A taste of home: Iceland stirs memories of endless summer days, pony rides, hot springs and strange salty fish. But the sweetest mementos are grandmas kleinur doughnuts
I was born in Ireland, but my mother is Icelandic. And although her parents my grandparents had moved to Canada by the time I was born, we went to Reykjavik often to visit our cousins. And kleinur cardamom pastries are a particularly sweet memory of those childhood visits, as well as visits to Amma my grandmas. She made them for my grandfather. My mother used to make them for me. I played around with them when I first became interested in baking. Now, my daughter loves to make them too.
Reykjavik is full of little bakeries with all sorts of delicious pastries and breads. With kleinur, you roll out the dough, cut it into diamonds, make a slash in the centre then thread one end through the hole to shape a knot. As soon as theyre fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, they disappear theyre that good.
We almost only ever went to Iceland in the summer and I have many memories of those trips. The long days, with the strange bright light. Pony rides in the countryside. Bathing in hot springs. The surprise I felt at the communal changing rooms. I was 12, and everyone was naked in the showers; I felt so embarrassed. Mostly, the food we ate always stuck with me. Fish, dried and salted, or cured. Dill, and mustard. The cardamom in so many bakes. My husband finds it really strange how I love pickled herring on toast for breakfast.
I feel Irish, but Im so aware of my Nordic roots, and I feel in tune with their ways and tastes. How they live feels familiar to me. I like to believe I am as Nordic people are often said to be quite liberal and non-judgemental. Many of those aesthetics have become a cliche with the whole hygge trend, but Im not going to put a label on it. A cousin of mine came over recently to live in London. Shes a second cousin, quite a bit younger than me shes in her 20s. I got such a shock when I met her. It was uncanny, and lovely, quite how familiar she felt, how similar we were, in both looks and outlooks.
I never had the chance to live in Iceland, or elsewhere in Scandinavia; I think Id have liked to, though. When we went on family holidays to Sweden before our daughter Scarlett was born, everyone just used to speak to the boys Joshua and Lucca, five and seven at the time in Swedish. They do look like proper little Vikings.
We live in East Cork, overlooking Ballycotton Bay. Its lovely and peaceful, but also a busy part of the countryside. Just the way I like it! I love how the kitchen is literally at the heart of the home. The Aga is always on; its warm, its where everyone congregates. Our boys and daughter have lots of friends coming and going. And then there are the rare moments of just being quiet together, the five of us. Thats when Im happiest. All sitting around the table, catching up on everything thats been happening.
Ammas Icelandic kleinur
These are made with baking powder, not yeast, and the dough is rolled and knotted before being fired. I never got her recipe, but this has been created in tribute to her. Theyre a big hit in our house.Eat them with a coffee, or a glass of cold milk.
300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g caster sugar
3 tsp baking powder
tsp bicarbonate of soda
tsp freshly ground cardamom seeds
175g natural yoghurt
Sunflower oil, for deep-frying
Caster sugar mixed with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, for dusting
1 Combine the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and ground cardamom seeds in a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and rub it into the dry ingredients.
2 Whisk together the yoghurt and egg. Add this to the dry ingredients. Mix well to form a ball of dough, kneading it lightly to bring it together. Roll the ball in a little flour, slightly flatten it, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3 When the dough has rested, heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer or in a saucepan to 180C/350F.
4 Take the dough out of the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface until it is 3mm thick and about 45cm square. Youll need to regularly dust it on top and underneath with flour to stop it sticking. Trim the edges and cut the rest into 6cm-wide strips. Cut the strips diagonally into 12cm lengths they should look like elongated diamonds. Take each diamond and cut a line 3cm long down the centre, then bring up one end of the diamond, tuck it through the hole and bring it out the other side, as shown in the picture. Now you have the Icelandic kleinur twist. Put the twists on a floured worktop until theyre ready to be cooked.
5 Cook a few twists at a time in the hot oil theyll brown quite quickly. Turn them over and cook on the other side. As soon as theyre a rich golden brown, all over, use a slotted spoon to quickly lift them out of the oil and drain on kitchen paper. Dust them with caster sugar or cinnamon sugar, just as my grandpa loved them, before eating, as soon as they come out of the pan.
- Rachel Allen is a TV chef, food writer and cookbook author. Her new book, Recipes from my Mother, is out now; rachelallen.com
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