Cheap Eats:
Swedish Almond Toast

I just made plane reservations for a trip to California in September. While I’ll take some time to visit friends and see a few sights, my main objective for this trip is to attend homecoming and my 30-year reunion at my alma mater, Westmont. I’d say the time went quickly, but it also seems like centuries have passed since college. And yet I still remember a great deal about it. I don’t get all wistful, but I do think it’s interesting to reminisce about the old beater cars, the all-night study sessions, the friends, the adventures—and the incredible beauty of Santa Barbara.

As with most of my life, food makes up at least a small part of my college memories. I had had Mexican food before heading for southern California, but had never been in a situation where I could get it so easily. I had half a dozen “favorite” Mexican restaurants in town. Avocados, almonds, and artichokes were incredibly cheap and plentiful, and were favorite snacks while studying. Fresh fruit was available year ‘round, and even seafood was often within a student’s budget.

In retrospect, one thing that amuses me is how many things appeared in California in the early ‘70s that took a long time to make an impact in the Midwest. We could pump our own gas long before it was legal to do so in Illinois. Testing auto emissions also came early to the coast. In the category of food, healthfood was probably the first thing to make it out of California into middle America. In 1969, we were hanging out at the health bar drinking Tiger Milk shakes (not really tiger milk, just a brand name that was meant to show how energized you’d be) and eating things with sprouts on them. The coffee culture was already big in CA back then. We would sit in the coffee shop behind El Paseo and sample Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kona, and Ethiopian coffees and compare the acidity and flavor. The owner would talk about balance, roasting, and Arabica vs. Robusta beans, and we all had drip coffee makers in our dorm rooms. That didn’t roll eastward for another couple of decades. A hot new item in shops and on shelves in the Midwest in the last couple of years is chai, a heavily spiced, sweetened, milky tea from India. We used to curl up on the big pillows at the Indian Tea Room in Santa Barbara and drink Hindi chai while we studied for exams. (Maybe I’ll give the recipe for Hindi chai in another column.) The black tea offered just enough caffeine, while the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, milk, and honey were more fun than necessary.

We also liked to cook. It’s amazing what we turned out with a couple of cake pans, a cookie sheet, a saucepan, a bowl, a spoon and fork, and not much else. We prepared everything from Scottish shortbread (my family’s ancient and honorable recipe) to stews to stuffed artichokes. Friends represented a wide range of backgrounds, and we shared recipes from all across the U.S. and from several foreign countries. My junior year, I learned how to make Swedish almond toast from one of my suite-mates.

As a youngster, I had learned from observing the large group of Swedes at our church, that almost every event is considered an opportunity for serving coffee. I came to understand that they were only half joking when they called coffee “Swedish gasoline.” Hence, I was not terribly surprised to learn that Swedish almond toast is intended to be consumed with coffee.

These almond toasts are a bit like biscotti, in that they are crisp and nut-studded, but they are a bit richer than most biscotti. The college friend who shared this recipe with me also called these treats “dunkies,” because they are meant to be buttered and actually dunked in one’s coffee. This is a delightful way to consume them, though it leaves an oil slick on your coffee. Enjoy.

Swedish Almond Toast

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 cup half and half (or milk)

1 cup chopped or slivered almonds

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. almond extract

4 cups flour

Line 3 bread pans with waxed paper. Alternately, you can grease and flour a couple of 9x9 cake pans, which is what we usually did at school—we always had cake pans, but did not always go in for the finer points of the culinary arts, such as waxed paper.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir into the butter and egg mixture about a cup at a time, alternating with half and half. Add flavoring and almonds. Put batter in prepared pans. Bake at 300°F. for one hour, or until lightly browned. Let cool.

Cut cooled cake in ½-inch thick slices, then cut each slice into 3 lengths. Place on cookie sheets and return to 300°F oven to dry. Keep turning until brown on all sides—about an hour.

Serve with butter for spreading and hot coffee for dunking.

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