If I had to name only one Christmas baking tradition that I think of as Mom’s, then this is it. Vinarterta is an Icelandic classic that has many flavor variations, a variety of shapes, and a different number of layers are used depending on what ‘clan’ you’re from. The filling is prune, Mom’s grandmother always made 5 layers and the end result is something that just has to be made every Christmas. For myself, I have special 9 x 13 non-stick, edged baking sheets that I only use for this cake (the recipe listed below is officially the ‘doubled’ version, but that’s all Mom ever made), and it’s something that I will only make if Brock is around to make it with me (though I will happily do all of the prep beforehand). Both the dough and filling can be made up to a few days before baking and assembling, and it keeps for ages if wrapped well in either the fridge or freezer. Vinarterta can also be iced and layered up into a wedding cake, but it will always be a holiday treat for me – Merry Christmas!This is the ‘original recipe’ from my great-grandmother’s cookbook – Canadian Favorites compiled by the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). I couldn’t find a publication date, but note the ‘remove from fire’ reference above – this cookbook also contains a ‘recipe’ for ‘filler’ for your log cabin walls.
1 kg. pitted prunes
water to cook the prunes
1 1/4 c. sugar
2 T. cinnamon
2 T. vanilla
1 c. prune juice, drained from the cooked prunes
Put all of the prunes in a large pot and then fill the pot with enough water to just cover the prunes. Bring the mixture to a boil and allow it to simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes until the prunes are very tender, then remove the pot from the heat and drain off any excess liquid – be sure to save 1 cup of the ‘prune juice’ for later. If there isn’t quite enough, top the 1 cup off with water, or if you haven’t been paying attention (me) and the whole prune mixture has gotten too dry while simmering, simply add in more water – the prunes need to be very moist to puree properly.
Once the prunes have cooled enough to handle, puree them in a food processor, then return them to the pot. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and prune juice, bring it all back to a boil – carefully – and allow it to simmer for a bit until it all thickens up. This shouldn’t take long, since it’s probably already quite thick, basically you want the filling to have the consistency of thick jam. Allow it to cool completely, cover it tightly and refrigerate until you want to assemble the Vinarterta. It’s much easier to assemble with cold filling, and we usually end up with about a cup leftover.
8 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
2 c. (1 lb) butter, room temperature
3 c. berry sugar (super fine)
2 T. almond extract
2 t. cardamon
Combine the flour and baking powder in a large bowl and set aside, then use your electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well in between, then about one half of the flour mixture and mix well, and then the cream, almond extract and cardamon. Once everything is mixed in continue to add in the flour about a cup at a time, keeping your mixer on low to get it all well worked in. For the last cup or so I take the bowl off of the mixer and knead it in the bowl to work in the rest of the flour – you will need all of it – and then finally turn it out onto your counter if you have to and continue to knead in the remaining flour until it’s all well mixed. Mom usually rolls hers into a log and divides it into 5 even pieces, I just used my kitchen scale and then wrapped each piece well and put it into the fridge.
When you’re ready to bake, and therefore assemble, preheat your oven to 375 and lightly oil your 9 x 13 baking sheets – I have 3, and I use them all just to speed up the process. Press a fifth of dough into a baking sheet – this will feel like it takes ages – and then use a flat bottomed cup or small rolling pin to even your pressing out as much as possible. Bake for 11 minutes and then flip the layer out onto a large cutting board covered in foil – this is Brock’s job and we haven’t had a casualty yet. Spread an even layer of the prune filling on top of this layer (another layer could be cooking now), and repeat the process until your fifth and last layer has been placed on top. I usually just lay a piece of plastic wrap over it after it cools and then a large tea towel and leave it to ‘set’ overnight – though the crispy edge bits are usually something we wrestle for.
Once it’s cool, I usually trim off the ever so slightly uneven edges, and then cut the whole Vinarterta into 4 manageable blocks to wrap separately and freeze – one always stays in the fridge – it’s even great for breakfast! – enjoy!