How volcanic lava bread is made in Iceland

  • In the hot spring town of Laugarvatn, Iceland, the most pristine rye bread is baked in volcanic, muddy ground.

  • Siggi Rafn Hilmarsson from Laugarvatn Fontana takes us through the making process step by step and welcomes us into his bakery, aka the hot springs of the lake in Laugarvatn.

  • The sand by the lake can host from 10 to 15 tins of bread.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Ju Shardlow: We're in the hot spring town of Laugarvatn, Iceland, where out of the volcanic, muddy ground comes the most pristine rye bread. Everywhere you look in Iceland there seems to be something bubbling, whether it's a geyser, a lagoon, and the geothermal bakery here is no different. But how do they cook the bread here without an oven? Let's go find out. In Iceland we met with Siggi Rafn Hilmarsson, general manager at Laugarvatn Fontana.

Siggi Rafn Hilmarsson: This is our main tool.


Ju: He followed in his grandmother's and mother's footsteps in this hot volcanic sand. This is his bakery, no matter the weather. The process starts with Siggi making the dough. He uses 4 cups of rye, 2 cups of flour, 2 cups of sugar, 4 teaspoons of baking powder, and 1 teaspoon of salt. So, why is it that you use rye, then?

Siggi: Well, rye has been used in Iceland for decades. It's something that originally came from Denmark to Iceland. And then we add milk to this.

Ju: And that cow's milk.


Siggi: Yeah, cow's milk, yeah. The milk is from the area, from the cows in the area. And there is a company in Selfoss about 25 minutes away from here that produces it.

Ju: And you get this fresh every day?

Siggi: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So it's really a local thing. The butter we use comes from the same company, same cows.


Ju: So, what's the art to making this, then, to stirring this up?

Siggi: Yeah, just put love in it.

Ju: [laughing] Put love in it, yeah. Is this your family recipe?


Siggi: Yeah, this is the same recipe my grandmother and mother was, they were using. If you go around the country, this is done in a few places. Some people use honey or syrup instead of sugar. But this is the way it has been done here, and I am just simply honoring that tradition.

Ju: So, how will you know this is done, then?

Siggi: It's supposed to look basically more or less like this. So I think we have a really good dough here.


Ju: When the dough is ready, he pours it in a tin lined with butter. Do you have to use a special tin for this?

Siggi: It needs to be strong because, as you can see, on the lid here, it's been banged quite heavily with a shovel, you know, when we are digging it up. The people use all kind of things to bake this bread here. You can even, there are some people that use empty Mackintosh Chocolate box, you know, for this. But this pot works well for us. Stainless steel.

Ju: The dough is covered with a layer of baking paper, then wrapped in film.


Siggi: Do this here. Just one circle, like this. And then we put the top.

Ju: Do you make this with your kids, then?

Siggi: My kids love this, yes.


Ju: Yeah? And how long will you bake this for?

Siggi: 24 hours, yeah.

Ju: 24 hours, wow.


Siggi: 24 hours in the ground. It's amazing, if you bake it for shorter time, like 17, 18 hours, it usually doesn't turn out good. If we bake it for too long, 25, six, seven, eight hours, it starts to, you know, compress. So, 24 is the magic. So, we are good to go.

Ju: My goodness, oh, it's actually quite heavy.

Siggi: And this is our main tool for this baking.


Ju: It's time to put our bread in its oven, aka the hot springs of the lake here in Laugarvatn. The sand by the lake can host from 10 to 15 tins of bread. Siggi can either dig a completely new hole or reuse one from the day before.

Siggi: It's good to pile, make a good pile on top of it just to make this isolation, you know. [shovel grating sand] Ju: Why do you pat it down like that?

Siggi: To make it more beautiful. Ju: You can't have ugly bread with this view.


Siggi: And the mark. Voilà. And we always mark the holes with a stone like this so the other locals know that we are baking. Ju: Yeah.

Siggi: No matter how the weather is, the recipe is always the same. When we have a lot of rain and the snow melting from the mountains, this lake can rise up to meter, meter and a half. Then this area here will all be under water.

