Want to bake something really, really Icelandic? Hjónabandssæla, “marital bliss”, is a perfect autumn treat!
Before we go on I want to warn you that although “marital bliss” is something so deeply Icelandic that every Icelander will immediately recognize it, no two families actually bake it alike. You’ll be hard at work if you try to find two identical recipes for this pie because even when people use the same recipe they’ll still make little changes to make it “just right”, and just like in marriages in general what’s “just right” for some won’t necessarily work for others. Some people swear by margarine, some insist on using butter, some scoff at both and mix butter or margarine with vegetable oil. The amount of sugar varies and although most use brown sugar you’ll easily find recipes that use white only, or a mix like I do. One egg, two eggs – or no eggs at all? I have not yet found a rule. Therefore I’ll present you… er… one version of hjónabandssæla!
(Apologies for the confusing measurements, Icelandic recipes often go by the metric system but I’ll try to convert the measures as well as I can.)
Innihald (= ingredients)
200g smjör, mjúkt (= 7 oz butter, let soften a little)
1,5 dl púðursykur (= 0,7 cup brown sugar)
0,5 dl sykur (= 0,2 cup white sugar)
1 dl hveiti (= 0,4 cup wheat flour, all purpose)
3 dl haframjöl (= 1,3 cup oatmeal)
1 tsk sóðaduft/natron (= 1 tsp baking soda)
1 tsk kanill (= 1 tsp cinnamon)
1-2 egg (= egg/s)
Rabarbarasulta (= rhubarb jam)
3. Bætið í eggi/eggjum og hrærið vel.
1. Mix together sugar and butter.
2. Mix together all dry ingredients in a bowl, add to the mix.
3. Add egg/eggs and mix well.
I leave about one fifth of the dough for sprinkling on top, also depends on how much I need for making the bottom of the pie. You can also use this part to make a pie lattice or other decorations but traditional hjónabandssæla has a very irregular top.
4. Part of the dough is pressed to a cake form, jam spread over and in the end the rest of the dough is sprinkled over the pie.
5. Baked in 180°C (= 356°F) for about 35-40 minutes or until the pie has turned brown on top.
Serving ideas: hjónabandssæla is a coffee table treat but it goes just as well with black tea. You can eat the pie as it is or add whipped cream and/or ice cream. “Nammigott” means something like “om nom nom”, it’s what it should taste like!
– I haven’t found an explanation on why this pie is called “marital bliss”, but it’s suggested that this pie is the nicest thing a wife can bake her husband OR that it’s sweet just like a blissful marriage should be. Another possibility is that since a lot of Icelandic cuisine originates in Denmark there may be something lost in translation.
– Be careful writing the name! If you accidentally forget an s in the middle you’ll be baking “marital vomit” (hjónabandsæla) instead. Only Icelanders seem able to pronounce the difference properly and even they occasionally get it wrong.
– Making marital bliss is surprisingly easy but it still takes some hard work! Contrary to popular belief there’s no “correct” way of achieving marital bliss, but every family will still firmly state that theirs is the best. The only things that should always be there are oatmeal base dough and rhubarb jam… and some people even use strawberry jam instead if they don’t like the taste of rhubarb. Personally I think rhubarb belongs to hjónabandssæla.
– You can bake the pie even shorter time, f.ex. just 20min if you prefer it softer. If you’d rather eat it dryer you can bake it up to a whole hour, just watch that it doesn’t burn.
– Cinnamon is a little bit unusual (though not unheard of) but it compliments the pie perfectly. Some people would use coconut flakes instead, which is also delicious.