Brauðterta – Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf

July 22, 2020

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So here is something a bit different for you – Today’s featured recipe is for Brauðterta. Brauðterta is kind of like a big old multi layered sandwich masquerading as a cake! In English I suppose you can just call it Bread Cake or perhaps Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf  if you were being less literal. How fun is this!

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And I’m not only going to tell you all about this delicious dish, but I am also going to finish telling you all about that fantastic trip we took with the Parents to Iceland in September 2018. So just to recap, I’ve told you all about the beginning of this trip where we toured the Golden Circle and various other South Coast gems. And then I told you about our big adventure touring Þórsmork in a Super Jeep. Now, I’m going to fill you in on the rest of the trip. On day 5 we set out to visit the Westman Islands (Vestmannaejyar). The Westman Islands are located just off the south coast of Iceland.

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The Husband and I were there in September 2017 and absolutely LOVED it! I am originally from a small island in the Chesapeake Bay myself and my father has made his living as commercial fisherman, so I really wanted him to experience Vestmannaeyjar. Turns out it was the highlight of the trip for him. These islands are often overlooked by tourists in Iceland because you do need to either fly over or take the ferry. But in my opinion, it is so worth the effort! I probably shouldn’t let you in on the secret, but I can’t help myself!

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The Vestmannaeyjar are absolutely gorgeous!

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This archipelago consists of about 15 islands, but most folks live on Heimaey, which is the largest island. We booked a day tour with Eyja Tours to make sure the parents were able to see as much of it as possible

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House at the not to be missed Eldheimar Museum which documents the story of the surprise 1973 volcanic eruption.

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Since we were there at the end of August/early September, we not only were able to see the adult puffin colonies,

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but we were also able to experience the pufflings (baby puffins) flying into town.

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You see, puffins nest in clifftop colonies, digging a burrow in which a single egg is laid. The puffin chicks, or pufflings, are then cared for by their parents for about 6 weeks. At this point the fledgling makes its way out of its burrow at night and flies toward the sea.  However, many get confused by the lights of the town and rather than flying out to sea, they end up flying into town. The Vestmannaeyjar children, or Puffin Patrol as they are known, go out at night with flashlights to rescue them. The pufflings are then taken home in cardboard boxes for the night. The next morning their rescuers take them to the Saeheimar Aquarium (*since our visit in 2018, the aquarium has closed and its residents have moved to the Puffin Rescue Center at the Beluga Whale Sanctuary – see note below) to be measured and weighed. The children can have their pictures taken with their little charges as well. Once done, the little birds are taken to the shore and released back into the wild during daylight hours so that they won’t become confused. The Husband and I had seen this in 2017. But this year we unexpectedly got to participate!

Let me explain. After an action packed day exploring, we took the Parents to one of our favorite restaurants in the whole world – Slippurinn,

we headed back to our lovely apartment accommodations for some well deserved sleep.

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However, I was hoping to get another Northern Lights show. I was on watch. So while everyone else was snoozing – I was setting my alarm every 30 minutes to run outside and see if the Aurora was doing its thing. It was a beautiful, clear night. Not a cloud in the sky. So it should have been perfect conditions. But the elusive lights were not cooperating. I was really getting pretty frustrated around 2am, when I heard this strange slap, slap slap noise. I looked down from the sky to see a tiny puffling running full out at me, with a cat close on his tail. The puffling literally ran right into my ankles. I reached down and scooped him up telling the kitty “No, no, no! Not today!” And voila, I had a puffling! I promptly woke everyone up. Look-y here! Hurray! I have a puffling! But it quickly turned to  – “OMG! I have a puffling!” We had an early ferry to catch back to the mainland. A ferry that left before the aquarium opened. So the Husband and I decided we would get in the car and go find some locals that were rescuing pufflings. We would just hand ours over to them. Sadly, at around 2:30 in the morning, we did not find families out looking for pufflings, but rather groups of folks staggering home from the pub. No way I was going to entrust my puffling to them! And to make matters worse, about 5 minutes into our drive into town, we had to pull over because there was another puffling in the road. Now we had two of them! No box to put them in. And whereas my puffling was somewhat sedate, though a little bite-y (doesn’t really hurt….its a baby…), the Husband’s puffling was a little devil puffling – biting and scratching like a champ! Talk about driving while impaired! Thankfully we did find two non-drunk locals who had just rescued a puffling themselves and were willing to take our two on as well. What a crazy night! So although the Lights were not willing to show, it was still unforgettable!

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The next morning we were up early, caught the ferry back to the mainland and set off for Reykjavík! You can see all of the live action on Vestmannaeyjar in this video:

We arrived in Reykjavík after a short drive. We had booked into The Black Pearl and as a surprise for the Parents, we had reserved the luxurious Penthouse suite for them, which had a great wrap around balcony with lovely views over the city.

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The Black Pearl has been one of our favorite places to stay in Reykjavik. The apartments are fantastic, location perfect and the service is absolutely top-notch every single time. I should mention that they offer an absolutely amazing and plentiful in-suite breakfast service consisting of freshly baked bread, pastries, skyr, various cold cuts, salmon, bacon and eggs.

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Once settled in, we set out to explore. We showed them the old harbor area,

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went up in Hallgrimskirkja for amazing city views,

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recharged with a cup of coffee and a visit with the kitties at Kattakaffihúsið

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went to the famous hot dog stand Baejarins Beztu

and might have ended up going completely Viking at Mink Viking Portrait Studio .

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We were so sad to leave. But there was one more big surprise for everyone. As I have mentioned in a previous post, Icelandair offer the option to “Class Up” from economy seats to Saga Premium. So, how it works is 10 days prior to an eligible flight, you will receive an email asking if you would like to place a bid. You are then able to decide the amount you are willing to pay, in addition to the cost of your original ticket, to have a Saga class seat. All 5 of us had our bids accepted and were able to fly home first class!

It was truly such a fun, unforgettable trip!

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But don’t leave yet. You have simply got to hear all about this Brauðterta. In Iceland, you will likely find Brauðterta at any celebrations where you would find a gathering of extended family such as a birthday party or graduation. At these events, an elaborate coffee table is often laid out for guests featuring all sorts of sweet desserts. And there you will find the Brauðterta, dressed up to look just like a cake, but filled with all sorts of savory fillings. Certainly a welcome break and somewhat of a palate cleanser against the avalanche of sugary treats.

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So it isn’t really a cake, but a multilayered sandwich. The bread for making Brauðterta are sold in stores in Iceland and can either be a loaf of bread which has been sliced horizontally or a large sheet of bread similar to the cake you would use in a jelly roll. With this type of bread you can either roll it up like a jelly roll or use multiple pieces of it stacked on top of each other to create a really large Brauðterta. I used a loaf of Soft Sandwich Bread which I had baked myself. I have seen folks use regular store bought, sliced sandwich bread with the crusts removed, but I have not tried that and would fear that store bought bread might not hold up as well.

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These layers of bread are interspersed with creamy fillings. Some versions have the same filling repeated with each layer. Others have a different filling on each layer, which is what I have done. The fillings can be anything that you would use in a regular sandwich, though the salad type fillings – i.e. egg salad, shrimp salad – seem to strike the right level of not too dry but not too wet that is required. In Iceland you will often find seafood based fillings, but since the Husband has a seafood allergy and I did not fancy having to go the the ER during a pandemic, I steered clear of that choosing instead to do a layer of egg salad, ham said and a layer of bacon/scallion salad.

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The sandwich is then “frosted” with cream cheese or mayonnaise and decorated with meats/vegetables that you might find within.

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Brauðterta is considered very traditional, yet it didn’t really become popular in Iceland until the 1950’s. In the past, a lot of mayonnaise was used for the filling as well as the frosting.  Now a days you will find not as much mayonnaise but perhaps more sour cream or cream cheese mixtures. Brauðterta’s popularity may have waned for a bit, but recently it has started to make a comeback. The Facebook group Brauðtertufélag Erlu Og Erlu has over 11,000 members. It was founded to exchange recipes, tips and pictures of perfect Brauðtertas. Check it out for some inspiration!

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We loved our Brauðterta! I was afraid we would only get one meal out of it and then the bread would go soggy. Not so! We happily snacked on it for the whole week! Surprise folks at your next party or potluck and treat them to this Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf!

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Brauðterta - Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf

  • Servings: One - 4 layer loaf
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe adapted from: Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 1/2 cups cream cheese (I used Philadelphia’s Garden Vegetable Cream Cheese), softened
  • freshly ground pepper
  • salt
  • 6 hardboiled eggs
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 6 ounces cooked, finely diced ham
  • 8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1/2 cup green onion, diced
  • 1 loaf of white or whole wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed, sliced lengthwise into four slices (I used a loaf of Soft Sandwich bread which I had baked the day before)
  • cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, red & yellow peppers, chives, red onion, cilantro or parsley – for decorating

Directions:

Combine the sour cream with the softened cream cheese in a medium sized bowls. Take three additional bowls and divide the mixture equally among the four bowls. Set one bowl aside for the “frosting’.

Slice the hardboiled eggs crosswise. Reserve one center slice from one of the eggs for decoration. Chop the remaining eggs and add to one bowl with the sour cream/cream cheese combo. Set aside. Combine the finely diced ham with the sour cream/cream cheese mixture in another bowl. And finally add the bacon and diced green onion to the third bowl and mix to combine.