Ju: Ah, right.


Siggi: So, few times, our breads have basically drowned.

Ju: Oh, no, poor bread!

Siggi: It's like, "It's over there!"


Ju: Oh, no! [laughs] And I'm guessing that's not good to eat, then.

Siggi: Nah, nah.

Ju: Just start again, yeah.


Siggi: More like a bread soup or something.

Ju: This one's been in for 24 hours?

Siggi: Yeah. And you can see there's a lot of energy going on here.


Ju: Oh, wow. Wow, that is hot. How hot is that? Siggi: It's about boiling temperature, actually.

Ju: Mm. Wow. [water boiling]

Siggi: Just love that sound.


Ju: Yeah. That's why it's called lava bread, then? That's the reason for lava bread?

Siggi: Yeah. [shovel grating sand] I'm gonna take most of the sand away from it, and then we open it up just to let the air come in. And... aah. That's good. OK. It's looking very promising.

Ju: Oh, really? Got a good one.


Siggi: You want to do it?

Ju: Um, I'll have a go.

Siggi: Yeah, sounds good.


Ju: Right. [groaning] There we go.

Siggi: Beautiful.

Ju: My bread children.


Siggi: Yes. Now, we are gonna try this inside. I'm gonna cut it into slices and serve it with smoked trout from the lake. But it also tastes really good with boiled eggs. Hot-spring-boiled eggs. So, we're gonna.... [water boiling] One cracked open a little bit.

Ju: That is the most novel way I've ever seen anyone cook an egg.

Siggi: And we leave them here for 13 minutes. I mean, look at that. [laughs]


Ju: That is incredible. This is such a delicate process with such a big spade. [Siggi laughing]

Ju: It's just like....

Siggi: Yeah, with this. Ju: It's so delicate. I love it.


Siggi: If you touch the sand -

Ju: Can I touch - Siggi: Feel how hot it is.

Ju: Ooh, yeah.


Siggi: And it's also fun to touch the lake.

Ju: [gasps] Wow. And people just swim in here every morning?

Siggi: Nah, not every morning. If you, it's, you want to be swimming out there, where the water is colder. Here is hot spring water coming out.


Ju: Oh, of course.

Siggi: Also, if you look closely in the water, can you see the fish over there, that little fish? This fish is the only fish in the world that has a hot tub, you know. [Ju laughs] And they're OK. I think we are just about done.

Ju: So, it's actually quite a dangerous area, though. I mean, I see you've got a "Danger! Hot Springs" sign.


Siggi: Yeah, it's all, you know, quite warm.

Ju: The smell of that's amazing.

Siggi: Yeah, it is, huh?


Ju: Ah, it's almost like burnt toffee kind of smell. It's really, really sweet. Yeah, yeah. So, how can you expect this to taste? What's the taste of this gonna be like?

Siggi: Like, it's a unique taste for itself, but a lot of our visitors from other countries say it reminds them of, like, a gingerbread. Really nice texture. It's quite, like, a heavy bread. And because it just came from the spring, they're, they're quite warm.

Ju: What's the most traditional way to serve this bread?


Siggi: Exactly like we are doing right now. And you can see how the butter starts to melt right away.

Ju: How old is this recipe? How traditional is this?

Siggi: Well, I've been trying to track it down, and I'm in the very late 1800s, early 1900s. Somewhere there. OK, now we have the hot spring egg here.


Ju: That is a perfect-looking egg.

Siggi: Should we try?

Ju: Yeah! Should we cheers? What do we say?


Siggi: Cheers, yeah.

Ju: What's the Icelandic term?

Siggi: Instead of cheers?


Ju: Yeah.

Siggi: Skál.

Ju: Skál? Skál.


Siggi: Yeah, skál. [laughs]

Both: Mm.

Ju: It is really sweet. Mm. Like gingerbread, yeah. [Ju groaning] [Siggi laughing]


Siggi: Well done.

Ju: A true Viking. This is probably the most wholesome thing I've ever done.