Popular over almost all the Nordic region, Tiger Cake is a basic sponge cake marbled with chocolate to give it a striking tiger-striped appearance and nostalgic flavor.
Decades ago, marbled cake had quite a heyday in home kitchens. Both my mother and grandmother made homey bundts of chocolate and vanilla butter cakes swirled together for special occasions as well as everyday fika. This was definitely a favorite of mine, made extra fancy when drizzled with fudge icing for a birthday celebration. What I did not know until recently is that this style of cake has been a Nordic staple, found in a variety of forms in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. Magnus Nilsson shares a recipe for Tiger Cake in his epic bible of Nordic cuisine, The Nordic Cook Book.
His version calls for a different preparation than I was accustomed to, with melted butter and whisked eggs rather than creamed butter and sugar in a basic butter cake format. The result was a more sponge-like texture that was equally as delightful and delicious to enjoy!
After making the recipe once as written, I decided to make a few modifications to suit my own tastes. Nilsson calls for using a “soft wheat flour”, so I used cake flour instead of all-purpose. Cake flour is made from soft winter wheat and is milled to a very fine texture. I have been using Swans Down brand as long as I can remember! This was a staple in my grandmother’s pantry, as well.
For the Tiger Cake, you want to produce a very dark chocolate stripe. I love the rich color that a cocoa powder like Hershey’s Special Dark gives to the batter. This is a “Dutched” cocoa, meaning it has been alkalized so that the cocoa’s natural acidity is neutralized to a pH of 7. Dutch process cocoa has a noticeably darker hue and a smoother, more mellow flavor. Since Dutch process cocoa isn’t acidic, it does not react with alkaline leaveners like baking soda to produce carbon dioxide. That is why it works well with the baking powder called for in this recipe.
The original recipe does not call for espresso or instant coffee powder, however in doing some research I found numerous other versions of Tiger Cake that did use this as a flavor enhancement with the cocoa. I have always added espresso powder to my chocolate cake recipes, so it was a natural addition for my taste!
As I mentioned earlier, my family typically baked marbled cakes in bundt pans but I wanted to see how the classic loaf pan preparation turned out. The key is to really grease your pan well with either butter or a baking spray so that you do not have stuck corners or sides. Parchment paper on the bottom of the pan is also key. Nilsson’s recipe specifies greasing the pan and then sprinkling with bread crumbs to prevent sticking.
Butter and milk are heated just until the butter is melted, then cooled to room temperature.
The eggs and sugar are whisked together until light and fluffy. I chose to add some vanilla for flavor and used my stand mixer rather than doing the whisking by hand. The cooled butter mixture is then added and mixed until smooth.
Next the flour, baking powder and salt are sifted over the batter to prevent any lumps from the flour. The original recipe does not call for salt, but I think this is a necessary addition in terms of getting a nice flavor from the cake.
A gentle mixing can be done with a whisk attachment or by hand. Do not over mix, as this will create a tough texture.
Nilsson’s recipe calls for sifting the cocoa powder into half of the plain batter. I found that this caused the chocolate swirls to be a bit dry, so I mixed the cocoa with the espresso powder and a little hot water to make a more fluid addition to some of the batter.
Transfer a little less than half the plain batter to a separate bowl, then stir in the cocoa mixture to create the chocolate batter.
Assembly and Baking:
Spread 1/3 of the plain batter at the bottom of your prepared loaf pan.
Next, spread 1/2 of the chocolate batter over top, trying not to mix the two together too much.
Continue with another layer of plain batter then chocolate batter, finishing with the last 1/3 of the plain.
Bake the loaf at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Start checking at 40 by inserting a wooden pick into the center. You don’t want to over bake this cake, but it is quite dense so you want to avoid a raw center! The finished cake should be domed and a delightful golden brown color.
Cool the Tiger Cake completely in the pan, then carefully turn out and cut into slices. If carefully assembled, the interior should reveal a striking tiger stripe pattern. This cake is simple yet full of nostalgic flavor that pairs perfectly with a strong cup of coffee 🙂 It is a match made in Fika heaven!
Tiger Cake (Tigerkaka)–Adapted from “The Nordic Cook Book” by Magnus Nilsson
- 9 ounces unsalted butter (2 ¼ sticks)
- ½ cup milk
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 ⅔ cup cake flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon espresso powder, optional
- 3 tablespoons hot water
For the Cake:
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Generously grease a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
- Combine butter and milk in a small heavy sauce pan over medium heat. Heat just until butter is melted. Cool to room temperature.
- In a mixing bowl whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.
- Once the butter mixture has cooled, add it to the egg mixture and beat until smooth.
- Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt over the batter and whisk in until well-combined.
- In a small bowl mix together the cocoa powder, espresso powder (if using) and hot water until smooth.
- Transfer a little less than half of the cake batter to a separate bowl. To this bowl add the cocoa mixture, stirring until uniform in color.
Assembly and Baking:
- Spread ⅓ of the plain batter on the bottom of the prepared loaf pan.
- Spread ½ the chocolate batter over top of the plain batter.
- Repeat with plain and chocolate batters, ending with the plain batter on top.
- Bake the loaf for about 45 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the top middle comes out clean.
- Cool the cake completely before removing from pan. Slice and enjoy!
Tips for Success:
- Be sure to grease the pan well to prevent the cake from sticking.
- Espresso powder is a nice addition to the chocolate mixture to really intensify the chocolate flavor! It is not necessary, however, if you do not have any on hand.
- You want to mix the ingredients thoroughly for each step, however try to avoid over mixing, as this will make the cake tough.
- The cake may also be baked in a bundt or round cake pan if desired.
- This cake freezes well!