Take the loaf of bread and remove the crust. Slice the loaf horizontally into four slices. Spread the bottom slice evenly with one of filling mixtures. Top with another slice of bread and spread that evenly with the second filling combination. Top with the third slice of bread. Spread that evenly with the last filling combination. Place the final slice of bread on top of that. Press down evenly on the top. Wrap the entire “sandwich” in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.

Unwrap the loaf and place it on a large tray or cutting board. “Frost” the sandwich with the last bowl of reserved sour cream/cream cheese mixture.

Now for the fun part! Decorate your Bread Cake as you see fit! You can get creative here. I used chopped yellow and red peppers, red onion, cilantro, cucumber and an egg slice for my decoration, but feel free to improvise. Do another garden type scene as I have done or maybe do a geometric pattern. The sky’s the limit!

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Brauðterta:

Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer by Thermoworks

6 Quart Dough Rising Bucket

SAF Instant Yeast

Wilton 9″X 5″ Loaf pan

Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Everyday Cookbook

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!

Westman Island Links

To Buy tickets on the Herjólfur Ferry as well as read about all the things to see and do take a look at: Visit Westman Islands.

Accommodation:

Hotel Vestmannaeyjar – Great accommodation on the Islands.

Restaurants/ Cafés/ Bakeries/ Bars:

Slippurinn – Our favorite restaurant – not only in Iceland. Hands. Down. Favorite! Located in an old machinery shop this family owned eatery features seasonal local sourced dishes often including herbs and seaweed foraged right there on the island. Simply divine food in a friendly and casual environment. Don’t miss it!

Stofan Bakhús – Great bakery! Delicious kanilsnúðars – which are a weakness of mine.  Fantastic sandwiches as well. Everything there looks delicious. Go be tempted!

Brother’s Brewery – Microbrewery with delicious local craft brews.

Tour Companies:

Eyja Tours: Do the Puffin & Volcano Tour! Eyja Tours offers small group (minibus) tours of Heimaey guided by friendly locals who are very knowledgeable about their island home. You’ll  learn all about the history and culture of the island, see the major sights and actually get to visit a puffin sanctuary where you can see a live puffin up close! This experience is exclusive to Eyja Tours – though if you go in late August, perhaps you’ll get your own up close and personal experience with a Puffling like we did!

Attractions:

On puffins: If you travel to the Westman Island at the end of August/beginning of September there is a good chance you will see baby puffins (pufflings) being rescued by the local children. At this time of year, the pufflings leave their nests but get confused by the lights of the town and rather than flying out to sea, they end up flying into town. The children go out at night with flashlights to find them. They take them home in cardboard boxes for the night. The next morning they take them to the Puffin Rescue Centre to be measured and weighed and the children can have their pictures taken with their little charges as well. Once done, the kids take the little birds to the shore and release them back into the wild during daylight hours so that they won’t become confused. We were lucky enough to be there when this was happening and it was unforgettable!

Eldheimar museum – This museum documents the story of the surprise 1973 eruption of the volcano which caused the roughly 5,00 locals to flee on fishing boats in the middle of the night to the safety of the mainland. The eruption, which lasted for 5 months, buried 1/3 of the town in lava and destroyed over 400 houses and businesses. The resilient islanders did return and rebuilt the thriving community you will find today. Fascinating stuff! A must visit!

Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary/Puffin Rescue Centre – Back in 2018, when we visited the Vestmannaeyjar, the kids took their rescued pufflings to the Saeheimar Aquarium. The aquarium closed in 2019 and their residents moved to the new Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary. Now when you visit, you will be able to see two rescued beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White, in addition to the rescued and resident puffins at the Puffin Rescue Centre!

Reykjavik Links

Accommodation:

The Black Pearl Reykjavik – Reykjavik’s Finest Apartments – We have stayed in their luxurious apartments twice and love them! The apartments are fantastic, location perfect and the service is absolutely top-notch.

Tour Companies:

I Heart Reykjavik Private Walking Tour – Do this tour when you first arrive in Reykjavík and you will be set! Auður will not only tell you about the history of the city but she will also impart a local’s insight on the best bars, restaurants and shopping that Reykjavik has to offer. She will guide you off the beaten tourist routes and back into the neighborhood streets to get a glimpse of a local’s life and to reveal some of the wonderful hidden street art. Fabulous tours catered just for you!

Attractions:

Mink Viking Portrait Studio: Unleash your inner Viking at Mink! This photo session was an absolute blast and we came away with a fantastic, lasting memento from Iceland!

Hallgrímskirkja – Reykjavík’s main landmark. Go up in the tower for breathtaking views of the city!

The Settlement Exhibition – Museum built around the remains of a home from around 871. Great interactive displays of Viking Age history.

Baktus the Cat – Yes, I’m talking about an actual cat here. But not any old cat – this cat if a Reykjavík celebrity! He has over 7,000 followers on Instagram. You might be able to catch a glimpse of him at his hooman’s store, Gyllti Kötturinn, where he lives. Or perhaps  you can see him at one of his favorite hangouts – the Icewear store, which is located across the street, which is where we found him.

Restaurants/ Cafés/ Bakeries/ Bars:

Íslenski Barinn– Love, love, love! Delicious food & local brews in a comfortable, cozy setting.

Baejarins Beztu Pylsur – Legendary Icelandic Hot Dog stand in Reykjavik. A one a day must for the Husband while we are visiting the city!

Kattakaffihúsið – Iceland’s First Cat Café. Here you can not only enjoy a fantastic cup of coffee, delicious pastries and sandwiches (all vegan), but you can also pet some adorable kitties while you are at it! This cat café usually has three cat residents at all times. And even better, these adorable kitties are all available for adoption. An absolute must for cat lovers!

Brauð & Company– Bakes my most favorite in the world kanilsnúðar!

Reykjavik Roasters– Wonderful coffee & vibe. Love the cinnamon scones!

Sandholt Bakery – A never ending parade of scrumptious treats and sandwiches!

Kaldi Bar Fun & hip Bar featuring beers from the Kaldi Brewery

Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar (Kormakur’s and Skjöldur’s alehouse) – Or just plain Ölstofan –house brew Brío is not to be missed!

Shopping:

The Handknitting Association of Iceland – Icelandic Sweaters knitted in Iceland by Icelanders!

Thorvaldsen’s Bazar – Icelandic Sweaters (Lopapeysa) knitted in Iceland by Icelanders. All profits go to charity!

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!

If you are planning a trip to Iceland, I have written a bunch of posts about our travels there, which you might find helpful.


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!


Kjötsúpa – Icelandic Lamb Soup

June 30, 2020

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Today I’m going to share with you a delicious recipe for Kjötsúpa – Icelandic Lamb Soup. Kjötsúpa actually means “meat soup”, but in Iceland the meat will almost always be lamb.

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The Husband absolutely loves to get a bowl of this when we visit Iceland. So I really wanted to try to find an authentic recipe that would taste a close as possible as I could get it to the soup we enjoy there. And the happy news is that this recipe, along with a secret ingredient I will tell you about a bit later, has done the trick!

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Annnnd…I also want to tell you all about a trip to Iceland that the Husband and I took with our parents in tow back in September 2018. You see? I am making progress writing up travel posts on the backlog of trips we have taken. What with the quarantine grounding us, I will soon be caught up and maybe then can actually post about eagerly awaited upcoming trips in a more timely fashion. (Hope springs eternal…) Anyhoo…Iceland has opened its borders to tourists from the Schengen area, EU/EEA, EFTA and UK Nationals, on June 15th, and plans at this point, to open to most countries from outside of the Schengen area on July 1st. Originally this was to include folks from the U.S. Much to my dismay, it looks like the US will now be excluded since Covid-19 cases are still on the increase here. Now be aware, Iceland has not just thrown their borders open willy-nilly. They have done a magnificent job managing Covid-19 for their citizens and are not just throwing caution to the wind at this point. So be aware that until further notice, anyone arriving in Iceland, with a few exceptions, will need to fill out a pre-registration form BEFORE they jump on a plane. You can find this form, along with official Icelandic government information on Covid 19, here. Basically folks arriving at Keflavik airport will either need to go immediately into 2 week quarantine, or will be required to have a PCR test done. The results of the test will be available 3 -5 hours later. And you will be encouraged to download the contract tracing app Rakning C-19 to your phone as well. After you have successfully navigated the safety measures which the Icelandic government has put in place to protect its citizens and visitors alike, this blog might be of some help to you with your planning for the rest of your adventures in the country. Make sure you take a look at all of the travel links I have listed at the end of this post and if you are still looking for further inspiration, you can also take a look at previous travel posts I have done on Iceland.

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By September 2018, the Husband and I had visited Iceland eight times (as of this writing, we have visited the country eleven times and are eagerly monitoring the Icelandic governments Covid-19 travel guidelines, so that we can get back for or twelfth trip). Our parents had heard all about it from us and were eager to experience it themselves. Seeing the Northern Lights was on the Father-in-law’s bucket list. So we decided to play tour guides and show them around. You read a lot about planning kid friendly holidays/vacations, but not so much about parent friendly ones. The Husband and I usually incorporate a lot of hiking and outdoor activities in our travels. But we knew that would not really be appropriate or quite frankly of interest to the Parents, whose ages range from mid 70’s to early 80’s. They would want a more sightseeing type of itinerary. We only had one week to work with, so we did not feel that a rushed driving around the entire ring road would be a good experience for them. We know that the South Coast of Iceland is gorgeous, has lots to offer and is easily accessible from the airport. This seemed like an ideal spot to take the parents. And although we have been there many times ourselves, we can never get enough of any part of Iceland, so off we went. We chose to go early in the month of September because the weather is still (hopefully – you never know with Iceland) good, it is dark enough for Northern Lights at night and there was not likely to be any snow or ice where we were visiting (a couple of the parents do have some mobility issues).

