Malted Chocolate Easter Cake

April 2, 2021

Woah! Here it is nearly Easter already! It is Good Friday to be specific. So anyone who knows me, knows that today I am baking my Apple Cinnamon Hot Cross Buns.

They are so tasty and if you bake them on Good Friday, they actually have some magical properties. With the year we’ve had, I need all the magic I can get! But let me focus on today’s recipe. And ya’ll…it is soooo amazing! I give you Malted Chocolate Easter Cake!

This cake has got it all. Most importantly it is absolutely delicious, but it is also not too hard on the eyes either! The malted chocolate cake is so rich and moist.

The frosting, which is my favorite Swiss Meringue Buttercream, is so silky and creamy.

But it doesn’t stop there, no. It is adorned with my one of my favorite Easter treats, Robin Eggs, which are malted milk balls dressed up to look like, well… Robin Eggs.

And taking a cue from them, the cake itself is reminiscent of a robin’s egg with it’s pale blue frosting bespeckled with cocoa. Good looks and great taste!

In past years, I have been on a roll (ha ha – you’ll get it with the next few words) making Easter Breads (get it? roll…bread…) from around the world. Last year I gave you Polish Babka.

And the year before was Cozonac – Romanian Easter Bread.

Don’t forget my  Italian Easter Bread:

Or that amazing Tsoureki from Greece:

There was the Slovak Paska:

And then quite a few years ago, I tried my hand at this impressive Russian Kulich:

That is a whole lot of Easter bread huh? But ya’ll this Malted Chocolate Cake tempted me to stray from my chosen Easter bread path! It all started when good friends of ours (shout out to Stephen & Julie – thank you so much!) gave us Joanne Chang’s new cookbook, Pastry Love: A Baker’s Journal of Favorite Recipes. Chef Chang is the owner of Flour Bakery as well as a James Beard award winner for Outstanding Baker. In her new book, she shares her best-loved cookies, cakes and confections from Flour Bakery and Cafe. It is chock full of gorgeous photos and very approachable recipes. She is able to eloquently explain some of the more difficult baking techniques in an easy to follow, friendly manner. You should definitely check it out. It was here that I first saw this Malted Chocolate Cake and instantly knew that we were destined for one another.

Seriously, I cannot get enough of that roasted, caramelized malted flavor!

This cake does require quite a few steps, but you can easily break them up over the span of several days. The vanilla syrup and chocolate speckle can be made days in advance. The cakes can be baked on another. The frosting on the next, you get it. Then there is just assembly on the day you want to serve it.

I will say that speckle took a bit of practice to get down. Use an old fashioned, bristle pastry brush rather than a silicone one. But overall it was pretty dang easy and believe you me, soooo worth it!

The husband isn’t usually one for chocolate desserts. But even he could not resist this Malted Chocolate Easter Cake and has already had a couple of pieces! That is high praise indeed! I hope everyone has a very Happy Easter!

Malted Chocolate Easter Cake

  • Servings: one 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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recipe from: Pastry Love by Joanne Chang

Ingredients:

For the Cake:

  • 210 grams (1 1/2 cups) malted milk powder
  • 175 grams (1 1/4 cups) all purpose flour
  • 60 grams (1/2 cup) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted after measuring
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 200 grams ( 1 cup) sugar
  • 2 large eggs ( about 100 grams) at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk (about 20 grams) at room temperature
  • 110 grams (1/2 cup) vegetable oil (such as canola)
  • 240 grams (1 cup) whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Malted Milk Frosting (recipe noted below)

Vanilla Syrup (recipe noted below)

Chocolate Speckle (recipe noted below)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325° F and place a rack in the center of the oven. Line the bottoms of two 8″ cake pans with parchment paper circles. Spray the sides lightly with pan spray or very lightly brush with vegetable oil. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the malted milk powder, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the sugar, whole eggs and egg yolk on medium hight speed until the mixture falls back onto itself in ribbons when you lift the whisk up. Turn the mixer to low and slowly drizzle in the oil. Turn off the mixer and add about one third of the flour mixture. Turn the mixer on to the lowest speed and mix just until most of the flour mixture has been incorporated into the eggs, about 10 seconds. Stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the whisk. Add about half the milk along with the vanilla and turn the mixer back onto the lowest speed. Gently combine until most of the milk is mixed into the batter. stop the mixer and again scrape the bowl and the whisk. Add half the remaining flour mixture; mix on low until it’s mostly mixed in, then stop and scrape. Add the rest of the milk and mix again on low util it is mostly mixed in. Remove the bowl from the mixer , add the last of the flour mixture, and gently fold by hand with a rubber spatula until all of it is incorporated into the batter. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pans midway through the baking time, until the cakes spring back when you poke them in the middle and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean when you insert it into the middle of the cake. Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in the baking pans on a wire rack.

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the frosting and vanilla syrup and set them aside.

Once the cakes are completely cool, run a small paring knife around the edges of the cakes and remove them from the pans. Peel off the parchment circles. trim the tops of the cakes to level them (they will have rounded a bit in the oven, and the scraps are your reward for your hard work so far). Place one cake on a large flat plate or serving platter or a rotating cake stand and use a pastry brush to brush and soak the cake with about half the vanilla syrup. Spoon about 1 cup of the frosting on top; use an offset spatula to spread it evenly to the edges of the cake. Carefully place the second cake upside down (for even, sharp edges on the final cake) on top of the first cake and soak with the remaining vanilla syrup. Spoon another 1 cup of the frosting on top of the cake. Spread the frosting to the edges of the cake and then down the sides, smoothing it as well as you can and covering the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting. This is called a crumb coat. It will keep loose crumbs from migrating to the surface of the finished cake. Refrigerate the cake for about 15 minutes to set the crumb coat completely.

