Meet the amateur baker making Swedish ‘fika’ hot in Israel

Michael Rothschild opened up a Swedish bakery called Fika. Nothing out of the ordinary in Sweden. But this one is far away, in Tel Aviv. The Local spoke to him to find out more about his unusual passion for Swedish pastries.

Meet the amateur baker making Swedish 'fika' hot in Israel
Swedish fika in Tel Aviv. Photo: Michael Rothschild

What prompted you to open up a Swedish bakery called FIKA in Tel Aviv?

I am actually a TV producer, not a baker. I was born in Sweden and lived there till I was 30. Ten years ago, I moved to Tel Aviv, because I think it is a really cool and liberal city. Before I worked with TV in Sweden and moved to Israel to continue to work with TV.

Then, a year or two ago, I got for different reasons a bit tired of the media business and was looking to do something different. So, I met an Israeli women that came back from Sweden, where she had worked as a baker. She came back to Israel and did not know what to do here. I thought we could do something together, because I also did not know what to do and liked baking at home. We started to think about an idea, but then she got a bit of cold feet and also she was moving with her family. I was stuck with this idea of doing Swedish bakery in Israel, but I had no baker.

I kind of didn’t pursue the idea any more until about a year ago. The idea was still stuck in my head and I thought, maybe I could do it myself. So I started to watch YouTube tutorials on Swedish baking, read books and started experimenting at home. I got better and better, so I decided to just put up a website and a Facebook page and put up some pictures and prices. I thought “Fika” was a good name, kind of catchy and easy to say for Israelis.

But I did not really think it would lead to something. Two days after I put up the site, people called and ordered, which was a bit unexpected but very fun. Since April I’ve been baking every day for people. In the beginning, I only baked on order, so people called and picked the order up the day after. Two months ago, I started to also work outside on a market and I’m looking up for a place to open up a real bakery where people can sit down and have a fika.

Fika is a Swedish term which means to have coffee and something sweet. Photo: Michael Rothschild

What makes Swedish pastries so special for you?

I like baking, but not everything. I wouldn’t open a bakery here with croissants or Israeli style of pastries. It is a connection to Sweden. I do miss it, and it gives me a chance to have one foot still in Sweden. And of course, it is really tasty! I think it’s like a hidden culinary thing. The Swedish bakery tradition has not really been exploited until about five to ten years ago, when people started baking Swedish in New York, London and even in Singapore. I guess it is like an ongoing trend that I also picked up. Tel Aviv is a trendy city with a lot of people coming from all over the world. The Swedish baking has a really high international standard, definitely not less tasty than the French or the Austrian for example. It’s as good or even better.

You want to bring the Swedish concept of fika to Israel. What makes fika so unique?

I think the concept of fika is not so unique. People here actually do a lot of fika, they just don’t know there is a name for it. The meeting and socializing together over a coffee to break the daily routine kind of fits the lifestyle here as well. People are looking for better quality of life and improved social rights. They are always meeting up in cafés, so I think it just fits to the culture here. When I explain the word to people, they find it has also some kind of meaning to them.

What reactions did you get from people, especially Israeli people?

They really like it. Many people trying for the first time are coming back again and want more. There has been coming a lot of French bakery to Israel in the last five years and lot of Israeli bakeries were inspired by the French cuisine. I think people are looking for something new, they always like new stuff here and if it’s good it kind of sticks. So far people really like the kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) and the mazarin (Swedish almond tart). They don’t understand why we use so much cardamom in sweet things. They use it a lot but not in pastries, same thing with saffron. But when they try it they really like it, at least most of them.

Cardamom is part of Swedish baking culture. Photo: Michael Rothschild

On your menu are also Israeli/Jewish sweets with a Swedish twist. How important is it for you to combine both cultures?

If the thing grows and has a bigger crowd of customers, I think I will have to adapt a little to the local taste. So, I will get some inspiration from Israeli baking, what they are used to here. Maybe I’ll use a little bit less cardamom or something like that. Right now, I’m kind of going Swedish hard core, especially for the markets.

What was the most surprising thing you learned when opening your bakery?

The most surprising thing was that people started to order after I put up the website. Not the fact that they liked it, because it is very good. All Israelis that have been to Sweden and buy from me are happy to taste Swedish bakery here now as well. I was more surprised from my view that it got so much attention right from the beginning. I actually do less and less TV stuff which is my main profession. So, that is most surprising, that I can make a living out of it. It was more a fun thing, I am not a professional baker. But I’ve learned a lot, worked at a place for baking in the summer and have Swedish friends that help me when I have questions like: Why is the dough not rising? I’m still far away from a professional baker though.

What is your favourite Swedish pastry?

Well, I like a lot of them, that’s probably why I gained some weight since I started. I guess, I like the kardemumma (cardamom) bun and mazarin the best.

Most of my customers like kardemumma and mazarin when they taste it, I think they like everything. Saffron is a big surprise to them, but they also like that. I guess the cinnamon bun is the one that sells the best.

Cinnamon buns sold at Tel Aviv's market. Photo: Michael Rothschild

To take a look at more of Rotschild's baking visit his website or follow his bakery on Facebook.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.