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We flew with Icelandair, rented a big SUV from Blue Car Rental and set out for the South Coast. The Lava Centre in Hvolsvöllur was our first stop. The Lava Centre sits squarely between five of Iceland’s greatest volcanos. This new award winning attraction provides a multimedia interactive experience on Iceland’s formation, earthquakes and its many volcanos. Great introduction to the country!

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Then we headed off to our hotel. We had booked with Hótel Rangá for our first two nights. Back in December 2012 as well as December 2013, the Husband and I had stayed with them for four wonderful nights in their Antarctica Suite.

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Antarctica Suite at Hotel Rangá

We had told the Parents all about it. And the Mom had seen it on one of those Housewives shows, so she was very intrigued.

IMG_0688Hótel Rangá is the only 4 star resort in South Iceland. This lovely boutique hotel is situated rather remotely next to the East Rangá river, somewhat near the small town of Hella. This remote location, far from city lights make it an ideal place to view the Northern Lights should they make an appearance. Being well aware that many of their guests are keenly interested in viewing this natural wonder, the hotel offers a service where you can sign up to be notified if the lights do show up.

Aurora over Hotel Rangá

Amazing Northern Lights we saw at Hotel Rangá on our first visit in December 2012.

The quirky decor is reminiscent of a hunting lodge

and there are several geothermal hot tubs available if you need a good soak.

This was the perfect place to stay at the beginning of our journey. Everyone was very tired after the overnight flight and the folks at Rangá, friendly and charming as always, had us relax in their plush upstairs lounge, while our rooms were readied. They were even able to get us in a bit early.

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Another great reason to stay at Rangá is their amazing restaurant which serves modern Nordic cuisine with and emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.

The next day, after partaking in their extensive Champagne buffet breakfast, we piled into the car to check out the Golden Circle. First stop: Geysir! As if you hadn’t guessed, Geysir is a geyser. In fact it is from Geysir that we get the word geyser. Geysa is an old Norse verb meaning “to gush”. Geysir doesn’t actually erupt very regularly at this point. However, Strokkur, another geyser nearby, is very predictable, erupting every 5 -7 minutes.

Then onto to Gullfoss or the Golden Waterfall. One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, the water cascades down over several levels.

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The Husband wasn’t about to pass up the chance for a bowl of Kjötsúpa at the Gullfoss Kaffi, which is located inside the visitor center. Now I usually wouldn’t recommend dining in a touristy shop, but I gotta admit – you should get a bowl of Kjötsúpa here. We had enjoyed it on a previous visit and knew it was really tasty. Trust me!

Then on to Þingvellir National Park . This World UNESCO site is gorgeous!

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And lucky us, we did have a small glimpse of those elusive Northern Lights that evening.

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The third day we headed east towards the lovely village of Vík, taking in Seljalandfoss waterfall along the way.

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The weather was not too bad that day, and the Husband and I have all of the waterproof kit at this point, so we did walk behind it. The Parents decided to sit that one out.

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Magestic Skógafoss was next on the itinerary.

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Continuing eastwards, our next stop was at Sólheimajökull, a glacial tongue of Mýrdalsjökull. We didn’t go for a glacial hike while there, but just took in views.

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Then onto Dyrhólaey

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and Vík í Mýdral’s (often just known as Vík) black sand beach.

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According to legend, those large basalt columns, or sea stacks that you see right off the coast are trolls which didn’t make it back inside before sunrise and were subsequently turned into stone.

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We had definitely seen a lot on our first three days in Iceland. To see all the live action take a peek at the video below. And stay tuned to see what we get up to on day four!

But wait – don’t go! I have yet to tell you about today’s featured recipe. Kjötsúpa is a vey traditional soup and each Icelandic family likely has their own version of it. Some folks have been known to thicken the soup with rice or oatmeal, but this version remains very soup-like in consistency. Homey and very comforting, it is just the thing to warm you on any chilly day.

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As I mentioned, I am quite pleased with this recipe because it tastes very similar to the Kjötsúpa we have enjoyed in Iceland. I think this is due in no small part to a secret ingredient, which gives it such an authentic flavor.

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I will keep it a secret no longer – Icelandic Soup Herbs. This is a mixture of arctic thyme, birch leaves, bilberry and juniper. You can find this in pretty much any grocery store in Iceland and I’ve included a link at the bottom where you can purchase it online. It will truly make a big difference. So, what are you waiting for? Make up a big pot of this Kjötsúpa to fortify you while you plan your Icelandic adventure!

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Kjötsúpa - Islandic Lamb Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds lamb on the bone
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 onion or leek, chopped
  • 1 -2 Tablespoons soup herbs (see note that follows)
  • 1 pound rutabaga (or turnips), peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup green cabbage, roughly chopped

Directions:

Trim excess fat from the meat. Place it in a large dutch oven. Add 6 cups water and salt. Slowly bring to a boil. Add pepper, soup herbsand onions. Continue to simmer for 45 minutes.

Add all of the vegetables, except for the cabbage, to the pot and continue to simmer for 15 more minutes.

Add the cabbage and simmer until all of the vegetable are fork tender.

Remove the meat from the soup. Separate out the bones and chop the meat into bite sized pieces. Add back to the soup.

Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

You can serve this soup immediately, however we usually let soup sit overnight to develop the flavors. If you so choose to rest the soup,  let it cool and then put in refrigerator overnight. Another great thing about letting the soup rest in the fridge overnight is that it is easy to skim off any excess fat, as it solidifies on top. Reheat soup and garnish with fresh parsley, chives or chopped celery leaves.

*Icelandic soup herbs are a mixture of thyme, birch leaves, bilberry and juniper. I have included a link where you can purchase it online. That is if you don’t remember to pick so up while you are visiting Iceland. Good substitutions are thyme, parsley, bay leaves.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Kjotsupa:

Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir – great cookbook!

Urta Villikrydd (wild herbs) – Soup herbs I mentioned above. This link is for a site called Nammi which sells all sorts of Icelandic products. Nammi also sells another brand of soup herbs (Sûpujurtir), but I have not tried it.

Links for Planning a Parent Friendly vacation in Iceland:

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.

Travel Planning Guide:

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:

Hótel Rangá – Gorgeous 4 star boutique hotel, decorated in a rustic hunting lodge or ski resort style. It is located out in the country (hence no light pollution), about two hours from Reykjavik. Hotel Rangá caters to folks hoping to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights and will give you a wake up call should you desire if the elusive lights do make an appearance. The rooms range from cozy standards to quirky spacious suites. Expansive breakfast buffet. Comfortable laid back lounges. Relaxing geothermal hot tubs, private observatory with telescopes for sky gazing and an on site restaurant serving up delicious modern Nordic cuisine. All of that with a friendly, helpful & welcoming staff. Highly recommended.

Destinations:

The Lava Centre: Located in Hvolsvöllur, The Lava Centre sits squarely between five of Iceland’s greatest volcanos. This new award winning attraction provides a multimedia interactive experience on Iceland’s formation, earthquakes and its many volcanos. Great introduction to the country!

The Golden Circle: This popular tour route usually begins Reykjavik, loops around for 140 miles to include three stunning locations: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area & Gullfoss Waterfall and then ends up back in Reykjavik. It generally takes 3 1/2 hours to complete the drive and that is without stopping at all, which I don’t know why anyone would want to do that. So, it is definitely an all day activity when you factor in stops along the way. Many tour companies offer Golden Circle tours. If you are interested in driving it yourself, take a look at I Heart Reykjavik’s Guide. Here you will find answers to many of the questions you might have as well as a google driving map which not only includes the three main areas of interests, but also restaurants along the way, and other attractions which you might want to add to your itinerary.

Geysir Geothermal Area – See the original Geysir as well as Strokkur and other geothermal attractions.

Þingvellir National Park– Unesco World Heritage Site. First Icelandic Parliament, or Alþingi, was held here in the year 930 AD. It is also the place where you can see the rift between the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates. You can literally walk between the continents.

Gullfoss – Stunning multi level waterfall located on Hvítá river in south Iceland. Gull means “Gold” in Icelandic and Foss means “waterfall” – hence Golden Falls. One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls.

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.

Sólheimajökull– A glacial tongue of Mýrdalsjökull located just off Route 1 on the South Coast of Iceland.

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.

Dyrhólaey Peninsula – Stunning views of Iceland’s south coast and over to Reynisfjara Beach.


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!

 

 


Skúffukaka – Icelandic Chocolate Cake

August 24, 2018

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I can’t believe that I didn’t experience Skúffukaka until our 7th visit to Iceland, considering it is a traditional dessert. Indeed nearly every Icelandic family has their own version of the recipe, complete with closely guarded secret ingredients. Basically it is a dark chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, sprinkled with coconut flakes. It isn’t fancy per se – in fact skúffukaka means “oven pan cake” or “baking tray cake”. They have a similar version of this recipe in Sweden which is called Kärleksmums (love-yums), but folks in Iceland are pretty practical, so they’ve decided to call it Baking Tray Cake. But don’t let its rustic name put you off, this cake is delicious! I was served my first slice at The Garage Apartments by our lovely host Anna. The Husband and I didn’t know we were eating Skúffukaka at the time, we just knew we loved it!

