Today I would like to share this Icelandic recipe for Kanilterta with you. This delicious treat boasts four layers of cinnamon spiced buttery cake separated by sweet vanilla whipped cream & topped with silky decadent chocolate. I even bet you have all the ingredients necessary to make it in your pantry right now.
Oh, and I also want to tell you all about our visit to Iceland for an amazing Ice Cave adventure back in February 2018.
Now I know when folks are planning a get away in February they might be dreaming of a sunny Caribbean island or something. Iceland might not be the country that comes to mind. However, anyone who knows me, or has read my blog at all knows the Husband and I are not beach people at all. We much prefer the colder climes and absolutely love Iceland at anytime of the year. We had taken a trip to Scotland to go to Up Helly Aa– Europe’s largest Viking fire festival, which takes place at the end of January. So we decided to take advantage of Icelandair’s Stopover offer. You see, if you fly to any of their destinations you can add an up to a 7 day stopover in Iceland at no charge! So it was a no brainer for us. We actually ended up spending one night in Iceland on the way to Scotland and then spent an additional 6 nights on the way back to Virginia.
And in addition to Icelander’s fantastic Stopover offer, on certain flights they also offer the option to “Class Up” from economy seats to Saga Premium. So, how it works is 10 days prior to an eligible flight, you will receive an email asking if you would like to place a bid. You are then able to decide the amount you are willing to pay, in addition to the cost of your original ticket, to have a Saga class seat.
You should keep in mind that it is per seat. So if you bid $200 and there are two of you on the ticket, then you have actually bid $400. And this is per segment of the flight. So if you have a roundtrip flight, you would be bidding on the flight over as well as the flight back. If your bid is not accepted, nothing changes with your original ticket. You still have the same seats. However if your bid is accepted, you will find yourself in Saga Class. We made a bid and it was accepted!
Our flight arrived in Iceland around 6:30 am and we were not headed on to Scotland until 7 am the next morning. So we chose to stay close to the airport rather than to travel into Reykjavik. Tired after our overnight flight, we checked into the Silica Hotel at the famous Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is located near the town of Grindavik and is only about a 15 – 20 minute drive from the airport. The Silica Hotel is only about a 3 minute drive, or a short stroll through the beautiful green moss covered lava fields, from the Blue Lagoon. Needless to say, we arrived well before our check-in time, but were able to take advantage of their abundant breakfast buffet while we waited for our room. Since the hotel was not very busy, being February and all, they were able to get us into our room a bit early.
View from our room at The Silica Hotel
After some shut eye, we took a stroll over to the Blue Lagoon
Strolling through the lava fields
to enjoy a delicious dinner at the Lava Restaurant.
We did not spend any time in the actual lagoon at the Blue Lagoon on this trip. We have several times in the past and truly enjoy it and do recommend it, even if it is a bit touristy. There is a reason why folks love it! And I should mention that when you book a room at the Silica Hotel, premium entrance to the Blue Lagoon is included. That is really quite a perk, especially in the summer time. The Blue Lagoon has become so popular at this point, it is unlikely that you could gain entrance without booking in advance. But there is also even another perk to staying at the Silica Hotel – they have their own private lagoon for folks staying with them! How awesome is that!!!
Now there isn’t a swim up bar, like there is in the main Blue Lagoon, however you can place a drink order with one of the Silica employees and they will deliver it to you while you soak in the Silica Lagoon. The Husband and I loved this little private oasis. Not crowded at all, very quiet. We spent quite a while relaxing and unwinding here on the first night of our trip!
After all of our adventures in Scotland, we arrived back in Iceland and taxied into Reykjavik. We had been dreaming of visiting an Ice Cave for sometime and February was the perfect time to go on an Ice Cave adventure. You see, it needs to be cold to safely visit an Ice Cave, so most of these tours take place from October – March. February was just perfect! So I booked a two day tour, which would take us and a small number of other guests (no more than 8) out along the South Coast, stopping to visit Seljalandfoss & Skógafoss Waterfalls, the Reynisfjara Black Sand beach, and Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. Then we would spend the night at the tour group’s cottage, have a traditional Icelandic dinner and enjoy the Northern Lights if possible. The second day we would visit the Diamond Beach, Jökulsárlón, walk on a glacier, go to an Ice Cave and then be back in Reykjavik by around 21:00 – 22:00. Two full days without a doubt! Even though we had seen a lot of the South Coast, we were happy to see it again. And even happier to sit back and let some other folks do the driving. On the day our tour began it was raining. And I don’t mean just a little drizzly, just spitting a bit…I mean all out, cats and dogs, RAINING! Sure, it will let up soon I thought…HA! If anything it intensified throughout the day! But we didn’t let it stop us! We had all our waterproof gear at the ready.
