Icelandic Vinarterta Recipe – Icelandic Christmas Cake
“Children left unattended will receive a red bull and a puppy. But not a cute puppy – an ugly, hungry, mongrel one. Do not touch the fires. They are real and they are hot. If a tent is closed, it is closed for a reason – do not open it, as you may see a naked Viking. And trust me, this is something you do not want to see. If you have questions, please ask us, we are happy to answer them”.
On a recent family vacation to Manitoba, this was the welcome we received as we entered the gates of “Viking Village”, one of the highlights of Manitoba’s Icelandic Festival. Here, you can step back in time and witness many highly skilled re-enactors demonstrating the day to day lifestyle of the Vikings.
Of course my 11 year old niece begged us to leave her unattended. She really wants a puppy. And I guess she’s not that picky as to the breed. However, my poor brother flinched at the mental image of the naked Viking that flashed through his mind.
But it was too late, he claimed – this was something he could never ‘unsee’. Fortunately, we didn’t come upon any actual naked Vikings and we left with my niece, minus the ugly, mongrel puppy.
Icelandic culture has a long, rich history in Manitoba’s Interlake region. The Canadian province of Manitoba is located in central Canada, at the eastern end of the Canadian prairies.
In 2014, the Manitoba Icelandic festival ‘Islendingadagurinn’ commemorated 125 years of celebrating Icelandic history, culture, and its contribution to life in the province.
Icelandic Vinarterta, a traditional Iceland celebration cake since 1875, is also woven deep into the fibres of this culture. A culinary time capsule, this incredibly elegant and intricate 7 layered torte, a fragrant symphony of almond, vanilla and fruit filling, has been the belle of the ball at Icelandic Canadian Christmases, birthdays, weddings, special occasion celebrations, as well as dinner parties and even coffee time for well over a century. (See Icelandic vinarterta cake recipe below)
History of the Icelandic Islendingadagurinn Festival
The festival itself, is known to be second oldest continuous ethnic festival in North America. The first Icelandic festival in North America was held in Milwaukee in 1874. The first Icelandic Festival in Manitoba took place in Winnipeg in 1890, but has been held in Gimli since 1932.
The town of Gimli, Manitoba, Norse for “home of the gods”, a haven for settlers who founded New Iceland on the shore of Lake Winnipeg in 1875, is still a welcoming harbor. Perched at the southwestern point of Lake Winnipeg, the largest of Manitoba’s lakes at 24,514-square-kilometre (9,465 sq mi), it is a mere 55 km (34 mi) drive from Manitoba’s capital, and largest city, Winnipeg.
Renowned for its beautiful and natural fresh water lakes and sandy beaches, Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg and Gimli are meccas for beach goers.
In addition to Viking Village, the festival hosts a FREE daily pancake breakfast, a Viking battle, live entertainment, vendors, fireworks, a midway, all culminating in a parade on the very last day.
And because the heart of Gimli is its waterfront, many of the festival activities take place on the beach. You will find a volleyball competition, sand castle building contest and lots of sunning, swimming and water fun.
As you stroll along the beach and the mural-covered seawall, you can marvel at the view of an inland ocean that stretches to the horizon.
Now on to my favorite part of any festival– the FOOD! Alongside the usual suspects, there is an entire kiosk dedicated to Icelandic Vinarterta, a favoutie of the Iceland desserts. And every imaginable flavor of Vinarterta, the famous Iceland cake, lives here – even Saskatoon berry.
Tips for making Icelandic Christmas Cake
However, since Icelandic Vinarterta, or Icelandic Christmas cake, is traditionally made with a prune filling, you will have fundamentalists of Icelandic food recipes shuddering at the mere mention of any modern incarnations of this traditional fare. So I decided to stick with the classic prune of this Iceland Christmas cake to honour vinarterta history.
But I must warn, the making of this cake is not for the faint of heart. If you are going to attempt this, I would recommend you are, at minimum, an experienced baker. It’s not that it’s “hard” to make, but the Icelandic prune cake is somewhat fussy and time consuming.
Although I was encouraged by my husband’s Aunt Norma (the sharer of this best of Icelandic recipes) to save myself some hassle and buy the prune paste for the filling, then simply add spice, I couldn’t find it. And good luck if you hope to locate it anywhere outside of Manitoba! I had no choice but to whip up a batch of prune paste from scratch. Again, the filling is not hard to make, just time consuming and a little finicky.
However, when I got to this point, I have to admit, I was a little confused. The directions actually ended here (photo below) and this was not the Icelandic Vinarterta traditional Christmas cake I knew and loved!