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The Skúffukaka baked for us by our lovely host Anna at the Garage Apartments.

Anna served us wonderful baked goods every day of our visit. The first being that amazing Varmahlíð Apple Cake that I told you about in my previous blog. I was able to search around the internet and figure out that the chocolate cake she served was called Skùffukaka and then I researched a recipe, which I will share here with you today.

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But let me also take this opportunity to both tell you more about that fantastic trip to Iceland that the Husband and I went on last September as well as alert you to a new feature on my blog. If you look up at the top navigation bar, there is now a “travels” section you can choose. I have organized all of our travel posts here. So it will be much easier to find that trip we took to Prague way back in 2013, should you be searching. These posts not only feature a delicious dish that we experienced on our trip, but are also chock full of lovely pictures and recommendations with links for hotels, restaurants, guides, shops etc, should you be inspired to visit the destination yourself. But back to this Iceland trip from 2017. After we had so much fun on the South Coast, we headed towards the East Fjords. The East Fjords are really a hidden gem in Iceland. Well, I guess they aren’t really hidden. They are right there in plain sight. They are just often overlooked by tourists. Most visitors don’t venture that far from Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. That, and the fact that only roughly 3% of Iceland’s population lives in this area of the country, ensures you will be able to experience some peaceful, beautiful isolation.

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On our way north-east, we stopped by the stunning  Jökulsárlón. Actually we stopped by on our way north and then again when we came back south. We just can not get enough of its breathtaking beauty.

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Jökulsárlón is a large lake which was formed by a glacier. 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,

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though some do wash up on the nearby black sand beach, known as Diamond Beach.

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The first time we visited it was in December of 2013. It was really chilly that day, I’m talking like 12°F (-11°C). We braved the temps as long as we could, but we were pretty dang cold! So visiting in September was quite a different experience. It was sunny and warm both days. We really lucked out!

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A couple of seals swimming about

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Once we were able to finally tear ourselves away from Jökulsárlón, we continued on our northeast journey, taking a bit of time out to soak up the beauty that is Vestrahorn. Vestrahorn is one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland. It is located on the Stokksnes peninsula. One of Iceland’s earliest settlement farms was located in this area. The 454 meter high Vestrahorn mountain rises up from the lava dune strewn shore line. Truly a photographer’s paradise!

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We spent the night in an adorable little cabin

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where we were lucky enough to see a quick glimpse of the Northern Lights through the clouds.

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The next day we continued on towards Seyðisfjörður where we would be spending several days. On the way, zigzagging along the fjords on route 1, we saw many sleepy fishing towns surrounded by rugged mountains and dramatic coastlines. When we reached Egilsstaðir, we ventured off the ring road, up and over the Fjarðarheiði mountain pass, descending down into charming Seyðisfjörður (population 675). Nestled at the end of the fjord and surrounded by often snow peaked mountains and cascading waterfalls, picturesque Seyðisfjörður delights. Populated by many artists, musicians and craftspeople, this friendly town feels so welcoming.

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On our second day there we set off on a hike to see Tvísöngur, the sound sculpture created by german artist Lukas Kühne.

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This concrete structure consists of five interconnected domes, each with its own resonance that corresponds to a tone in the five tone harmony of traditional Icelandic singing.

After exploring the structure, we continued hiking on the Tvísöngur loop which took us up onto a plateau where we were treated to a bird’s eye view of the town and the fjord.

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Later that night we were delighted when the Northern Lights again made an appearance.

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After leaving Seyðisfjörður we headed south again, stopping at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon where the Aurora put on an amazing show. It was so intense, it was actually difficult to get a good picture because rather than a wispy trail of green against the black sky, the entire sky turned green.

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Our final adventure on this action packed trip was going on a glacier walk on Svínafellsjökull glacier in Skaftafell National Park with Icelandic Mountain Guides. They showed us how to use crampons and ice axes and then off we went.

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Svínafellsjökull glacier is where the scenes that took place “beyond the wall” in Game of Thrones were shot.

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So I’m sure you must be really inspired now to plan your own adventure in Iceland. Please take a look at the helpful links below if you need some assistance in planning. And do whip up some moist and decadent Skúffukaka while pouring over maps and booking sights. With a slice of that chocolatey goodness and mug of coffee, hepped up on all that sugar and caffeine, there’ll be no stopping you!

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Skúffukaka

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe adapted from: Belle -ÆÐISLEG SKÚFFUKAKA

Ingredients:

For the Cake:

  • 280 grams sugar
  • 125 grams butter- room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs – room temperature
  • 200 grams flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 50 grams natural unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 100 ml milk

For the Frosting:

  • 130 grams salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 250 grams confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100 grams dark chocolate, melted
  • 2 Tablespoons cream
  • 1 -2 Tablespoon strong coffee – cooled
  • coconut flakes to sprinkle over the cake

Directions:

For the Cake;

Preheat the oven to 355° F (180°C).

Butter and flour one 9X9″ baking tray.

In a bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cocoa. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together for 1 -2 minutes. Add the eggs, mixing well after the addition of each egg. Add the vanilla extract. Mix on medium high-speed for 6 -7 minutes until light and fluffy.

Add the dry mixture to the butter & sugar. Mix until just combined.

Add the milk and mix until just combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking tray and spread evenly. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Set on a wire rack to cool before frosting.

For the Frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the butter and egg together until combined. With the mixer on low-speed, add the confectioners sugar slowly, 1/4 cup  at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the cocoa and vanilla. Add the melted and cooled chocolate and continue mixing.

Mix in the cream and 1 – 2 Tablespoons of the cooled coffee to taste. Continue mixing until the frosting is smooth. If the icing is not the correct consistency for frosting the cake you can either add a bit more confectioner’s sugar or refrigerate for a short time to allow it to set.

Spread frosting over the cooled cake. This recipe makes a good amount of frosting, so you may not use all of it on the cake. Add as thick a layer of frosting as you prefer. Sprinkle with coconut flakes.

Enjoy!

Skúffukaka brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Skúffukaka:

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Oxo Good Grips 7 Piece Nesting Measuring Beaker Set

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Links for Planning your vacation in the East Fjords Iceland:

Accommodation:

Bragdavellir Cottages: located 10km from Djúpivogur, just off of Route 1, these cottages are clean, cozy and offer a fantastic view. Our only regret is that we had just one night’s stay.

Lónsleira Apartments: located in Seyðisfjörður these apartments are perfection! Stylishly furnished, sparklingly clean with amazing location and view!

Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon: We loved this hotel! So chic and stylish, not only are the rooms beautiful, but it is also located between Jökulsárlón and Skatafell National Park, two amazing destinations. We can not wait to visit again!

Restaurants/Bars:

Íshúsið Pizzeria: Located in Höfn, right on the harbor, this friendly pizzeria serves up some outstanding pies! We stopped on our way north and again on the way back south.

Kaffi Lára – El Grilló Bar: Located in Seyðisfjörður. Warm and friendly, you will love relaxing in this local bar/restaurant. Everything we tried here was very good, burgers to barbecue, but there was one standout item….they serve the BEST baked potatoes I have ever eaten. I kid you not. One night when we were there, we saw a couple who had just finished their meal. The lady ordered a slice of pie for dessert and her companion ordered another baked potato! Amazing!!!

Tours:

Icelandic Mountain Guides: Want to go on a glacier adventure? Contact these professionals! They won’t let you down!

Rental Cars:

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!


Varmahlíð Apple Cake

August 12, 2018

 

 

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Last September the Husband and I went on an amazing trip to Iceland. It was our 7th time visiting and we just can’t get enough of the place! Indeed since this trip we have visited again in February 2018 and are planning another visit this Fall! But let me not get ahead of myself. I’m just going to tell you about the September 2017 visit right now. Believe me, there be more to come. So last September, we were mostly focused on visiting the East Fjords, but we did spend some time revisiting the South Coast. Although we had been there several times, there were still plenty of things in the area that we hadn’t experienced. I first encountered this Varmahlíð Apple Cake

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at The Garage Apartments, which are an absolutely wonderful base of operations if you are visiting that area of the country.

P1010297 (1)These lovely modern rustic apartments are found in 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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Varmahlíð actually means “warm hill”. There is another Varmahlíð in North Iceland. With all the geothermal activity on the island it is easy to see why there would be more than one place known as Varmahlíð. But here I’m referring to an area on the South Coast near the Ejyafjallajökull volcano.

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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 for Iceland’s ever-expanding tourist market.

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Located exactly between the two famous waterfalls Skógafoss

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and Seljalandfoss,

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You can walk behind Seljalandfoss for an alternate view!

these exceptional apartments are the perfect central location for taking in all the South Coast of Iceland has to offer. We of course visited the waterfalls, not our first visit but they never seem to get old. We spent some time on the black sand beach near Vik

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and visited the plane wreck at Sólheimasandur.

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Next we travelled out to the breath-taking Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar).

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Once there we met the adorable Tóti, Vestmannaeyjar’s famous puffin

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and saw the whole town turn out to rescue baby pufflings at night (for more info on the pufflings and Westman islands (see Iceland links below). We went on an exciting rib safari tour around Heimaey.

