Desserts and puddings

Cathedral bundt cake

Photo by Aron Hinriksson

Icelanders are endlessly creative when it comes to baking, which means if you want to impress the neighbours you really have to pull out all the stops. An invitation to Aron and Gunna’s home (our lovely Pastors) for a BBQ warranted, I felt, something just that little bit special. Enter the cathedral bundt cake! Bundt cakes tins were created by Dave Dalquist and Don Nygren in 1950 in response to a request by two women on a fundraising venture. They were tired of the light, fluffy cakes of the day and longed instead for the heavier German coffee cake popular all over Europe. During the 60s and 70s, the iconic circular, fluted cast-aluminum cake tins became synonymous with easy-bake cakes, although for reasons lost in the midst of time, they never gained a huge following in the UK. I discovered the Nordic Ware Company a couple of years ago and fell in love with their wide range of bundt cake tins. When I spotted the cathedral bundt it immediately went on my Christmas wish list. The BBQ at Aron and Gunna’s was the cake tin’s first outing and was so well received that when we were invited to dinner at our good friends Óðinn and Rhiannon´s home the very next day, I baked another (albeit different) one.

The following recipe is adapted from one I found in the wonderful book of bundts by Susanna Short. It wasn’t meant to be an adaptation. I fully intended to follow the recipe as written by Susanna, but unfortunately my mind wandered for a second and before I knew what I was doing, I had added the cinnamon to the flour instead of to the sugar mix. Undeterred by the mistake and (as it happens) also a big fan of cinnamon, I added the recommended amount of cinnamon to the sugar mix as well and swirled as directed by Susanna on the first layer of cake batter. The outcome was a beautiful cinnamon scented swirl cake that I will definitely try again.

The secret to a perfect cake release from the intricate bundt cake tins is to apply Baker’s Joy liberally, ensuring you get into all the nooks and crannies of the tin. Failing that, grease the tin really well with lard or butter and dust with flour, shaking out any excess. Let the baked cake cool for 10-15 minutes in its tin and then gently pull the cake away from the sides and middle of the tin before turning out onto a wire tray to cool further. Serve warm or cold. I’m told these cakes keep well. I wouldn’t know, they don’t last long enough to find out.

Cinnamon swirl coffee cake

This wonderful cake serves 10-12. As it was Easter when I made this one, I filled the centre with mini chocolate eggs and served each slice with a couple of chocolate eggs and a swirl of freshly whipped cream.


  • 2½ cups (375g) of plain (all purpose) flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1¼ cups (225 + 55g) sugar divided
  • ½ cup (100g) brown sugar
  • 3 eggs beaten
  • ¾ cup (170g) softened butter
  • 1 cup (270ml) plain yoghurt
  • 1½ tsps vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup (50-60g) chopped nuts
  • 5 tsps of cinnamon divided.

Method: Preheat oven to 375°F, 190°C, gas mark 5. If using a fan oven reduce the oven temperature by 20°. Prepare the bundt cake tin as per previous suggestions. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and half the cinnamon in a large bowl and set aside. Beat 1 cup sugar, the ½ cup of brown sugar and eggs until light and frothy. Add the butter, vanilla extract and yoghurt, beating well. With the beaters on slow, add the flour mixture until well combined and finally the nuts – I actually used almond slivers in this one. Mix the remaining ¼ cup (55g) sugar with the rest of the cinnamon and set aside. Empty half the cake batter into the tin and level with the back of a teaspoon, making sure you get into all the nooks and crannies of the tin. Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mix over the batter and then top with the rest of the cake mix. Level the batter again and then gently tap the tin several times on the worktop to disperse any air pockets.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a stick of dry spaghetti, or cocktail stick, comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes and turn out onto a wire rack until cool enough to handle.

