I’ll start by saying, I’m not a huge fan of dried fruit in baking. There are exceptions, of course- dried cranberries or apricots always have a spot in my heart. Maybe even the occasional dried cherry.
Still, I’ll always skip the raisins in my cinnamon buns or cookies, and don’t even get me started on fruit cake. A concentrated brick of dried… stuff. I will eat it out of politesse, or duty, but I really, really can’t muster many good feelings about a cake that could literally outlive me. (I assume this is why it used to be traditional at weddings- longevity and all that. My mother-in-law still has a slice from her own wedding almost 30 years ago! It is still edible. What.)
(Okay, it’s not the fact that fruit cake is impervious to age that freaks me out. I would gladly consume honey from Ancient Egypt or a centuries-old well-preserved wine. It’s the fruit. It’s all about the gnarly dried fruit.)
Or… er… ah man, I really don’t like to use this word since it generally turns people right off.
Yeesh, it’s not a good word is it? It’s got such negative connotations, I never tell people I’m serving them a ‘prune cake.’ Nah, wait for them to dive in- and they do– and love it- and they always, always do. And then when they ask me what’s in it I coyly say… “dried plums.”
It’s not a lie. It’s just a different name for something (secretly delicious) that’s gotten a bad rap. Like calling something pâté instead of fatty spreadable meat or meringue instead of sugary brick of egg white. It’s a rebranding.
(Fun story about food rebranding- did you know that Rapeseed Oil and Canola Oil are the same thing? Rapeseed farmers saw people were weary of their… well, rapey sounding name. Can-ola is a portmanteau derived from ‘Canadian Oil.’ Thus, Canadian rapeseed farmers became canola farmers and lo and behold- look at all the recipes that call for canola these days!)
Vinarterta was originally invented in Iceland and was made as a treat for Christmas, weddings (hey! Just like our iffy fruit cake tradition but better) and other major celebrations. Nowadays, I understand the traditional dried plum vinarterta isn’t made all that often in Iceland, but it has been aggressively adopted by Icelandic immigrants to North America.
Now, I know some Icelanders. That’s actually how I discovered this beauty of a cake. And let me tell you, they all swear they have the best recipe for vinarterta.
All the recipes are different.
Some tell me just cardamom, no cinnamon or vanilla! Others add cinnamon only and spike the filling with vodka or wine. Some add buttercream frosting to the top of theirs. Others insist a proper vinarterta is never iced- ever. In my experience, if someone has an opinion about vinarterta, you can bet they feel very strongly it.
So, it appears the only thing all my Icelandic friends and their families can agree on, is that they will never agree on what consistences The Original Vinarterta. The Best Vinarterta.
Many a loud argument has started over this, I kid you not.
As someone who is not even a little bit Icelandic, it may seem odd to throw my recipe in the ring. But hey, I don’t have a horse in this race (oh no, she’s mixing metaphors!), this vinarterta recipe was made for my tastes.
I took my favourite parts of all the vinartertas I ever tried and recipe tested until I made one that fit my idea of a perfect vinarterta.
Cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon. No booze (I know, shocking). No icing. Almond extract in the cookie layers.
I have to add, after going on such a rant about how different this is from a traditional fruit cake- guess what- this cake is also meant to be made in advance. Make it a few days (or even a few weeks) before enjoying it! The longer it sits, the softer the cookie layers and more the flavours will meld.
|Vínarterta - Icelandic Celebration Cake|| || |
- 2 cups water
- 1 kg pitted dried prunes
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1½ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups flour
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp almond extract
- ½ cup milk
- Heat water and prunes in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the prunes are very soft and water is evaporated, stirring occasionally- approximately 30 minutes. Once the prunes are very soft, mash them with a potato masher or blitz them through a food processor. Add lemon juice, cardamom, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and stir well. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs one at a time.
- In a small bowl, mix together the milk, vanilla extract and almond extract.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cardamom and baking powder.
- Add a third of your dry ingredients to the creamed butter bowl and mix well. Then, add a third of the milk mixture to the butter bowl and mix well. Continue to alternate adding dry ingredients and wet ingredients to the butter bowl until everything is mixed together.
- Roll dough out on to a floured surface until roughly ¼ inch thick (or rather, thin!). Using an inverted 9 inch round springform pan OR an inverted 8 inch rectangular brownie pan, trace a square/circle with a knife. Gently place your dough square/circle on to a baking sheet (I like to roll it on to a rolling pin and then roll it off on the sheet). If you have two baking sheets, you can bake two layers at once, cutting down your cooking time. You should end up with 5-7 'cookie' layers in total, depending on the width of each layer and the size your are cutting them to.
- Bake each layer of dough for 10-12 minutes, until firm, but not browned. As they are baked, gently transfer each to a wire rack to cool completely. The baked and cooled squares/circles should have a firm, cookie-like consistency.
- Once all your dough layers are baked and fully cooked you can start to put them all together! Place one cookie layer down on a piece of wax paper. Using a spatula, gently spread a layer of the prune mixture over the cookie, getting as close to the edges as possible. Place the second cookie layer overtop and do the same. Repeat this until you have one cookie layer left and place that on top but do not cover your top layer with the prune mix.
- Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and/or tinfoil and store in a cool, dry place for at least 3 days or up to 4 weeks, until ready to serve. The longer you let it sit, the softer your cookie layers will be. I like to wait at least a week buuuut... sometimes I just can't resist and break into it early. 🙂 To serve, slice into slices or squares.