If you are making the cake for Easter and would like it to have that lovely robins egg hue, now is the time to add a few drops of food coloring to the remaining frosting. Fit a pastry bag with a star tip and fill it with all but about 1 cup of the frosting. Set aside.

Remove the cake from the fridge and spoon the remaining frosting on the cake; spread it every over the top and sides. This is the final finishing layer of frosting. Smooth the surface with an offset spatula dipped in hot water and dried off before using.

Make the chocolate speckle, if using. When you specks the cake, be sure to place the cake on a flat plate and place the on large empty work surface covered in plastic or parchment paper so cleanup is easier. Dip four fingers into the speckle and use a pastry brush to quickly and firmly flick and hit the chocolate off your fingers i the direction of the cake to create random spots, to mimic a robin’s egg. (Test this in the kitchen sink at first so you get the movement down.)

If the cake is not already on a serving platter, carefully transfer it to one. Pipe a border of frosting along the top or the bottom edge of the cake, or both. Decorate with Robin Eggs malted milk ball candy if you prefer.

The frosted cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Vanilla Syrup

Ingredients:

  • 120 grams (1/2 cup) water
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar with the water and bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Let cool before using.

The syrup can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge indefinitely.

Chocolate Speckle

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted after measuring

Directions:

In a small bowl, whisk the cocoa powder with 2 T. of water until smooth. The speckle will be a thing paste, no runny and not thick like speckle either, but somewhere in between.

Speckle can be stored in a airtight container in the fridge indefinitely. It is easiest to use when chilled. Rewhisk before using.

Malted Milk Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 135 grams (2/3 cup) superfine sugar
  • 2 large egg whites ( about 1/4 cup or 60 grams) at room temperature
  • 455 grams (2 cups or 4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 420 grams(3 1/2 cups) confectioners sugar
  • 105 grams (3/4 cup) malted milk powder
  • 2 Tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract ( I used vanilla paste & prefer it – plus the vanilla bean specks in it add to the speckled robins egg appearance)
  • pinch of kosher salt

Directions:

In a medium metal of heatproof glass bowl, whisk together the superfine sugar and egg whites to make a thick slurry. Place the bowl over a small pot of simmering water, make sure the pot is small enough the the bowl sits above the water and not directly touching it, or you may end up with scrambled egg whites. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the mixture is hot to the touch, 6 to 8 minutes.

Pour the sugar-egg white mixture into a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium high for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture cools. Add the butter bit by bit and whip on medium until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. Add the confectioners’ sugar, malted milk powder, milk, vanilla, and salt and whip on medium until the frosting is smooth and satiny.

The frosting can be store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Before using, let it sit out at room temperature for at least 6 hours or ideally overnight. Place the frosting in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until it smooths out again. It will look broken (curdled and very lumpy, possibly even separated with some liquid seeping out) for a while until it warms up, but don’t panic – just keep beating it and be patient.

Enjoy!

Links for helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Malted Chocolate Easter Cake:

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Oxo Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Wilton Cake Leveler

Ateco disposable piping bags

King Arthur Bensdorp Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

Carnation Malted Milk Powder or King Arthur Malted Milk Powder

Vanilla Bean Paste

Mini Robin Eggs Candy

Wilton Icing Colors – Gel will not thin icing

Pastry Love by Joanne Chang – LOVE this cookbook!


Irish Whiskey, Ginger & Lime Cupcakes

March 17, 2021

Woo-hoo! Today is St. Patrick’s Day!!! It is here, it is here! And to finish off my annual St. Patrick’s Day recipe run I give you: Irish Whiskey, Ginger & Lime Cupcakes! These cupcakes are aaaaamazing! I mean you’ve got the smooth taste of Irish Whiskey, the sweet bite of candied ginger and a zing-y lime finish. What is not to love?!!

So I’m sure some of ya’ll are like…”hey, those ingredients sound a lot like what you get in a Jameson & Ginger ale cocktail” and the rest of you are saying “Nah, that’s an Irish Mule Cocktail”. I guess if you’re going to get technical, I actually use Ginger Beer in these delectable little nibbles, so I guess it leans more towards the Mule. But if you are a big fan of Jameson & Ginger, I”d wager you’d be quite pleased with these as well.

The cake portion of this treat is really moist and tender and I absolutely love that it is shot through with little bits of candied ginger. And the frosting…oh the frosting! I really love Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting. That is pretty much my go to. However, I came across a recipe for this frosting that uses meringue powder and I really love it. It is a bit easier than separating all those egg whites. If you like Swiss Meringue, you are going to love this frosting as well. It is super fluffy, creamy and with the addition of the Jameson Whiskey, quite boozy. Perfect for your St. Patrick’s Day festivities, even if they are still rather low key this year.

