Iceland's Bolludagur is a joyous occasion to indulge in a variety of cream buns.
For this foreign-born writer, Bolludagur was very much a rude awakening. Years ago, early on a dark February Monday morning, my shrieking daughters frantically pulled off the duvet and began to spank my wife and me as furiously as they possibly could. They counted each hurried spanking they delivered as their ornately kindergarten-decorated paddles started to fall apart. You can't blame them. Each spank the parent receives equals a delicious cream bun they will eagerly enjoy later in the afternoon. They got five each.
Around the world, cultures celebrate the Monday before Ash Wednesday in various ways. The day is called Shrove Monday, Callop Monday, Rose Monday, Merry Monday, or Hall Monday in English. In other places, it is called Fastelavn (Denmark), Rosenmontag (Germany), Lundi Gras (New Orleans, USA), Lunes de Carnival (Argentina). This is when the famous carnivals heavily inspired by Portuguese and African traditions happen in Brazil. In northern Argentina, Spanish-influenced parades take place that coincides with local harvest. Throughout Europe, regional carnivals are full of pageantry and costumes. For example, in Germany's Rhineland, part of the pre-lent Fasching Festival (Feast of Fools) is a day of marching, merriment, and amusing parade floats.
Iceland adopted its Bolludagur tradition from Norway and Denmark in the late 1800s and is connected to Fastelavn and the carnival celebrations before Lent in Scandinavia. Although the paddle spanking seems to be a distinctly Icelandic variation!
Bolludagur in Icelandic translates as "Bun Day." Make no mistake, these are no ordinary buns, and there are countless varieties to enjoy from the local bakeries. (Or, if you're lucky like me, your favorite mother-in-law is an expert bun baker and decorator)
Interestingly, there is no traditional bun recipe. There are water-dough, yeast-dough, and butter-dough bun varieties. Families would be inspired to make buns from family recipes and whatever ingredients were available at the time. I really enjoy a simple bun with chocolate glaze, filled with whip cream and raspberry jam—like my mother-in-law's. More recently, bakers are making their mark with flavored doughs, new toppings, creative fillings, and even vegan buns. The shelf-life of a bun is not very long. Therefore, it is best to eat them as fresh as possible. Afterward, careful consideration goes into assessing which bun is your favorite before announcing your result at the table.
While my girls are not as eager to get out of bed and spank us on Bollurdagur, it is still a day to splurge. We all tend to gorge on as many buns as possible, and dinner plans tend to fall by the wayside. We will balance out the sweetness of Bolludagur on Tuesday, "Sprengidagur" (explosion day) when we fill our bellies with a lentil–vegetable soup and salted meats before Lent. So if you happen to be in Iceland on whatever you call the Monday before Ash Wednesday, be sure to try an Icelandic cream bun. Or five!