So wow! Just look at this amazing layered treat! What we’ve got here is Vínarterta, which translates from Icelandic to “Vienna Cake”. This cake boasts multiple thin layers of cardamom flavored shortbread alternating with spiced dried plum jam and is topped with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.
I’m going to not only share this wonderful recipe with you today, but also continue to tell you all about that trip to the South Coast of Iceland that the Husband and I took with our parents back in September 2018. I told you all about visiting the Golden Circle, Seljalandfoss, Skogafoss, Dyrholaey & Vik as well as our stay at the luxurious Hótel Rangá in my previous post. Today I’ll tell you all about the big adventure we had on day four of our holiday. And I’m also delighted to tell you all about one of our absolute favorite places to stay while exploring the South Coast – The Garage Studio Apartments.
Gorgeous spot huh? But let me tell you about our adventure first. So what was our big adventure? We went on a private Super Jeep day tour of Þórsmörk with Midgard Adventures. Þórsmörk which translates to Thor’s Valley is a stunning nature reserve located in the Southern Highlands of Iceland between the mountain glaciers of Tindfjallajökull, the world famous Eyjafjallajökull, and Mýrdalsjökull. This lush valley has so much to offer – dramatic volcanic landscapes,
breathtaking mountain views,
lush valley scenery
and amazing hiking opportunities.
The Husband and I had visited it twice before and knew Þórsmörk is not to be missed. We really wanted the parents to be able to experience it. The thing is though, in order to enter Þórsmörk, you really must have a 4X4 vehicle as you will need to go onto the “F” roads and make several river crossings. And those “F roads” (not sure what the “F” stands for in F roads, but after having been on them, I can think of a possibility…) in the reserve are pretty rough. To be honest, even if you have rented a 4X4 vehicle, you really need to be experienced with this type of driving. And I should also mention that most rental car insurance will not cover you driving through rivers. River crossings can be quite tricky, so if you make a mistake and end up in too deep of a section the river, thus damaging your vehicle in the process, you could potentially be liable to your rental company for thousands of dollars.
This poor bus required the aid of a tractor once it became stuck trying to cross the river.
Besides the financial burden, folks have actually died trying to cross these potentially dangerous rivers. The solution here is to hire a knowledgeable, experienced local guide. We whole heartedly recommend Midgard Adventures.
The Husband and I have been out on adventures with Midgard previously. In 2012 we went out with them in December to experience the winter wonderland of Þórsmörk.
We were back with them in December 2013 on a private tour of Jökulsárlón.
And in September 2017 we were with Midgard Adventures to hike the magnificent Fimmvörðuháls trail .
Each time our adventure with them has been one of the highlights of our trip! And they didn’t let us down this time. The itinerary that they came up with for the Parent’s Day Tour was perfect. Not only did our charming and knowledgeable Midgard guide expertly navigate Þórsmörk, but he also took us to visit a nearby black sand beach
as well as a couple of stunning, lesser known waterfalls.
The parents were thrilled with the experience of crossing rivers, rough volcanic terrain and black sand beaches in the Super Jeep. And our guide knew how much the Husband and I enjoyed hiking, so he had planned ahead and dropped us off for a small hike over a mountain while he drove our parents around for some sightseeing and then met up with us on the other side. A win for everyone!
What an absolutely superb day. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely! Take a look at this video for all of the river crossings, gorgeous scenery, hiking, blueberry picking and other live action!
After such an exciting day, we were so happy to come back to one of our absolute favorite places to stay on the South Coast – The Garage Studio Apartments. The Husband and I had stayed there previously in 2017 and we were so glad to be back! These lovely modern rustic apartments have been crafted from a former old garage that is located on a family farm belonging to Anna & Siggi. This picturesque homestead is nestled right up to the foot of the mountain topped by the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, under which the famous air traffic interrupting volcano resides.
Siggi’s family has been living on this land for over 200 years. Now Anna & Siggi are operating a “gentleman’s farm” on the site as well as managing several apartments. Located exactly between the two famous waterfalls Skógafoss and Seljalandfoss, these exceptional apartments are the perfect central location for taking in all the South Coast of Iceland has to offer. The setting is nothing less than magical.
You are surrounded by the most idyllic scenery – green hills, a private waterfall, a view overlooking the ocean, fields full of Icelandic horses and sheep,
chickens, a dog (Felix) who never tires of playing fetch
and a cat, who wouldn’t reveal their name, but was friendly nevertheless,Anna was also such an amazing host, so friendly, warm and welcoming. Her spacious apartments are stylishly decorated, sparklingly clean and filled with thoughtful little touches. And as if all of that was not enough, she served us scrumptious freshly home-baked desserts every day! Hospitality like this is hard to find!
And the Northern Lights even decided to put on a bit of a show for us to make our stay at the Garage even more delightful.
Want to see more of the Garage as well as those Northern Lights? Take a peek at this video:
But let me get back to telling you about this Vínarterta – today’s featured recipe.
Although the name translates to Vienna Cake, it likely did not arrive in Iceland straight from Vienna, but rather came by way of Denmark. This grand looking cake was often served on special occasions, such as Christmas. One of the wonderful things about this cake is not only is it delicious, but it also gets better with age. So you can make this up days and days before you actually plan to serve it. You just keep it wrapped in foil stored in a cool place.
This cake reached the height of its popularity in the late 19th to early 20th century. Back in the day, the thin layers of this cake could be easily baked in the more primitive ovens of the time or even on the stove top. And when some Icelanders emigrated to parts of Canada and the Northern United States, they brought this recipe with them. Though now a days, it is slightly different in some ways from the original, such as in North America you will often find versions with more layers and with a frosting on top. They have for the most part stayed true to the filling, whereas in present day Iceland, you are likely to find other types of filling such as rhubarb or strawberry jams.