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The Famous Elephant rock

Drank some local beer at the Brothers Brewery,

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visited the Eldheimar museum which documents the story of the surprise 1973 eruption of the volcano which caused the roughly 5,00 locals to flee on fishing boats in the middle of the night to the safety of the mainland. The eruption, which lasted for 5 months, buried 1/3 of the town in lava and destroyed over 400 houses and businesses. The resilient islanders did return and rebuilt the thriving community you will find today. Fascinating stuff! You really should consider visiting.

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One of the recently uncovered houses which had been buried by lava & ash during the eruption.

And if all the gorgeous scenery hasn’t convinced you, we had the best meal we have ever had in Iceland, which is saying something because the food there is fantastic. The restaurant is Slipurinn. Located in an old machinery shop this family owned eatery features seasonal local sourced dishes often including herbs and seaweed foraged right there on the island. Simply divine food in a friendly and casual environment. Don’t miss it!

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The Husband and I atop the newly formed volcano – Mt. Eldfell

Back on the mainland, we hiked the magnificent Fimmvörðuháls trail, a big accomplishment for us. This challenging 13 mile hike took us up over a mountain (approximately 3,600 feet elevation), past 22 waterfalls,

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past the still warm lava fields from the most recent eruption,

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between two glaciers,

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over the Kattarhryggur (cat’s spine)

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and down the other side through Goðaland (the land of the Gods),

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finishing in Thorsmork (Thor’s Forest).

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It was just jaw dropingly gorgeous and occasionally somewhat terrifying! – Narrow paths with steep drop-offs are not for the faint of heart!

And not only was the Garage Apartments location ideal for all our explorations, but Anna was also such an amazing host, so friendly, warm and welcoming. Her spacious apartments were stylishly decorated, sparklingly clean

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and filled with thoughtful little touches,

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Adorable mice on the bed side table!

and as if all of that was not enough, she served us scrumptious freshly home-baked desserts every day! This delicious Apple Cake was one of them.

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This particular Iceland trip was chock full of activities and I can not tell you how happy we were to come back to find home baked treats waiting for us. What a pleasant surprize! Moist and tender and not too sweet, it was just perfect with a nice hot mug of tea. Anna kindly shared the recipe with me, which I will now share with you.

 

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I must admit, I had to do a few conversions before baking this cake. I don’t have any measuring devices marked with deciliters – but I was able to figure it out pretty quickly. I baked the cake in an 8X8″ pan, but you could also use a 9X9″ – just make sure you adjust the baking time.

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And if you are planning a trip to Iceland anytime in the future and want to visit the South Coast, you’ll know exactly where you should book your accommodation. As a matter of fact, the Husband and I are taking our parents to Iceland this fall. It will be their first trip so we will be playing tour guides for them. And guess where we’ll be staying…That’s right! We are very much looking forward to our upcoming stay at the cozy Garage apartments. For further Iceland recommendations, see my guide at the bottom of this post. In the meantime, try this recipe and enjoy a slice of Varmahlíð Apple Cake while you plan your upcoming adventure.

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Varmahlíð Apple Cake

  • Servings: 9 pieces
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Anna, owner of the Garage Apartments

Ingredients:

  • 200 grams soft salted butter
  • 2.5 Deciliter Sugar (1 cup + 1 Tablespoon)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Deciliter Cream (100 ml)
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 -5 green apples – sliced

Directions:

Preheat oven to 355° F (180°C)

Place the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add the cream and vanilla. Stir to combine.

Add the flour/baking powder mix to the batter. Mix until just combined.

Place the batter in a buttered deep 8X8″ baking pan and top with the apples. ( I sprinkled the top of my cake with cinnamon sugar, but this was not included in Anna’s recipe. If you love cinnamon like I do, just mix 1/4 cup sugar with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and sprinkle over the apples before baking.)

Bake for 45 -50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean at 355°F (180°C).

Enjoy!

Varmahlíð Apple Cake brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Varmahlíð Apple Cake:

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Oxo Good Grips 7 Piece Nesting Measuring Beaker Set

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Links for Planning your vacation in Iceland:

I have tons of links, as well as some lovely photos, and delicious Icelandic recipes in previous blogs that I have written about our adventures in Iceland. For some inspiration take a look at:

December 2012 Visit to the South Coast & Reykjavik featuring White Chocolate Skyramisu

December 2013 Visit to the South Coast, Jökulsárlón & Reykjavik featuring Kanilsnúðar

July & December Visit to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, The Westfjords & Reykjavik featuring Ástarpungar aka Love Balls 

Here is a fun video that show you some of the beauty Iceland has to offer, which will surely get you excited for any upcoming Iceland visit. And it will teach you a few words in Icelandic as well. It is known as “The Hardest Karaoke Song in the World”! Sing along to Inspired by Iceland’s “A – Ö of Iceland”.

If you enjoyed this video, take a look at Inspired By Iceland’s site. They have great little videos showing you gorgeous scenes from each area of Iceland, while teaching you a few more Icelandic words along the way.

Westman Island links:

To Buy tickets on the Herjólfur Ferry as well as read about all the things to see and do take a look at: Visit Westman Islands.

Hotel Vestmannaeyjar – Great accommodation on the Islands.

Stofan Bakhús – Great bakery! Got the best kanilsnúðars there that I have ever had in Iceland! We also got some great sandwiches to take on a hike. Everything there looks delicious. Go be tempted!

On puffins: If you travel to the Westman Island at the end of August/beginning of September there is a good chance you will see baby puffins (pufflings) being rescued by the local children. At this time of year, the pufflings leave their nests but get confused by the lights of the town and rather than flying out to sea, they end up flying into town. The children go out at night with flashlights to find them. They take them home in cardboard boxes for the night. The next morning they take them to the Saeheimar Aquarium to be measured and weighed and the children can have their pictures taken with their little charges as well. Once done, the kids take the little birds to the shore and release them back into the wild during daylight hours so that they won’t become confused. We were lucky enough to be there when this was happening and it was unforgettable!

*On a sad note: Tóti the Puffin passed away in July. He was a great ambassador for Vestmannaeyjar and brought joy to many. The Husband and I are so glad we were able to meet him. He will be sorely missed.

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Interested in hiking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail? See here:

If you are interested in hiking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, you can go all on your own. However, we strongly recommend going with a guide.  Weather at  the top of the mountain is very unpredictable and many tourists have ended up having to call ICE-SAR to be rescued. Don’t let this happen to you! We absolutely love the tour company Midgard Adventure and have gone out with them on many exciting adventures. They not only provided us with a knowledgeable and engaging guide but when we descended down into Thorsmork after our epic 9 – 10 hour hike, the folks from Midgard had grilled some hot dogs and were waiting for us with a cooler of beer as well as other snacks. It was just perfection! Check out their other tours as well. They are an amazing company! And they now offer cozy accommodation as well. Take a look at their basecamp where you can find a restaurant, cafe and bar as well.

 

 

 

 


Ástarpungar ( Love Balls) & Our Icelandic Holidays in July and December

February 27, 2016

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So I’m not sure if you know it or not, but I am pretty much obsessed with Iceland. I absolutely love it there. I just can’t seem to get enough of it! The husband and I originally visited in December of 2012 and we have been back three more times since then. In fact we went twice last year and I must confess, I’m in the midst of planning our next visit! But it wasn’t until our third trip around the country that I discovered Ástarpungar aka Love Balls. A Love Ball is the Icelandic version of a doughnut, though they are completely round (ball shaped in fact) and do not have a hole in the center. I’ve read that they get their quirky name from an odd legend. Seems once upon a time there was a very beautiful, but rather unfaithful woman who was married to a very jealous and vengeful husband. And, oh yeah, there is also a very unfortunate lover involved who soon found himself to be missing bits of his anatomy! Yeah, I’ve also heard these little delicacies referred to as “Lover Balls”. Hmmm…So there you go!  I’m not sure how I missed out on them in previous visits, but now I’m in the know. So, being a fan of all things Icelandic, and these pastries are no exception, I thought I might share the recipe with you as well as some pictures from both of last year’s trips. (At this point, if you hate looking a vacation photos, you can scroll down to the end and just get the recipe. I’ll get over it, I’m sure. But if you think you might want to visit Iceland someday, and I highly recommend it, I hope that I can give you some useful tips and inspiration for your upcoming trip!)

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It was on our July 2015 visit that I first encountered Ástarpungar. We were on our way up to the Westfjords and stopped at the Geirabakarí in Borgarnes. (I’ve just gotta say here, if you are visiting Iceland and are in the Borgarnes neighborhood, this bakery & cafe should be a must for you. Everything I have tried there is out of this world. The husband and I were able to stop by twice in July, once on the way north and we made a point to stop again of the way back to Reykjavik. Really top notch pastries, bread, sandwiches, coffee…etc. And if you are at all interested in movie trivia, the Geirabakari is disguised as the Papa Johns in the Secret Life of Walter Mitty). I already knew that I loved Kanilsnúðar and had read that Geirabakeri did snúðar that could not be beaten. So of course, I ordered up one of those, but rather than the cinnamon variety, I had one with chocolate topping. It was superb! As I was trying to decide what other of the delicious looking pastries I was going to sample, one of the helpful folks working in the bakery suggested the Ástarpungar (Love Balls) and I am so glad they did.

Geirabakari Astarpungar

Geirabakari Astarpungar

Basically it is a slightly sweet, deep-fried ball of dough shot through with plump juicy raisins and a hint of cardamom. It was crispy on the outside with a light fluffy center. Yum! We found ourselves wishing we had gotten a bunch to go as we continued our journey up to the Westfjords.