Drenched at Seljalandfoss.
Soggy at Skógafoss
Soaked before the Basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach
Drowned at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
We arrived in a big water-logged heap at the cottage, which was quite charming and thankfully warm.
The tour company had prepared a lovely Icelandic lamb dinner for us. But first they wanted us to try an Icelandic national delicacy – Hákarl, which translates to rotten or putrefied shark. Yup, you read that right. You see Greenlands shark meat is actually poisonous when fresh due to its high levels of urea and trimethylamine oxide. However after it is buried in sand and pressed down by stones, hung to dry for weeks and then cured for a month or so more, it is just fine! Usually eating a bit is followed quickly by taking a shot of Brennivín – an Icelandic liquor also known as Black Death. The Husband is allergic to seafood, so he got a pass on the putrefied shark and merely concentrate on the shots of Death. Lucky me, I got to sample both. Hmmmm… Rotten Shark & Black Death…what could go wrong?
So how did it taste? Well, the smell was worse than the taste. The taste wasn’t great, but probably not the worst thing ever, though I certainly have not found myself craving either. Needless to say, the Northern Lights did not make an appearance that night. Or if they did , the heavy cloud cover and pouring rain obscured them. But, good news, when we woke in the morning the rain had decided to move on. It was cold and windy, but all things considered and knowing what it was like just the day before, not too bad for February in Iceland. We ate breakfast and then set out for the day. First stop, Diamond Beach & Jökulsárlón.
And finally, the time had arrived! We met up with some local ice cave guides, boarded their modified 4X4 and set off on a very bumpy ride towards Vatnajokull to explore an ice cave!
Ice caves in Iceland are formed from beneath by the canals of water which run under the glaciers. In the summer these caves are often filled with water and impassible, but with the coming of cold water they freeze and voila – ICE CAVE! Incredibly otherworldly and stunningly beautiful – I’ll just let my pictures do the talking:
We not only got to see a traditional ice cave, but after a short walk across the glacier, we got to see a convertible type of ice cave – you know…one with the roof off. Really, it was more like a fissure in the glacier. Also, incredibly beautiful.
And the great news is that new caves form every year, so you could likely go again and again and it would always be different!
Alas, it was time to head back to Reykjavik. We stopped for a short look see at Svínafellsjökull (the glacier where the scenes from North of the Wall in Game of Thrones were filmed), but then got right on the road.
I had been monitoring the weather on my phone throughout the day and was worried about a storm that was moving in. Sure enough, the weather soon turned bad. We thought rain was a problem, but not so much. What we ended up with on the way back to the city was much worse – very windy and driving snow. There was little visibility, multiple cars had gone off the road and driving was treacherous!
When we finally arrived in Hveragerði at the foot of the Hellisheidi Mountain Pass, the one that we needed to take to get back into Reykjavik…yeah, that one…we found that it was impassable and closed.
We sat and waited to see if a plow might make it across the mountain somehow, but after about an hour and some consulting with other stuck tour drivers as well as the police, we realized that we were going to have to go around. Yeah….go around a mountain! Thus turning what should have been about a 40 minute drive over the pass into a 2 hour + blizzard driving odyssey! But I gotta give it to our driver. He was awesome. Calm and confident. We finally showed up back in the city around 2 am! Let me tell you, that was the point where we were really glad we weren’t the ones doing the driving, but rather were in the expert hands of a driver who was experienced driving in Iceland’s tricky, ever-changing winter weather. Although this two day Ice Cave trip turned out a little different than we might have imagined, we ended up having a fantastic time and quite an adventure!
The rest of our time in Iceland we spent relaxing in Reykjavik. We stayed in an AirBnB which was in a great location and had a lovely view.
We went shopping and wandered about town
took in the street art
stopped for coffee at Reykjavik Roasters,
visited our favorite restaurants like Íslenski Barinn and Snaps,
enjoyed a kanilsnúðar or two from Brauð & Co.
and stopped by our favorite bars
and of course, ate a hot dog or two or so…
We were lucky that the Winter Lights Festival was taking place while we were there. This festival is an annual February event in Reykjavik which celebrates both the Winter world and the growing sunlight after a long period of darkness. Every night during the festival various buildings throughout the city have light installations. You can get a map and stroll through the city to see them all.
And we got even more snow, which made me a very, very happy camper. So yeah, February is a great time to visit Iceland! To see all the action as it happened, take a look at this video:
But oh yeah, I was supposed to tell you about his Kanilterta. This traditional Icelandic cake was often baked around the Christmas holidays and served with hot chocolate on Christmas Day. However, in recent years it has lost some of its popularity, being seen as rather old fashioned. Old fashioned it may be, and perhaps not very polished or fancy looking, but it is truly delicious!
