So here is something a bit different for you – Today’s featured recipe is for Brauðterta. Brauðterta is kind of like a big old multi layered sandwich masquerading as a cake! In English I suppose you can just call it Bread Cake or perhaps Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf if you were being less literal. How fun is this!
And I’m not only going to tell you all about this delicious dish, but I am also going to finish telling you all about that fantastic trip we took with the Parents to Iceland in September 2018. So just to recap, I’ve told you all about the beginning of this trip where we toured the Golden Circle and various other South Coast gems. And then I told you about our big adventure touring Þórsmork in a Super Jeep. Now, I’m going to fill you in on the rest of the trip. On day 5 we set out to visit the Westman Islands (Vestmannaejyar). The Westman Islands are located just off the south coast of Iceland.
The Husband and I were there in September 2017 and absolutely LOVED it! I am originally from a small island in the Chesapeake Bay myself and my father has made his living as commercial fisherman, so I really wanted him to experience Vestmannaeyjar. Turns out it was the highlight of the trip for him. These islands are often overlooked by tourists in Iceland because you do need to either fly over or take the ferry. But in my opinion, it is so worth the effort! I probably shouldn’t let you in on the secret, but I can’t help myself!
The Vestmannaeyjar are absolutely gorgeous!
This archipelago consists of about 15 islands, but most folks live on Heimaey, which is the largest island. We booked a day tour with Eyja Tours to make sure the parents were able to see as much of it as possible
Since we were there at the end of August/early September, we not only were able to see the adult puffin colonies,
but we were also able to experience the pufflings (baby puffins) flying into town.
You see, puffins nest in clifftop colonies, digging a burrow in which a single egg is laid. The puffin chicks, or pufflings, are then cared for by their parents for about 6 weeks. At this point the fledgling makes its way out of its burrow at night and flies toward the sea. However, many get confused by the lights of the town and rather than flying out to sea, they end up flying into town. The Vestmannaeyjar children, or Puffin Patrol as they are known, go out at night with flashlights to rescue them. The pufflings are then taken home in cardboard boxes for the night. The next morning their rescuers take them to the Saeheimar Aquarium (*since our visit in 2018, the aquarium has closed and its residents have moved to the Puffin Rescue Center at the Beluga Whale Sanctuary – see note below) to be measured and weighed. The children can have their pictures taken with their little charges as well. Once done, the little birds are taken to the shore and released back into the wild during daylight hours so that they won’t become confused. The Husband and I had seen this in 2017. But this year we unexpectedly got to participate!
Let me explain. After an action packed day exploring, we took the Parents to one of our favorite restaurants in the whole world – Slippurinn,
we headed back to our lovely apartment accommodations for some well deserved sleep.
However, I was hoping to get another Northern Lights show. I was on watch. So while everyone else was snoozing – I was setting my alarm every 30 minutes to run outside and see if the Aurora was doing its thing. It was a beautiful, clear night. Not a cloud in the sky. So it should have been perfect conditions. But the elusive lights were not cooperating. I was really getting pretty frustrated around 2am, when I heard this strange slap, slap slap noise. I looked down from the sky to see a tiny puffling running full out at me, with a cat close on his tail. The puffling literally ran right into my ankles. I reached down and scooped him up telling the kitty “No, no, no! Not today!” And voila, I had a puffling! I promptly woke everyone up. Look-y here! Hurray! I have a puffling! But it quickly turned to – “OMG! I have a puffling!” We had an early ferry to catch back to the mainland. A ferry that left before the aquarium opened. So the Husband and I decided we would get in the car and go find some locals that were rescuing pufflings. We would just hand ours over to them. Sadly, at around 2:30 in the morning, we did not find families out looking for pufflings, but rather groups of folks staggering home from the pub. No way I was going to entrust my puffling to them! And to make matters worse, about 5 minutes into our drive into town, we had to pull over because there was another puffling in the road. Now we had two of them! No box to put them in. And whereas my puffling was somewhat sedate, though a little bite-y (doesn’t really hurt….its a baby…), the Husband’s puffling was a little devil puffling – biting and scratching like a champ! Talk about driving while impaired! Thankfully we did find two non-drunk locals who had just rescued a puffling themselves and were willing to take our two on as well. What a crazy night! So although the Lights were not willing to show, it was still unforgettable!
