Book Review: ‘Fika’ by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall

fika

In their new book, “Fika”, EcoSalon’s own Foodie Underground Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall explore a slightly less known but no less intriguing food culture from Sweden: the eponymous fika.

If the obsession with lifestyle books about why French women don’t get fat has proven anything, it’s that a food culture is about so much more than its recipes — and if the popularity of these books proves anything, it’s that people care about it.

Fika, the authors, who are both of Swedish extraction, explain, roughly translates to “coffee” or “coffee break.” But they quickly dispel any similarities with an American coffee break, highlighting the importance of taking the time to enjoy fika according to the Swedish tradition. “The essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break.”

Fika is as much about comfort, togetherness and tradition as it is about the cake and cookie recipes that so traditionally accompany it. Coffee isn’t fika without a little something to go with it, and the cookbook makes this clear through lengthy introductions to each chapter, detailing, amongst other things, the history of coffee in Sweden (and why it was once a boys’ club!) and more modern approaches to fika. Each chapter is accompanied by a series of appropriate recipes, from contemporary go-tos made easy for busy bakers after the modern fika chapter, or more celebratory cakes like advent pepparkakor following an in-depth description of the tradition of name days and other Swedish holidays. Reading this book is a pleasure whether you’re looking for a recipe or not.

marta's sliced chocolate cookies

That being said, the book is also keen to explore the Swedish baking tradition, starting with an ingredient guide outlining basics, which the authors recommend you buy organic, and specialized Swedish ingredients as well as possible substitutions. That being said, the authors also highlight that because many of these recipes are intended to be everyday affairs, individual bakers can adapt as they see fit. When I made the chocolate slice cookies, I didn’t have the pearl sugar called for, but I did have some chocolate sprinkles languishing in the cupboard. They weren’t organic, but they did make a tasty chocolate topping for the already rich, fudgy cookies, which paired perfectly with an afternoon cup of coffee.

marta's sliced chocolate cookies

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the lovely illustrations; in the days of food porn obsession, it’s difficult to find a cookbook that doesn’t rely on photos of the recipes within to sell it, but “Fika goes down another charming path, with drawn illustrations by Johanna Kindvall: from a cute and comical drawing of flipping Swedish pancakes to detailed illustrations of the various rolling and shaping techniques for traditional Swedish saffron buns, these drawings add to the fanciful nature of the book.

Throughout “Fika”, the authors highlight the ways in which fika can be assimilated into daily life — at the end of the day, it’s as much a book of recipes as a book of culture, and in encouraging its readers to take advantage of a moment to share coffee and cake with friends, it also provides ways to do so: packing coffee and cookies for a post-hike pick-me-up, inviting a friend over for a pot of tea or coffee and a slice of cake, or even making a homemade fruit cordial and enjoying it at the beach for midsummer. “Fika” positions itself as a how-to guide for in-the-moment living, and it makes good on its promise.

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Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.