An easy version of a traditional Icelandic favorite
Rúgbrauð – Icelandic Rye Bread
Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American
Icelandic rye bread (rúgbraud) is a dense, dark, 100% rye loaf that was originally developed to take advantage of the unique geothermal activity present in the island country. Iceland is home to a large number of hot springs and more than 200 volcanoes, which create an abundant source of hot underground water.
Rúgbraud is sometimes called hverabraud (hot spring bread) because it was traditionally baked in a special pot or wooden cask that was buried in the ground near a geyser or hot spring. This process essentially steams the bread slowly over a period of several hours (the recipes I researched called for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours of underground baking time). Today, modern ovens that are fueled by hydro or geothermal energy are often used to bake this unique, hearty bread.
Rúgbraud is very dense and a bit sweeter than some of the other popular rye breads you might find in the Scandinavian region, such as Danish rugbrød. It is delicious sliced thinly and served with a simple smear of salted butter or topped with smoked meats or fish or pickled herring.
Fortunately, you do not need an underground hot spring or special geothermal oven to make Icelandic Rye Bread at home. In fact, this modern adaptation of rúgbraud is one of the easiest rye breads I know how to make. It is a quick bread recipe, meaning that it is leavened with a combination of baking powder and baking soda rather than yeast. It can be mixed in less than 10 minutes with no kneading whatsoever, and it bakes for a relatively quick time of 2 hours. That’s all there is to it!
Most modern rúgbraud recipes call for a 9-inch x 4-inch square Pullman pan with a lid. If you do not have a lidded Pullman pan at home, you can simply use a standard 9-inch x 5-inch loaf pan covered with a greased piece of foil and topped with a baking sheet for a lid.
Don’t let the simplicity of this easy loaf fool you, this rúgbraud is perfectly textured and surprisingly tasty. Enjoy this easy and rewarding Icelandic baking project!
Icelandic Rye Bread (Rúgbraud)
Makes 1 9-in. loaf
4 cups dark rye flour
2 tsps. salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
¼ cup honey
¼ cup molasses
Preheat the oven to 325°. Grease a 9-inch x 5-inch standard loaf pan or a 9-inch x 4-inch Pullman pan with a lid (remember to grease the inside of the lid as well) and set aside.
Whisk the rye flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in a large bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, honey, and molasses together in a medium bowl.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan. Using a damp rubber spatula, smooth out the top. If using the Pullman pan, place the top on the loaf pan. If using a standard loaf pan, tightly wrap a piece of greased foil around the pan.
Transfer the loaf pan to the oven. If using a standard loaf pan, place a baking sheet on top of the foil once it is in the oven. Bake for 2 hours. Remove the lid or the foil and baking sheet and turn off the oven. Let the loaf sit in the turned-off oven for another 15 minutes.
Run a knife around the edge of the loaf pan to loosen the bread from the sides. Turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack. Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing and enjoying.
The bread will keep well for 3-5 days tightly wrapped at room temperature. Freeze for longer storage.
Photos: Kristi Bissell
This article originally appeared in the July 29, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.