Suksessterte: The Norwegian Tart That Accomplishes Quite A Lot

Suksessterte may be a Norwegian word, or rather, a portmanteau of two of them, but it's an easily deciphered one. No false cognate here like the infamous Spanish embarazado (which does not mean "embarrassed," although you may well find yourself feeling that way if you unintentionally declare yourself to be "pregnant"). Instead, this cake's Norwegian name means just what it sounds like in English: "success tart." And yes, Norway really does have a special cake meant to congratulate people. It's kind of like a homemade (and much smaller) analog of the Costco sheet cake that is ubiquitous at American office parties.

The suksessterte can be used as a birthday cake, although it also features in other congratulatory occasions such as weddings, christenings, and confirmations. It's more likely to feature at springtime celebrations, however, and is also in much demand as an Easter dessert – perhaps meant to congratulate the risen Christ on his successful return from the dead and ascendance into heaven, an achievement so noteworthy it's yet to be duplicated.

Where does the suksessterte come from?

The suksessterte's origins are somewhat obscure, as is the fact that it's been adopted as the cake of choice for springtime celebrations. There is some speculation, however, that it may have first been baked in either Vardø or Vadsø, which are both tiny little towns in the far northern and eastern part of the country. While either or both seem like unlikely candidates to be the birthplace of a somewhat fancy pastry, it seems there's a pretty plausible reason behind this possible origin story.

Both Vardø and Vadsø, in ancient times, were located along a shipping route that likely connected the continent with Russia and perhaps on into Asia (Vardo isn't much more than 100 miles from Murmansk). Was one of the ships that docked at either port carrying a baker, or at least someone with a recipe, that came from a country such as Austria or France? It doesn't seem far-fetched, as the suksessterte would not be out of place in either a konditorei or a pâtisserie. As to how the cake became adopted as the official dessert of momentous occasions, no one really seems to know, although it's possible that all of the sugar, butter, cream, and eggs it contains made it a real splurge back when food was scarcer and these were considered to be more of a luxury than today when we can easily pick up whatever we need in the supermarket at discount prices.

How to make a suksessterte

There are two parts to a basic suksessterte: a cake base and a custardy topping. The batter for the former starts almost like a meringue as it is made with egg whites and powdered sugar. What gives the cake its body and texture as well as much of its flavor, however, is the addition of almonds, which can be either finely chopped or ground. (Almond flour is not used, however, as the grind is too fine for this purpose.) Almond extract may also be added to bolster the nutty flavor.

Once the almond cake is baked and cooled, it is then topped with a custard frosting that manages to use up all of the yolks left over from the egg-only cake batter. (Thank you, thrifty Norwegians! Lopsided egg use can be so annoying.) The custard also involves sugar, butter, and heavy cream and is typically flavored with vanilla. The frosting may be topped off with slivered almonds, and these can also be affixed to the cake's sides with extra frosting. Typically suksessterte is just a one-layer cake, although if the celebration is an extra-special one, a two-layer one could be made. In that case, you'd need a double batch of frosting since the same custard would be used as a filling.

Suksessterte variations

While most suksessterte recipes seem to be fairly similar, there are several common variations. One we already mentioned, that being baking the cake in two layers rather than one. There's also the issue of whether to frost the sides or not, as both of these are acceptable (with the latter being, if anything, a bit more usual). You'll also often see a drizzle of melted chocolate over the top of the cake, while there are even some bakers who may opt to use hazelnuts in place of almonds. Flavoring the custard is also done at times, with something like orange zest being used in place of the vanilla extract.

Where you'll likely see the widest amount of variation from one suksessterte to the next lies in the decorations. If a suksessterte is to be used as a birthday cake, it may feature candles, whereas one made for Easter could be topped with chocolate eggs. Candy-coated almonds and flowers made from marzipan are also popular with suksessterte bakers, with the latter giving the cake a particularly springlike feel.

How suksessterte is eaten

The suksessterte's natural environment is in the office, the home, or wherever a "suksess" is being feted. The cake is also widely available in Norway's coffee shops for anyone who prefers a solo celebration. In each of these places, its perfect partner is a cup of coffee -– black coffee, in particular, helps to offset the sweetness of the cake. It also goes well with tea, especially the Norwegian favorite nype-te (rosehip tea) since this has a slight sourness that can cut through the cake's richness.

While suksessterte itself comes complete with a heavy custard frosting, some people like to gild the lily by plopping on whipped cream. In fact, there are even those who like to go all the way over the top by serving it a la mode with a scoop of ice cream. Vanilla ice cream is typical, but chocolate or almond brittle (a popular Norwegian ice cream flavor) would also be delightful alongside a (small) slice of suksessterte.

Where to buy a suksessterte

Suksessterte is, of course, the kind of thing you can buy at bakeries all over Norway, particularly in springtime. In the U.S., however, it's a different story altogether. Although rumor has it that the cake may sometimes be found in bakeries in states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin where the Norwegian diaspora has a strong foothold, we've been unable to source any specific incidences of this. We did find a suksessterte for sale on Etsy, but it cannot be shipped to the U.S.

One place you can get suksessterte, short of being invited to an Oslo office party, is to take a cruise with Viking, a line whose Norwegian-born chairman Torstein Hagen is the very definition of "suksess." A river cruise, however, may cost you between $5,000 and $6,000 per sailing, while an ocean one could cost nearly $80k if you opt for a longer voyage. It seems that the only inexpensive option for sampling suksessterte may involve baking it yourself. For a close enough alternative, though, you could always go with an Ikea Almondy since even though this it's Swedish (and frozen), copycat recipes for the cake show it to be a similar sibling to the suksessterte.