I know I’ve told you before that the Husband doesn’t really like sweet desserts. Well, he absolutely LOVED this cake. Has asked for multiple slices!
The layers are more like a cookie or soft shortbread than a traditional layer cake. They are incredibly buttery and decadent. The vanilla whipped cream between the layers serves to light each bite.The top layer of silky dark chocolate is absolutely amazing. Where has this cake been all of my life?!!
Wonderfully rich and buttery with warm cinnamon and chocolate notes, this Kanilterta is absolutely irresistible! It is welcome all year round in our house. Once you give it a whirl, I’ll bet you’ll be hooked too!
Kanilterta - (Icelandic Cinnamon Cake)
recipe slightly modified from: Þjóðlegt með kaffinu
- 260 grams salted butter
- 350 grams sugar
- 2 eggs
- 300 grams all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 4 dl (400 ml or 13.5 oz) cream
- 3 Tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- 75 grams dark chocolate
- 1 Tablespoon butter
Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour and cinnamon together. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined.
Butter four to six 8″ round cake pans and line with parchment. Divide the dough equally between the pans and spread it out into an even layer. Or, if you do not have the round pans, you can draw 4 – 6 circles measuring 8″ in diameter on parchment paper and bake on a cookie sheet.
Bake each layer for 12 -15 minutes or until set. I baked four layers. If you are making six layers, the baking time will likely be closer to 8 – 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.
Whip cream until it starts to thicken. Add confectioners sugar, cream of tartar and vanilla bean paste and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream mixture evenly between each layer of the cake, leaving the top layer bare.
Place layered cake in refrigerator or freezer briefly while you prepare chocolate for the top layer. Melt chocolate and butter over low heat.
Once chocolate has cooled to room temperature, spread chocolate over the top layer of the cake.
Kanilterta brought to you today by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)
Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Kanilterta:
OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale
8″ Round non-stick cake pan
Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Bean Paste
Valhrona French Chocolate Pearls – This is what I used to decorate the top of the cake. It is a crispy bit of cereal coated in dark chocolate. This link if for a much, much bigger bag than you would need for just this dessert, but I wanted to let you know what I had used.
Links for Planning your vacation in February in Iceland:
Getting There: Icelandair! We love Icelandair and have always had great experience with them. Take advantage of their Stopover program on your next flight to Europe.
Silica Hotel at Blue Lagoon: Lovely hotel with its own private lagoon for guests. Extensive breakfast buffet and very close to Keflavik Airport as well as (of course) the Blue Lagoon.
Once in Reykjavik, we stayed in an AirBnB on this visit. Planet Apartments were the folks who managed the unit we stayed in. They have several lovely apartments with great views of the sea. Very friendly & helpful folks to work with.
Car Rental – We did not actually rent a car this time, but relied on taxis. When we do rent a car, here is the company we love:
Blue Car Rental: We ALWAYS rent our car from Blue Car Rental. Friendly Icelandic company, well maintained, newer, quality vehicles – they’ve never let us down and at this point we have rented from them on six different visits and have had excellent experiences every time. The price they quote on their website has all of the insurance included so there are no surprizes when you show up at their rental desk. Highly recommend!
Tours: So visiting an Ice Cave was a lot of fun. We definitely recommend it. I did want to take this time though to impart some advice. Visiting an ice cave is weather dependent in a couple of ways. First of all you need to visit between the months of November – March, when the weather is cold enough that the caves are more stable. Second of all, weather in Iceland is unpredictable. Tours are often cancelled in the winter, so you need to try to remain flexible and go into it knowing your tour might be cancelled due to the weather. That being said, you have to consider how you will be getting to the ice cave. Some of the best caves are located in Vatnjökull, which is about a 5+ hour drive from Reykjavik. You could drive yourself out that way to meet up with a tour – a lot leave from Jökulsárlón. However, keep in mind you will be driving in Iceland during the Winter, so you might end up having to deal with less than favorable to downright dangerous winter driving conditions. Rather than driving yourself, you could book a tour which leaves from Reykjavik and let a local do the driving, like we did. A word of caution here – although they do offer day tours out to Jökulsárlón, I do not recommend them. You will spend at least 10 hours driving – so that is a long day in a car. And keep in mind, the days have less daylight hours at this time of year, so most of it will be in the dark. I think a two or three day tour is a better option. I bet you think that the two day Ice Cave & South Shore tour that we took looked like a lot of fun. It really was and I would have recommended the tour company that we used with out hesitation. The problem is that they sadly ended up going bankrupt in 2019. However, I know a lot of other tour groups out there do similar tours to this one. Which brings me to my actual recommendation here: I Heart Reykjavik! If you are familiar with my past recommendations for Iceland, you will be familiar with this company. We have gone on a couple of walking tours of Reykjavik with them which were fantastic! It was as if you had a local friend there who was able to give you the inside tip on the best restaurants, pubs and shops while telling you all about the city. And I also follow their blog, which offers just a ton of useful advice and tips for your visit.
