Icelandic lava bread, where have you been all my life?? This was, hands down, one of the best food experiences I had in Iceland and my most delicious takeaway from this trip (spoiler alert: they gave me the recipe! *happy dance*). Dense, soft, rich, sweet, scrumptious – the lava bread experience at the Laugarvatn Fontana is a MUST if you ever find yourself in Iceland’s Golden Circle. There is nothing else like it and I cannot recommend it highly enough (and still salivate every time I recall it, which is often!). But let’s back up for a second so I can tell you all about it.
The Laugarvatn Fontana is essentially a spa made up of steam baths, sauna, outdoor mineral baths of varying temperatures, and a cafe. The complex sits on the very edge of a lake in a tiny little town within Iceland’s Golden Circle. The facilities did look absolutely top notch but that isn’t why I chose to visit it (and we didn’t have time on this trip to partake in soaking pleasures). They had me at geothermal bakery. That’s right – these brilliant people use the hot sand on the shoreline to bake the most delicious rye bread I have ever had in my life and you can get a front row seat to this delectable experience. Fresh bread dug out of hot sand? I was in – hook, line, and sinker. And I was not disappointed!
Finding the Laugarvatn Fontana was easy but you do need to time your visit carefully in order to participate in a geothermal bakery tour (a.k.a. the Rye Bread Experience), so this does require a bit of advance planning. The tour runs twice a day – at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm and is a steal at 1500 ISK per person (this ran us just over $20 CAD with the exchange rate).
There was a bit of confusion among the staff in terms of getting us on a tour (involving a tourist bus that pulled up around the same time) but in the end, everything worked out splendidly and we ended up on a semi-private tour with a couple of Spanish guys who very much into cool and delicious food (read: kindred spirits who also shared some of their other delicious finds). I could not have planned this any better if I’d tried. You do want to make sure you get there a little ahead of time, as they don’t make a lot of these, so if you miss the tour, there simply won’t be another bread for them to dig out until the following day.
The Geothermal Bakery Experience (i.e., lava bread, here we come!)
When it’s time for your tour, your “baker” will grab a shovel and escort you to a discretely marked spot on the beach to dig up a loaf of bread. The landscape is rather surreal, with hot bubbling pools all along the shoreline and the distinctive black lava sand. The “pinch me” moment only intensifies when they stick a shovel in the sand and pull out a pot of bread. The bread pot is wrapped tightly in plastic to keep the water from getting in and takes a day to bake in the hot lava sand. Not to sounds like a squealing fan girl, but this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen (and one of the most delicious I’ve tasted!).
After “uncorking” the bread (omg, be still, my beating heart!), you (very impatiently) trudge back up the hill to the tasting kitchen, where the steaming hot bread is sliced and you are given butter and knives before they step away to make room for the feeding frenzy that ensues. And holy shit bananas, is it ever good!
Whatever your idea of rye bread is, this is nothing like it. For one thing, it’s very sweet, more akin to cake than bread. It is also both dense and soft at the same time, and you simply cannot stop eating it (though, unfortunately, you must, because it is very filling and we all have physical limitations).
Now, remember how I said we got a semi-private tour? There were only four of us digging into this full-sized loaf and despite our communal appreciation for the wonder in front of us and the very solid effort each one of us put in, we didn’t come close to being able to polish this off. Don’t get me wrong, we made a good dent, but we did have to call it quits in the end and looked back longingly as we walked away. My only regret about this entire experience is that I didn’t have the guts to slide the leftovers into my purse while no one was looking. Instead, I left Iceland’s finest on the table as I bid my silent farewell, being the well-behaved Canadian tourist that I am. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t regret this decision.
Make it at home!
But there is hope. The wonderful staff at Laugarvatn Fontana have generously shared the recipe they use to make this bread, which has been in the family for generations. I guarded it with my life all the way back to Canada and it has lived on my fridge ever since. It did take some research and a fair share of experimentation to compensate for the lack of hot lava sand in my home kitchen, however I am very happy to report that I was victorious in reproducing this Icelandic lava bread with very consistent results. It isn’t a perfect replica (the colour just isn’t the same) but the taste is pretty bang on and makes for an incredibly scrumptious breakfast treat. Tune in next week to learn all about how to make this Icelandic wonder in your very own kitchen! I can’t wait to introduce you to Iceland’s finest.