Last St. Patrick’s Day, all this pandemic stuff was pretty new. I would not have ever imagined one year later, we would still be sitting at home. No parades, no pubs. But it does look like there is light at the end of the tunnel. Can’t tell you how happy I will be when we are able to head safely back to the pubs and I take that first sip of my first post-pandemic pint! But for now, I will be content just chilling on my sofa with these tasty, boozy Irish Whiskey, Ginger & Lime Cupcakes.

I wish everyone a safe, healthy and happy holiday! Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daiobh (Happy St. Patrick’s Day)!

Irish Whiskey, Ginger & Lime Cupcakes

  • Servings: 15 cupcakes
  • Difficulty: easy
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recipe for Buttercream Frosting from King Arthur Flour, cupcakes inspired by: Life Love & Sugar

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes:

  • 6 Tablespoons (84 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cups (155 grams) sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons (86 grams) sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (can substitute in vanilla extract)
  • 3 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (163 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 Tablespoons (90ml) Fever-Tree Premium Ginger Beer (can use different brand – but Fever-Tree is amazing!)
  • 2 Tablespoon (30ml) Irish Whiskey (I used Jameson)
  • 2 ounces (58 grams) candied ginger, chopped finely

For the Whiskey Buttercream frosting:

  • 6 Tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (if you use unsalted butter)
  • 1/4 cup (57 grams) boiling water
  • 2 Tablespoons (14 grams) meringue powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2 cups (227 grams) sifted confectioners’ sugar or glazing sugar
  • 16 tablespoons (227 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 -3 Tablespoons Irish Whiskey (taste as you go)
  • lime zest for garnish

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light a fluffy. Beat for about 5 -6 minutes. Do not skimp on the time.

Add the sour cream and vanilla bean paste and mix until combined.

Add the egg whites in two batches, mixing well after each addition.

Combine the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt in a separate bowl Set aside.

Combine the Ginger Beer & Irish Whiskey in a measuring cup.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture and mix until well combined. Add the entire Ginger Beer/Whiskey combination to the batter and mix until incorporated. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Fold in the chopped ginger.

Fill the cupcake liners 1/2 way. I used a 1/4 cup muffin scoop for this.

Bake for 18 -20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Remove cupcakes from oven and cool on rack.

For the Frosting:

Dissolve the sugar (and salt, if you’re using it) in the boiling water, and cool to room temperature.

Use a mixer on low speed to beat in the meringue powder, until the powder is dissolved and the mixture is foamy.

Increase the speed and beat until soft peaks form.

Beat in the vanilla. Then add the confectioners’ sugar slowly. No more than 1/4 cup at a time, otherwise your frosting will taste gritty.

Add the soft butter a few tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Finally, add the Irish Whiskey, one tablespoon at a time. Tasting after each addition until you reach the level of booziness that you prefer.

Frost the cupcakes immediately; using a pastry bag fitted with either a star or found tip. Garnish cupcakes with time zest.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Irish Whiskey, Ginger & Lime Cupcakes:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Oxo Good Grips Ice Cream Scoop

Prepworks Pocket Zester

Meringue Powder or it is a bit cheaper here: King Arthur Flour

Fever-Tree Premium Ginger Beer

Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Bean Paste


Apple Pie-Cake

March 16, 2021

Oh ya’ll…it’s almost the day. This is my penultimate (love to use that word) recipe for St. Patrick’s Day 2021 and boy is it a goodie. I give you (drum roll please) Apple-Pie Cake! Completely irresistible, it is chock-full of apples and warm comfy spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Now you might ask “Is it a Pie or a Cake”. Let me tell you – it is the best of both worlds. A perfect marriage of pie and cake. And I, for one, am just thrilled they got together!

I got the recipe for this Apple-Pie Cake from one of my best friends, Theresa Storey, who just happens to also be a best selling, award winning author! A couple of years ago, Theresa published her first cookbook where you can find the recipe for this scrumptious treat along with over 100 other delicious seasonal fruit recipes. It is called Fruit on the Table: Seasonal Recipes from the Green Apron Kitchen.

Theresa runs a business, The Green Apron, which is an artisan preserve company. She grows much of the fruit and vegetables she uses in her preserves at her family’s orchards at Derryclough and in the walled vegetable garden at her parents 18th Century castle, Glenwilliam.

Her award-winning preserves are made in small batches by traditional methods using locally sourced, organic produce where possible and without artificial preservatives, colours or setting agents. The Green Apron has won 15 Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards, 7 International Great Taste awards and is listed not only in McKenna’s Guide, but also in Georgina Campbell’s Guide. The Green Apron is also now offering workshops on sustainable living, preserving and bee keeping.

Theresa’s book, Fruit on the Table is a top 10 best-selling cookbook in Ireland , has won a Gourmond award there and has been selected to compete for an International Gourmond award. In her book, Theresa follows the seasons and tells you how best to keep fruit on your table all year round. It is an absolute treasure trove, filled not only with her family recipes for jams, jellies and chutneys but it also runs the full gambit of meals, including recipes for cocktails, snacks , mains and going all the way through to desserts. And it doesn’t stop with the mouthwateringly delicious recipes, Fruit on the Table also gives you the low down on growing your own fruit, the ins and outs of preserving, tips on foraging as well as drying fruit. I’m proud to be sharing this recipe from her book. I have shared quite a few over the years, but I’m telling you, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. You’ve just gotta get ahold of this essential cookbook. And if you find yourself in Limerick, you simply must stop by the Limerick Milk Market and pay the Green Apron shop a visit!