I had to ask Aunt Norma if this is how it was supposed to look. It did not look the way she made it. She replied to my Icelandic cake that “it wasn’t bad for my first time”, as she’s spent 40 years perfecting it!
Then the light bulb went off when she explained that you cut off the edges and make it into a square (photo above). Traditionally, the family eats the edges and the guests get the good part. Well, my family is pretty used to that system already!
But the fun does not end here! This cake needs another 3 full days to ‘cure’ before it is cut and eaten (for optimum deliciousness). And then it still needs to be iced with a recipe made from scratch! This is not a low maintenance cake and perhaps the most challenging of Icelandic desserts.
But I think it was worth every minute! This was a baking bucket list item for me, as I grew up in Winnipeg and have so many fond memories of eating Icelandic Vinarterta. Although mine doesn’t look quite as good as Aunt Norma’s (turns out I added a little too much prune)
*Note to self and reader: Don’t use ‘heaping’ tablespoons of prune paste. I don’t think it was too bad for my first time. Apparently, I need another 40 years to perfect it. Hopefully I’ll live that long! It certainly helps to have a tried and true family recipe on hand. That of which, I will now share with you.
So if you have some time (maybe about a week?!) on your hands or simply want a baking challenge, then this is the cake for you. If this is not your idea of fun, then why not add Manitoba’s Icelandic Festival to your travel agenda next year and have someone else bake the Icelandic Vinarterta for you?!
Happy travels, eating and maybe baking (for the super adventurous!)
Terri @Food Meanderings:
For more of Terri’s recipe, we invite you to visit Food Meanderings
Terri is a competitive home cook and baker, recipe developer, food writer, and cake decorator. Her original and award winning recipes have been published in Taste of Home magazine, Saltscape Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens Family Circle Hometown Cooking Cookbook, The Old Farmer’s Almanac Readers’ Best Recipes 25th Anniversary Edition Cookbook, Safeway Destination Cheese Champions, among other publications and on several websites. She also contributes a monthly food & recipe column to The Rocky Ridge Royal Oak Community newsletter. She is a happily married mom of two that loves everything food. By day she works as a Project Manager in the health care field.
How to Make Icelandic Vinarterta
Icelandic Vinarterta Recipe
- 1 cup butter
- 11/4 cups white granulated sugar
- 3 Eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- Dash of salt
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 31/2 cups flour sifted
- 11/4 tsp baking powder
- 2 pounds pitted prunes
- 2 cups water – water to cover
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Icing 1- shortening based icing recipe:
- 4 Tblsp shortening
- 3 cups of icing sugar
- 2 egg whites
- ½ tsp almond extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cream butter and sugar.
- Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.
- Add dry ingredients alternately with milk.
- Add almond extract. Then add up to 2 cups more of sifted flour, but add cautiously. (I only used ½ cup more, but I live in a very dry climate)
- *Dough should not stick to hands.
- Divide dough into 14 pieces and roll out each piece separately.
- Cut each piece into a 7” in diameter round. Aunt Norma uses a pot lid with relatively sharp edges. Most pot sets have a lid this size. I used this and it worked well. It will be very thin.
- Bake rounds on a large cookie sheet covered with parchment paper for 10 minutes. You can do two rounds at one time in a regular oven. I was able to do all 7 for one cake at once in my convection oven
- Let the rounds to cool before handling.
- *If you end up using store-bought prune paste, you need 2 cups of prune paste for each cake. And a teaspoon of cardamom per each 2 cups.
- TIP: Use cornstarch when rolling dough out and on rolling pin (it will not make the dough tough)
- Combine prunes and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until prunes are tender, about 15 minutes
- Strain, reserving liquid. Coarsely chop prunes in a food processor, and return to saucepan with reserved liquid and the granulated sugar.
- Cook over medium heat until mixture is thick, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla,salt and cardamom.
- Refrigerate until slightly firm, about 30 minutes.
- Start with one round and top it with approx. 3 tablespoons of prune paste.* Do not use ‘heaping’ tablespoons, as I made the mistake of doing this– it’s too much prune. You should only go through 2 cups of paste for 1 cake.
- Add your next round. Again top with 3 tablespoons of paste. When you have added your 7th round, do not put prune paste on top of it.
- Put in a round tin or plastic container and let sit on counter for 3 days in order to cure. The prune paste will soften the rounds.
- Ice the cake with either of the icing recipes (below) after it has cured. Then serve or freeze immediately.
Shortening Based Icing (see Notes for alternative Butter Based Icing)
- Cream shortening and add ½ of sifted icing sugar and cream for 2 minutes.
- Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Add to creamed icing sugar/shortening mixture.
- Beat together again, then add almond extract.
- If too stiff, add water (a few drops). If too thin, add a little icing sugar.
- Eat and enjoy! Or freeze for future enjoyment!
Icing 2 - Buttercream icing recipe:
Ingredients: 1/4 cup butter (soft)
2 cups sifted icing sugar
2 Tbsp cream
1 tsp each almond and vanilla flavoring
Directions: Blend together the ingredients and spread on cake.
Other holiday recipes
Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies – Christmas Shortbread
4 Ingredient Whipped Shortbread Cookies
Candy Cane Hot Chocolate in a Jar
This article was originally published in August, 2016 and updated October, 2022.
Interesting post, Terri. I’d love to try that cake (but have someone else bake it). I was confused reading the post at first, though, since I thought Sue went to the festival and baked the cake. I guess I did not notice your name on the top…
Hi Liesbet- glad you liked the post. Yes, I can see why that could be confusing. I don’t think Sue would be too keen on spending that much time making a cake! If you do get a chance to try Vinarterta, I hope you enjoy it – it’s very unique!
Haha yes Sue will not be baking this cake as it seems to take more than 15 minutes. 🙂
Still I know a lot of readers out there will be keen to try. I hope they invite me for a piece.
Sue- I have a piece for you! I will bring it when we meet for coffee next week!
Excellent! I’ll be looking forward to it. 🙂
Hi Bun-thanks for your comments! I am glad you found it interesting. Manitoba is a terribly underrated Canadian destination! I love it that a cake wouldn’t last that long at your house-too funny..Although, I did have to tuck the cake away too – my kids were counting down the days to “when we get it eat the vinarterta”! Terri
My goodness, your kids have enormous patience. I’m so envious! 😀
well, I bake A LOT, so they know there is a constant supply! 🙂
A-ha! That’s the secret! 🙂
I am from Manitoba, and my mum’s family name was Johnson( anglicized versoin of Johanssen), and this was our favourite cake every year at Christmas time. My Mum was the baker of the traditional cakes. She made the fruit cakes (for weddings too), and the vinetarta. I use her recipe but have had to find a way to make it GF. I am so glad that you decided to share this with the world.
Thanks, Jann! Always so nice to meet a fellow Manitoban! I hope you enjoy this recipe and have a very Merry Christmas! Terri
An Iceland Festival, what a fabulous idea ! And this cake recipe looks awesome. I’ve been to Iceland twice but never tried this cake, I’ve missed out something. I need to try to cook it myself. Doesn’t seem too difficult.
Hi darwinontherocks! I have heard that the cake is more of an Icelandic Canadian thing now and easier to find in Gimli than Iceland! But I’d love to go on the hunt for it in Iceland one day. No, not difficult at all! Just takes time. Happy baking! I’d love to hear how it turns out for you…Thanks, Terri
Oh I see ! Yes, hunting for it in Iceland sounds like good fun.
The festival looks like so much fun, and I love the idea of a FREE pancake breakfast. I wasn’t paying full attention at the beginning of the post, and thought that it was Sue who was busy making that 7 layer torte. It did seem a bit out of character for her and confused me somewhat, so I zoomed back to the beginning of the post, to see your name in the credits, Terri. 😀 Well done on your efforts. Making prune past from scratch is very impressive. I don’t think I’ll be trying this. 🙂
Hi anotherday2paradise: Yes, free pancake breakfasts are a real bonus to any festival, if you ask me! However, we are a bit spoiled here, in Calgary, with Stampede and all! Well, I hope you at least get to try a piece of this cake one day, even if you don’t make it! Thanks, Terri
The festival looks like a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing the recipes. They look delicious.
Thank you donnajeanmcdunn!
A prune cake, wow!! Looks like a great festival on the lake. The lake looks like one of the Great Lakes!
Hi John: I know, a prune cake doesn’t sound as appealing as it actually is! Yes, it was a fun festival for sure! Have been meaning to go for years. And it could be one of the great lakes – Lake Winnipeg is definitely bigger than Lake Ontario!
Fantastic culture, they are not only rich in their traditions, but also their life habit. Spectacular festival. Great photos collection Sue!
@The Passion Dew: Yes, it was so great to experience the festival (finally)! It was actually me, not Sue, that attended and took the photos. Thanks for your comments! Terri
I apologize to Terri. I correct my comment.
My comment directed at you by name. Thanks Terri. Fantastic reviews festival.
Definitely looks like a fun festival! And that Icelandic Vinarterta looks delicious. I don’t think I’ll ever be ambitious enough to try to make one, though!
