Watch this audio slideshow on how to make the uniquely Icelandic laufabraud Christmas bread. Icelandic families often gather on the First Day of Advent to make and carve the bread together. Afterwards they eat it with hangikjöt (smoked lamb), which is usually their first taste of Christmas each year.
Photos by Páll Stefánsson, text and narration by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected].
Click here to download the audio slideshow.
Laufabraud, or “leafbread,” is a unique Icelandic tradition, first mentioned in sources from 1736. The thin, crisp and carved cakes originated in north Iceland, and were created because of how sparse flour was at that time. The decoration was supposed to make up for the meager state of the bread.
Leafbread is a Christmas treat, usually eaten buttered with hangikjöt, smoked lamb, and making it is a Christmas tradition in many families, especially in north Iceland.
These pictures were taken in Akureyri in Novemnber 2008 in the home of Kristrún Jónsdóttir, where the extended family gathered for leafbread making.
The cakes can be bought ready for carving at most bakeries, but some families still make the dough themselves according to their own special recipes, which have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations. The first Sunday of Advent is often chosen for this family affair.
Here is one leafbread recipe from Kelduhverfi in northeast Iceland:
Heat 2 c milk, 1/3 c butter and a dash of cumin in a saucepan (do not let it boil). Add 8 c flour, ¼ c sugar, 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder (traditionally ½ tsp hartshorn and 1 tsp baking powder) and a dash of salt and mix in a mixer.
Then, knead the dough by hand. Roll the dough into a long cylinder, wrap it up in a tea towel and let it rest for a while before cutting it into roughly 40 pieces and flattening each piece with a rolling pin.
Use a plate and kleinuhjól, a special knife resembling a pizza cutter, to make round leafbread sheets, decorate and deep fry in lard or oil (traditionally tallow).
Nowadays, the decoration is made with a special carving knife known as laufabraudsjárn in Icelandic. Press it down on the cake and roll it to carve triangular patterns into it. Then flip every other triangle, or “leaf.”
Originally, a simple pocket knife was used to make the leafbread patterns and some families still insist on using only a knife. Then the cake is folded and slantwise cuts are made. The cake is unfolded and every other “leaf” is flipped as with the other method.
There are some traditional patterns like “Winter Sun,” “Light of the Wise Men,” “Northern Lights” and “Winter Flower,” which all are a bit advanced. “Farmers’ Cut” is easier: five vertical cuts.
It is also popular to carve the first letter of the names of everyone in the family. S is probably the most difficult letter. After completing the pattern, prick holes into the cake with your knife, otherwise it will become bloated.
Then the cakes must be fried. Place each individual cake in boiling hot lard, oil or tallow. Wait a few seconds until the cake begins to darken, flip it with two forks, wait a few more seconds and then put the cake on a napkin on top of a newspaper to dry away most of the fat.
The cake must be pressed immediately while it is still soft. In Iceland a laufabraudshlemmur is used, a round wooden plate with a handle (which children often make for their parents and grandparents in carpenter classes at school).
A normal plate or anything else resembling the laufabraudshlemmur will do. Press down hard and then stack the cakes while they cool.
Serve with butter, smoked lamb, red cabbage, fresh apples, green peas, boiled potatoes and a white béchamel sauce. Icelandic Christmas ale (a mixture of sweet malt and orange soda) is the perfect drink to accompany the meal—the first taste of Christmas.