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Sharing Conversation About Christmas Traditions

-By Beth Finnson

The highlight of Samtal Hour on December 19th was Icelandic Christmas traditions here in North America. That said, the main topic was a lively discussion about traditional food-and most especially laufabrauð (leafbread) and Vínarterta.

Laufabrauð is a very thin round bread with beautiful decorative leafy designs. It originated in the early 18th century. Bryndís Víglundsdóttir told us how scarce flour was in the old days. This often dictated how thin the bread was so as to make enough for all the children present! This was the only treat that the children received. We learned that there are songs about the laufabrauð and Bryndís treated us to a short song.

Traditionally, families make it together on Sunday before Advent. It is fried and served with butter and hangikjöt (smoked lamb). Northern Icelanders traditionally flavor it with cumin, others with caraway.

Vínarterta is a many-layered cake with fruit filling. Depending on who makes it, it is either 5, 6, or 7 layers. My Amma Steina made 7 round layers and I still have her hand-written recipe. Others make it square or rectangular in shape. The traditional filling is made from dried prunes flavored with sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes cardamom. One of the more modern fillings is rhubarb. Sometimes the vínarterta is frosted or served plain, again that depends on who makes it! Terri shared a gluten-free version (the recipe is at the end of this article), that she said is just as moist as the old original recipe.

We also talked about Icelandic Brown Bread. I think there are as many variations of it as for vínarterta. Susan Atwood bakes it from her mother‘s recipe (see below).

There are several recipes on the Icelandic Roots website. Just type ‘recipes‘ into the search box on the main menu page and you will find a couple of other brown bread recipes, one of which is from Bryndís. Becky has already shared some recipes on our Facebook page and will make sure they are also on the main IR website.

Additionally, there are more recipes on the Icelandic Roots Membership Facebook homepage. Just click on ‘Guides‘ underneath the row of pictures of members and enjoy deciding which you will try!

One of the cookbooks mentioned was The Culinary Saga of New Iceland: Recipes from the Shores of Lake Winnipeg, by Kristin Olafson-Jenkyns.

We also briefly talked about Saint Thorlak, the patron saint of Iceland. He was Bishop of Skálholt in the 12th century and his feast is celebrated on December 23rd. One of the common foods for that meal is still half of a boiled sheep‘s head. The eye was and still is considered a special treat and very nutritious.

The next Samtal Hour will be January 16th, again moderated by Judy Dickson. Her special guest will be Heather Lytwyn. She will tell us all about the Icelandic book club she started and what makes it so interesting!

Gleðileg jól og farsælt komandi ár!

Susan Atwood's Brown Bread Recipe

from May Gudmundson Hermann

From her mother, Kristín Sigurösson Gudmundson


1-quart instant nonfat milk (scalded and cooled).... brought to almost a

boil until there is a film on top. DO NOT BOIL! Cool the scalded milk.

½ cup molasses (dark)

5 tsp. salt

1 cup brown sugar

2 pkg. Yeast

2 tbsp. melted shortening

4 ½ cups whole wheat flour

1 ½ cups rye flour

6 cups sifted white flour


Scald and cool milk, add molasses, salt, brown sugar, and melted

shortening. Put yeast in with the flour.

Combine both. Knead. (this might not need all of the white flour. You can tell if it starts getting too dry and crumbly). Make it into a big ball and grease the outer edge of the ball.

Put in a bowl to rise for 2 hours or doubled in size. (cover with a towel)

Knead again and return to a bowl for about 1 hour.

Divide into loaves and let rise in pans for about another hour.

Put in oven and bake at 375 degrees for one hour.

Take out of oven and empty bread out of pans onto a rack.

Glaze with a mixture of 1 cup sugar and ½/ cup boiling water.

(with basting brush). This makes it look pretty and gives a sweet taste to

the crust.

This recipe makes 3 loaves of bread. (My mother separated each loaf into

two smaller balls and made a total of 6 small loaves in the 3 pans).

A gluten-free vinarterta recipe from today's Samtal Hour. Thank you Terri Kristjanson Wintonyk's

Gluten-Free Vínaterta

Okay, this is a fairly labour-intensive recipe that will require at least two hours of your time. First, you'll need a large bag of pitted prunes. About a pound and a half ought to do it. Put 'em in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cook for a while.

While that's going on, you can make the cake batter/dough. Combine in a large bowl:

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (or, alternatively, half a cup each of butter and lard)(I use Earth Balance lactose-free margarine)

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1/2 cup milk (I use non-dairy milk)

  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Blend well. In another bowl, blend 3 teaspoons baking powder with 3 cups mixed gluten-free flour. For a sweet pastry such as this, go heavy on rice flour with smaller amounts of tapioca flour and cornstarch, plus 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum so that the batter will stick together. (I use Namaste brand gluten-free flour)

Combine wet and dry ingredients thoroughly, then set aside for at least 15 minutes while you attend to those now-stewed prunes. (I put the dough in the fridge for about ½ hour) Drain off the liquid, let the prunes cool till they can be handled, then check each one for stray pits. Mush them up with a large spoon, or run them through a food processor if you have one of those fiendish thingies. (I don’t drain them and I puree them with a hand blender)

And now's a good time to turn the oven on. 325° F will do nicely.

Okay, back to that bowl of severely mashed cooked prunes. Add 2 1/2 cups sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cardamom (or the crushed seeds from six or seven cardamom pods). Put back in the cooking pot and simmer on very low heat, stirring once in a while.

By now, 15 minutes have very likely gone by and the dough is ready to be shaped and baked. Put a square of parchment paper (at least 9" across) onto a cookie sheet, and butter it very, very lightly. (I divide the dough into 7 approx. equal amounts)

Take one-sixth(seventh) of the dough and plunk it down right in the middle of the paper. Dust your fingertips with gluten-free flour and press the dough out to make a rather thin 8" circle. (I press partly by hand and then cover with another piece of parchment and use a rolling pin to finish spreading) If you have more than one cookie sheet, prepare another circle.

Bake each layer for about 9-12 minutes, then invert onto a rack and peel off the paper. (I cool on the paper and am able to transfer off the paper as I fill and stack)

As the layers cool, you can start assembling the vínaterta. Put one cake slice onto a large plate, then cover it almost to the edges with about one-fifth(sixth) of the prunes-and-sugar mixture.

Continue until you have six (seven)cake slices separated by five (six)layers of prune stuff.

Dust lightly with icing sugar, let it finish cooling, and you're done! Or ice with an almond or vanilla flavoured icing.


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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