Once cooled, I slathered mine with a butter and honey glaze quickly made by melting equal amounts of butter and honey and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. I brushed the warm glaze over the cake with a silicone pastry brush and then dusted the the cake liberally with icing sugar. BTW people actually do say wow when presented with this cake. To be absolutely honest, I asked my husband to unmould the cake and when it slid out whole, I actually shouted wow several times, did a sort of jig and hugged my husband out of sheer joy. Sad, I know 🙂

An ode to the bundt cake: The Bundt cake is turned out to cool. From the Bundt pan, a specialized tool. For the baker. It’s fluted – A ring, convoluted. Nice pan, and the cake makes me drool. David Franks, in Bundt cake, Bundt Pan.


Hjónabandssæla or married couple cake

Married couples cake

I first came across this cake when my good friend Gullý invited me for coffee and cake one stormy Icelandic day. We had been living in Iceland for about a year and knew that being invited for coffee meant being offered a fabulous range of cakes, breads, Icelandic cheese, lots of strong, black coffee and the very best of conversations. In times past, Icelandic housewives offered their guests an assortment of home-baked goods with up to seven different cakes to tempt the hungry. Although few people go that those lengths today, many Icelanders continue to bake the traditional cakes, pastries and breads at home. However, in the event of unannounced guests, Icelanders don’t need to panic, as every shop in Iceland (even petrol stations) offer a wide range of traditional Icelandic cakes and breads of a very high quality.

Married couple cake is baked all over Iceland to ensure marriages stay ‘sweet’. It is very easy to bake and even easier to wolf down with a steaming mug of strong, black coffee. The cake is usually made with rhubarb jam, but if you’ve missed the summer fêtes and can’t get hold of rhubarb, any smooth jam will do. There are many versions of married couple cake, this is the recipe my friend Gullý uses. Many Icelandic recipes are in measured in cups. If you don’t have a set of measuring cups, do what my Icelandic friends do and simply use a small teacup (the sort that would normally come as part of a china tea-set). You don’t need to wait for stormy skies to enjoy this delicious Icelandic treat.


  • 3 cups porridge oats
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 3 tsps. baking powder
  • ½ – ¾ jar of rhubarb, apricot or blueberry jam, or any smooth jam you happen to have at hand
  • 250g melted butter.

Method: Preheat the oven. Measure all the ingredients, except the jam, straight into a large bowl and mix together until everything is thoroughly coated in the melted butter. Smooth half the mixture into a lightly buttered dish, spread over the jam of your choice and top with the remaining mixture. Bake in the middle of a moderately hot oven at 200° (180° if using a fan oven) or gas mark 6 for approximately 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly (remember the hot jam) before cutting into generous slices.

Serving suggestions: The cake is good eaten warm or cold with a dollop of Crème fraiche, Fromage frais or thick Greek yoghurt on the side. Minus the embellishments, it also makes great picnic food. It will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container. To make a healthy version of the cake, use reduced sugar jam, or whole fruit spread, replace half the white flour with whole-wheat or spelt flour and use a sugar substitute instead of castor sugar. The photo is from a wonderful food blogger’s website that I´ve newly discovered called cherrapeño which I encourage you all to visit. Gerður svo vel, Icelandic for there you are, enjoy!

ST Teresa Cookbook

A version of this recipe was published in a book by Cooks&Kitchens to raise funds for St Teresa’s Hospice in Darlington. For more information on how to purchase a copy of the cookbook, please contact Cooks&Kitchens.


Kim’s muffin recipe

Are you tired of over-sized, under-flavoured muffins? If so, make these muffins to remind yourself of how good a home baked muffin can be. If you don’t have blueberries to hand, don’t worry as this recipe works beautifully with fresh or frozen Morello cherries, cranberries or raspberries. No need to defrost the berries, just add them to the mixture as per the recipe.



  • 375g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 125ml light olive oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 125ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 200-300g berries.

Method: Preheat oven to 180° (160° if using a fan oven), 350f or gas 4. Place the flour, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the oil, egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix lightly. Finally, add your berries and gently combine. Spoon mixture into a 12-hole 125ml capacity muffin tin lined with paper cases. Bake for 30–35 minutes or until cooked when tested with a cocktail stick. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack. Makes 10/12 muffins.

Top tips: If you don’t have access to self-raising flour, simply replace it with all-purpose (plain) flour and add three teaspoons of baking powder to the dry ingredients. For a low-sugar option, replace half the sugar with a sugar substitute such as Splenda or equivalent.