And speaking of those Green Apron recipes that I’ve shared before, let me just remind you of a few. A couple of years ago, I kicked off my St. Patrick’s Day blog-a-thon with her Prize-Winning Scones with Strawberry Jam & Clotted Cream.

I told you about her Batley Cake

which I filled with her deletable boozy Irish Whiskey Marmalade (also used to fill these tarts.

And this year, I’m sharing her wonderful, Irish country kitchen style Apple-Pie Cake.

It was so quick and easy to make. I’d wager you already have the ingredients in your kitchen and could just whip this up in a flash.

As far as serving, it is so versatile. Warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream does nicely. Room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream. Or just as it is with a wee dusting of confectioners sugar. For dessert, for breakfast, for a snack (afternoon or midnight). I think you get it. So what are ya’ll waiting for? Get to baking this amazing Apple Pie-Cake today!

Apple Pie-Cake

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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recipe from: Fruit on the Table: Seasonal recipes from the Green Apron Kitchen by Theresa Storey

Ingredients:

  • 60 grams (2 oz.) butter
  • 140 grams (5 oz.) sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 110 grams (4 oz.) all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 60 grams (2 oz.) chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • 2 medium eating apples (cored and diced) about 2 cups

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/Gas 4) and grease a 9″ (23 cm) pie dish.

Melt the butter and pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and egg and mix with a spoon until well combined.

Mix in the rest of the ingredients. (It will look like there is way too much apple, but that’s fine.)

Spoon the batter into the pie dish and carefully flatten it out – it’s very lumpy and sticky.

Bake for 40 -45 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool and serve straight from the pie dish.

Enjoy!

Links for helpful kitchen tools & ingredients for Apple Pie-Cake:

Fruit on the Table: Seasonal recipes from the Green Apron kitchen by Theresa Storey


Baileys Dream Bars

March 14, 2021

I will not disappoint you on day 4 of my St. Patrick’s Day countdown. Nope, not at all. These Baileys Dream Bars are just exquisite! Decadent, creamy, dreamy, fluffy AND boozy! Be still my heart!

So let me break it down for you. What we’ve got here is a buttery shortbread crust, topped with a layer of creamy Baileys cheesecake, which is topped with a layer of dreamy Baileys chocolate pudding which is then crowned with a fluffy layer of Baileys whipped cream. Get. Out.

And there is no baking involved. Nope. None. Now, that being said, there is a lot of different layers to make, so unless you have multiple stand mixers, you’ll be doing a bit of washing up. But oh…you won’t mind at all once these indulgent little darlings come together and you get that first bite…

Followed by another…and another…and so on.

Baileys Dream Bars

recipe from: 365 Days of Baking

Ingredients:

For the Shortbread Crust:

  • 10 ounces Shortbread cookies – Like Walkers or Keebler Sandies
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter

For the Baileys Chocolate Pudding:

  • 1 box (3.9 oz) Instant Chocolate Pudding
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/4 Cup Baileys Irish Cream

For the Irish Cream Cheesecake Layer;

  • 8 ounces cream cheese – room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Baileys Irish Cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract – I prefer to use vanilla paste

For the Whipped Cream Topping

  • 4 ounces cream cheese – room temperature
  • 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Baileys Irish Cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract – or vanilla paste
  • 1 cup heavy cream

For the decorative topping:

Chocolate curls, chocolate pearls, jimmies – whatever your prefer

Directions:

Line an 8″x8″ baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

For the Shortbread Layer:

Place Shortbread Cookies in a food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs. Transfer to a bowl.

Melt butter and pour over cookie crumbs. Mix until combined.

Pat crumb/butter mixture into the prepared pan. Place pan into the freezer for 30 minutes to set.

For the Chocolate Pudding:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the pudding mix, milk and Baileys. Mix until combined. Transfer to a bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 20 minutes.

For the Whipped Cream:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the cream cheese, confectioners sugar, Baileys and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set aside.

Once you have cleaned the stand mixer bowl, using the whisk attachment, beat the heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form.

Add the creamed cheese mixture to the bowl. Beat on low until it is distributed, then beat on medium high until stiff peaks have formed.

For the Baileys Cheesecake:

Place 8 ounces of cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix using the paddle attachment until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the confectioners sugar, Baileys and vanilla. Mix until combined

Gently fold 1 cup of the whipped cream into the cream cheese/sugar/Baileys mixture and mix until uniform.

Assembly:

Spread the Baileys cheesecake layer evenly over the chilled crust.

Dollop the Baileys Chocolate pudding over the Baileys Cheesecake layer and spread evenly over the top.

Next, cover the Baileys Chocolate Pudding with the remaining whipped cream mixture.

Refrigerate for a minimum of 8 hours prior to serving. Keep refrigerated between servings.

Garnish with chocolate curls, or topping of your choice.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Baileys Dream Bars:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer


Mimosa Butter Sweetheart Cookies

February 12, 2021

So are ya’ll thinking about Valentine’s Day yet? I was way ahead of the game this year, that is for me anyway! May I present my Valentine’s Day treats – Mimosa Butter Sweetheart Cookies! What we got here is a crisp and light butter cookie which has been jazzed up with the addition of some champagne, orange juice and the perfect dollop of decadent chocolate raspberry jam. These little devils are addictive! And if you make them, it forces you to open a bottle of champagne and once it is open…you absolutely have to finish it. Hurray! Mimosas all around!

