FIKA: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break
Lola A. Åkerström interviews author Anna Brones and illustrator Johanna Kindvall about their new collaboration – an illustrated Swedish cookbook called “FIKA: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break”.
There are three essential words every traveler to Stockholm needs to learn: Hej (hello), Tack (thanks), and Fika.
Pronounced “fee-ka”, the tradition of fika is a cultural institution and is widely translated into taking a break (fikarast) from work to socialize over cups of coffee. Similar to observing afternoon tea in the United Kingdom with an assortment of scones, biscuits, and mini sandwiches, observing fika is accompanied with a slew of fresh, baked goods collectively known as fikabröd.
Most cookbooks that center around the tradition of fika are written in Swedish and so I’m thrilled about this new book which is a collaboration between Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall. I reached out to both Anna and Johanna to chat about FIKA: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break.
Anna Brones is a freelance journalist and author, originally hailing from the Pacific Northwest, where she grew up in a yellow house in the woods with her Swedish mother and American father. She has a BA in International Affairs and French from a small liberal arts school. In her words, “a degree for making up your own professional life plans.” After college she taught English in Guadeloupe and then moved back to Portland and started working at a magazine, then eventually co-founded a digital marketing agency. She went full-time freelance a little over two years ago, and writes a lot about food, coffee, travel and bikes.
She runs an online food journal called Foodie Underground which is dedicated to real food for real people. She tries to post a new recipe every week. Fika is her second book. She and Johanna worked together on the first one as well – a book about food and bikes called The Culinary Cyclist.
Johanna Kindvall grew up in Southern Sweden with a mother who is a tailor and treated the rest of the family with baked goods every Friday. Her father was an artist who provided her with endless quality drawing materials. So not surprising, she ended up as an baking illustrator. She has a background in Social work and Architecture. For a couple years she trained people in a large kitchen in Malmö, serving lunch and fika for 20-30 guests every day. It was a challenge and she learned how to save overly salted stews and what to do when a dough couldn’t keep together.
In 2005, she started kokblog as a way to collect her recipes. It was also a way to showcase her work as an illustrator. Today she works almost exclusively with illustrations (not only food related). Her work has been featured in various books and magazines, such as The Fabulous Baker Brothers by Tom & Henry Herbert, (Headline 2012, UK) and Art of Eating, US. She also illustrates graphics for websites, packaging and patterns for fabrics and wallpaper. In her spare time she is constantly testing and developing recipes.
How did the concept for the book come about? Why a book on fika?
Anna: I have always loved books with a Scandinavian theme, be they about food, design or otherwise. And of course, I’ve always loved fika. So eventually I started wondering why – especially with so many fantastic, classic Swedish recipes and a general interest in Nordic food – there wasn’t a book devoted to the custom of fika. I remember going to Powell’s in Portland to do “market research” which basically meant looking at the Scandinavian cookbooks that were out there, and what this project would add to the mix. I was actually quite shocked at how few there were that were devoted to Swedish baking.Johanna and I originally met how a lot of people meet nowadays: Twitter. We worked on several collaborative blog posts featuring Swedish recipes before doing the Fika proposal.
A few months after Johanna and I had sent in our proposal and were waiting to hear back from publishers, I was in Brooklyn staying with her and I remember having fika in her backyard and talking about what we would do if no one picked it up. We just felt that this was such a fun topic that it had to work. So we were so happy that Ten Speed Press felt the same way, that the world really needed Fika!
Once we had the book contract we had to get to work, and at this point I had moved to Paris and Johanna was in Brooklyn. So on two separate continents, over the next year we managed to develop over 60 recipes, checked in regularly on email and Skype, and eventually we made the book come together. The book is a collaboration: I wrote the text, Johanna created the illustrations and we worked on all of the recipes together. Just like fika is more often done with friends than solo, it was the same with this book.
Why do you think the tradition of fika is such an enticing concept around the world?
