book and how long did the whole process take?
Anna: I have always loved Fika, as well as cookbooks, and when I started looking, I realised there weren’t any fika-specific cookbooks out there. So I knew the world needed one! Johanna and I started working on our proposal in early 2012, so a three year process from proposal to the book finally being out.
Johanna: Daily fika was something I missed when I started to work as an architect in NYC in 2003. Nobody announced when the coffee was done and if anyone did, I was the only one who jumped up and screamed: Yah! Coffee!
Over here you grab a cup of coffee on the go rather than share a freshly brewed pot of coffee with your co-workers. It’s not the same. When Anna invited me into the project I didn’t hesitate, as it was about time to teach the world about Fika. And as Anna and I already had worked on several Swedish baking articles together, we knew we were a perfect team.
As a baker I’ve been profoundly influenced by Swedish baking culture in particular, why do you think people’s attitudes towards coffee breaks are so special in Scandinavia?
Anna: It’s funny, because if you talk to anyone in Sweden, they would probably tell you that there is nothing “special” about their coffee break. That is to say, fika is such a normal tradition that it’s just a thing that people do without thinking about it. But then you will talk to Swedes who have left Sweden, and it’s something that they really miss. I think the Swedish attitude towards coffee seems special to those of us outside of Sweden because it’s so focused on taking a break and enjoying the good things in life. In our modern world where everything is fast, and most often our “coffee breaks” are drinking a cup of coffee in front of our computer screens, making time to actually take a break and slow down is a really special thing, and probably something that most of us should be doing more of.
Johanna: I never thought the ritual around coffee breaks was that special until I came to NYC. And for Swedes the coffee break is essential. It’s when you catch up with your colleagues at work, meet an old friend or hear the latest news from your next door neighbour. The idea is that you get a short break to focus on something else. After the break you can continue with whatever you were doing, and in my opinion more efficiently.
I think it’s part of the way people live in Scandinavia, work is important but if you want to do it well you value your coffee breaks, social life and long vacations. And there is no shame in it! Its just natural.
What are your personal favourite and most nostalgic recipes in the book?
Anna: I am always going to have a thing for kardemummabullar (cardamom buns). This is one of the most iconic Swedish baked goods, and it’s not one that I have a lot because it takes a long time to make. On the flip side, my other favourite is for the complete opposite reason: chokladbollar, which are also quite iconic and you will find in any Swedish cafe, are super easy to whip up, so it’s my go-to recipe when I need something for fika and don’t have a lot of time.
Johanna: Kardemummabullar (cardamom buns) is surely my most favourite recipe in the book. It reminds me of my grandmother, who always had them ready when we came to visit. Today I always make half the batch as buns (like my grandmother did) and the other half as a braided wreath. The wreath feels special and a welcoming treat when having friends over for coffee. I’m also very fond of our Anise & Hazelnut Biscotti which are not at all Swedish, but a great staple to have around. It was also the first thing Anna and I baked together when we met for the first time in 2012.
Will you be collaborating together on future projects that we can look out for?
Anna: Johanna and I worked together on a book called the Culinary Cyclist, a book inspired by a love of bikes and good food. I wrote it and she illustrated it. It’s going to be reprinted this fall, with a few recipes updates, and a bigger distribution this time, so that’s exciting!
Johanna: We don’t have any specific projects planned but I’m sure you will see us do things together in the future, especially something that’s related to fika and Scandinavian food culture.
Fika is a book that I’m so pleased I bought and one that I would highly encourage any coffee (or tea) break lovers to add to their collections 🙂