Sunday, September 10, 2023

Making an auspicious Icelandic cake for my daughter's wedding

                                                    "Let them eat cake"--Marie Antoninette

Since my daughter and her fiance are not overly fond of cake, they asked if I could make an Icelandic Vinarterta dessert for them. Vinnaterta is a popular dessert originating in 19th-century Iceland. It is a traditional multi-layer dessert made by alternating thin layers of buttery shortbread with a cardamon and dried prune filling. But our family mostly gave up the prune filling long ago. We like to substitute the prune filling for raspberry jam, Nutella, and, most recently, lemon curd and tart cherry jam. We Vinarterta bakers believe in alternations and substitutions for every occasion.  😀

When I was about ten years old, I did a report on Iceland at school since our ancestors are from the Land of Fire and Ice. At the time, I wanted to make an Icelandic dessert to take to my fifth-grade class, so I asked my grandma what Icelandic people ate for special celebrations. After listening to my probing questions, she made us the first vinarterta that I remember, and our family has not stopped making them since that time--especially at Christmas time. Grandma would always bring them around to the different families for the holiday, and then we started making them ourselves.

Every Christmas, our family has made this special cake--reminding us of our heritage. It brings back memories, especially of my grandmother, Emily Vatnsdal Myres. Since we lived abroad for many years, I have made a vinarterta dessert and taken it to many Christmas destinations--wherever it was for that year. These hearty cakes are very notable when they are wrapped up, and they stay fresh for weeks. You can even freeze them for a few months and then bring them out for a special event or holiday. I have hand-carried them to Oman, Vietnam, Spain--all over the world or around the United States. Christmas would not be Christmas without Vinarterta. It reminds us of home, our ancestors, and being together. 

In the weeks I have spent making the vinarterta for my daughter's wedding, I have been reflecting on my grandmother's love as I mix the dough and roll it out. But there is another person I have been thinking about, too--someone that seems very unrelated to the story. Yet, she fits perfectly into the wedding tale: my dear Muslim neighbor, Abeer (with whom we shared a wall for five years in Doha, Qatar), and whose pans I made the cake in.

 I kept wondering about how to make an ascending cake and where to get the pans from, and then I remembered Abeer's red circle pans that fit snugly together--ranging from large to small. It seems appropriate she was part of the day since she prayed many times a day at Mecca for my children to find the right partner for them. 

Icelandic people love vinarterta for various celebrations, like weddings, so it was fun to make it happen at our special wedding. Grandma Emily would have been smugly pleased. And I can hear Abeer saying, "See, I told you it would happen."