There are two types of people in the world: those who love sweet things and those who prefer more savory fare. But as a friend always said, regardless of the side you choose, we all need a dessert for our coffee. I like their way of thinking. And the truth is, you shouldn't worry if you have one preference the other. With Icelandic cuisine and desserts, there are so many options that the biggest problem will be choosing between them.
Pastries and baked goods are present in the lives of Icelanders on a daily basis. In Reykjavik, there are more than 20 bakeries. Every city and town, no matter how small, has its own as well. Each place usually has its particular specialty that ranges from biscuits to specific types of bread and buns. But where does all this Icelandic baking tradition come from?
In the past, planting grain on Icelandic soil was not very easy with the technology that existed at the time. And the little that could be sown was usually reserved for animals rather than for bread. The tradition of pastries later began to arrive from the European continent. It came mainly from the Danes, who were the first bakers and pastry makers in the country. The influence of Denmark on the sweet side of Icelandic cuisine was quite strong. Today they still sell typical Danish buns in bakeries and cake shops.
Let's start our sweet adventure with one of Iceland's most famous buns, the kleinur. While the recipe itself is of Danish origin, its name seems to derive from the German word "klein", meaning small. It’s a kind of donut dough made with grated lemon, cream, flour, eggs, and butter. Once the dough is ready, it is extended, cut into a diamond shape and twisted at the corners. Finally, it’s fried in a bath of hot oil. Depending on where the kleinur is made, it is usually scented with vanilla or cardamom. The tradition of making these delicious baked Icelandic treats go back hundreds of years. They are even mentioned in books from the 18th century. They've become extremely popular and quite famous, especially in areas of North America with a large concentration of immigrants from Iceland.
If you are a lover of cinnamon then we have the perfect dessert for you: snúður. They’re a kind of large cinnamon roll whose dough features essence of cardamom. Here, the dough is not fried, but baked. The result is a delicious little sweet bun that Icelanders almost always accompany with kókómjólk. This tasty drink is a chocolate shake quite popular on the island.
If you happen to be a diehard chocolate lover, then your perfect Icelandic dessert is probably skúffukaka. This sweet treat is fluffy and made with dark chocolate. These little bites of heaven may remind you of brownies, but with a special touch: grated coconut on top. Yummy, right? A true chocoholic’s dream.
Another scrumptious Icelandic dessert to go along with your coffee is mondlukaka or almond cake. The layers of cake have strawberry jam between them and whipped cream on top. Once it’s put out on display it doesn’t last very long as it’s one of Icelander's favorites.
To avoid going completely into a diabetic coma, let's move on to some more savory options. Flatkaka or "flat pie" is a type of unleavened rye bread. It was traditionally cooked in wood ovens using the direct heat of the hot embers, but it can also be made at home in a high-temperature iron pan. The most common way to eat it is with butter and some slices of roasted lamb.
Did someone say cheese? Don't worry...in Iceland, there are cheeses for everyone and every occasion. Not that you need a special occasion to eat cheese, of course. Do you love cheese? Great, because you have the delicious ostaslaufur. These are rolls of soft bread stuffed with cheese... can you say wow! They're especially popular among kids but let's face it, you're never too old for something so tasty.
We hope you enjoyed this small tour of Icelandic desserts, sweets and pastries. What was your favorite or which one are you most interested in trying? If you’re not quite sure, why not take a stroll through all of the coffee shops and bakeries in Iceland and try them all? Someone has to be in charge of quality control!
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