Mmmm… Ví­narterta

(click on image for larger view and more photos)

ví­narterta You can see why my sister and I make ví­narterta every year, can’t you? It looks so beautiful! And it tastes fabulous too. (Those are ginger shortbread cookies on the right.)

I just can’t imagine Christmas without ví­narterta! When I was a kid, the ví­narterta was strictly off limits to us unless it was cut and placed on a serving dish. And even then, we had to wait a discreet amount of time until guests had helped themselves to the cake.

I was always pleased to help when Mom asked me to cut the cake for the guests. This was a great opportunity to cut away and savour bits that I pretended weren’t suitable for guests.

The morning after dinner parties was always wonderful too. We would get up very early and tiptoe into the dining room where the table was still covered in white linen and plastic covered goodie plates. We’d each snake a hand underneath the plastic to snag a piece of ví­narterta.

Sometimes, there wasn’t any ví­narterta left on the serving dish. This called for more devious action, generally done alone and away from the peering eyes of possible tattletales. I’d walk into the kitchen ostensibly to put something away and then sidle over to where the ví­narterta tin was. And then carefully, carefully, remove the lid and gently, gently (shhhh!!) remove the wrapping from the cake. A swift but studied swish of the long sharp knife to shave off a whole row of the cake. Delectable!! It’s true. Plunder really does taste better! (It was years before I learned how it was that Mom somehow knew about this. I thought it was because the others had shaved off too much so that the cake had visibly shrunk. But it turned out that she knew because she had done exactly the same thing as a child!)

Even though I no longer have to sneak into the kitchen to get my ví­narterta fix, I assure you that this year’s cake was as stellar as ever. In fact, we think it might be even more stellar than usual. The only differences from other years were:

  1. I made the cake layers and my sister made the prune filling rather than vice versa.
  2. We only made one cake instead of two.
  3. I ground cardamom seeds instead of using preground cardamom.
  4. My sister snuck in a few extra prunes so there was more filling.
  5. I aged it in the kitchen rather than in the slightly colder area by the back door.

As I eat the cake over the Christmas holiday, I can never decide at what time of day it’s better. Is it really best after dinner with a small glass of eau de vie? Or is it best in the morning with good strong coffee? Or is it best on its own as a surreptitious afternoon snack? Hmmm, there’s still a tiny bit left. Perhaps I should go downstairs and see….

We always give a quarter of the cake to our friends who dine with us on Christmas Eve. This year, I found out that she hoards some of the cake for herself and sneaks into her own kitchen at various times of day to discover at what time it’s best!! I bet that if she were staying here, I’d have to watch to make sure she wasn’t sneaking very long thin slices of cake.

alternate spellings for the cake: vine tarta, vinaterta, vine terta
 

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  • I’ve never had it before, I feel like I’m missing out! Great story.

  • ejm

    You are, Brilynn! You are!! I urge you to make it soon so you can make up for lost time. :whee:

  • LisaKay

    I am so glad to see this recipe here… my grandmother is Icelandic, and I also remember sneaking tastes while at her house for Christmas festivities.

    I’ve only made vinarterta once, long ago for a college class project about ethnic food traditions. My kids are growing up far from their Amma, and they haven’t experienced this yearly treat, so I’m ready to do it again! This year will be the first that I share this little tidbit of my childhood with them. I’m only sorry that I didn’t do it sooner (In my mind, my gramma is the only one who can make this!!).

    So much of the appeal is the tradition peculiar to each family. (After Googling, .0I find I’m a little posessive and quite certain that my family’s way is THE correct way – iced? Feh. Square vinarterta the size and shape of a cookie sheet?! Hooey!) I like your little square stacks, but in our family we left the slices more rectangular – long, tall and thin. A holiday guest once sliced into the vinarterta as if it were a mere mortal cake – in a wedge shape! Oh, the SACRILEGE!!

    Thanks for the happy memories.

  • Ann

    Aloha – What a wonderful surprise to see this recipe. My Bohemian grandmother made this for our family when I was growing up. I always thought it was an old Bohemian recipe until one day she told me an Irish lady gave her the recipe when they lived in a logging community in Ryderwood Washington. Then today to stumble across this blog entry and it’s Icelandic! I have to laugh! Thank you so much.

  • ejm

    How wonderful to see people coming in two Augusts in a row. Thank you both for commenting.

    LisaKay, I agree, vinarterta should NEVER be iced. One year, I made the mistake of giving a quarter cake to a friend and learned that they had cut it evenly into 4 wedges to serve for one dessert. Now I always suggest that it be cut in small pieces like wedding cake. Long, tall and thin would be acceptable as well.

    Ann, that’s hilarious that your vinarterta came originally from an Irish lady. Isn’t this melting pot of North America wonderful? (It was years before I knew the cake was Icelandic and even more years before I knew that Aunt Emma, the lady who brought the cake to our family originally, was Icelandic. I’ve only once seen this cake in someone else’s family. There was a girl with an Icelandic last name (although I didn’t know it at the time) in my elementary and junior high school classes who used to bring vinarterta – correctly cut – for lunch after a festive occasion. But hers always had marzipan icing on top, which I thought was absolutely bizarre!! Otherwise, it was exactly the same cake.

  • Pamela

    What a treat reading the Vinarterta stories! I, too, used to sneak long skinny pieces hoping that my Mom would not notice. I am going to make Vinarterta this year for the first time in almost 30 years. I have been spoiled in the last few years as a Polish friend of mine has learned how to make it and gives me some every Christmas. This year though I am going back to my Icelandic roots and making one from scratch. I can’t wait to hear from my Mom back in Winnipeg when I surprise her with a quarter of a Vinarterta (in the mail). It will bring back great memories for her.
    Thanks for sharing. (And I agree – NO Icing!)

    How wonderful to hear that you are making Vinarterta, Pamela. I hope it’s exactly as you remember. Thank you for stopping in. Do let me know how it turns out. -Elizabeth (And again, yes. I can’t help repeating: NO icing! Who would want to ice it??)

  • Tracey

    My Mother has been making Vinarterta every year for Christmas. I too, used to slice off a thin sliver of the cake when no one was looking! She makes it with 8 thin layers of cake instead of 5. Obviously, it’s more labour intensive, but the result is fantastic! It’s my favourite part of the holidays.

    8 layers!! Wow! That sounds fantastic, Tracey. I’d try it myself next year but I’m not sure if we have a deep enough tin to store an 8 layer cake! :hohoho: :-) :hohoho: -Elizabeth

  • Shirley Sellers

    Thank you so much for this recipe and more importantly all of the instructions. I am of Icelandic origins and have fond memories of this cake. My Icelandic cook book never mentioned that the cake needed to ‘cure’ so the first and only time I made this cake, I served it the next day… not good. Never made it again!
    Thanks to your blog and instructions, I made two of them yesterday and have stored them away for the future. Can’t wait to ‘open’ them and try them out!
    Bye the way I too had an Icelandic Aunt Emma. Thanks again.