Gerðuberg Basalt Columns

Gerðuberg Basalt Columns

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Stykkishólmur harbor

Stykkishólmur harbor

Stykkishólmur harbour

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And the Westfjords? The husband and I were completely smitten. Absolutely stunning no matter which way we turned!

Crazy Icelandic fog!

Dynjandi Waterfall

Dynjandi Waterfall

Dyandi heights

Westfjords Church

One of the highlights of the visit was The Under the Cliffs tour that we took with Wild Westfjords. This tour took us way off the beaten track along the rugged Svalvogar Peninsula trail. This road is inaccessible for most of the year and we certainly would not want to have attempted it on our own, even though we had rented a 4×4.

Skinny trail!

Skinny trail!

So we were very happy to have our experienced tour guide, Magnus, take over the driving. Friendly and entertaining, he imparted a local’s knowledge of the area to us and told us all about the history of the road, the local wildlife, legends and tales of the area, while we sat back and enjoyed all of the inspiring beauty surrounding us. Quite an unforgettable day! (O.k. – time for another endorsement. If you are planning to visit this area of Iceland, I can not recommend the folks at Wild Westfjords travel agency (especially Halldor) highly enough. Not only was their Under the Cliffs tour breathtaking, but Halldor helped arrange most of the details of our Westfjords visit, from the hotels, to ferry bookings, to the daytours. He gave us advice on driving times between areas and the sights to see along the way. His attention to detail was amazing, all of his recommendations were right on target. I found him simply indispensable!)

On the Svalvogur Trail

On the Svalvogur Trail

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Another fun stop for us in the Wesfjords was the town of Hólmavík. Talk about quirky! This town’s claim to fame is that it is the home of the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft. Fascinating!

The Husband casting spells

The Husband casting spells

We stayed just outside of the town in Hotel Laugarholl. The hotel is a converted school and that school-house vibe is still charmingly present. There is a Sorcerer’s Cottage on the grounds of the hotel which is part of the afore-mentioned museum. But hands down, the highlight of our stay here was the dip we took in the geothermal swimming pool as well as the time we spent soaking in the natural geothermal spring.

Hótel Laugarhóll hot pot

Hótel Laugarhóll hot pot

But our adventures in July were not over yet. We headed back to Reykjavik and on the Inside the Volcano tour were able to actually able to descend into the magma chamber of a dormant volcano! Iceland’s Thríhnúkagígur volcano is the only place in the world that you will find this unique natural phenomenon. After a short, relatively easy hike across a lava field, we arrived at base camp, where we were served a delicious and welcome traditional Icelandic lamb soup while we waited our turn to descend 120 meters (395 feet) down into the volcano.

Geared up & ready to go!

Geared up & ready to go!

Long way back up to the surface!

Long way back up to the surface!

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The experience was awesome and I mean that in the truest sense of the word. There was a dazzling array of colors on the walls of the chamber from the mineral deposits which formed when the lava was present. We were lucky enough to actually meet Árni B. Stefánsson, the man who originally discovered Thríhnúkagígur, in the lava field on our hike out that day. He told us that he wanted everyone to have the opportunity to “feel small”. And standing there in such epic grandeur, we certainly did!

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The husband and I certainly enjoy heading off into the Icelandic countryside, but we also actually love the city of Reykjavik.

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In July I was able to book a walking tour of the city with I Heart Reykjavik. I have been following Auður who writes the I Heart Reykjavik blog for a couple of years now. Not only is she witty and entertaining, but her blog provides a wealth of information to anyone planning a visit to Iceland. When she started offering tours, I couldn’t wait to sign up for one! So, even though this was our third visit to Reykjavik, we took the tour and learned quite a bit from our fantastic tour guide, Ásta. Not only did she tell us about the history of the city but she also imparted a local’s insight on the best bars, restaurants and shopping that Reykjavik has to offer. She took us off the beaten tourist routes and back into the neighborhood streets to get a glimpse of a local’s life and to reveal some of the wonderful hidden street art.

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We loved the tour so much that when we returned in December, we took the Christmas Version of the I Heart Reykjavik walking tour and were actually able to meet Auður who was guiding the tour that evening. This special edition Christmas tour was full of valuable tidbits for the holiday season. Not only did we hear about the Yule Lads and my favorite – the Jólakötturinn (the yule cat who eats children who do not receive new clothes for Christmas),

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but we also got great insight into how average Icelandic families celebrate the holidays. We also received a wealth of information on all of the Christmas events happening around the city such as concerts, where to taste Christmas beers (For those of you not familiar with Christmas Beers, the breweries in Iceland produce a limited edition Christmas Beer every holiday season. The beers are generally a little darker, a bit spicier and somewhat higher in alcohol content.

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They are available in liquor stores starting November 15th, but are usually for sale in bars a bit earlier. Once January 6th rolls around, the Christmas beers are no longer sold and any beers left in the liquor store are shipped back to their manufacturer, at which point they are usually destroyed. Seems like definite alcohol abuse to me….just saying!) and the best restaurants for feasting on traditional Icelandic Christmas Dinners.

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And for those of you thinking….hmmmm…Iceland in December?! We actually love visiting in December. Folks in Iceland definitely get into the holiday spirit. Everything is decorated beautifully and if you don’t find yourself in the Christmas mood after a few days there, I must say, there is no hope for you. You’re a certified Scrooge!  Although we had visited twice before in December, the weather on this particular trip was remarkable. Reykjavik had just received a record amount of snow in the days just preceding our arrival and the snow just kept on coming!

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We even had a Winter hurricane show up while we were there with winds topping 65 mph in the city (30 mps)!

Sorry for the blurry pic, but I think it captures the moment & wind speed perfectly!

Sorry for the blurry pic, but I think it captures the moment & wind speed perfectly!

And I can’t forget to mention that most elusive of natural phenomena – the Northern Lights. We were actually lucky enough to get a glimpse of them one evening. It was a bit cloudy and the lights were not as strong as the first time we saw them back in 2012, but it was still an amazing experience.

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So there you have it! A recap of our 2015 Iceland adventures! And it is true, I am in the midst of planning the first of our 2016 visits. So I hope you will stay tuned to see what we’ll get up to in Iceland this year. For those of you interested in experiencing Iceland for yourselves, at the bottom of this post, I have listed some other links to our favorite Icelandic businesses which may be useful in planning your trip. In the meantime, perhaps you can whip up a batch of these tasty little Love Balls to inspire you!

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P.S. On Tuesday March 1st, I will begin my annual St. Patrick’s Day blog-a-thon of Irish-y recipes. I hope you’ll check back in to join in on all the fun!

Ástarpungar aka Love Balls or Icelandic Doughnuts

  • Servings: 15
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Recipe adapted from: Tasty Trix

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pastry flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped with Brennivín (Having no Brennivín on hand, I actually used Rum)
  • zest of one lemon
  • canola oil for frying

Directions:

Place raisins in a small bowl. Cover with boiling water or if you’d like to add a bit more flavour to the fruit, you can add some liquor to the water, or replace the water for liquor all together, depending on the day you are having. If you want to be very Icelandic, you can use Brennivín (Icelandic Schnapps, also known as “Black Death”). I went with good old dark Rum. Let the raisins soak for 15 minutes. Drain liquid away and gently pat raisins dry with paper towels.

Combine the pastry flour, baking powder, cardamom, caster sugar and salt in medium mixing bowl.

In another small bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract together.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until they just come together. Gently fold in the plumped raisins and the lemon zest.

Heat 2″ of oil in a deep pan to 350°F. Drop large cookie scoop (size #30, approximately 2 tablespoons) full of Ástarpungar batter into the oil. Fry, occasionally turning the balls so that all sides cook, for about 5 – 6 minutes.

Remove Ástarpungar from oil with slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm.

Enjoy!

Ástarpungar brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links to Useful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Ástarpungar:

Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Sauce Pan

Thermoworks Super-Fast Thermapen Cooking Thermometer

Norpro 2 Tablespoon Cookie Scoop

Additional Links for Planning your vacation in Iceland:

Blue Car Rental: The husband and I have rented our car from Blue on three different trips now and wouldn’t consider renting from any other company at this point. Every single time, their service has been fantastic from the first email until we drop the car back off to them. The cars have always been very clean, low mileage, newer models. We also love that the quote you get from them on their website includes everything: unlimited mileage, taxes and all of those pesky insurances like CDW, TP, GP etc.

The Black Pearl Reykjavik – Reykjavik’s Finest Apartments – We have stayed in their luxurious apartments twice and love them! The apartments are fantastic, location perfect and the service is absolutely top-notch.

I Heart Reykjavik: I know I have already linked to this blog above, but I can’t emphasize enough how helpful this travel blog is in planning your Icelandic vacation. Such a wealth of information it is an essential!

Grillmarkaðurinn – (The Grill Market) Our favourite special occasion restaurant in Reykjavik!

Baejarins Beztu Pylsur – Legendary Icelandic Hot Dog stand in Reykjavik. A one a day must for the husband while we are visiting the city!

Sandholt Bakery – If you are not headed out of Reykjavik – get your Ástarpungar here! Along with a plethora of other tasty treats!

SuperJeep – These folks will whisk you away from Reykjavik’s city lights into the darkness of the countryside to chase down the elusive Aurora Borealis. We have been on two of their Northern Lights Tours and were very pleased!

Kraum & Foa – Great shops in Reykjavik for quality, unique handmade Icelandic souvenirs.