Anna: I think there are a lot of reasons that fika is an enticing concept. First off, I think in general people are really interested in anything that’s Scandinavian. Personally I think that part of this stems from an obsession with Scandinavian design. People have always looked to Scandinavia in the design world, but thanks to IKEA, Swedish design was all of a sudden in every single person’s living room. Then I think that anything that has to do with drinking coffee and taking a break from everyday life has an appeal. Coffee, much like tea, is a drink that we consume in so many parts of the world; it’s something that brings us all together. So a peek into how another culture practices that is of interest. Also – who doesn’t love Swedish baked goods?
Johanna: I think we all need a break from work or whatever else we are doing. And Fika is such a great excuse. It doesn’t matter if it’s at work, at home or somewhere else. Fika is always a sweet reason for having coffee (or tea) with baked treats (sweet or savory).
What are some of your favorite fikabröd? Any particular recipes from the book we should try first?
Johanna: There is nothing more inviting than the smell of home baked Kardemummabullar (
A real fika treat, especially when I visit a classic konditori in Sweden has always been Choklad Biskvier (chocolate buttercream almond rounds). They are not the easiest recipe in the book but I find our recipe quite easy to follow and the result is very rewarding. If you want an easier bake, I recommend our flourless Kladdkaka with almonds (sticky chocolate cake), classic Muskotsnittar (nutmeg slices) or our anise seed spiced Syltgrottor (jam thumbprint cookies).
Anna: That’s a tough question! I would have to say that kardemummabullar have always been a personal favorite of mine, probably because they’re a very quintessential Swedish fika item and also the fact that I don’t make them that often, so when I do they really feel like a treat. Of course, chokladbollar are probably right up there as well, because of their simplicity. One of my personal favorite recipes from the book is the Hazelnut Coffee Cake. Johanna was the one who came up with this one, and also the idea of adding actual coffee to it, and the result is pretty amazing.
What are some of your favorite cafes in Stockholm to fika?
Johanna: Vetekatten is a classic konditori, which I really like to visit when I’m in Stockholm. Years ago I celebrated kanelbullensdag there (the day of the cinnamon buns). But I haven’t been there for years.
Anna: It has been several years since I was last in Stockholm, but I am going this summer and I am really excited to go to Drop Coffee, a specialty roaster located in Stockholm that I have had the chance to drink elsewhere in Europe. In a culture that has grown up with bryggkaffe, which isn’t always of the highest quality, it’s nice to see a specialty coffee culture that’s devoted to quality and ethical coffee really flourishing in Sweden.
How has the book been received outside of Sweden? Any other books in the works?
Anna Brones: The book isn’t officially out until April 7, but so far we have had a lot of interest from friends and followers around the world. I think there is a general awareness of (and even obsession with) Scandinavian cuisine right now, so I feel like the book is serendipitously coming out at just the right time. To give you a perspective: we started working on the proposal for this book three years ago, so to know that the topic is still current, and in fact, even trendy, feels good. The Culinary Cyclist is being re-released this fall which we are both excited about – same book and content, but with a few recipe tweaks and a bigger distribution this time around. And then as for other books, I’m working on something else right now, but not ready to talk about it quite yet.
Johanna: I’m working on a few book ideas but at this point it’s too early to reveal anything. And in the mean time, I’m always open for offers to illustrate books.
On my drawing table, I have just finished some wine illustrations for a online wine store and am in deep progress on an animal art project in Wyoming, where I’m animating short stories of the animal’s wild life.
Where can we buy the book? Is it available for sale in Sweden as well?
At the moment Fika is available for pre-order from Random House and a varieties of online retailers, like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks and Powell’s. The book is also available for pre-order at a variety of European online retailers like Amazon (UK and in Germany), Swedish photography museum Fotografiska, Hedengrens, and the Swedish online stores, Bokus, and Adlibris.
Fika is officially out in US bookstores on April 7, 2015, as well as select international locations. You can pre-order your copy of the book.