Iceland’s favourite cake, known as Hjónabandssæla, is a sweet oat-and-rhubarb dessert that translates to “happy marriage cake.” Packed with sticky rhubarb jam and topped with oat crumble, this cheerful cake is an ode to wedded bliss. Egg-free, dairy-free, and plant-based. Perfect for Valentine’s Day, or really any day of the year because it’s so easy to make!
History & Origins
The Icelandic word “hjónaband” means marriage, while “sæla” means happiness, euphoria, joy. So you can probably figure out why the English translation for this Icelandic dessert is happy marriage cake. The reason for the name comes from the fact that the cake is simple to make, and difficult to mess up. It’s considered easy enough for beginner cooks, such as newly married brides, to learn.
But hey, this is 2022. Bride or not, it’s time for everyone to bake and enjoy these delicious rhubarb squares!
Hjónabandssæla is a derivative of the Linzer torte, a famous Austrian cake made by layering fruit preserves between shortbread pastry. But while the Linzer torte brings to mind elegance and sophistication, the hjónabandssæla is very accessible. These jammy oat squares are almost like a soft granola bar, or a cookie. They’re eaten at tea time, with coffee, or served at casual family gatherings.
There are three accepted ways of making Icelandic marriage cake. The first is to cream together the butter and sugar before adding the other ingredients. The second is to sift together all the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter as if making pastry dough. The third is to melt the butter and then mix it into the dough.
I tried all three methods, and ultimately found that the first method gave the best texture. It resulted in a light and fluffy oat cake, like something between a bar cookie and a rhubarb crumble.
The second method produced similar results, although this hjónabandssæla was more delicate and had a tendency to fall apart in my hand.
The third method resulted in a very dense cake—still tasty, don’t get me wrong, but a little doughy—which was texturally inferior to the other two batches of hjónabandssæla.
As you can see, the cake made by creaming butter achieved a much higher volume and lighter texture as a result.
What You’ll Need
Here’s a few notes on some of the important ingredients for this Icelandic Rhubarb Cake recipe:
Rhubarb Jam: The key ingredient! Traditional Icelandic rhubarb jam is very dark and intensely concentrated. This is the closest version I can find. (You can also use Rhubarb Butter, or any other jam of your choice, such as Haskap Jam or Blueberry Chia Jam.)
Brown Sugar: Adds a deliciously caramelized flavour! Don’t sweat it, though—white granulated sugar will also do fine in a pinch.
Vegan Butter or Margarine: I’ve made this cake using everything from the cheapo Becel tub margarines to realistic vegan butters like the Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks. They all work pretty well, but I prefer using “vegan butter” over margarine because they cream better and result in a lighter texture.
Oats: After rhubarb, oats are the most important defining feature of an Icelandic hjónabandssæla cake.
All Purpose Flour: The flour you use doesn’t matter too much—you can even use pastry flour or bread flour (although I find the ones made with pastry flour are very delicate and fall apart easily). Or you can sub out half of the flour for whole wheat flour.
For a full list of ingredients and quantities, refer to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: Cream together brown sugar and margarine until light and fluffy (around 1 minute on high speed).
Step 2: To the creamed ingredients, add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low speed to combine.
Step 3: Transfer two-thirds of the mixture to a square 9-inch baking pan. Gently press it into an even layer (but don’t press too firmly; we don’t want the cake to be dense).
Step 4: Spread the rhubarb jam over top of the oat mixture. Make sure to cover the entire surface but don’t stress if there is more jam in some areas than others.
Step 5: Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture over to lightly cover the jam.
Step 6: Bake for 40 minutes at 325 °F. Let cool fully before slicing. Enjoy!
Make Ahead & Storage Tips
Before baking: You can make an easy “cake mix” by adding all the ingredients except sugar, butter, and rhubarb jam to a ziploc bag. When ready to bake, simply cream together the sugar and butter, then mix in the contents of the ziploc. Top with rhubarb jam and bake. This saves you some time in gathering the ingredients. I’ve prepared several of these bags so that I can grab one and make rhubarb cake conveniently!
After baking: Store cooled and sliced hjónabandssæla in an airtight container for up to five days at room temperature. For longer storage, wrap tightly and freeze for up to six months.
What to Serve with Hjónabandssæla
Icelandic marriage cake is traditionally served with coffee.
It is also consumed for breakfast or brunch with a glass of milk.
Or top hjónabandssæla with some coconut whipped cream for an even more decadent treat.
“Happy marriage cake” is the translated name of a traditional Icelandic dessert called hjónabandssæla. It is one of the most beloved sweets in Iceland and renowned for being so easy that even new brides can make it, hence the name. Hjónabandssæla is a layered cake made with a sweet, buttery oatmeal crust and filled with tart rhubarb jam. The cake is baked until golden brown and sliced into squares for serving.
When rhubarb jam is used in a cake, it imparts a sweet and tangy flavor that complements the other ingredients. It also adds moisture and a fruity element to the cake, enhancing its overall flavor profile. In general, you can expect the rhubarb jam to contribute a pleasant tartness and a subtle fruity note.
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Icelandic Rhubarb Squares (Hjónabandssæla)
Use Imperial/Metric buttons below to toggle between volume vs weight measurements. I recommend weighing out your ingredients for best results.
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup vegan butter or margarine
- 1½ cup rolled oats
- 1 cup all purpose flour *can sub with pastry flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- pinch of salt
- ½ cup rhubarb jam
- Cream together 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup margarine using an electric mixer until fluffy (around 1 minute on high speed).
- To the creamed ingredients, add 1 ½ cup oats, 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and a pinch of salt. Mix on low speed to combine.
- Transfer roughly two-thirds (350g) of the mixture to a 9-inch square baking pan. (You can eyeball it; no need to be precise.) Gently press it into an even layer that covers the bottom of the pan.
- Spread the 1/2 cup of rhubarb jam over top of the oat mixture.
- Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture over to lightly cover the jam.
- Bake for 40 minutes at 325 °F.
- Cool fully before slicing into squares. Enjoy!!