ELK HORN, Iowa -- You could get off Interstate 80 in Elk Horn, come to the Danish Inn and eat a very nice hamburger or BLT sandwich for lunch, or a plate of broasted chicken with French fries and coleslaw. Many folks who live around here treat the Danish Inn like an ordinary town cafe, which in some ways it is. They come for lunch or dinner and eat sandwiches or meat and potatoes, and don't give it a second thought. For those of us whizzing past on the interstate, however, Elk Horn is a community that begs to be explored; and the menu of the Danish Inn invites culinary adventuring.
Here is one of America's handful of Danish communities, where Old World traditions are not only a matter of pride but of regular celebration. (Elk Horn's Tivoli Fest is staged at the end of May each year.) Many of the citizens' Danish ancestors established these towns throughout the heartland and as far west as Solvang, Calif., starting in the late 1860s after the Civil War.
The Danish Inn is the best place in town to sample a delectable heritage of Old World foods, including smorgasbords every Saturday night and Sunday at noon. The featured attraction on ** the buffet table is usually the consummate Iowan-Danish dish, roast pork -- in this case stuffed with prunes and apples. There are sausages of every kind, frikadeller (pork and beef meatballs), and fugles ("birds," made of thin pieces of steak and bacon wrapped around a carrot, so named because they vaguely resemble something that can fly).
Among the sweet things to eat, which include puddings and cookies, one of the Danish-Americans' favorite treats is apple cake, a layered beauty customarily prepared in a glass bowl and served like trifle, with a spoon. Some recipes call for bread crumbs, others for crumbled cake. At the Danish Inn, they make their apple cake with macaroons -- an inspired idea! If you don't have macaroons available and want to use bread crumbs, add a tablespoon or two of sugar to the pan when you brown them in butter.
Ablekage (apple cake)
2 cups well-crumbled coconut or almond macaroons (the soft ones)
8 tablespoons butter
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups peeled and coarsely chopped eating apples
1/2 cup raspberry jam, thinned a bit with water if necessary
Saute the crumbled macaroons in butter over low heat, tossing constantly, just long enough for them to absorb the butter. Remove from heat and continue to stir and toss so they don't stick together. Let cool.
Whip cream with sugar until stiff.
In a 1 1/2 - to 2-quart bowl, preferably glass or crystal, arrange alternating layers of butter-sauteed crumbled macaroons, apple slivers and whipped cream, making 2 layers of each. Swirl half the jam into each layer of whipped cream.
We like ablekage best served immediately, when the apples and macaroons are still crunchy. Use a spoon to dish it out like a motley pudding. But it may be refrigerated and served later, at which time the flavors will have come together and it will have become more cakelike.
The Danish Inn, 4116 Main St., Elk Horn, Iowa 51531; (712) 764-4251.