I baked this Vínartera using Hartshorn or Baker’s Ammonia (Ammonium Carbonate) for the leavener. You will encounter this ingredient in many older, traditional Scandinavian cookie recipes. You can substitute baking powder for it, though the cookie will not have the same crispy texture that it will get from using Hartshorn. I gotta tell you though, man is that ammonia smell strong! It is thankfully completely gone once the cookies/cake is baked, but let me just say, you will not be tempted to nibble the batter before it goes in the oven!
The original recipe did not call for any Vodka whatsoever, but I liked the idea of a celebration cake being just a bit boozy. And I do know that good Vodka doesn’t really have much of a taste. But somehow it just makes me feel better knowing that it is there. I splurged and added a few glugs of Reyka Vodka to thin my jam just a bit as well as soak the prunes. You can virtuously soak the prunes in plain water if you are a teetotaler.
Oh, and I guess that brings me to the dreaded “P” word. You might have noticed that I don’t call it “spiced prune filling”. No. No prunes are in this treat. Just some dried plums. I don’t know why folks freak out when they hear prune, but they do. So yeah. Spiced dried plums are what is in this scrumptious Vínarterta – and believe me you are going to love it!
recipe slightly from: Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir
For the Spiced Dried Plum Filling:
- 1 1/2 Cups Pitted Prunes
- 1/2 Cup Sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon Ground Cloves
- vodka (for soaking the prunes as well as thinning the jam – optional)
For the Cake Layers
- 1 Cup Butter, softened
- 1 Cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 4 Cups all-purpose Flour, or as needed
- 1 1/2 teaspoon Baker’s Ammonia (you can substitute 1 tsp. baking powder)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground Cardamom
- 1/2 Cup milk
- 1 1/2 Cup Spiced Dried Plum Filling
- confectioner’s sugar (for sprinkling over the top – optional)
Prepare the filling:
The night before you plan to make the filling, place the pitted prunes in a bowl and cover with vodka or warm water. Leave them to plump up overnight. (optional)
Place the prunes, sugar and spices in a saucepan and add 1 cup of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until it comes to a boil. Continue to cook until the prunes are soft and the syrup has thickened, about 20 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly. Place it into the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.
If you would like to thin the jam a bit as well as add a bit of “cheer” to it, add a glug or two of vodka and stir to combine. (optional)
Prepare the shortbread:
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baker’s ammonia and cardamom.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Add the flour mixture and the milk and continue to mix until a smooth dough forms. The dough should be soft and just shy of sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Divide the dough into five equal parts. On a floured work surface, roll each part out into a thin disc about 9″ in diameter. Arrange the circles on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 12 minutes, or until they are just beginning to brown at the edges.
While the layers are still warm, sandwich them with the spiced dried plum filling, leaving the top of the top layer of the cake bare.
Allow cake to cool completely and then wrap in foil. The cake will keep for weeks in a cool place and will improve with age.
Sprinkle top of cake with confectioner’s sugar just prior to serving.
Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Vínarterta:
Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor
Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer
Baker’s Ammonia (ammonium carbonate)
Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir
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!
Accommodation: The Garage – Studio Apartments – One of our favorite places to stay in Iceland! Located on the South Coast of Iceland, between Seljalandfoss & Skógafoss waterfalls. This picturesque homestead is nestled right up to the foot of the mountain topped by the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, under which the famous air traffic interrupting volcano resides. These lovely modern rustic apartments were originally built from a former old garage that is located on a family farm belonging to Anna & Siggi. Since they built the original apartments, they have expanded and built a few more in a previous cow shed and most recently have remodeled a Haytower. These cozy apartments are studios, some of which are standard and some slightly bigger with a pull out sofa bed to accommodate extra guests. The Haytower is the biggest unit and is a full one bedroom apartment. You can book with The Garage here.(booking.com)
Midgard Adventure: I highly recommend you book a tour with Midgard. Midgard is a local family run business located in Hvolsvöllur. They offer single day and multiday tours which can be either private and shared. The shared tours are always with a small group. No massive bus tours here, just thoughtful personal service.They are skilled at helping you plan your whole itinerary as well should you desire and being locals they have first hand knowledge of the area as well as the hidden gems off the beaten path. As I have mentioned we have enjoyed four different tours with them, and on each occasion it has ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. Consistent excellence is hard to find! They are a pleasure to deal with from the first email until your action packed day has come to an end. Everyone I have ever met there is friendly, helpful and professional. And I should mention that Midgard now has a Basecamp. They can offer both hotel as well as hostel style accommodation in their beautiful facility which also boasts a restaurant, bar, and roof top hot tub and sauna. The Husband and I haven’t had the pleasure of staying with them yet, but we did grab a delicious breakfast in their restaurant before heading out for our adventure. We are planning a Highlands Adventure, which we will of course be booking with Midgard, so we will let you know!
Gamla Fjósið (The Old Cow House) – Located just off of Route 1, about 2 km away from the Garage Apartments. Cozy family run restaurant featuring delicious comfort food prepared with locally sourced (often from their own farm) fresh ingredients. Delicious homemade bread, jams and ice cream.
Midgard Basecamp – The Restaurant at Midgard Basecamp has it all! Serving food based on their Icelandic heritage, they offer everything from pasture raised lamb, to fresh caught fish, to juicy burgers. And if you are a vegetarian or vegan there are plenty of delicious offerings to choose from as well. Check out their wonderful Breakfast Buffet and come back in the evening for a great dinner. They also carry a good selection of the locally crafted brews.
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!