I Heart Reykjavik– An invaluable resource for all things Iceland! I Heart Reykjavik is a small, family run company that offers you personalized service. They can help you plan a fantastic vacation to Iceland in a couple of ways. You can browse and book tours directly on their website. The advantage here is that I Heart Reykjavik has vetted all of the companies on their carefully curated list. Often they have even gone out on the tours and you can read a review of their experience on their blog. Their recommendations can save you a ton of time pouring over tours and reviews online and let you know which company you can best trust with your money . Another advantage is that if you book all of your tours through them and then a unforeseen change due to the weather or some sort of thing, I Heart Reykjavik can suggest changes to your itinerary and assist you with rebooking. And speaking of itineraries, if you are the type of person who likes to plan out everything yourself, I Heart Reykjavik can still be of assistance. They offer an Itinerary Review service, where they can take a look at your upcoming plans and make sure everything makes sense – such as if you have allowed enough travel time. They can give you feedback concerning accommodation and alert you if there is a must see in the area you are visiting which has not found it’s way into your plans. They are truly an invaluable resource!
Here is a link to an excellent, informative blog post I Heart Reykjavik wrote about visiting Ice Caves just last year. They can help you find the best tried & tested company to take you on an Ice Cave Adventure, according to your individual needs.
Seljalandfoss – A beautiful waterfall located just off of Route 1 on the South Coast. If the weather is good and you don’t mind getting a bit wet, you can walk behind this waterfall.
Skógafoss – Another beautiful waterfall located just off of Route1 on the South Coast. Due to the amount of spray from the falls, if the sun is out you will likely see a rainbow in front of it.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach– Famous picturesque black sand beach located near the village of Vík. Please be careful at this beach. The waves and rip currents are quite powerful. There are sneaker waves which can seemingly come out of nowhere and travel much further up the beach than expected, knocking you off your feet and potentially pulling you out to the freezing sea. Never turn your back to the waves. Unfortunately there have been several fatalities at this beach.
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon – Stunning canyon located near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur in South Iceland. In Season 8 of Game of Thrones you can see the Dragons fly through this snow covered canyon. The vegetation in the canyon suffered from the amount of tourists and it was closed until June 2019, to allow it to recover.
Svínafellsjökull– An outlet glacier of Vatnajökull located in Skaftafell Nature Reserve. Game of Thrones filmed many of season 7’s North of the Wall scenes here.
Jökulsárlón – is a large lake which was formed by a glacier (glacial lagoon). It is located in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Bits of the Vatnajökull glacier break off (calve) into the lake, forming icebergs. These icebergs float around until they melt enough to fit through the narrow opening of the lake and drift out into the ocean.
Diamond Beach– A black sand beach near Jökulsárlón often peppered with icebergs which have calved from the glacier, traveled out to the ocean and then washed back up on the beach.
Íslenski Barinn– Love, love, love! Delicious food & local brews in a comfortable, cozy setting.
Kaldi Bar Fun & hip Bar featuring beers from the Kaldi Brewery
Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar (Kormakur’s and Skjöldur’s alehouse) – Or just plain Ölstofan –house brew Brío is not to be missed!
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur – Legendary Icelandic Hot Dog stand in Reykjavik. A one a day must for the Husband while we are visiting the city!
Reykjavik Roasters– Best coffee & vibe. Love the cinnamon scones!
Brauð & Company– Bakes my most favorite in the world kanilsnúðar!
Snaps Bistro– Laid back, French style bistro, serving up delicious cocktails and amazing breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinners. A favorite with locals and tourists a like.
Þjóðlegt með kaffinu – Besides being a Facebook page, there is also a cookbook penned by Jón Símonía Bjarnadóttir & Gudfinna Hreidarsdóttir. It is available in English, Danish & German. You can purchase it when you visit Iceland or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Reykjavik Grapevine: A witty English language Icelandic magazine. Great read whether or not you’re planning a visit! And if you are planning a visit make sure to check out their annual “Best of” edition where they give you a curated list of the best of everything to be found in the country!
Icelandic Meteorologic Office – Great for checking the weather before you go and essential while you are visiting – especially if you are visiting in the Winter! They also have an app you can have on your phone which I definitely recommend. The weather in Iceland can change suddenly. Be prepared!