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Vínarterta

Vínarterta (Icelandic layer cake) is ideal for Christmas and/or weddings. Make it at least 4 weeks in advance of event. vínarterta (photo ejm Dec2006) The name translates literally as "Vienna cake". (Click on image to see more photos; read about the origins of Vínarterta or go directly to the recipe.)

This recipe has been made in late Novembers to be consumed at Christmas time by my family for as long as I can remember. We adore this cake. When we were little, rationing was strictly imposed on us or we would have eaten it all in a couple of days.

A family friend who was an Icelandic immigrant (we called her "Aunt Emma") brought the cake each Christmas to my father's house when he was still living with his parents. Then after he and my mother were first married, the cake was delivered to them for Christmas. But the recipe was thought to be lost when "Aunt Emma's" sister, who made the cake, passed away. My mother found a likely looking recipe a couple of years later in one of the Winnipeg daily newspapers and everyone was thrilled that it was exactly the same cake. So the tradition continues. My mother still makes the cake (and so do my sisters and I) to have at our own homes and to give away as presents.

It was served at two of our weddings and I have a vivid recollection of being at my younger sister's wedding reception. One of my nieces, then 5, was demolishing, piece by piece, the plate of cut up vínarterta and had just stuffed a whole piece of cake into her seemingly little mouth. With cheeks bulging and hand delicately held in front of her mouth, she managed to garble out ecstatically, "I love this cake...."

The Recipe  

recipe updated: January 2015, December 2020

for one 9 inch round 5-layered cake; make at least 4 weeks in advance of eating

(there are two versions for the 5 layers:
one with ground almonds replacing the almond extract,
and another with Amaretto replacing the almond extract)

Ingredients

5 Layers with ground almonds

OR:

5 Layers with Amaretto:

Filling:

Preparation

  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 (until 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. Stir 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, if using. 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.
  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 to eight weeks before serving. (The cake can be frozen but it will not cure in the freezer.)
  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.

Notes about January 2015's and December 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.) Amaretto or 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.

Please note that we never ice this cake - not even for weddings - (it would seem to us like gilding the lily).

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

To Christmases Past "Disaster Averted" <>8<> Christmas Eve Menu 1996 <>8<> Christmas Eve Menu 1997 <>8<> 7 Dec - Advent 2002 <>8<> 9 Dec - Advent 2003 <>8<> 3 Dec - Advent 2012 <>8<> blog from OUR kitchen - better late than never... <>8<> blog from OUR kitchen - Mmmm... vínarterta <>8<> blog from OUR kitchen - pre-pitted prunes, eh? <>8<> blog from OUR kitchen - Yesterday was Cake Day <>8<> blog from OUR kitchen - Have you made your Vinarterta yet? <>8<> blog from OUR kitchen - Solo Flying On Annual Cake Day

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ejm (aka llizard) 2000, 2002, 2006, 2012, 2015, 2020
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