The next morning we were up early, caught the ferry back to the mainland and set off for Reykjavík! You can see all of the live action on Vestmannaeyjar in this video:
We arrived in Reykjavík after a short drive. We had booked into The Black Pearl and as a surprise for the Parents, we had reserved the luxurious Penthouse suite for them, which had a great wrap around balcony with lovely views over the city.
The Black Pearl has been one of our favorite places to stay in Reykjavik. The apartments are fantastic, location perfect and the service is absolutely top-notch every single time. I should mention that they offer an absolutely amazing and plentiful in-suite breakfast service consisting of freshly baked bread, pastries, skyr, various cold cuts, salmon, bacon and eggs.
Once settled in, we set out to explore. We showed them the old harbor area,
went up in Hallgrimskirkja for amazing city views,
recharged with a cup of coffee and a visit with the kitties at Kattakaffihúsið
went to the famous hot dog stand Baejarins Beztu
and might have ended up going completely Viking at Mink Viking Portrait Studio .
We were so sad to leave. But there was one more big surprise for everyone. As I have mentioned in a previous post, Icelandair 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. All 5 of us had our bids accepted and were able to fly home first class!
It was truly such a fun, unforgettable trip!
But don’t leave yet. You have simply got to hear all about this Brauðterta. In Iceland, you will likely find Brauðterta at any celebrations where you would find a gathering of extended family such as a birthday party or graduation. At these events, an elaborate coffee table is often laid out for guests featuring all sorts of sweet desserts. And there you will find the Brauðterta, dressed up to look just like a cake, but filled with all sorts of savory fillings. Certainly a welcome break and somewhat of a palate cleanser against the avalanche of sugary treats.
So it isn’t really a cake, but a multilayered sandwich. The bread for making Brauðterta are sold in stores in Iceland and can either be a loaf of bread which has been sliced horizontally or a large sheet of bread similar to the cake you would use in a jelly roll. With this type of bread you can either roll it up like a jelly roll or use multiple pieces of it stacked on top of each other to create a really large Brauðterta. I used a loaf of Soft Sandwich Bread which I had baked myself. I have seen folks use regular store bought, sliced sandwich bread with the crusts removed, but I have not tried that and would fear that store bought bread might not hold up as well.
These layers of bread are interspersed with creamy fillings. Some versions have the same filling repeated with each layer. Others have a different filling on each layer, which is what I have done. The fillings can be anything that you would use in a regular sandwich, though the salad type fillings – i.e. egg salad, shrimp salad – seem to strike the right level of not too dry but not too wet that is required. In Iceland you will often find seafood based fillings, but since the Husband has a seafood allergy and I did not fancy having to go the the ER during a pandemic, I steered clear of that choosing instead to do a layer of egg salad, ham said and a layer of bacon/scallion salad.
The sandwich is then “frosted” with cream cheese or mayonnaise and decorated with meats/vegetables that you might find within.
Brauðterta is considered very traditional, yet it didn’t really become popular in Iceland until the 1950’s. In the past, a lot of mayonnaise was used for the filling as well as the frosting. Now a days you will find not as much mayonnaise but perhaps more sour cream or cream cheese mixtures. Brauðterta’s popularity may have waned for a bit, but recently it has started to make a comeback. The Facebook group Brauðtertufélag Erlu Og Erlu has over 11,000 members. It was founded to exchange recipes, tips and pictures of perfect Brauðtertas. Check it out for some inspiration!