Laundromat Cafe (yup…there really is a laundromat here in addition to all the great food and drink),

Kaldi Bar (Fun & hip Bar featuring beers from the Kaldi Brewery)

Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar (Kormakur’s and Skjöldur’s alehouse) – Or just plain Ölstofan (house brew Brío is not to be missed!)

The Reykjavik Grapevine: A witty English language Icelandic magazine. Great read whether or not you’re planning a visit!

Our December 2012 visit blog – Full of useful links, pretty pics & a recipe for Kanilsnúðar

Our December 2013 visit blog – Full of useful links, pretty pics & a recipe for White Chocolate Skyramisu

 


Pretzel Dogs!

August 6, 2015

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I’mmmmmmmmm back! Good Lord above, I can not believe that I haven’t written one tiny little thing on this blog since April 3rd!  And that post was written after I had taken a sizeable break after my St. Patrick’s Day blog-a-thon. Yup…back then I said I’d be getting right back into the kitchen. I don’t know what got into me. Wellll….I kinda do. You see I’ve been busy planning a big bathroom renovation. I’m not sure if I mentioned it or not, but about 1 1/2 years ago we had a bathroom fire that was started by a faulty bathroom exhaust fan. (Here’s a tip for all you readers out there…Do NOT leave your exhaust fan running over night. The motor in our’s heated up and because our bathroom had last been renovated sometime in the 70’s, the fan did not have a thermal fuse, so it just kept getting hotter and hotter until it caught the insulation in the ceiling on fire. We were very lucky that the bathroom was all that burned up.) So yeah, you did read that right…the fire happened all that time ago and we are just now getting around to doing something about it. How pathetic is that? Seriously, we just sealed that bathroom off with plywood, moved to the guest bathroom down the hall and have been doing our best to ignore it. But I’m happy to report that we’ve finally got our act together and have hired a contractor and have nearly finished the design. Construction is nigh I tell you!

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Big gaping hole which we unbelievably ignored for over 1 year!!!

And then we just purchased a condo down in Richmond Virginia. Yes….I did say “down”. That is because Richmond is even further south in Virginia than we currently are now. I’m sure you all know how I loathe summer weather in Virginia and what did we do? Went further south! Must be stone cold crazeeee! So that has taken a bit of doing. The good news is as it turns out, Richmond is quite the hidden foodie destination. So I’m looking forward to telling you about some of our future dining exploits. But here is a sneak preview pic:

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Green Eggs & Lamb & Non-Huevos Rancheros with Griddled Jalapeno Grits, Black Bean Chili & Carnitas at Black Sheep brunch! #RVA#BlackSheepRVA

And last but not least, we just returned from a completely fantastic holiday in Iceland. Yup, we’ve been there before, three times now counting this visit and I am completely smitten! I’ve got a post coming up about a delicious Icelandic doughnut I sampled there.

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Icelandic Doughnut or ástarpungar from the Geirabakarí in Borgarnes…stay tuned for the recipe!

So anyhoo…..I should probably make you some sort of assurances that I’ll settle down again and blog faithfully, but I’m not sure it would be prudent to make such pledges. I do have good intentions….but I am the person that walked around with a boarded up bathroom for almost two years. So there you have it. I can be a bit negligent. But I beg your forgiveness and will try to be better. I’m going to start out fresh today with a great recipe for Pretzel Dogs!

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At this point, I don’t know if I even need to say one other word, their name says it all. Who doesn’t love those big soft chewy salty pretzels? And hot dogs? We loooove hot dogs in this house. I’ve posted quite a few hot dog blogs in the past, like how ’bout those Bacon Wrapped Dogs,

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or those tasty little Mini Corn Dogs?

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Yup, we’re big fans. I just told you we were recently off visiting Iceland. Well, as it turns out Icelanders love hot dogs too. There is this famous hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, in downtown Reykjavik and the husband and I made it a point to stop there every single day for one of their hot dogs with everything (“eina með öllu.” – they have a whole bunch of delicious toppings like mustard, raw onions, crispy onions and some sort of special hot dog remoulade).

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Day one….

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Day two….

And I can truly say the husband and I have never met a pretzel we didn’t like. Usually we nibble on the hard and crunchy store-bought variety, but certainly do love the big soft and chewy ones. So when I came across a recipe for  Pretzel Dogs, I knew without a doubt I would be giving it a whirl. Basically you just make up a yeast dough, similar to what you would do for bread. The thing that magically transforms it into a pretzel is the alkaline bath that it is dipped into prior to baking. That magical soak is crucial for both the texture as well as the color of pretzels. Once that yeast dough is introduced to this bath, the outside of the dough is gelatinized which prevents the usual “springing” of the dough which occurs during baking, giving you the chewy texture, distinct pretzel-y flavour and lovely brown colour. Once upon a time, pretzels were a noticeably darker brown color. This was achieved with a dip in a lye bath – albeit a food grade lye ( sodium hydroxide) bath. Now that stuff, “food grade” or not, is actually quite the hazardous chemical. I’m serious….you can still use it but you’re going to have to go all “Breakin Bad” and wear big rubber gloves and safety goggles when you’re doing your cooking. Personally, I don’t think I need to be that authentic. I’m happy to go with the old tried and true baking soda as a substitute. Everyone has a box of that lingering on their shelves at home. It will definitely give you that lovely soft and chewy brown pretzel crust that you’re longing for without any hazardous chemical concerns.

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And now that we’ve covered the pretzel bit, lets not forget that oh so important dog that it is wrapped around. So everyone has their favourite brand, and far be it from me to tell you what you should buy. However I will say, I like a dog that has a bit of flavour and a little snap when you bite into it. Usually we buy Hebrew Nationals, Nathan’s or Boar’s Head brands, but I’ll leave that choice up to you. As far as I’m concerned, you really can’t go wrong with these. Straightforward and easy to make….not to mention so delish! Comfort food extraordinaire! With a little side dish of good ole yellow mustard for dipping, you’re totally set. Don’t even get me started thinking about the spicy nacho cheese dip possibilities. So don’t be a proscrastinator – like yours truly – jump right on this and make up a batch of these comfort food gems today!

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Pretzel Dogs

  • Servings: 8 pretzel dogs
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Bake with Christina

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups warm (110 to 115° F) water
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoon) active dry yeast
  • 4½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pans
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 8 hot dogs (we love Hebrew National, Nathans and Boars Head)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Kosher salt, for sprinkling

Directions:

Combine the water, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast over top. Let sit for 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to foam. In the meantime, lightly oil a large bowl and set aside.

Using a dough hook, add the flour and melted butter to the yeast mixture on low-speed until well combined. Increase speed to medium and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl (about 4 to 5 minutes).

Place the dough in the lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area for an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Pour 10 cups of water in an 8 quart pot which has deep sides. Bring the water to a rolling boil. Carefully add the baking soda. The mixture will foam up quite a bit, hence the deep sided pot recommendation. Stir until the soda has dissolved and then lower the heat to medium and keep the solution simmering.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a rope that’s about 24-inches long. Starting at one end, wrap the dough around the hot dog, pinching each end together so that it’s sealed and stays in place. Take care to make sure you have a good seal or your pretzel dogs will begin to unravel in the baking soda bath. Place onto the baking sheets and repeat with the remaining dough and hot dogs.

Lower the pretzel dogs into the boiling water two at a time and boil for 30 seconds. Using a large flat slotted spatula, remove them from the water and place on the baking sheets. Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle with the coarse kosher salt. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

Pretzel Dogs brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

 

 


Icelandic Bolludagur Cream Buns

February 16, 2015

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Bolla, Bolla, Bolla! Bet you didn’t know it, but today is Bolludagur (Bun Day) in Iceland. Bolludagur always falls on the monday before Ash Wednesday. On this day, the children of Iceland try to sneak into their parents bedroom, while they are still sleeping and whip them awake with brightly colored wands or paddles (bolludagsvöndur) while shouting Bolla, Bolla, Bolla! The number of spanks the child is able to land before the parent rises from bed, likely to land a few spanks of their own, is the number of Cream Buns they will be able to scarf down that day.

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Apparently this holiday came to Iceland via Denmark in the 19th Century, but Iceland has of course put its own spin on it. The husband and I have gone on holiday to Iceland for the past couple years and plan to visit again this Spring. We just can’t seem to get enough of it.

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Iceberg on black sand beach near Jökulsárlón.

Shortly after our first visit, I started to follow the blog I heart Reykjavik written by Reykjavik local Auður Ösp. It is an icelandic travel blog, but even if you aren’t planning a visit, you should take a peek. It is quite interesting, full of Auður’s recommendations to make your stay in Reykjavik the best it can be, along with her beautiful photography of the stunning country and all peppered with her witty commentary. And if you are planning a visit, this blog is simply a must! (Auður not only guides walking tours of Reykjavik, but also provides other unique opportunities for visitors such as a crash course in the Icelandic language and even home cooked dinners with the locals.) It was on her blog that I first learned about Bolludagur. What a great holiday! One I stand absolutely ready to incorporate into my yearly celebrations. And since I have no children, won’t the husband be surprized when I show up bright and early with my bolludagsvöndur at the ready !

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Now although you can find these Bolludagur Buns everywhere in Iceland right now, they were pretty thin on the ground here in Virginia, so I made my own.