Pumpkin cheesecake with easy peasy caramel sauce

Photo by Aron Hinriksson

When the nights are long and bleak and the wind is howling all around, there is only one thing to do…invite friends round for dinner!

This recipe is actually made from butternut squash, a vegetable only recently introduced to Selfoss, a lovely town in the south of Iceland. This version of pumpkin cheesecake is adapted from a recipe I recently plundered from the McCormicks website. I was searching for ‘butternut squash ideas’ so that I could introduce my Icelandic friends Aron and Gunna to this lovely and somewhat under-used vegetable. If you can find a 15oz/425g tin of unsweetened pumpkin purée, use that instead of steaming/roasting the butternut squash. Most recipes ask you to drain the cooked pumpkin for a couple of hours or overnight, I did neither (forgot to actually) and the cheesecake was still a huge hit. It did though need an extra 10 minutes in the oven, perhaps that was the reason. I served the cheesecake with a very quickly made caramel sauce and freshly whipped cream. It both looked and tasted fabulous. Like all cheesecakes, this one is best prepared and baked the day before and positively enjoys an overnight sojourn in the fridge. For the best results, make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature before you begin. A light dusting of icing sugar won’t go amiss just before serving. Makes one 9in/23cm cake. Serves 10-12.


For the crust:

  • 220g of biscuit crumbs (ginger nuts, digestive or graham cracker)
  • 50g butter melted

For the filling:

  • 400g butternut squash purée made by peeling and then steaming or roasting a small/medium butternut squash (remove all stringy bits and any seeds),
  • 300g cream cheese, softened
  • 140g firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract (not essence)
  • 1 rounded tsp allspice*
  • several chunks of finely chopped stem ginger in syrup (optional, but very good).

*If you can’t find allspice, combine equal parts of ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper.

Method: Preheat oven to 180°/350°. Lower oven temps by at least 10% if using the fan. Generously butter a 9in/23cm springform cake tin, line the base with parchment paper if liked. For the crust, mix all ingredients in a bowl until the crumbs are evenly coated with the butter. Press firmly into bottom of the prepared tin. Chill crust until needed in the fridge. To make the filling, lightly whisk the cream cheese, brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin purée, flour, vanilla and allspice until smooth – do not overwhisk. Pour into prepared crust. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until top is lightly browned and centre is almost set. Remove from oven and let the cheesecake cool in its tin. When cool, run a small knife or metal spatula around rim of pan to loosen. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

For the caramel sauce: melt 210g of vanilla sugar in a large pan, when completely melted and caramel brown in colour, add 85g of butter, whisking well. Be extremely careful, as the mixture will foam and rise up the sides of the pan. Once incorporated whisk in 120ml of double/whipping cream, again watching out for the foaming action of the mix. Whisk until smooth and pour into an airtight container. Will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

To make vanilla sugar: place 1-2 vanilla pods in a large pot of castor (superfine) sugar. Leave for two weeks and then use as normal in all baking that would benefit from the rich, sweet aroma of real vanilla. As you use up the sugar, simply top us as required. I had a pot that I refilled for almost seven years with no loss of flavour.


Things to make with Icelandic skyr

Cheesecake with strawberry sauceIceland has many culinary delights awaiting the intrepid traveller. As a family we love trying most anything. My everyday favourite however, has to be Icelandic skyr. Skyr is actually a soft cheese, although it has the texture of strained Greek yoghurt. It is eaten just about every day in Iceland by children and adults alike. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I was recently informed that due to its high protein (12%) and low fat content (0.5%), some Icelandic body-builders use skyr instead of protein drinks in their quest to develop healthy muscle mass. I love using skyr in cooking. Its relatively cheap, comes flavoured and unflavoured and can be used anywhere you would normally use thick Greek yoghurt or low-fat cream cheese and it keeps well. Skyrterta is one of my favourite desserts, mainly because you can vary it endlessly and is much better for you than most cheesecakes. If you forget about the sinful little pot of whipped cream in the recipe that follows, you can almost get away with thinking it is actually good for you. It’s certainly healthier than anything you will buy in the shops and it tastes divine. But, don’t just take my word for it, give it a go. If you are unlucky enough to live in a land that does not yet sell skyr, strain a pot (or two) of thick Greek yoghurt in a sieve or colander thickly lined with kitchen-roll overnight in the fridge and use as directed. As with any recipe containing uncooked egg, do not serve to the very young, the very old, the sick or to pregnant women.

