Icelandic Christmas bread – Laufabrauð

Fried leaf breads. The top two have patterns made with a leaf-bread cutter, the third is hand cut:

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My father’s extended family usually gather together at the beginning of December to make Laufabrauð, spending a whole day kneading, cutting and frying, before sharing a festive meal. There are usually 12-15 of us working together, turning out a couple of hudred of these flat, decorated breads in one day. The bread gets divided evenly between the families, who take it home and store until Christmas.

This year’s gathering is tomorrow, so here is a recipe and I will try to remember to take photos to post.

These deep-fried, thin wheat breads are traditionally cut with intricate decorative patterns, and are mostly eaten at Christmas. The tradition of making Laufabrauð has its roots in the northern part of Iceland, but has spread all over the country. Many bakeries now sell ready-made Laufabrauð, or pre-kneaded and cut dough that only needs decorating and frying, but nothing beats making it at home from scratch. Some people make it with whole-wheat flour or rye flour, and others put caraway seeds in it.

1 kg wheat flour
30 g sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
500-600 ml milk, scalded
1 tbs butter/margarine

frying fat (preferably sheep’s tallow)
A large cooking pot for frying (should be tall, so as to avoid splattering)

Mix together the dry ingredients. Heat the milk to boiling and melt the butter in it. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix well. Knead into a ball of dense dough. Roll into sausage shapes and store under a slightly damp cloth (it dries out quickly otherwise). Cut or pinch off portions and flatten with a rolling pin. These breads are traditionally very thin – a good way to tell if the dough is thin enough is to check if you can read the headings (some say the text!) of a newspaper through it. Cut into circular cakes, using a medium sized plate as a guide to ensure even size. If you have to store them un-fried, stack them up with baking paper between the layers, put in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Decorate by cutting out patterns.

A raw leaf-bread, hand-cut:

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Heat the fat in a deep, wide pot. It’s ready when it starts to smoke. Prick the cakes with a fork to avoid blistering, and drop into the fat, one at a time, taking care that they do not fold. The cakes will sink as you drop them into the fat. When they resurface, pick up with a handy tool (such as a steak fork) and turn over. They are ready when golden in colour, and it only takes a few seconds to fry each one. Remove from the fat and put on a piece of kitchen paper to drain. It’s good to press a plate or something similar on top of the cake as it is put down, to ensure that it will be flat. Stack up and allow to cool. When cool, stack in a cookie tin. Stored in a cool, dry place, leaf bread will keep for months – if you can keep you hands off it!

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Serving Suggestions:
– Serve at Christmas/New Year with traditional hangikjöt (smoked lamb), rjúpa (ptarmigan) or smoked pork.
– Don’t bother to re-knead the cuttings – they dry out very quickly. Fry them and eat as a snack. Some people have started making snacks out of leaf bread – cut into strips and fried, they make an excellent change from potato chips/crisps and nachos.
– Try serving the bread with pancake syrup (I have not tried this, but I’m told it’s good)

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