Hi Linda: yes, it was a fun festival! And the cake is really yummy, but it is definitely a time investment!
Gorgeous post. I love to read about these kind of festivals. They serve an eye to us to get information about cultures, habit and traditions, which are unknown to us. Cake is yummy. Thank You.
Thanks for your comments, Sartenada!I agree about the festivals – you can learn so much!
My initial thought was ‘ah, so much more refined’… but then I read the article 🙂 So fun, Sue, and I’m super impressed with your efforts. Can I be family please? I like edges. 🙂 Happy rest of the week!
I didn’t know about the Icelandic traditions or origins. Interesting. And as for the cake, that simply sounds delicious. I’ve never heard of it until right this minute and I really want to try it.
Hi unsportywomencanrun- Glad you like the post! And yes, the cake is well worth trying! I’d love to hear what you think!
very interesting. thanks for sharing. n the cake looks mouthwatering. would have loved to be a part of this festival :))
Thank you, madhu-on-the-go! Hopefully you’ll get to the festival one day AND get to try the cake! 🙂
I had no idea of an Icelandic connection in Manitoba – interesting! And the cake looks yummy.
I know, lexklein, very few people are aware of that connection. And, the cake is super yummy. I hadn’t eaten it in years and it brought me right back to my childhood – the way ONLY cake can!
I missed the tag line at the beginning too and was totally impressed with Sue’s baking skills. I should have clued in with the comment “as I grew up in Winnipeg” since I know Sue as one of Saskatchewan’s most famous exports 🙂
This post surprised a few people, joannesisco, until they realized it wasn’t Sue!
I love these Viking Festivals. My husband is from York, England where the Vikings ruled for many years so he considers himself a Viking. The cake looks delicious and may be worth a try at some point. Thanks for the recipe.
Hi Darlene: Thanks for your comments! I love that you are married to a Viking – very cool! 🙂 The cake is really unique and sure to please your Viking as well. I’d love to hear what you think if you end up making it.
I read this entire post thinking it was you, Sue. I couldn’t imagine you in one place long enough to make it and then eat it so now I know. Still, it was very interesting and, though I have no doubt I will ever attempt to make it, I would definitely eat it if invited. Thanks to both of you for an interesting post!
Thanks for your comments, Emilio!
I think you know me well Emilio. Let’s hope Terri invites both of us! 🙂
What a festival. “second oldest continuous ethnic festival in North America”. Islendingadagurinn’ sounds like a great way to get to know Iceland’s history and get in touch with it. Icelandic Vinarterta looks like it comes in big portions – but I’m sure the recipe can be tweaked for one cake and not two. Then again, you can never get too much of cake 😀
Hi Mabel: Yes, the festival is a wonderful way to connect with the history of the Icelandic people in that area. And the Vinarterta recipe can absolutely be halved! I actually only made one (to test it) and I froze the rest of the dough and prune filling. The cake freezes well, so why wouldn’t the parts? I guess I’ll find out! 🙂
Although, I have to admit, I was so tired after the first cake that I didn’t have the energy to make a second! Also, in my cooking travels, I have found that most recipes can be doubled or halved without any issue at all! In fact, I have NEVER run into a problem halving, doubling or even tripling a recipe. I do this a lot. Most people think you can’t get too much cake, but as a cake decorator, I actually HAVE had too much cake (and it’s not a good scene)! Happy baking!
Oooh, so there can be too much cake. If it’s extra mixture, you can always try the freezing method but it might not turn out well. And there’s only so much batter one can eat 😀
Hi crescentmoonramblings: Thanks for your comments! Yes, it is always interesting to find out origins of different foods. The funny thing is that up until a couple of years ago, I thought this was a Ukrainian recipe! My Ukrainian/Polish aunt (my Dad’s 1/2 sister) from Winnipeg made it all the time. I’m not sure why?? Apparently, according to my Dad’s other sister, she had Swedish blood as well! Maybe that’s why. But she had only come from the Ukraine a few years prior to that and had no connection with the Icelandic community in Gimli. I still wonder why the heck this new Ukrainian immigrant was making an Icelandic Canadian cake!
And I would love to hear how the cake turns out if you take it on! Happy baking and let me know if you run into issues or have questions!
That is a really good looking cake. Interesting that Manitoba has a strong connection with Norway and the Vikings and it also explains why neighbouring Minnesota in USA also has a strong Scandinavian heritage.
Hi Andrew: Thank you – yes, it’s a neat cake! And I didn’t know about Minnesota’s connection. Interesting!