Icelandic skyrterta



  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 180g vanilla sugar (see recipe for pumpkin cheesecake)
  • 500mls lightly whipped double cream
  • the juice and finely grated rind from one large lemon
  • 450g unflavoured skyr
  • 8 sheets of gelatine
  • 400mls creamy milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract.


Method: Grease and bottom line a 23-25cm, deep-sided, loose bottomed cake tin with greaseproof paper. Set to one side. Reduce the biscuits to crumbs using whatever method you prefer. Tip the crumbs into the bowl containing the melted butter. Stir until the crumbs are well coated with the butter. Press the crumbs into the bottom of your cake tin and put in the fridge while you get on with the topping. Put the gelatine sheets in a large bowl of cold water for at least 10 minutes or until they feel soft and squidgy. Bring the milk to the boil and cool slightly. Drain the gelatine thoroughly and add to the cooling milk. Stir until the gelatine is completely dissolved – this only takes a few seconds. Meanwhile, whip the egg yolks and vanilla sugar until light and frothy – if you lift the mixture up, you should be able to leave a trail of mix in the bowl. Slowly add the milk, lemon juice and lemon rind and mix well. When the mixture is fairly cool, add the lightly whipped cream and skyr, mixing until well combined. Pour the skyr mix into your waiting crumb base. Smooth the top with the back of a large spoon and put into the fridge to set. Overnight is best, otherwise a minimum of 4 hours. This will happily feed 10-12. I like to serve it with frozen berries that I defrost and whiz up in the food processor and to which I add a couple of tblsp of icing sugar to sweeten. Fresh berries are of course fine, I use frozen due to the high cost and short shelf-life of fresh berries here in Iceland. Blueberries and pineapple also work very well. Although you mustn’t put pineapple juice in your skyrterta as it won’t set, no matter how long it stays in the fridge. Whipped cream to accompany wouldn’t be the worst thing you could serve with it. Enjoy!

Variations: Ring the changes by leaving out the lemon juice and rind and instead add tiny chunks of deliciously sticky stem ginger (the kind you find in a jar) and a couple of tablespoons of the ginger syrup to the skyr and cream mix and for the base use ginger biscuits. Top with warmed runny honey and chopped pistachios. You can of course use flavoured skyr to which you could add extra fruit pieces – strawberries, cranberries and blueberries work very well in that case.

My all-time favourite variation: leave out the lemon juice and lemon rind. Reduce the sugar to 100g. Add 50-60g of white chocolate options powder, or any good quality sweetened white chocolate drink. When thoroughly combined and before you pour it into the cake tin, check for sweetness. If not quite sweet enough for you, simply add powdered sweetener or icing sugar to taste.  Use white/dark chocolate chip Maryland cookies for the base and drizzle the top with melted white/dark chocolate. Serve with plump berries of your choice. You can pretend it’s good for you as the white chocolate options are low calorie. But, good for you or not, it comes highly recommended by me 🙂

I frequently mix a 450g pot of unflavoured skyr with 25-30g of white chocolate options and 1 tsp of vanilla extract and serve as is in little bowls accompanied by whatever frozen berries I have left in the freezer. Very occasionally, I drizzle some fresh cream over. Serves 2/3 if preceded by a main course meal.



7 thoughts on “Desserts and puddings

  1. Dear Ethna,
    Do you know if Icelandic skyr can be compared to Swedish Filmjolk ?
    I can’t wait to try those muffins, its wonderful when you read a recipe and already have everything on hand to make it 🙂 I appreciate your recipe with the butternut squash – our absolute favorite squash, look forward to making it – Thank You for all the Icelandic background along with the recipes, great fun to read.


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