A slice of heaven

Whole-wheat kneippbrød makes a hearty loaf for sandwiches and beyond

Photo: Sara Johannessen / MatPrat
Kneippbrød is made of 100% whole wheat, and it’s the ideal foundation for an open-faced sandwich or toast.

CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor

I’ve been promoted to a new job recently: school lunch maker! My oldest child, Carl, started kindergarten this month. Though the school year will start as full remote learning by computer, there’s an air of excitement at our house.

Preparation for this new job as school lunch maker began a few years ago. I’ve researched lunch bags and bento boxes, leak-proof thermos containers, and lunch ideas. I’m excited about the possibilities, and Carl is enthusiastically looking forward to using his new Spider-Man lunch box that glows in the dark. (Little brother Bjorn wishes he had one too, but he’s only 2.)

No one does the packed lunch better than Norwegians, and it starts with a foundation of good bread.

Norwegians are known for their hearty breads, and kneippbrød is Norway’s top-selling favorite. This style of bread was introduced by Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian priest and forbear of the naturopathic medicine movement in the 19th century. He was a proponent of hydrotherapy, the use of water to treat ailments, as well as a wholesome diet of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Kneipp is credited with being the first person to use the entire grain (the outside shell, kernel, germ) when making bread.

Kneippbrød came to Norway in 1895, when publisher Søren Mittet stayed at Sebastian Kneipp’s health spa in Bad Wörishofen in Germany. Mittet brought the recipe home to Norway, and Baker Hansen in Oslo purchased it.

I found many variations on kneippbrød in my research, but at its heart, kneippbrød is 100% whole wheat, with most recipes calling for “sammalt hvete grov og fin” (whole grain wheat, coarse and finely ground). In my experience, Norwegian baking ingredients don’t always translate well on this side of the Atlantic, so I created my own recipe for kneippbrød that uses ingredients found in a typical American grocery store.

I’m no stranger to baking the occasional loaf of bread, but baking with 100% whole-wheat flour can be daunting. For advice, I turned to my friend, and fellow Norwegian American, Laurie Miller, who has honed her whole grain bread baking skills since 1993. To call Laurie a hobby baker would be an understatement: She mills her own grain, uses an Ankarsrum mixer, and continually educates herself through classes, books, and baking community groups. Her breads are, in my opinion, the perfect blend of art and baking science.

She offered me some great tips for whole wheat bread baking:

Scald the milk: Heat the milk just shy of boiling, about 180° F. This may seem like an unnecessary step, since most milk sold today is pasteurized, which kills off harmful bacteria and enzymes. That said, scalding the milk denatures the whey proteins, which helps activate the yeast, cuts down on proofing time, and makes for a fluffier loaf. Don’t skip this step!

Autolyze: This technique benefits pretty much any baked good. Another term for this is the sponge. The liquid is added to the dry ingredients (except for salt) for 15 minutes and up to 24 hours, and it allows the ingredients to properly hydrate before kneading. It also allows for a more flavorful loaf that comes together more quickly, and keeps longer. Just don’t forget to add the salt before kneading!

Preshape: After punching down the dough, shape it into loaves and rest on the counter for 10-15 minutes before the final rise. This allows the gluten to relax a bit before the final shaping, for the optimal oven spring.

In my recipe, I decided on molasses for some earthy sweetness to boost the whole-wheat flavor, and 100% whole-wheat flour instead of a blend of flours for ease and consistency. Instead of proofing the yeast in a separate bowl, I add the just-scalded milk with the cold water and sprinkle the yeast on top of the flour before stirring it all together. The liquid’s warmth is enough to activate the yeast. The resulting bread has a tight crumb, slices thinly, and toasts up beautifully. 

I smiled as my young taste testers gave me happy nods of approval and requests for another slice. I had found a winner for the lunch box and the kitchen table, with a nod to Norwegian heritage. 

Do you have a favorite loaf? What’s your favorite pålegg for Norwegian open-faced sandwiches? I’d love to hear from you! Write to me: food@na-weekly.com.


Kneippbrød (100% whole wheat Kneipp Bread)

By Christy Olsen Field
Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

2 cups milk

1 cup cold water

3 tbsps. rapeseed oil, or another neutral-flavored oil

1 tbsp. molasses (Use Norwegian mørk sirup if you have it, but this is a good substitute!)

8 cups (32 oz.) 100% whole-wheat flour (I used King Arthur Flour Whole Wheat flour in my testing.)

2 ¼ tsps. (1 packet) instant or active dry yeast

2 tsps. iodized table salt

Butter or oil to grease the loaf pans

Special equipment:

Two loaf pans

Instant read thermometer (Optional, but recommended! I use my Thermapen daily in my baking and cooking.)

Directions

In a small saucepan, scald the milk by heating until it’s bubbling around the edges, about 180° F. Remove and pour directly into your mixing bowl. Add 1 cup cold water, molasses, oil, whole-wheat flour, and yeast. Mix together with a rubber spatula until combined, making sure there is no dry flour at the bottom of the bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let sit for 1 hour.

Now you’re ready to knead. Add the salt and knead the dough for several minutes until smooth and elastic (I typically use my KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook, but I also enjoy doing it by hand). If you gently press the dough with a finger, it should bounce back right away.

Lightly oil a bowl (I just use the same mixing bowl), and place the dough inside. Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm place until the dough doubles in bulk, about 40 minutes. (You can also refrigerate the dough for the rise, which takes longer but will make for even better flavor!) Punch down, and let it double again, about 20 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, cut the dough into two loaves and gently shape into loaves. Cover with a tea towel for 10-15 minutes so the gluten can relax a bit. Grease the loaf pans with a bit of butter or oil, and place the shaped loaves in the pans for a final rise of 40 minutes while the oven preheats. You will want the dough to rise above the lip of the pans.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the loaves for 35-40 minutes until deeply golden brown, rotating halfway through. The internal temperature with an instant read digital thermometer will be about 200°F.

Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out into a rack to cool completely.

The recipe can be halved, but I highly recommend baking two loaves to freeze the extra. Your future self will thank you!


This article originally appeared in the Sept. 4, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.


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