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I learned Swedish also thanks to recipes

Photo: Ondřej Surý.

The smell and taste of her Grandma's cakes brought her to baking. Love for Scandinavian culture brought her to the Faculty of Arts. In addition to Scandinavian studies student Kristina Hrubá occupies herself with baking and photography. For more than two years she has been writing a successful blog under the nickname Děvče u plotny (Girl at the stove), where she regularly published original recipes of mainly Swedish cakes and pies, and provides catering for events such as the ELF Day at the Faculty of Arts.

When did you find out you were interested in baking? Were you a girl at the stove since childhood?
In fact yes. My Grandma had a lot of spices at home in small spice boxes stored in a large cabinet. She often had me smell them and I guessed what spice it was. I learned by playing. That's how it started for me. Grandma herself baked really beautiful cakes. I inherited this from her and it's apparently in the family, my aunts also bake a lot. When I was fifteen, I started trying first recipes and I really enjoyed it. Over time, I baked more and more and two years ago I started a blog, which made me bake more often and regularly.

So how often do you bake?
Almost every day. I bake cakes in the Franz bistro twice a week but I also often prepare something for my friends' birthday or I bake for the sake of my blog when I feel like trying a new recipe. I eat quite a lot of sweets. But, paradoxically, the more sweets I bake, the less I eat them. I probably don't need them that much then.

Most recipes on your blog have their origin in Sweden. What made you like this cuisine, for Czechs still a bit unknown?
In the first place it is due to the fact that I study Scandinavian studies at the Faculty of Arts. I relate to Nordic culture. I visited Norway several times before going to university. When I was deciding what to study, it was pretty obvious to me. After the second year I spent several months in Sweden. The family I stayed with had a loot of cookbooks at home and I would also bring piles of books from the library. I kept copying recipes from them and then trying them. I developed taste for Swedish cuisine thanks to this and I have kept it.

Is there a big difference between baking Swedish and Czech pastries?
Not at all, they are quite similar. Swedes use a lot of yeast dough and they bake similar cakes to ours. That's why it's not difficult to bake them here in the Czech Republic, because the ingredients do not differ much. What causes problems sometimes is cardamom, a special spice difficult to get here. Also pärlsocker, big white crystals of sugar, which you can't buy here. I still use the one I brought from Sweden. A typical Swedish pastry is kladdkaka, a chocolate cake, and also cinnamon roles kanelbullar filled with a mixture of cinnamon and cardamom—they are sold in every café.

Did studying of Swedish recipes help you also in your studies?
Certainly, at the beginning I simply translated recipes from Swedish and I was learning on them. But generally, as far as my studies are concerned, my stay in Sweden helped me make progress mainly in speaking. I left at the end of my second year, I got talking there and I was able to fluently communicate with the local people.

What's the Swedes' relation to food?
It's easier to buy quality food in Sweden than in the Czech Republic. They like food, they eat a lot of vegetables, salads and quality meat. Quality is important for them, they value it. Also, vegetarianism is trendy there. Being familiar with true home Swedish cuisine, I take pride in making my cakes really genuine. I use only the best ingredients, real butter, I do not cheat on the recipes in any way. Otherwise people don't like it.

Scandinavian cuisine is becoming more popular in the Czech Republic also thanks to your blog. Do readers contact you for advice on baking?
They write to me often, ask about recipes, want advice. But also I often ask my fans for advice, for example recently I had a problem with leaven bread and I was given a lot of interesting tips on how to go about it. The blog is getting more popular and I devote a lot of time to it. For example, when I bake a cake, it takes three or four hours, then I have to take pictures of it, write a post, publish it... Sometimes a whole afternoon is not enough.

What are your future plans with the blog? Would you like to open your own café or sweetshop? Many places outside of Brno are already interested in your cakes.
I am just looking for premises where I could open an establishment and sell cakes to cafés. But it is quite hard to find such place. I would be happy if I did. I enjoy baking, I am also attending confectionery retraining courses to be able to pursue baking full time. One day I would love to write a book of Swedish recipes. It seems to me that people in the Czech Republic have recently been very interested in Scandinavia and original Scandinavian recipes would certainly be interesting for them.

You wrote your bachelor's thesis on cafés and coffee culture. What is interesting about Swedes' relation to coffee?
In Sweden, they have the habit of “fika", which is a traditional break for coffee accompanied by something sweet. It's typical of them. Sweden was one of the first European countries where coffee came and it became naturalized there. Swedes drink a lot of coffee, it's their social institution. All cafés offer black filtered coffee which you refill for free. They probably couldn't function without coffee, it is something like a drug for them.

I hear you favourite sweet is panna cotta with fruit. But what's your favourite dessert to bake?
Hard to say. Most of all I enjoy cakes. But when I bake something over and over, it becomes boring. I like doing new things and try new recipes, I adjust them to my taste. It is actually an adventure, you mix something up and then hope it will come out fine. But fortunately it usually does.

Masaryk university