We loved our Brauðterta! I was afraid we would only get one meal out of it and then the bread would go soggy. Not so! We happily snacked on it for the whole week! Surprise folks at your next party or potluck and treat them to this Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf!
Brauðterta - Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf
recipe adapted from: Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 1/2 cups cream cheese (I used Philadelphia’s Garden Vegetable Cream Cheese), softened
- freshly ground pepper
- 6 hardboiled eggs
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 6 ounces cooked, finely diced ham
- 8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
- 1/2 cup green onion, diced
- 1 loaf of white or whole wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed, sliced lengthwise into four slices (I used a loaf of Soft Sandwich bread which I had baked the day before)
- cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, red & yellow peppers, chives, red onion, cilantro or parsley – for decorating
Combine the sour cream with the softened cream cheese in a medium sized bowls. Take three additional bowls and divide the mixture equally among the four bowls. Set one bowl aside for the “frosting’.
Slice the hardboiled eggs crosswise. Reserve one center slice from one of the eggs for decoration. Chop the remaining eggs and add to one bowl with the sour cream/cream cheese combo. Set aside. Combine the finely diced ham with the sour cream/cream cheese mixture in another bowl. And finally add the bacon and diced green onion to the third bowl and mix to combine.
Take the loaf of bread and remove the crust. Slice the loaf horizontally into four slices. Spread the bottom slice evenly with one of filling mixtures. Top with another slice of bread and spread that evenly with the second filling combination. Top with the third slice of bread. Spread that evenly with the last filling combination. Place the final slice of bread on top of that. Press down evenly on the top. Wrap the entire “sandwich” in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.
Unwrap the loaf and place it on a large tray or cutting board. “Frost” the sandwich with the last bowl of reserved sour cream/cream cheese mixture.
Now for the fun part! Decorate your Bread Cake as you see fit! You can get creative here. I used chopped yellow and red peppers, red onion, cilantro, cucumber and an egg slice for my decoration, but feel free to improvise. Do another garden type scene as I have done or maybe do a geometric pattern. The sky’s the limit!
Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Brauðterta:
Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir
OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale
Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer
Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer by Thermoworks
Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Everyday Cookbook
Travel Planning Guide:
Covid-19 Information: Please make sure you familiarize yourself with all of the Icelandic Government’s travel requirements BEFORE you head out. All of the official information can be found here.
I Heart Reykjavik– An invaluable resource for all things Iceland! I Heart Reykjavik is a small, family run company that offers you personalized service. Planning a holiday can certainly be stressful which has become even more so with rapidly changing safety requirements due to Covid 19. I Heart Reykjavik is keeping up to date with all of the government guidelines and can provide guidance here. Additionally, 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!
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.
Car Rental: 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!
Westman Island Links
To Buy tickets on the Herjólfur Ferry as well as read about all the things to see and do take a look at: Visit Westman Islands.
Hotel Vestmannaeyjar – Great accommodation on the Islands.
Restaurants/ Cafés/ Bakeries/ Bars:
Slippurinn – Our favorite restaurant – not only in Iceland. Hands. Down. Favorite! Located in an old machinery shop this family owned eatery features seasonal local sourced dishes often including herbs and seaweed foraged right there on the island. Simply divine food in a friendly and casual environment. Don’t miss it!
Stofan Bakhús – Great bakery! Delicious kanilsnúðars – which are a weakness of mine. Fantastic sandwiches as well. Everything there looks delicious. Go be tempted!
Brother’s Brewery – Microbrewery with delicious local craft brews.
Eyja Tours: Do the Puffin & Volcano Tour! Eyja Tours offers small group (minibus) tours of Heimaey guided by friendly locals who are very knowledgeable about their island home. You’ll learn all about the history and culture of the island, see the major sights and actually get to visit a puffin sanctuary where you can see a live puffin up close! This experience is exclusive to Eyja Tours – though if you go in late August, perhaps you’ll get your own up close and personal experience with a Puffling like we did!