I grew up in Manitoba, but never made it to the Icelandic Festival. All my cookbooks from home have recipes for Vinarterta, though, so it’s fun to see this one! Someday I must give it a try. 🙂
Hi Diane: Nice to hear from a fellow Manitoban! Took me 47 years to make it to that festival, so there is still hope if you haven’t been. It is a very fun cake to make, but just make sure you budget a lot of time! Happy baking….
excellent post, Sue! takk-thanx! 🙂 just got back home from our 3rd trip to Iceland where I could settle and live – if I were 25-30… 🙂 we’ve met lots of Canadians from Québec, Ontario and BC – simply enchanted by UNIQUE Iceland…
* * *
have a great Sunday and a light week ahead! cheers! 🙂
Melanie I have been enjoying your posts from Iceland. It looks wonderful and we definitely need to get there.
This is actually a guest post written by Terri @FoodMeanderings. She is an amazing cook, baker and recipe developer.
Wishing you a great day and happy week!
Thank you, Sue! It’s a pleasure to share my thoughts, travels and recipes with your wonderful readers!
Icelandic Vinarterta looks sooo good! I thought it will be a sugar bomb by looking at its pictures..I am not sure if I can wait for three days to eat the cake after making it myself 😀
Hi Indah: yes, it does have quite a bit of sugar in it, but the healthy prunes sort of balances it, don’t you think?:)
I know what you mean – the challenge is waiting those 3 days. But some Icelandic Canadians wait up to a week! Maybe “Patience” should be added to the name of this cake?
I enjoyed learning about the traditions, Teri, and the Vinarterta Cake looks like a true masterpiece.
Thank you, Jet! I am glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, is a really unique and intricate cake and I really enjoyed the chance to finally make it.
When I read the heading I thought for sure Islendingadagurinn couldn’t be real word! Now I know better:)
Yes, Inger, it is a real word! Now just try and say it. Then try to say it 5 times in a row! LOL Terri
Icelandic Festival is well worth attending – the vinetarta is delicious and not that hard to make. I do believe that the almond icing has evolved over the years – My Amma and Mother never iced the cake – the almond icing is too strong and takes over the taste of the cake itself – all you taste is sweet almond, but to each his own. I like it without the icing and continue to make mine without.
HI Wanda: I agree – the icing is very sweet! Next time I will make it with one less sweet! 🙂
I totally underestimated the connection between Iceland and Canada. Manitoba has previously never been high on my list of places to visit in Canada but this festival looks awesome. I’m in Iceland just after Christmas en route to Canada so I hope there will still be some Vinarterta cake left!!
Hi Shannon: I hope you have an amazing time Iceland and get to try some Vinarterta cake either there or in Canada. My colleague was recently in Iceland and she really had to look for the Vinarterta! Enjoy….
Love the post! I enjoy how you captured the Viking lifestyle so well; I felt I was watching an episode of “Vikings”. Awesome. As for the cake it sounds as rich as can be. Fine fare for vikings. Appropriate. A bit too rich for me past a few bites but I would certainly try it. And yes, I would never go overboard on prunes. Ever.
My Aunt was Icelandic and from Gimili Manitoba. Every Christmas she made this wonderful cake for us as a family gift. I always loved it, and since the years have passed as well as that Aunt it has been years since I had the pleasure of tasting it. Thanks for the post on the history of this cake, and how to make one. I am thrilled and I am going to make one for this Christmas.
Love ❤️ vinetartta. My Christmas laxative. I say because of the prunes!
Now there’s a health reason to eat cake! Excellent!
This is a fantastic recipe. It is also known as Zebra Torte and I have been searching high and low for this. Thank you so much! Please add Zebra Torte to your key word search. The amount of work to make this is **totally overrated!** Mrs. Horochuk (nee Maniyak) from Manitoba made this for our church thanksgiving lunch at the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church for 50 years. The layers were thin, precise. and pieces were cut unto dainty tall 1sqaure inch pieces. If you have ever made a Russian honey cake it’s the exact same concept. http://www.petersfoodadventures.com has a lot of Slavic food which I highly recommend. Thank you so much for posting this lost gem!
It sounds delicious, Sue. I got a kick out of you saying you need another 40 years to perfect it!
Looks like fun and the recipe sounds delicious, Sue. I got a kick out of you saying you need another 40 years to perfect it!
GP thanks so much. This recipe is actually from my friend Terri who is an incredible cook and baker.
I totally have to make this and then invite you and Dave over to enjoy with a glass of wine. Deal??
That sounds like a fabulous deal Leigh. We are definitely in!
Interesting. We don’t know much about Icelandic cuisine…..unless in a part of Manitoba.