Laufabrauð: The Unique Icelandic Christmas-bread

In centuries past, the average Icelander seldom saw wheat to bake bread. Wheat was an imported good, and rarely so; only the wealthiest families had access to this simple ingredient.

So, before Christmas, most people made the so-called laufabrauð (leaf bread). The name comes from the fact that it is rolled out extremely thin. The origin of the bread is unknown, but it is thought likely that the know-how, that is, to roll out dough with liquid and meal and fry it in fat, came with the settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries.

History of laufabrauð

Laufabrauð before and after frying. Photo: Surya Mjöll, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first written source of laufabrauð is in the oldest known Icelandic recipe book from the late 18th century. It was likely written for wealthy people since the recipe calls for wheat flour, cream, and butter – three things most Icelanders had no access to. Rye flour or barley was likely used instead of wheat flour, and fat instead of butter.

However, the author of that recipe book also thought laufabrauð was so well known that there was no point in writing anything more about them. It can be assumed that laufabrauð was eaten all around the country. But by the end of the 19th century, eating laufabrauð had almost died out because wheat flour had become more readily available to all.

It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that laufabrauð became popular again; today, it’s an integral part of the Icelandic Christmas tradition.

What is laufabrauð?

Laufabrauð. Photo by: Surya Mjöll, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As we said above, it’s an extremely thin type of friend bread. Today tallow or oil is generally only used for frying, but that is the last stage (before eating, of course). Before frying, beautiful patterns are cut into the bread. They are both traditional and individual. Some are elaborate, while others are simple. But cutting the designs is what makes laufabrauð the unique Christmas tradition it is. Originally a pocketknife was used to do the cutting, but by the middle of the 20th century, a special laufabrauð’s cutting knives were manufactured. They’re usually made from copper.

Most people today buy ready-made dough from the supermarket. It has already been rolled out into and is each, and each has its baking paper for easy access. Then all that is left is to cut and fry it – which can take hours!

How do you eat it?

Photo: Kjarnafæði

Laufabrauð is traditionally eaten with hangikjöt (smoked lamb), white sauce (or Bechamel sauce) with potatoes, green peas, and pickled red cabbage at the family get-together on the 25th or 26th of December. There isn’t a lot of variation in how you eat leaf bread. Some put butter on the bread; others don’t. Some love caraway seeds in their laufabrauð; others don’t.

But for most, even if they don’t eat it, they want to have it on offer because it is tradition.

You might also find laufabrauð at þorrablót, the midwinter festival at the end of January.

Homemade is the best

Like with most things, homemade laufabrauð is the best. As luck would have it, we have a recipe for you and a video on making it. We use the storebought variety of laufabrauð here, but you can also make your own. You just need to be sure to flatten it out very well.

Step 1

Get your laufabrauð, store-bought or homemade

Step 2

Get your laufabrauð’s cutter to make the patterns. If you don’t have it you can use a sharp knife.

Step 3

Prepare deep frying.

Step 4

Deep fry the laufabrauð until golden. Take them out and press them so they become flat.

Step 5

Enjoy with plenty of butter!

Ingredients for homemade laufabrauð

  • 100 gr whole milk
  • 35 gr water
  • 12 gr unsalted butter
  • 170 gr cake/pastry flour
  • 50 gr cornstarch
  • 2 gr baking powder
  • 7 gr sugar
  • 2 gr salt
  • Sunflower, olive oil or coconut oil for frying

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