By Ella Van Niel and Lóa Schriefer
Iceland was first settled in 874 by vikings who spoke a North Germanic language. Because of this, many elements of Icelandic language and culture can be traced to German roots– including food. In this article, Lóa (Icelandic) and Ella (German) compare our favorite desserts.
Kleinur are a traditional Icelandic donut. They are not so much a dessert, but are eaten with coffee during the day. The most prominent flavor in them is cardamom and they are not very sweet. The process of making them entails rolling the dough out and twisting it into this weird diamond shape and deep fried. You will see these in any grocery store or bakery in Iceland.
Strauben are deep fried donuts that come from South Tyrol, which is now Italy but used to be Austria. My grandma makes them into a twisted diamond shape and sprinkles them with powdered sugar. My family is Austrian and we have these donuts at most family celebrations. I have also eaten them with my family at the Donauschwaben Center, which is a club for ethnic Germans who are from the Danube region in Europe.
Pönnukökur which just means pancakes in Icelandic, are Icelands version of crêpes. The making of these is unfortunately dying out, and it really is only something your grandmother would make. But in my family the tradition is alive and well, it is a family requirement to learn to make them. This is a common dessert for after dinner or during the day, doesn’t really matter. It is essentially a very thin pancake with sprinkled sugar and then rolled up. If you are feeling fancy it is also common to put jam and whipped cream inside, for a more decadent version.
Palatschinken are Austrian crepes. They are very thin and eaten flat or rolled up with Apricot jam and sugar inside. I don’t know how common Palatschinken are in Austria, but my grandma sometimes makes them for breakfast or dessert here in Cleveland. They’re really sweet and my stomach usually hurts after eating one or two but it’s totally worth it.
Hálfmánar are a traditional Icelandic cookie usually eaten around Christmas time. Hálfmánar means half moon, hence the shape of the cookie. To make them you roll out your dough and cut it into small circles. Each circle is filled with the jam of your choice and then folded in half, to create the half moon shape. You then use a fork to pinch them shut and to create the pattern on the outside. My family makes these every year at Christmas with homemade prune jam. They are not a very sweet cookie, but they are very good.
Linzer plätzchen are jam-filled cookies that my family eats every year at Christmas time. They’re a mini version of the linzertorte that was first made in Linz, Austria. They are made from two thin cookies with a layer of raspberry or apricot jam in between. The cookie on top is made with a hole in the middle, so you can see the jam inside, and is dusted with powdered sugar.
Sveskjuterta is a Christmas cake made from thin layers of yellow cake with prune jam in between. This cake has been changed into many different versions and spread around the world, and one version has become a staple in Canada. The cake is light so it is very easy to eat large amounts of it, which I always do. It is my grandmother’s favorite, and so we also make huge batches of it every year.
Sachertorte is a famous cake that was invented in the 1800s at Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria. It is a very dark chocolate cake with layers of apricot jam. This cake was supposedly first created for the prince of Austria, so it’s considered very fancy and only eaten on special occasions. It’s a delicacy that was traditionally eaten only by the upper class, and my grandparents were refugees (definitely not upper-class), so nobody in my family knows how to make it. However, I did try it in Vienna and it was delicious.