Vínarterta is a multilayered confection of Canadian Icelandic origin. It is made in a round shape and cut in wedges or in an oblong shape to be served in slices. The Vínarterta was traditionally served as a wedding cake or Christmas cake, and continues to be served for special occasions. It seems that everyone’s mother and grandmother had her own recipe and method for baking “the best” Vínarterta.
I explored this interesting piece of Canadian food history after a friend handed me a copy of the Globe and Mail newspaper’s food section featuring an article about a new Icelandic bakery in Toronto. I was interested in the history of the special cake-like confection called Vínarterta – originally from Iceland, but now more popular amongst the Canadian Icelandic community.
I hopped to subway to have a visit with Birgir at his newly opened Viking Bakery.
Birgir Robertsson has come to Toronto from Iceland, via Gimli, Manitoba, a Canadian town with a large Icelandic community. Icelanders have been moving to Gimli since 1870 and before 1915 more than 20,000 people emigrated from Iceland to Canada for the promise of free land- one quarter of the population of Iceland at that time. Considering that the population of Iceland is now 330,000, that seems a large number.
Birgir bakes artisanal bread and many specialties that you would find in a bakeshop in Iceland or Gimli. This adds new tastes to Toronto’s United Nations- like culinary reputation.
Making Vínarterta is an art. It can be made several ways, by stacking very thin cake or cookie-like layers and adding the more traditional filling of prune, or raspberry.
Thinner layers are more esteemed in the world of Vínarterta bakers. Birgir told me that in Gimli, Manitoba, the tortes are usually made with seven layers, to represent the days of the week. Birgir makes his with 5 layers. Modern versions of this torte are sometimes iced, a break from tradition.
After some research, I found limited information on the Icelandic origins of the Vínarterta cake. There are different speculations and I was pleased to learn that Birgir had his own theory. His eyes lit up with enthusiasm as we spoke of history of Vínarterta, as he had done some research of his own. He told me of how the first bakery in Iceland, Bernhöfts Bakari, in Reykjavik was Danish in origin, but had an Austrian baker. He thinks that the name Vínarterta is a combination of the Austrian capital, Vienna and Terta, (which means a fancier version of a cake in Icelandic.) He was careful to tell me that this is his theory and not based on any factual information.
The website: The Historical Cooking Project– http://www.historicalcookingproject.com/2014/03/vinarterta.html
shares a recipe for the Vínarterta, and describes it’s similarity to a popular Icelandic cake – the Randalín, a four layer cake with a rhubarb filling.
Whatever the origin of this cake, it is a culinary tradition of the past that lives on in popularity and has come to Canada through our Icelandic community.
* Viking Bakery at 2207 Danforth Avenue, in Toronto.
To taste traditional Icelandic fare attend this Toronto festival:
Thorrablot 2015 Spinning Sagas and Happy Times
This celebration of Icelandic culture, will feature food, music and more.
Saturday, April 11/2015
For more information: http://www.icct.info/news/thorrablot-2015-spinning-sagas-and-happy-times