Vínarterta (Icelandic layer cake) © ejm 2000, 2002, 2015, 2020

For Christmas and/or weddings - make at least 4 weeks in advance of event. The name translates literally as "Vienna cake".

Ingredients for one 9 inch round cake of 5 layers

  • 454 grams (1 lb) pitted prunes, quartered
  • cold water
  • 160 grams (¾ cup) sugar
  • all of the cooking liquid
  • 7 grams (1 Tbsp) cinnamon
  • 15 grams (1 Tbsp) pure vanilla extract
5 Layers with Ground Almonds:
  • wax paper
  • 2 cake tins (9-inch round)
  • 1 cup good quality salted butter, softened
  • 1½ cups fruit sugar (super fine)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • ¾ cups finely ground almonds
  • 3½ cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp double acting baking powder
  • 1 tsp cardamom seed, finely ground
  • 3 Tbsp cream (or milk)
  • Zero Amaretto (or {brrrrr} almond extract)
OR → 5 Layers with Amaretto:
  • wax paper
  • 2 cake tins (9-inch round)
  • 227 grams (1 cup) good quality salted butter, softened
  • 300 grams (1½ cups) fruit sugar (super fine)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 500 grams (4 cups sifted) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2.5 grams (1 tsp) double acting baking powder
  • 4 grams (1 tsp) cardamom seed, finely ground
  • 45 grams (3 Tbsp) cream (or milk)
  • 15 grams (1 Tbsp) Amaretto (or {brrrrr} almond extract}
  1. Filling: Cut each prune in half to check for pits. Don't be tempted to leave this step out. Put prunes into a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil then simmer 10-15 minutes (til tender) Watch for burning!
  2. Drain and reserve liquid.
  3. Put prunes into food chopper and purée.
  4. Return prunes to pot. Add sugar, cooking liquid and cinnamon. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly until thick. Again, watch for burning! (Trust me, I know....) When the prunes resemble molten lava and allow you to see the bottom of the pot for a longer bit of time after a stir, they're probably ready.
  5. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Cool.
  6. Layers: Using the outside of one of the cake tins, trace 9 inch circle onto wax paper. Cut out 5 circles. Set aside.
  7. Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs one at a time.
  8. Into a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and cardamom. Whisk in ground almonds, if using. (If you have purchased whole cardamom pods, remove the outer husk and grind the seeds in a coffee grinder. Green cardamom pods are preferable to white or brown.)
  9. Add a small amount of dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Mix in cream and Amaretto. Mix in rest of flour. (Let your hands be your friends.)
  10. Divide the dough into 5 equal parts. Put a wax paper round into each of the two 9 inch cake tins. Press one ball each onto wax papered 9 inch cake tins. Make sure they are even and flat. Each layer should be about 3/8 inch thick. Bake 2 layers at a time at 375F (don't try to do more than 2! The cooking time goes way off and leads to disaster) until each is very delicate gold on the edge. (10-12 minutes)
  11. Let each layer cool separately. Put cooled layers together with prune filling (did you remember to put in the vanilla?) evenly distributed in four parts. There is no prune filling on top layer.
  12. Assembly: Put cooled layers together with prune filling (did you remember to put in the vanilla?) evenly distributed in four parts. There is no prune filling on top layer.
  13. Wrap tightly in plastic then again in foil and in another plastic bag or cake tin. Store in a cooler part of the kitchen (not the fridge) for about three weeks before serving.
  14. When the cake is served, cut it in small rectangles like Christmas cake. The cream coloured layers contrasting with the prune filling are quite stunning on the serving plate.
Please note that we never ice this cake (it would seem to us like gilding the lily) not even for weddings.

Notes about January 2015's and 2020's revisions:

1.) Ground Almonds In 2014, we substituted with just one third of a cup of ground almonds. The flavour of the resulting cake was almost as stellar as ever but we thought it could use more almond. So, in 2015, we upped the amount. This is perfect and the cake tastes exactly as expected. To double-check, our niece tasted the cake and declared it entirely satisfactory (ie: still worthy of a mouth-filled ecstatic garbled reponse: "I love this cake...).

2.) Flour We reduced the amount of flour to account for the addition of the almonds.

3.) Almond Extract We've never much liked the flavour or smell of almond extract (and I gather we're not alone). A couple of years ago, I forgot (not on purpose) to buy it on Cake Day. We went ahead and made the cake by replacing most of it with ground almonds. The improvement to the final flavour of the cake was dramatic. We decided to omit it from now on. Then in 2020, with the knowledge that half the family inexplicably still preferred the version of the cake containing almond extract, we tried substituting with Amaretto. This is a most successful substitution; Amaretto doesn't stink nearly as much as almond extract, and the flavour of the cake is perfect.

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Many thanks to Icelandic cooking and food writer, Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir (I met her in the Epicurious Kitchen Councel Forum) for correcting my spelling of the name of this cake.