There´s Laufabrauð, Leafbread, like Kladia Robertsdottir´s meticulous leafbread, and Trish Baer´s creative, personalized leaf bread, and then there´s my leaf bread.
Decorating a thin pastry round by cutting a pattern into it is, I tell myself, a matter of small muscle control and we know that women have much better small muscle control than men. That’s my excuse.
The hot shots in the Laufrabruað world do their decorating freehand. However, there is equipment that makes the task easier. They are small brass rollers in different sizes. You run the roller over the pastry and it cuts a line of Vs. You are supposed to have the pointy end of the V on the roller pointed away from you, I discovered. Then you are supposed to turn the pastry so that the point of the pattern is toward you.
Bill desperately trying to get the pattern cut into his Lauafabrauð
You use a small, sharp, pointed knife to tip the first point over, then pass the next V and raise the one after that. You pull it over so that the end can be put under the initial piece. I didn´t know that. When my leaf breads went into the hot fat, the points of the Vs stood up and the thin pastry round , instead of staying flat curled and twisted.
This, I thought, is going to take a lot of practice.
Kladia doing it the way it should be done.
Some people don´t use the rollers. They cut all the patterns with a knife. I was content to just make straight lines with the rollers and then try to get the pastry not to tear and to flip over without breaking. I worked too slowly and the pastry dried out and the arms of the Vs broke.
In the meantime, Trish was creating Leafbread with her family´s initials on them. Spiffy leaf breads that had R and T on them. They were the kind of leaf breads anyone would be proud to give as a gift. My leafbreads, not so much. I think all except three looked like they´d been made by a demented dwarf..
Then, so they don´t bubble, you have to prick them with a tool like none I´ve seen before. It´s sort of like a curry comb that only goes part way across the handle. The points are sharp. You prick the pastry all over.
Trish punching holes in the Laufbrauð before it is fried.
When the leaf breads all had a pattern cut into them, Kladia filled a fryer with two bottles of corn oil and turned the heat up to 400 degrees. Then, carefully, remember these pastries are very thin, like really thin, and having had patterns cut in them, really fragile, she put them into the hot oil.
Kladia frying leafbread
She used two long metal knitting needles to delicately push them down so they were immersed. She said, “You watch for the bubbles.”, then, using the needles, lifted a leafbread up and turned it over. She slipped a needle through one of the holes and put the leaf bread onto a wad of paper towel. Trish then, gently, pressed a paper towel down on the leaf bread to get off any excess oil.
The finished, golden leaf breads were set on edge in a dish drainer that had been lined with paper towel. Golden, crisp, ready to be eaten with butter, cheese or hangikjöt. Except by me, of course. The pastries are made from wheat flour and I can’t eat gluten. Didn’t matter, we had lunch together (this is a long process, it took us from around ten a.m. to five o’clock in the afternoon). We talked. We took pictures. We discussed many Icelandic things.
Kladia’s background is in history and she is a fount of all things Icelandic and is fluent in the language. She can answer questions both on the Vikings and the banking crises and anything in between. Trish is completing a Ph.d. on images in the Eddas.
My knowledge of Icelandic history and of the Eddas is similar to my Laufabrauð, somewhat haphazard. I know who Snorri was, I know what the Eddas are, but there are a lot of blanks in between, the historic connections aren´t any more secure than my Laufabrauð connections.
However, I take heart. I had a fine day with friends. Richard, Trish´s husband, came by to take some pictures and join us for a lunch of curried lamb with sprouted rice. We shared one of those days where the doing is every bit as important as the outcome. Crumpled Laufabrauð, ragged Laufabrauð, eat just was well as works of art, particularly when they´re slathered in butter or topped with smoked mutton.
I´ve read somewhere that Laufabruð came about because flour was so rare and expensive in Iceland, no grain would ripen so flour had to be imported, that these paper thin discs fried in sheep fat were created so that everyone could have a piece of bread at Christmas. I´m sure it didn´t take long before people were cutting patterns into them, turning them into culinary art.
P.S. To the revisionists among us. I never saw or heard about Laufabrauð when I was growing up in Gimli. Kleinur, yes, vinarterta, yes, rullupylsa, yes, pönnukökur, yes. Even Loftkökur. Laufabrauð, no. Otherwise, I´d know how to make them. They´d be in my genes.