From humble oat to buttery pie crust

Baking with oats

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake

Photo: Daytona Strong
Hjónabandssaela, Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake, begins with a crust that marries oats and flour with plenty of butter and cardamom, which then nestles a sweet-tart rhubarb jam.

Daytona Strong
Taste of Norway Editor

When it comes to baking with grains other than—or in addition to—wheat, Nordic recipes provide ample opportunities to create something delicious. One of my favorite desserts to make in the spring is hjónabandssaela, Icelandic happy marriage cake.
Hjónabandssaela begins with a crust that marries oats and flour with plenty of butter and cardamom, which then nestles a sweet-tart rhubarb jam.

The thought of rhubarb takes me back to my grandparents’ garden in Seattle. Some of my sweetest childhood memories are set in that place, amidst the rows of raspberry bushes, rhododendrons, and of course a rhubarb plant that to any kid would likely seem almost prehistoric.

A love for rhubarb extends far beyond those of us with Nordic roots, but I’ll always associate it with Norwegian rhubarb cake and rhubarb soup, Andreas Viestad’s bracing devil’s rhubarb (basically you stick a stalk of raw rhubarb in sugar and chase it with vodka), and Iceland’s happy marriage cake.

Hjónabandssaela is remarkably easy to make, yet incredibly delicious. After breaking down the oats slightly with a few whirls in a food processor, you incorporate the rest of the crust ingredients and then press it into a pan. No rolling, no perfection needed. The filling itself is simply rhubarb cooked down with sugar until it melts into itself. While you could omit the cardamom if you really wanted to, I love the aromatic warmth it lends to the dish, another reminder of both sets of my grandparents, whose homes were always as full of love as they were of food.

One of these days, I’ll plant a garden in their honor, with berries, rhubarb, roses, and rhododendrons. In the meantime, I’ll keep making this dessert, thinking of them all every time.

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake

A number of recipes call for quick oatmeal. I wanted to use whole rolled oats, so I took a cue from Sarah of The Sugar Hit and gave them a quick whirl in the food processor before adding the rest of the crust ingredients. Also, if you’re wondering about the dessert’s name, no one seems to know its origins, but the cake is a traditional part of Icelandic baking.

Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake

Photo: Daytona Strong
This “cake” is a sweet use for silky strands of rhubarb.


rhubarb jam:

• 1 lb. rhubarb, sliced ½-inch thick (fresh or frozen)
• ¼ cup sugar
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 1 ½ cups whole rolled oats
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• ¼ cup packed brown sugar
• 1 tsp. ground cardamom
• 3⁄4 tsp. baking soda
• 2 sticks (salted) butter, softened & cut into a few pieces
• 1 egg

• whipped cream for serving


Start by making the jam. Combine rhubarb, sugar, and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the rhubarb releases its juices and breaks down considerably into a spreadable consistency, 20 to 30 minutes. (Some texture is okay.)

While the jam is cooking, start working on the crust. Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter or spray a 10-inch cake or tart pan, ideally with a removable base.

Place oats in a food processor and give a few quick whirls to break them up slightly—holding the button down to the count of two a few times should do. Add flour, sugars, cardamom, and baking soda, and pulse again to mix. Add the butter and process some more, removing the lid and pushing down the butter into the rest of the dough a few times, if necessary. Crack in the egg and mix just to combine.

Spoon about three-quarters of the dough into the prepared pan. Using your hands, press it evenly across the bottom and slightly up the sides, taking care to not let the bottom of the rim get too thick.

Spread the jam evenly across the crust. Use the rest of the dough as a topping, breaking it into clumps to scatter across the top.

Bake until the crust turns golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool in the pan, then serve with whipped cream. Makes one 10-inch cake.

Daytona Strong is The Norwegian American’s Taste of Norway Editor. She writes about her family’s Norwegian heritage through the lens of food at her Scandinavian food blog, Find her on Facebook (, Twitter (@daytonastrong), Pinterest (@daytonastrong), and Instagram (@daytonastrong).

This article originally appeared in the April 20, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.


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