The Husband, who conveniently also happens to be my Valentine, generally doesn’t like any chocolatey super sweet sugar bombs that seem to be all the rage for this holiday.  Which is totally unlike me. That is exactly what I would want. Truth be told…in a the shape of a cupcake if all were going my way. Just saying…He, on the other hand, prefers fruit forward desserts such as this lovely Cashew Crusted Blackberry & Lime Tart:

Or these Luscious Lemon Squares,

And then there was that Poached Pear Tart with Lemony Cream.

One year, I was even clever enough to combine what he loves, a good Gin & Tonic, and what I love, cupcakes by making  Pink Grapefruit Gin & Tonic Cupcakes:

This year’s offering, Mimosa Butter Sweetheart Cookies, was pretty sly on my part as well. I really like cookies and was able to not only add some of his favorite jam into the mix with these, but was also able to get some champagne on deck.

The Husband and I do love our champagne! Though truth be told, when we first started dating, he told me he didn’t like champagne. I tell you, it stopped me in my tracks! I was pondering whether or not it was a deal breaker. Turns out, he had only ever had cheap champagne. When he got a taste of the good stuff, he realized his mistake. Whew! What a relief!

So Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Crack open a bottle of champagne (the good stuff) and whip up a batch of these delightful little Valentine’s Day nibbles. Rich and buttery, crisp and citrus-y with just the right amount of chocolate raspberry zing, they go great with a cup of tea or a glass of the bubbly! You won’t be sorry!

Mimosa Butter Sweetheart Cookies

  • Servings: approximately 3 dozen
  • Difficulty: easy
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recipe from: Taste of Home: Mimosa Butter Cookies + inspiration from their Sweetheart Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1-1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup champagne
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 – 4 Tablespoons of Jam ( I used homemade Chocolate Raspberry Jam)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream butter, confectioner’s sugar, orange zest and salt until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes.

Mix juice and champagne together.

Add flour to creamed mixture alternately with juice mixture, beating until just combined after each addition.

Transfer cookie dough to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe 2-in. circles, 2 in. apart onto parchment-lined baking sheet.

Using the rounded end of a spoon or spatula, make small indentations in the center of each cookie.

Fill with about 1/8 teaspoon of your favorite jam.

Bake until edges are just starting to brown, 10-12 minutes. Cool on pan 5 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Enjoy!

Links for helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Mimosa Butter Sweetheart Cookies:

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Ateco Disposable Decorating Bags

Prepworks Pocket Zester


Homemade Banana Filled Toaster Tarts with Nutella Frosting

February 5, 2021

Whoa! Homemade Banana Toaster Tarts with Nutella Frosting? Get out! Yet here they are. Fresh from the oven. And although I look back fondly on those legendary store-bought breakfast pastries of my youth – this has got them beaten hands down! The crust is buttery and flaky perfection. Not anything like I remember from childhood. And I stuffed all of that gorgeous crust full of this amazing Banana Jam. That’s right…Banana. Jam. I had no idea Banana Jam even existed! But it does and I am so delighted with it.

And as if that wasn’t enough, these little darlings are heavily drizzled with a luscious Nutella frosting. O.M.G. So I gotta ask….are there any Nutella fans out there? Cause let me tell you I love me some Nutella! I actually didn’t even know it existed until I was living in Ireland and my friend Theresa had a jar. I watched with amazement as she spread it over her toast. I was like “What! You can eat chocolate on toast!” I had no idea it was a thing. Yup, love at first bite. And putting two great tastes like Banana & Nutella together is a no brainer for sure.

It is not by chance that I’m blogging a recipe which features Nutella today. Today February 5th is World Nutella Day. This celebration of all things Nutella was started in 2007 by Sara at Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle at Bleeding Espresso as a day to celebrate, get creative with and most importantly, to EAT Nutella.

A couple of years ago, the founders have transferred Nutella Day to Ferrero the companywho owns that most beloved spread. Take a peek at their Facebook page and see how folks are celebrating the day! I love Nutella so I usually try to participate with a Nutella laden recipe every year. One of my favorite Nutella creations was this Nutella, Double Chocolate & Banana Tart which was quite stunning if I do say so myself.

Last year I baked this big ole Malted Nutella & Biscoff Brownie Torte 

Then there was this gorgeous Nutella Star Bread:

And some amazing Nutella Chocolate Chip Babka:

And I don’t want to forget these irresistible Salted Peanut Butter & Nutella Sandwich Cookies – sweet salty bliss I tell you!

But let me get back to my featured recipe today: Banana Filled Toaster Tarts with Nutella Frosting. The Husband and I were pretty much rendered speechless at first bite.OMG! Seriously – you will be in Pop Tart heaven! The pastry is to die for. It just melts in your mouth. The ooey-gooey Banana Jam is completely out of this world and that Nutella Drizzle is just sheer perfection! I especially love that this Nutella frosting is a bit like royal frosting, in that it sets up after a few hours. So you can actually stack these Toaster Tarts for storage – as if you will have any left to store after your first bite!

This recipe is pretty easy to make. It does have a lot of steps, but they are worth it. I have included a link at the end of the recipe for an informative video by King Arthur Flour featuring Chef Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery. I highly recommend that you watch it before making the pastry crust. She demonstrates the frissage technique which will prevent you from overworking the dough and will result in those lovely flaky layers of pastry.