On puffins: If you travel to the Westman Island at the end of August/beginning of September there is a good chance you will see baby puffins (pufflings) being rescued by the local children. At this time of year, the pufflings leave their nests but get confused by the lights of the town and rather than flying out to sea, they end up flying into town. The children go out at night with flashlights to find them. They take them home in cardboard boxes for the night. The next morning they take them to the Puffin Rescue Centre to be measured and weighed and the children can have their pictures taken with their little charges as well. Once done, the kids take the little birds to the shore and release them back into the wild during daylight hours so that they won’t become confused. We were lucky enough to be there when this was happening and it was unforgettable!
Eldheimar museum – This museum documents the story of the surprise 1973 eruption of the volcano which caused the roughly 5,00 locals to flee on fishing boats in the middle of the night to the safety of the mainland. The eruption, which lasted for 5 months, buried 1/3 of the town in lava and destroyed over 400 houses and businesses. The resilient islanders did return and rebuilt the thriving community you will find today. Fascinating stuff! A must visit!
Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary/Puffin Rescue Centre – Back in 2018, when we visited the Vestmannaeyjar, the kids took their rescued pufflings to the Saeheimar Aquarium. The aquarium closed in 2019 and their residents moved to the new Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary. Now when you visit, you will be able to see two rescued beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White, in addition to the rescued and resident puffins at the Puffin Rescue Centre!
The Black Pearl Reykjavik – Reykjavik’s Finest Apartments – We have stayed in their luxurious apartments twice and love them! The apartments are fantastic, location perfect and the service is absolutely top-notch.
I Heart Reykjavik Private Walking Tour – Do this tour when you first arrive in Reykjavík and you will be set! Auður will not only tell you about the history of the city but she will also impart a local’s insight on the best bars, restaurants and shopping that Reykjavik has to offer. She will guide you off the beaten tourist routes and back into the neighborhood streets to get a glimpse of a local’s life and to reveal some of the wonderful hidden street art. Fabulous tours catered just for you!
Mink Viking Portrait Studio: Unleash your inner Viking at Mink! This photo session was an absolute blast and we came away with a fantastic, lasting memento from Iceland!
Hallgrímskirkja – Reykjavík’s main landmark. Go up in the tower for breathtaking views of the city!
The Settlement Exhibition – Museum built around the remains of a home from around 871. Great interactive displays of Viking Age history.
Baktus the Cat – Yes, I’m talking about an actual cat here. But not any old cat – this cat if a Reykjavík celebrity! He has over 7,000 followers on Instagram. You might be able to catch a glimpse of him at his hooman’s store, Gyllti Kötturinn, where he lives. Or perhaps you can see him at one of his favorite hangouts – the Icewear store, which is located across the street, which is where we found him.
Restaurants/ Cafés/ Bakeries/ Bars:
Íslenski Barinn– Love, love, love! Delicious food & local brews in a comfortable, cozy setting.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur – Legendary Icelandic Hot Dog stand in Reykjavik. A one a day must for the Husband while we are visiting the city!
Kattakaffihúsið – Iceland’s First Cat Café. Here you can not only enjoy a fantastic cup of coffee, delicious pastries and sandwiches (all vegan), but you can also pet some adorable kitties while you are at it! This cat café usually has three cat residents at all times. And even better, these adorable kitties are all available for adoption. An absolute must for cat lovers!
Brauð & Company– Bakes my most favorite in the world kanilsnúðar!
Reykjavik Roasters– Wonderful coffee & vibe. Love the cinnamon scones!
Sandholt Bakery – A never ending parade of scrumptious treats and sandwiches!
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!
The Handknitting Association of Iceland – Icelandic Sweaters knitted in Iceland by Icelanders!
Thorvaldsen’s Bazar – Icelandic Sweaters (Lopapeysa) knitted in Iceland by Icelanders. All profits go to charity!
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!
If you are planning a trip to Iceland, I have written a bunch of posts about our travels there, which you might find helpful.