Vinarterta is an Icelandic celebration cake. It’s actually more of a torte than a cake, but it doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you get to eat it. It’s so delicious! So you’re probably wondering why an Italian-Canadian food blogger is making Icelandic recipes. Dessert is a universal language and I’m a fan of all yummy desserts. This one does have a bit a back story.
Recently we had 40 Icelandic educators come and visit my workplace. I thought it would be a nice gesture to prepare a traditional Icelandic dessert to welcome them. David, a friend and colleague, had told me about the Vinarterta and how his family has kept the tradition of making this torte for special occasions. I thought it might also be nice to surprise David with the Vinarterta, as he would soon to be leaving to go and work somewhere else. I will miss him. 🙁
I didn’t really have time to make a 7-layer torte on a workday during the busiest time of the year, but sometimes you need to make time even when you don’t have time. So I measured out the ingredients in the morning before work and set them aside and came back to them at 10:00 pm after my workday and proceeded to make this beautiful 7-layer torte. I’m thankful that the torte gods were on my side that day because there was definitely no time for a second run at it.
I worked from a recipe that David had given me. I adapted it a little by adding a little extra spice in the torte layers and a little more citrus in the filling. I think the small changes worked well. The flavors are still subtle, but slightly more prominent. I really think that the extra lemon in the prune filling brightened it up in a really good way.
I was really curious to taste this recipe because I’ve never had it before. It is as delicious as it looks. I would describe it as a cross between a cake and a cookie. It’s very similar to the Italian crostata pastry. The main difference is that the Vinarterta contains milk and the crostata doesn’t. The filling between the torte layers is a plum jam made with reconstituted prunes. It’s really tasty. I don’t know why prunes get such a bad wrap. Somehow dates and figs are elegant ingredients and prunes are thought of as being wrinkly and unattractive. Prunes are delicious and they are also loaded with antioxidants. I sometimes will have a prune topped with a walnut when I’m craving something sweet. Try it. I think you’ll like it.
Everything about this torte is delicious and I can see why they call it a celebration cake. It’s labor-intensive to make. It’s not difficult, but it does take some time to make and bake the seven layers.
It was so much fun to talk to our Icelandic friends about the torte. Many of them shared stories with me about how their grandmothers made this cake at Christmas time or for other special occasions like weddings. Seeing and eating the torte seemed to bring back so many happy memories for them. I was grateful to be a part of that experience. That’s what cooking is all about for me, making people happy. Sometimes life presents us with challenges, and it’s nice to take a break from the hard stuff and break bread, or Vinarterta in this case, and enjoy each other’s company for a while.
Icelandic Celebration Cake
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 2 tsp cardamom
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp almond extract or almond liqueur
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 lb. or 450 grams pitted dry prunes
- 2 cups water
- 1 lemon, juice and zest
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs to the bowl one at a time. Mix until incorporated.
In another large bowl, add all of the dry ingredients. Whisk to combine and set aside.
In a small bowl, add all of the wet ingredients. Whisk to combine and set aside.
Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Blend on low-speed for a minute.
Add all of the wet ingredients to the butter mixture. Blend until mostly incorporated.
Add the remaining dry ingredients. Blend until well incorporated.
Divide the dough into 7 equal parts.
Roll out the dough on a large cutting board covered with a 12" X 12" piece of parchment paper. Flour the top of the dough so it won't stick to the rolling pin. The dough should be 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Use a 9" round pan as a guide to cut the dough into a circle. Remove the extra dough. Transfer the parchment paper with the disc of dough on top of it to a large cookie sheet. The parchment paper makes it really easy to transfer the dough. Repeat this process one more time and then place the cookie sheet with the two discs of dough into the oven. Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges of the discs start to turn a very light golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool while you prepare and bake the remaining 5 layers.
Once all of the layers are baked, you can start making the filling.
Add the prunes and the water to a large non-stick pan. Cook on low heat until the prunes have softened and most of the water has been absorbed by the prunes. Stir occasionally. This should take about 30 minutes.
Then add the vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest and stir.
In a small bowl, add the 1/2 cup of sugar and the spices. Stir to combine. Then add the sugar and spice blend to the prune mixture. Stir until well incorporated. Allow the filling to cool. When it has cooled, transfer it to a food processor. Blend until smooth. Alternatively, for a more rustic look, you can just mash up the prunes with a wooden spoon. That's what I did.
When both the cake layers and the filling have cooled completely, you can assemble the cake.
Put the first layer of cake on a serving plate. Use an offset spatula to evenly spread a thin layer of prune filling on top. Repeat the process. Do not put anything on the top layer other than a light dusting of icing sugar.
It’s best to make the Vinarterta a couple of days before you plan to serve it. This allows the filling to soften the cake layers. I served it the very next day and it tasted delicious, but this is a great make-ahead dessert. Just be sure to cover it well with plastic wrap, so that it remains moist. It keeps well for up to two weeks!