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These buns are very similar to profiteroles or eclairs, made with a choux pastry. And one of the many great things about them is that they are very customizable. Just make up the buns and fill them with sweetened whipped cream. After that, the sky’s the limit! Stuff a bit of extra jam in with the cream, or maybe you have some Lime Curd left over from that Blackberry & Lime Tart I just told you about. Put some of that it there, with some of the leftover blackberries. I did some of the buns filled with that scrumptious, award-winning Chocolate & Raspberry Preserves from the Green Apron that I’ve told you about in the past (remember those Chocolate & Raspberry Buttermilk Doughnuts I made…) and topped it with more chocolate…because why wouldn’t you? These buns are supposed to be a bit decadent!

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I also did a salted caramel filled bun, again topped with chocolate.

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Like I said, it is completely up to you. Just make sure you eat your fill today…I’ll even make the spanking bit optional for you adults….Bolla, Bolla, Bolla!

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Icelandic Bolludagur Cream Buns

  • Servings: 12 -15 cream buns
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly adapted from: Icelandic Roots

Ingredients:

For the buns:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 large eggs

For the cream and filling:

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
  • raspberry jam, salted caramel, melted chocolate

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375ºF. In a large saucepan, stir together water, butter, salt and sugar on stove medium-high until butter melts. Add the flour and beat until thick. Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly.

Move flour butter mixture to bowl of stand mixer. Add the eggs and quickly beat them into the batter until it is smooth.

At this point, you can drop the batter onto a greased baking sheet using two spoons. Or you can place the dough in a pastry bag and pipe it onto a parchment lined baking sheet. This is the method I used as I was hoping to have the buns all be consistent in size. I drew 2″ circles on the parchment as a guide and then flipped it over and piped the dough to fit the circles.

Bake 30 minutes until golden brown. And here is where it gets really difficult. Do not open the oven during baking. Not at all. Not even a for a quick peek. You will cause those buns to fall flat! Turn the oven off and let the buns cool undisturbed within the oven.

Whip cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar to stiff peaks. Slice cooled buns in half. Fill with cream (again, I piped it in, but you could just spoon them full…) and anything else you would like…say like Chocolate Raspberry Jam, or salted caramel. Top with a little sprinkling of confectioners sugar or with melted chocolate or any other frosting or glaze that your heart desires!

Enjoy!

Icelandic Bolludagur Cream Buns brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

 


Kanilsnúðar (Cinnamon Snails) & Iceland in December

January 8, 2013

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Happy New Year Everyone! The busy holiday season is finally over and I guess everyone is starting to get back into their old routines. Our holiday season was made particularly hectic due to our decision to go on a spur of the moment trip to Iceland. We had always wanted to visit Iceland and had briefly looked into flights, hotels etc., but it had always been a bit on the pricey side. When we arrived back from our October Ireland trip, I had read an article which claimed that this winter, visitors to Iceland would be much more likely to see the Northern Lights due to the current cycle of increased solar flare activity. That’s when I checked flights on a lark and found that not only were flights cheaper, but all of the hotels seemed to be running off-season special rates. I must admit, a few times I did think “Who the heck goes to Iceland in December?! Are we nuts?!”

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But I’ve got to tell you, it is fantastic!. We LOVED it! Actually, I probably should tell you it’s dreadful, cause we are definitely going back and I don’t want to let too many folks in on the secret. Sure, it is chilly, though not awfully so. It hovers right around freezing but the temperatures are often accompanied and shall we say enhanced by ever-present, kicking winds. There is also not a great deal of daylight. Although you will find 24 hours of daylight if you visit in July, in December it got light around 10:45 a.m. and was dark again around 4 p.m. Such limited daylight definitely forced us to plan out what we wanted to do during  the day and get to doing it before it was dark again. And we did get in quite a few adventures. We went horseback riding at Hestheimar Horse Farm.

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Icelandic Horses were initially introduced to the country by Norwegian Viking settlers and the breed has remained pure for about 1000 years. These sturdy and hardy horses are very friendly and personable. They have an extra gait called a tölt which is essentially a fast walk. Tölting is a pleasure! Very smooth, much more comfortable for the rider than a trot.

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Super Jeep next to a crater created when Eyafjallajökull volcano erupted a couple of years ago.

We went on a Super Jeep tour of Þórsmörk (Thor’s Forest) with South Iceland Adventure Company (Thanks so much to Magnus, our guide) and saw waterfalls, and hiked through gorges, mountain passes and around on a glacier.

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Inside a glacial ice formation.

We chilled out at the Blue Lagoon. Not the one from the 80’s with Brooke Shields, but a surreal geothermal pool and Spa located in a lava field in Grindavík about 40 minutes from Reykjavik. No description from me will do it justice. It really is other worldly. But let me just say… imagine a huge hot tub in the middle of a lava field with a swim up to wine/beer bar located in the center. Are you getting the picture?

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We went Snowmobiling with Mountaineers of Iceland on Langjökull glacier, the second largest glacier in Iceland. Very exciting, but even with the copious layers of thermals I was wearing, it was the absolute coldest I’ve ever been in my entire life! Though what would you expect, we were traipsing about on a huge slab of ice!

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We stayed at Hotel Rangá. This gorgeous, cozy hotel, which is located out in the country (hence no light pollution), about two hours from Reykjavik, caters to folks hoping to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights and will give you a wake up call should you desire if the elusive lights do make an appearance. (seems like they mostly show up around midnight to 2 a.m.) We were actually lucky enough to see the Aurora put on a great show.

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Northern Lights and a meteor from the Geminid meteor shower which was happening on the same night!

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What is the food like you might ask. As you can imagine, the seafood is really outstanding! My husband, who is allergic to seafood, was not left wanting. There were plenty of non-seafood options available for him to choose from. One of his favourite meals of the trip was reindeer meatballs. All that being said, one of the most popular “restaurants” in Reykjavik, really isn’t a restaurant at all. It is a hot dog stand called Bæjarins Beztu which has been selling hot dogs or pylsur to Icelanders and tourists alike since 1935. Apparently Icelanders LOVE hot dogs and claim that theirs are the best in the world. Indeed, The Guardian designated Bæjarins Beztu as the “best hot dog stand in Europe”. Of course we made a beeline for the place as soon as we arrived in the city (as well as paying it a couple more visits while we were there). We weren’t disappointed! They serve some excellent hot dogs. These dogs have lamb added to the usual pork and beef and are smothered with ketchup, mustard, raw onion, crispy onion and a spicy remoulade. Delicious!

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We are already planning our trip back this year and yup, in December! I’m sure at this point you are wondering if we are ever going to talk about the Kanilsnúðar recipe I’ve dangled so temptingly before you. So I’ll get right to it. Icelanders are really into Christmas. Christmas music plays non-stop. All the houses are completely decked out with lights. Everywhere we went, shops, bars, you name it, had Christmas cookies out for all to enjoy. I think I first tasted a Kanilsnúðar at the Heistheimar riding stables. It reminded me of a Snickerdoodle, but better, much more exotic and with a fun shape. Then I was able to find a bag of these darling little snails, the first of many bags consumed on the trip, in a local market and my obsession began.

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Once I got home, I looked about online and was able to find a couple of recipes. The one I really wanted to make called for the ingredient “Hartshorn” which I had never heard of. Further internet research revealed that Hartshorn is a rather old-fashioned leavener also known as Baker’s Ammonia. It is supposed to make baked goods rise higher than baking powder and make them extra crispy. I read that it was available in most Scandinavian shops. These establishments are a bit thin on the ground in Virginia, so I checked the King Arthur Flour site and sure enough they had it, so I placed my order. (If you would like to make these cookies without the Hartshorn, you can substitute 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for the 1/2 teaspoon Hartshorn called for. This is said to yield similar results, but I did not try it.) For those of you who do manage to procure some Hartshorn, don’t freak out when you mix the cookie dough up. It will have quite a whiff of ammonia about it, but it goes away once baking is complete. I was quite happy with my little “cinnamon snails”.

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They are great with a cup of coffee or tea in the morning or as an afternoon snack. My husband likes them because they are not overly sweet, a quality which he seems to prefer in a cookie. I’m sure they have secured a permanent place in our Christmas cookie repertoire because they will always be a pleasant reminder of our dreamy first trip to Iceland.

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Kanilsnúðar (Cinnamon Snails)

recipe adapted from: Jo’s Icelandic Recipes

yield: approx. 12  cookies

Ingredients:

  • 175 grams flour
  • 100 grams  unsalted butter  plus 1 Tablespoon salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp hartshorn powder (baker’s ammonia) * or 1/2 tsp. baking powder and baking soda
  • 60 grams sugar
  • 1 egg
  • healthy pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cinnamon Sugar:

  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon (or extra if you’re really into cinnamon)

Directions:

Mix cinnamon and sugar together until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Place flour and hartshorn, sugar and salt in food processor. Pulse to mix. Cut cold butter into 1″ cubes and scatter over  the flour mixture. Pulse a few times until mixture resembles coarse little pebbles. Remove flour/butter mixture from food processor and place in bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and knead mixture until it just comes together to form dough. Pat dough into square shape and wrap with plastic wrap.

Place wrapped dough in the refrigerator for a couple of hours at least.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Flatten the dough quite thin and roll out evenly. Try to keep it an approximately square or rectangular shape.

Brush dough with melted butter.

Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over top of dough.

Roll the dough up into a roll, then slice into approx. 1 cm thick slices.

Arrange slices on a cookie sheet and bake at about 200°C (392 ° F) until golden brown.

Enjoy!

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