by Natalie Guttormsson and Þórdís Edda Guðjónsdóttir, Icelandic Roots www.icelandicroots.com
Laufabrauð - Lauf: leaf, brauð: bread (the letter “ð” is pronounced like “th” in “weather”)
What is Laufabrauð?
Laufabrauð is a very thin, fried, circular wafer made at Christmas time. The goal is to roll the dough so thin that you could read the newspaper through them. Once the dough is rolled out, it is cut into a circle using a pie plate, or something similar, so that all wafers are roughly the same size in diameter. Next, each piece of dough is decorated with cut out patterns. Many Icelanders use a special tool called laufabrauðsjárn (a leaf bread iron) that cuts out a traditional v-marking pattern wherever it is rolled, but a sharp knife works too.
The results are leaf-like designs that make the wafers look like giant, round snowflakes. When each design is complete, the dough is then fried in oil until it is golden brown, then removed to a baking sheet or wooden board where it is pressed flat and left to cool. Laufabrauð is typically served with a traditional Christmas meal of dung-smoked lamb (hangikjöt), boiled potatoes, white sauce, and root vegetables.
Origins of Laufabrauð
Laufabrauð originates from the early 18th century in the North-East region of Iceland but has since spread out to the entire country. Like many other traditional foods in Iceland, laufabrauð is a recipe born out of scarcity due to a period of harsh environmental and social conditions.
Food items like flour, sugar, and salt were expensive and were rationed. Flour was only used for special occasions, like holidays. The dough was rolled very thin, not for aesthetic value, but in an effort to feed as many mouths as possible. The intricate designs also served a purpose: if each person took time and care to make their dough unique, there would hopefully be greater care and satisfaction when eating it later.
Laufabrauð in Iceland today
Today in Iceland, pre-made Laufabrauð is available in most grocery stores in November and December and is very popular for convenience. But nothing can replace the art of making laufabrauð at home and many families still make it by hand, taking the opportunity to socialise and enjoy each others’ company while keeping the long-held tradition alive. Making laufabrauð is both a cherished culinary tradition and a reminder of the hardships of the past.
Icelandic Roots’ folklorist and librarian, Þórdís Edda Guðjónsdóttir shares her memories of making laufabrauð with her family. “One of my family’s Christmas traditions, when I was growing up, was making laufabrauð. A few days before Christmas we would take a day or an evening to carve and fry the laufabrauð. My mom would make the dough. That was hard work because the dough needed to be of a certain density, then it had to be rolled out real thin. This was all done by hand. When that was done and ready, my mom would put a plate on the dough and cut around the edges to make each laufabrauð the same size. My dad, my sisters, my brother-in-laws and I, and later my nieces, would sit around the kitchen table and carve out different patterns. Once they were ready, my mom would deep fry them, and place them on a baking pan by the open window to cool off. She had a special pot for deep frying the laufabrauð and kleinur (the Icelandic twisted donut). “It was a great time, being with family, talking, laughing and helping each other with the making of the laufabrauð. Today laufabrauð can be bought in stores and bakeries before Christmas, either fully cooked or ready for carving and frying, but many people still make their own. There is something about the homemade laufabrauð that makes it the best.”
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