Vínarterta: what is it? It is a very flavourful, seven-layered Icelandic cake – a vintage recipe from the 1800s. The cake consists of thin layers cookie-like dough, rolled out, docked and baked just until it starts to take on a bit of colour on the edges. The traditional filling is made from prunes. For many folks, using dried prunes is a surprising filling, but you have to trust me – this stuff is good! The prunes are infused with what is known as the warming spices cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. These spices elevate the taste of the filling to something that you just know will be wonderful. The colour of the pureed prune is such a rich hue of black-brown that it makes a spectacular show in between the layers of the Vinarterta cake.
Many other fillings can be used, including seasonal apricot filling and raspberry filling. My daughter and I were discussing making a version with all three fillings in one cake. I think that this could be my next cake challenge. I would be tempted to make the layers even thinner so that I could experiment with the different coloured fillings.
In culinary training, we were introduced to many cultural desserts in Baking and Pastry Arts, and this cake was one of the classic cakes we discussed during our lessons. It is delicious! I had forgotten all about this cake until my neighbour mentioned to me that she had in her possession her grandma’s vintage recipe for Vínarterta and that she had always wanted to try making it.
We spent a lovely morning making the cake together using the vintage recipe. As far as she knew, her grandmother’s recipe had sadly not been made by anyone in the family since her passing in 1978. She told me that her grandmother’s parents came to Canada in the 1800s and her grandmother was born in Canada. I am sure that there are great stories about baking this Icelandic recipe and many more dishes in their kitchen – I would have loved to be a part of that. I felt that making this cake using her recipe was a great way of honouring her grandmother. And besides, I love baking using vintage recipes.
Vínarterta – A Vintage Recipe
Here is the recipe for Vinarterta – A Vintage Recipe, just as she gave it to me:
Vinarterta (my grandma’s recipe)
¾ cup butter
1 cup sugar
¼ tsp. salt
2 tbsp. cream
1 tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. almond extract
3-4 cups flour (at least)
3 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ pounds prunes (cook until stones fall out)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cloves
Mix dough and use enough flour to roll out easily, it’s impossible to handle the dough too much. Divide dough to make about 7 large cookies, use a plate or pot lid for a cookie cutter. Bake 1 or 2 at a time on a cookie sheet for about 10 mins at 350F, till a light golden. When cool put together with prune mixture, use lots. Let sit for a few days to settle before icing if desired with an almond flavoured icing. It freezes well.
I made the recipe prior to our baking lesson, just to familiarize myself with the recipe, and to make it using a gluten-free flour blend to determine how it would work. It is a lovely recipe. The concept behind this recipe is to make seven layers of cake (the cake is actually more like a cookie layer than a cake layer). The layers are filled with fruit filling (traditionally prune filling), wrapped and left to cure for a few days in a cool dark cupboard for the layers to soften and the flavours to assimilate before refrigerating or freezing. For this cake, I filled it with Apricot Filling and I show you how to do it here.
VÍNARTERTA – A Vintage Recipe
CHEF TALK: I find that vintage recipes handed down through generations are often very vague in their preparation methods, and I think that probably leads to some hesitation for the generations that follow on how to go about making it. When I was in culinary school, I was trained by my chef instructors to read through every recipe for balance before you start. This is very good advice. Most recipes follow a formula. Using my background in recipe writing, I listed the ingredients in the order in which they are typically used.
I have included a recipe for a simple buttercream type icing to ice the top layer of the cake. I prefer it with the icing layer but you can leave it plain, as well.
For the Cake:
- 3/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 Tablespoon cream (half and half or heavy cream)
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- 3 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 – 4 cups all-purpose flour (or substitute gluten-free flour blend – I used Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 baking flour)
For the Filling:
- 1 ½ pounds prunes
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp. cardamom
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ½ tsp. cloves
For the Buttercream Icing:
- 1/2 cup butter, softened (or dairy-free alternative)
- 3 cups of icing sugar, sifted (also known as powdered sugar)
- 1 – 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 1 – 3 tablespoons milk (or dairy-free alternative)
For the Cake:
- Preheat the oven to 375oF (350oF if using convection setting).
- Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, (scrape the sides of the mixer), blending well before adding the next egg.
- Add the cream and the almond flavouring.
- Combine the salt, cardamom, baking powder and 3 cups of the flour together. Add to the butter mixture and blend well.
- Turn the dough out on a lightly floured board and knead in the last cup of flour. Divide the dough into seven equal pieces. (I use a scale for accuracy).
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of the dough at a time. Use an 8″ round or square cake pan as a cutter. CHEF TIP: I find it easier to roll the dough out right onto a sheet of parchment paper, using the pan to cut around the dough, remove the excess dough, then lift the sheet of parchment paper with the trimmed dough on the baking sheet. You can fit two cookie disks on each baking sheet.
- With a fork, dock (pierce) the cake disks over the entire surface. Repeat this process for all seven pieces of cake dough.
- Bake for 7 – 10 minutes or until the cookie disk starts to turn a light golden brown colour. Let them cool.
For the Prune Filling:
- In a heavy saucepan, combine the prunes (without pits), brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
- Bring the mixture to a boil (don’t walk away at this point). Immediately, turn the mixture down to a simmer and simmer until softened (about 15 minutes).
- Puree the mixture with an immersion blender or place in a food processor and puree until the mixture is very smooth. The mixture will be very thick.
- Add the vanilla extract.
- Keep the mixture warm until you are ready to fill the cake layers.
For the Cake Assembly:
- Place the first cake disk on a cake board or turntable.
- Spread some of the prune filling on the cake disk, covering the top thoroughly. CHEF TIP: I find it easier to determine the amount of filling needed for each layer by measuring (or my preferred method is weighing the filling amount on a scale) and dividing by six, using that amount of filling per layer. The more even the layers, the better it will look once cut. This cake is all about the lovely thin layers of cake and filling – it is visually very beautiful.
- Repeat the layers until all seven layers of cake and filling are used.
- Wrap the completed cake in double layers of plastic wrap and store in a pantry at room temperature for two days. This allows the cake to soften and the flavours to assimilate.
- After two days, either ice the top of the cake with buttercream and serve (small slices), or wrap without icing in plastic wrap and then foil. Freeze the cake.
For the Buttercream:
- Using a medium bowl, use a mixer on low speed, combine the butter and icing sugar. (Alternatively, use a spoon to mix the butter and icing sugar together)
- Add the vanilla bean paste and 1 tablespoon of the milk.
- Beat in just enough remaining milk to make the icing smooth. It will gradually become spreadable. If it is too thick to spread easily, add a drop or two of milk. If the icing is too thin, just add more sifted icing sugar until you get the consistency you want. Ideally, it should be quite thick.
- Spread about one half of an inch thick layer of the buttercream icing on the top layer of the Vínarterta.
- Chill in order to firm up the icing before cutting.
- Once the buttercream is firm, use a knife (warmed with hot tap water and dried) to cut cleanly into small portions. Typically the pieces of Vínarterta are quite dainty – 1 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch pieces Since the cake is quite tall with seven layers, this is a nice sized portion.
STORAGE: Store the cake wrapped at room temperature, if it is not iced. If the cake is iced, store it in the refrigerator for up to three days, covered in an airtight container. Bring the cake to room temperature before serving. FREEZING: The cake freezes well. Wrap it very well and store for up to three months. If you are going to store the cake in the freezer, ice the cake after you thaw it.
Other UrbnSpice Posts you might enjoy:
Read about Making Apricot Filling
Cherry Rhubarb Compote can also be used as a filling
Please CLICK the link above to access my UrbnSpice LEARNING TIPS, which are listed alphabetically on the Learning Tips blog post under the following subheadings:
- Oven Temperature Accuracy
- Vanilla Extract
Bonus Learning Tip: Cutting the Cake
”This is my advice to people:
Learn how to cook,
try new recipes,
learn from your mistakes,
and above all have fun”
The UrbnSpice Chef