I also love this recipe because it is very customizable. Switch up the filling to cinnamon sugar or use any of your favorite jams if banana isn’t your thing. Let your imagination run wild! Whatever you choose, it will undoubtedly elevate the meager Pop Tart. Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly ate my fair share of Pop Tarts when I was a kid. I loved the cinnamon sugar variety and of course the Chocolate Fudge Frosted ones. The Husband and I even currently have a box of Pop Tarts on the top shelf in one of the kitchen cabinets. Though truth be told, they’ve been there untouched for about 12 years now. We call them the Apocalypse Tarts or Pop Tarts of Doom, because it would take that sort of a situation for us to be at all interested in eating them. I guess it is somewhat comforting to know that they are there. But believe me, I predict my Home-made version will not last through the day!

Come to think about it, those tarts from our childhood were not actually very tasty at all, by our grown self’s standards. The crust was kind of cardboard-y and the frosting a tad on the plastic side. Yet you can’t help but look back on them fondly. So these homemade Toaster Tarts will with their tender buttery crust, decadent banana filling and indulgent Nutella topping will put you completely over the moon. Time to enjoy some absolutely deliciously elevated childhood nostalgia. Happy Nutella Day everyone!

Homemade Banana Toaster Tarts with Nutella Frosting

  • Servings: 9
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly adapted from: King Arthur Flour Nutella Frosting from: Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

  • 2 cups (241 grams) All purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon (11 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons (227 grams) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pats
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons (28 grams) milk

For the Filling:

  • 8 ounces of Banana Jam (info on where to buy it in links below or substitute in the jam of your choosing)
  • 1 Tablespoon Corn Starch
  • 1 Tablespoon Cold Water

Alternative Filling:

  • 1/2 cup (106g) brown sugar, packed
  • 4 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 egg, beaten – to brush over pastry before filling

For the Frosting:

  • 1 cups (120 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (50 grams) Nutella
  • 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) heavy cream or milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Directions:

For the dough:

Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Work in the butter until the mixture holds together when you squeeze it, with pecan-sized lumps of butter still visible. Mix the egg and milk, and add it to the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive.

Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a rough 3″ x 5″ rectangle, smoothing the edges. Wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and refrigerate for 30 minutes; this will relax the gluten and firm up the dough a bit, making it easier to roll. You can also refrigerate the dough for up to 2 days; let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes at room temperature before you roll it out.

For the Filling:

Combine 3/4 cup (8 ounces) Banana jam (or jam of your choice) with 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. Use to fill the pastry tarts.

For the cinnamon sugar filling:

Whisk together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon.

Assembling the pastries:

Place one piece of the dough on a generously floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8″ thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9″ x 12″. Trim off the edges and set aside to use later. Place the 9″ x 12″ rectangle of dough aside as well on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Press the edge of a ruler into the dough you’ve just rolled, to gently score it in thirds lengthwise and width-wise; you’ll see nine 3″ x 4″ rectangles.

Beat the egg, and brush it over the entire surface of the dough. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each marked rectangle. I used a cookie scoop to do this.

Roll the second piece of dough and trim, just as you did the first. Score it as yo did the first peice. Place it evenly over the first piece of dough and filling. Then, using your fingertips or a chopstick to press firmly around each pocket of filling, sealing the dough well on all sides.

Cut the dough evenly as you scored it, between the filling mounds to make nine tarts. Press the cut edges with your fingers to seal, then press with a fork or chopstick to seal again.

Gently place the tarts on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork; you want to make sure steam can escape, or the tarts will become billowy pillows rather than flat toaster pastries. Refrigerate them, uncovered, for 30 minutes. (if you are making the cinnamon sugar tarts you can sprinkle the tops lightly with the cinnamon sugar filling prior to refrigerating).

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Remove the tarts from the fridge. Brush remaining egg wash over the tops of the tarts. Bake them for 30 to 35 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool on the pan.

While the tarts are cooling, make the Nutella Frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat all of the ingredients together on medium speed until creamy and smooth. Place frosting in piping bag.

Once toaster tarts are completely cool, pipe drizzles of frosting over the top. The Nutella frosting will set at room temperature after 3 -4 hours. If you would like it to set sooner, just pop them into the fridge.

Enjoy!

Fun tip: Don’t throw the dough trimmings away! Instead, sprinkle them with cinnamon-sugar. While the tarts are chilling in the fridge, bake these trimmings for 13 -15 minutes, until they are golden brown. They make a delicious snack!

Here is that great video of Chef Joanne Chang making Toaster Tarts.

Links for helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Homemade Banana Filled Toaster Tarts with Nutella Frosting:

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Oxo Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

Oxo Multipurpose Scraper

Dough Rolling Mat

Pastry Wheel

OXO Good Grips Medium Cookie Scoop

Nutella Spread

Eat This Yum – Banana Jam – This jam is so delicious! The family owned & operated company in Pennsylvania makes natural small batch jams and marmalades. Don’t miss out on their Bacon Jam as well. And with each jar sold they contribute 5% to local volunteer fire fighters!


Vínarterta – Icelandic Vienna Cake

July 15, 2020

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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.

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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.

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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,

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breathtaking mountain views,

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lush valley scenery

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and amazing hiking opportunities.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We were back with them in December 2013 on a private tour of Jökulsárlón.

