The things we learn from people are amazing! How important is communication, how enriching! This cake was mentioned to me last week. After six years of visiting Ana's violin teacher, I got to learn that his heritage is Icelandic. The Icelanders had the tradition of making this cake for Christmas. I only received a rough description of the cake, but got inspired to look for it - many layers of cake and dried-fruit filling is something that is worth researching.
My research led to a crossroad. It was like opening the Pandora box. Instead of finding out the information and sinking into reading, I had to choose what road to follow. Apparently there are different variations of this cake. The original recipe is from sometime of 1860. The most interesting fact is, that today's Icelanders themselves have not heard of this cake. I guess, the tradition got lost in Iceland through the centuries, but very well kept here, in Canada, in the families with Icelandic heritage.
What a treat it was for me to hear about the cake!
I remember the years of my childhood, when the chocolate was a pure treat. It is not because I am 120 years old, but because I used to live in a country, behind the iron curtain, where everything imported was forbidden. We had the chocolate production and, a really competitive one - the recipes for the chocolate were very original. There was a variety of chocolates. My favourite one was fine milk chocolate - an original recipe to die for. Now is a real treat to find a fine milk chocolate. And I have no explanation why, but it is the real life we live in.
To be able to buy a bar of chocolate at 80's was a celebration of life. My grandmother, as a hard working lady, living in a village, used to make an amazing "chocolate" out of dried plums. She puréed them, made them into a paste, rolled them out to a 5 mm sheet, leaving it to dry. Afterwords, she used to cut the sheets into bars and called them "Grandma's chocolate". This tradition was popular in Bulgaria when I was a child - a memory, kept from our grand grand parents. The taste to these dried-fruit bars was uniquely similar to what I got to taste in this cake.
The cake is a simple layered structure of cookie sheets with a spread of dried fruits jam in between. I found, after tasting it, that the jam would be more powerful if consisted of walnuts. This is what I will try next time. Surely, it won't be an original vínarterta any more, but it would be more adventurous one. Besides, as it turned out, the original recipe is quite questionable.
Here is the recipe the way it pleases my taste ... for now:
225 g butter, at room temperature
300 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond liquor
2 large eggs
600 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp heavy cream 35%
for the filling:
1 kg prunes, dried plums
60 g sugar
450 ml water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cardamom
for the frosting:
100 g butter soften
150 g cream cheese
50 g orange syrup
prepare the cookie layers:
1. Beat the butter to cream consistency.
2. Add the sugar and beat well to mayonnaise consistency.
3. Add the vanilla extract and the almond liquor, beat to homogenize.
4. Add the eggs one by one, beating after each addition.
5. Combine the flour and the baking powder in a bowl.
6. Add half of the dry ingredients and one Tbsp of cream to the butter mixture. Fold in, without mixing thoroughly.
7. Fold in the rest.
8. Divide the cookie dough in seven equal pieces. Roll each one in a perfect 20cm x 20cm (8' x 8') square.
9. Bake at 175° C one by one, or two at once, if you are using convection. Keep the rest in a cool place.
10. Once baked, leave each cookie layer to cool completely on a wire rack.
11. You can store them for two days, before assembling the cake.
prepare the filling:
1. Combine the prunes and the water in a heavy bottomed pan. Place over a medium heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the temperature if needed. Cook for about five minutes.
Note: This step very much depends on the quality of the prunes used. I remember that the dried plums from the my childhood were really dry - not a drop of life in them - almost skin and pit. Now the prunes on the market are very juicy and pretty much 'alive'. The cooking times would depend on how dry the prunes are.
2. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve. Cook for few more minutes. The mixture would thicken to jam consistency. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and the spice
3. Pulse the jam in a blender to smoothen it. Use warm, but not hot.
prepare the frosting:
1. Beat the butter and the cream cheese to homogenize.
2. Add the syrup and mix well.
3. Use immediately
1. Place one cookie layer in a parchment paper.
2. Evenly spread some of the filling.
3. Repeat with the rest of the cookies and jam, leaving the last cookie plain on top of the cake.
4. Cover in plastic wrap and keep in a cool place for a week. This cake needs to age. The cookie layers will become softer.
5. Cut in 16 cubes, each 5 cm x 5 cm (2' x 2')
6. Pipe rosettes of the frosting. Garnish with halved pecans.
7. Store in a cold place. Serve at room temperature.
I would like to hear your experience with this beauty.
Have a very Merry, sweet, and generous in love Christmas!