Hjónabandssæla - Marital Bliss or Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake

I've been obsessed with Iceland ever since returning from our summer vacation, an 18-day, drive-around-the-entire-island, adventure-of-a-lifetime. Despite seeing a ton of Iceland, I still find my eyeballs glued to Instagram, plotting my next trip, drooling over all these amazing photos of places we didn't see.

So, I was pretty excited when I scrolled up an Instagram post about the Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake (which is actually more like a jam-filled tart). First, I was not even aware of this cake's existence as we never encountered it at the supermarkets or saw it on any menus.

Secondly, because although images of  Iceland and its dramatic, other-worldly landscape are all over the Internet, its cuisine is not quite as well documented. What posts there are tend to center around the - shall we say politely - unusual, such as Harðfiskur (dried fish), Hákarl (fermented shark), Svið (Sheep's Head) or Súrsaðir Hrútspungar (pickled ram's testicles). These are dishes pretty much impossible for me to duplicate in my home kitchen, never mind whether or not I would even care to!

So, as I said, I was super excited to see Happy Marriage Cake. This was something I could definitely make and would happily eat. Heck, the name alone was reason enough to make it! And I was able to find several recipes online. But just to be super authentic, I contacted my Icelandic friend, Ragna, and asked if she had a recipe. Well, yes she did, her mom's in fact!

Ragna said they called it Marital Bliss, or in Icelandic, Hjónabandssæla. Theories abound as to the etymology of this name. It has never been a traditional wedding cake, so other explanations have been given. For example, the ingredients, oatmeal and rhubarb, are thought to make a perfect "match". Another reason hypothesized was if a wife baked this for her husband, they would have a happy marriage. Yet another was, that like marriage, the cake gets better with age. (I can personally attest to the last one!)

It also appears Happy Marriage Cake is one of those foods where there is no one "right" recipe. It seems every family has their own version. Sugar amount and type (brown vs. white) vary, as does quantity of eggs, anywhere from zero to two. Some versions are more cakey. Others more like a crumble. Of course, you must always have oats, but even with the filling, bakers stray from the traditional rhubarb jam and dabble in strawberry or blueberry or perhaps whatever they conveniently find in their pantries.

This was my first attempt at Hjónabandssæla and my husband, as well as the kids and I, really enjoyed it. But who knows. Maybe the next time, in search of our own family version, I'll experiment a bit and try a few tweaks!

Notes:  This version is more on the crumble side and is not overly sweet which I prefer. I also had extra dough left over which was enough to make another smaller, individual-sized cake. Alternatively, you could shape any left over dough into flat disks and bake them up as cookies.

Hjónabandssæla (Marital Bliss or Happy Marriage Cake)
Adapted from Ragna Larusdottir's mom's recipe
Makes one - 10" diameter cake

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a food processor, pulse a few times to mix:
2 cups (260g) all-purpose flour (or spelt flour)
2 cups (180g) rolled oats
1 cup (200g) white sugar (or a combination of white and brown sugars)
1 teaspoon baking soda

Add to dry ingredients:
2 sticks (8oz or 225g) of cold butter, cut into cubes
Pulse food processor until butter is the size of peas and dough is sandy (similar to making pie dough).

Add and pulse until incorporated and dough starts to come together:
2 large eggs

Dump dough onto countertop and using hands, form into one cohesive lump. Press 2/3rds of the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of a 10" diameter tart pan with removable bottom.

Fill tart pan with:
Rhubarb Jam (approx. 2 cups)

Flatten chunks of remaining dough and place on top of jam, leaving some gaps so the jam peeks out.

Bake at 375°F for 30 minutes (start checking a little earlier) or until crust is golden brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

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