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And in September 2017 we were with Midgard Adventures to hike the magnificent Fimmvörðuháls trail .

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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

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as well as a couple of stunning, lesser known waterfalls.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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,

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chickens, a dog (Felix) who never tires of playing fetch

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Vínarterta

  • Servings: 8 -10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly from: Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Ingredients:

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)

Directions:

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.

Assembly:

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.

Enjoy!

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 InformationPlease 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)

Tour Companies:

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!

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Restaurants:

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.

Misc:

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!


Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

July 3, 2020

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So here we are, just moments away from Independence Day. Certainly not the 4th of July for this year that I imagined last year. Not that the Husband and I have made a habit out of heading off to big fireworks displays on the 4th, but still…Needless to say, we’ll be spending this one right here at home. Where we have been. For oh – months and months. Perhaps years at this point. 2020 has certainly made months seems like they go on for years. Facing the tedium of yet another social distanced holiday, I thought it might be nice to make the Husband a little treat. Now I’ve told you how he absolutely loves any fruit based dessert and of the many fruit desserts out there, lemon bars hold a special place in his heart. So I was absolutely delighted when I saw that Smitten Kitchen – one of my favorite blogs – had just shared a recipe for Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars. Clearly, it was just meant to be!

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And the whole lemon thing is true. Yup – you actually use a WHOLE lemon in this recipe. Well – you take the seeds out and remove the stem, but otherwise the whole thing – skin and all.

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I was afraid that the whole lemon might have caused the lemon filling to be bitter, so I kind of held my breath a bit when the Husband took his first bite. Hooray! Not bitter at all. I think using the whole lemon actually gave it a much more – well lemony taste. I mean these bars actually tasted perfectly sour and tart and also sweet. But just the right amount of sweet. Sometimes when I’ve gotten lemon bars, they taste very, very cloyingly sweet with only a slight hint of lemon. Like maybe someone had only waved a lemon over the mix. That is certainly not what the Husband is hoping for in a lemon bar. He wants that pucker up sour citrus zing of a real lemon. Let me tell you, these bars definitely delivered in that regard.

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And although I have made lemon bars before, I had never added the meringue layer on top. With these Lemon Meringue Pie Bars the sweet marshmallowy toasted meringue works to perfectly balance the lip puckering intensity of that velvety lemon filling. Both the Husband and I were very well pleased.

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I don’t know what you’ll be getting up to this 4th of July, but I do know that no matter what it is, these Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars will make it better. Make yourself a batch today!

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Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

  • Servings: 12 - 16 bars depending how you slice them
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Smitten Kitchen who sourced it from Susan Spungen’s Open Kitchen 

Ingredients:

For the crust:

  • 9 whole graham cracker sheets (1 sleeve), broken into pieces or 1 1/2 cups (150 grams) crumbs
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes

For the filling:

  • 1 whole (preferably organic) lemon, any variety (see Note below in filling directions), scrubbed
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 8 Tablespoons (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
  • Pinch of salt

For the meringue:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Directions:

Make the crust:

Heat your oven to 350°F [180°C]. Line an 8-by-8-inch [20-by-20-cm] baking pan with two pieces of parchment trimmed to fit, going in both directions, with some extra hanging over the edge so that you can easily remove the bars later.

Place the graham crackers, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the fine crumbs form. Add the cold butter and pulse until the cold butter blends into the crumbs. It should look and feel like wet sand. Transfer to the prepared pan and mix it up with your hands to make sure the butter is well distributed. Press into the pan, going up the sides a bit, and bake for 10 minutes, or until just golden. Let cool while you make the filling.

Make the filling:

Note on lemons: Deb Perelmen of Smitten Kitchen advises that you can use any variety of lemon but that you want to stick to a smaller lemon weighing approximately 4 – 4.5 ounces and that you do not want the skin to be too thick. The pith (white bit) should not be over 1/4 inch. If you feel the lemon you have is a bit too thick skinned, simply remove half of the skin from the lemon before proceeding.

Trim the stem end of the whole lemon and cut it into thin slices. Remove any seeds. Add to a food processor or blender jar (preferably a high speed blender) along with the lemon juice, egg yolks, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt and blend until very smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Pour over the crust (it’s ok if it’s still warm) and bake for 30 minutes, or until it is bubbling and browning around the edges. It won’t look at all set, and might even look like a total mess (unevenly browned or bubbly), but it will set up as it cools. Place on a cooling rack. After about 10 minutes, run a small, sharp knife around the edges. Cool completely, then chill until cold (you can speed this up in the freezer). When completely chilled, carefully remove the parchment and, using a spatula, transfer to a small baking sheet.

Make the meringue:

An hour or so before serving, make the topping. Combine the egg whites, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the metal bowl of a stand mixer and set over a pan of simmering water. Keep the mixture moving, using a whisk or the whisk attachment, until the sugar is completely melted and it’s hot to the touch (or 160°F). Transfer to a stand mixer and beat on high speed until glossy and very stiff, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the top of the lemon bars, smooth out, and use a large serving fork to create a pattern in the meringue, or the back of a spoon or offset spatula to make swirls.

Finish the bars:

When you’re ready to finish, use a kitchen torch or your oven’s broiler to brown the meringue. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Use a knife dipped into hot water to cut bars into 12 to 16 squares, depending on how large you want them.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer by Thermoworks

Breville Fresh & Furious Blender

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Sondiko Butane Torch

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook– This recipe is not in this cookbook, however a ton of other great ones are!

Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Another awesome cookbook by Deb Perelman

 

 


Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake

June 4, 2020

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Did someone say Chocolate & Peanut Butter? Cuz those are without a doubt two of my favorites! Even better – those two delicious words were followed by Icebox? I’m in! Today I am sharing this glorious recipe for a Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake with you.

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Now I’m sure you already can tell that this confection is going to be amazing just by looking at the ingredients – chocolate, peanut butter, cream cheese, heavy cream and crispy chocolate wafers. I probably don’t even need to say another word.

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However, I would be remiss if I did not point out some other aspects of this recipe which make it so magnificent. Foremost in my mind is that you can prepare this tasty treat without ever having to turn on your oven! It is supposed to reach 95 degrees F today (35 C)! Needless to say, I am not at all happy. Swampy old Virginia summer has indeed arrived. I do not want to be stuck in the hot kitchen with the oven on for even one second. This Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake is perfect in that sense.

IMG_8188Also it is not only easy to make, but also can be made ahead of time. Yup – an icebox cake keeps very well in the icebox. And while it’s chilling in there, those Chocolate Wafers are becoming soft and wonderfully spongy. It is as if you baked the thinest cake layers. But the good news is that you had to do nothing of the sort.

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Once you are ready to dig into the cake, simply turn it out of the pan onto a serving tray and decorate it with a dusting of cocoa powder and some peanuts. This Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake is a perfect summer indulgence. Folks will be delighted!

 

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Once Upon a Chef

Ingredients:

  • 113 grams (4 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 260 grams (1 cup) smooth peanut butter (I use Skippy All Natural, No Need To Stir)
  • 120 grams (1 cup) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 480 grams (2 cups) cold heavy cream
  • 50 Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, from one box (see note)
  • Cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 35 grams (1/4 cup) unsalted dry roasted peanuts

Directions:

Line a 23×12.5-cm (9″X5″) loaf pan with two pieces of overlapping plastic wrap, allowing the excess to hang over the edges of the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Do not over-whip. Set aside.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt together until smooth.

Add 1/3 of the whipped cream to the peanut butter mixture and beat with the mixer until smooth. Add the remaining whipped cream and fold with a rubber spatula, turning the bowl as you go, until the mixture is evenly combined and uniform in color and texture.

Spoon about two-thirds of the cream into the prepared pan. Starting at a short side of the pan, arrange 12 cookies in the cream, standing them on their edge in a row. Do the same with a second row of cookies, slightly overlapping the cookies from the first row. Continue with two more rows for a total of four rows. Save the last two cookies for the topping.

Cover the cookies with the remaining cream. Smooth the cream with a spatula, gently pressing to make sure any gaps between the cookies are filled.

Cover the cake with the excess plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 48 hours. When ready to serve, peel the plastic wrap from the top. Set a platter on top of the pan and invert the cake onto it. Lift the pan off and gently peel away the plastic wrap. Use a warm offset spatula to smooth the edges, if desired. Dust the cake lightly with cocoa powder through a fine sieve. Crush the remaining wafers and scatter the peanuts over top, pressing down on them slightly so they adhere. Slice with a sharp knife and serve cold.

 

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Wilton 9″X 5″ Loaf Pan

Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers – Here is a link which will show you what the chocolate wafer cookies look like. I think you should be able to find them in your local grocery, either with the cookies or with ice cream fixings. This amazon price seems a bit high to me, so definitely take a look in your local store if you can.

Once Upon a Chef, the Cookbook by Jennifer Segal – You will not find the recipe for the Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake in this cookbook, but will find a bunch of other awesome tasty recipes. I love this cookbook, as well as the Once Upon a Chef blog. All of Jennifer’s recipes are easy to make and absolutely delicious!

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.


Kanilterta (Icelandic Cinnamon Cake)

May 8, 2020

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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.

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Oh, and I also want to tell you all about our visit to Iceland for an amazing Ice Cave adventure back in February 2018.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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View from our room at The Silica Hotel

After some shut eye, we took a stroll over to the Blue Lagoon

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Strolling through the lava fields

to enjoy a delicious dinner at the Lava Restaurant.

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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!!!

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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!

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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.

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Drenched at Seljalandfoss.

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Soggy at Skógafoss

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Soaked before the Basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach

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Drowned at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

 

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We arrived in a big water-logged heap at the cottage, which was quite charming and thankfully warm.

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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We went shopping and wandered about town

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took in the street art

stopped for coffee at Reykjavik Roasters,

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visited our favorite restaurants like Íslenski Barinn and Snaps,

enjoyed a kanilsnúðar or two from Brauð & Co.

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and stopped by our favorite bars

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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.

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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!

IMG_0019I 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!

IMG_0109The 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.IMG_0024The top layer of silky dark chocolate is absolutely amazing. Where has this cake been all of my life?!!

 

IMG_0135Wonderfully 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!IMG_0029

 

Kanilterta - (Icelandic Cinnamon Cake)

  • Servings: 12- 14 slices
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly modified from: Þjóðlegt með kaffinu

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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.

Enjoy!

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.

Accommodation: 

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.

Destinations:

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.

Restaurant/Bars:

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.

Misc:

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 icelandiccakes@google.com

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!

 

 


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