Whole-grain comfort for winter warmth

Trine Hahnemann’s hearty Scandinavian rye bread is easy to make at home—it just requires patience and the right ingredients

A rye bread loaf

Photo courtesy of Quadrille Press
Just look at the texture of this hearty rye—this is bread that takes itself seriously.

Daytona Strong
Taste of Norway Editor

It’s hard to imagine a more iconic Scandinavian food than smørbrød. Of course, heart-shaped waffles and curls of creamy brown goat cheese are up there too, but generous quantities of shrimp, smoked salmon, or beef piled high atop a slice of hearty bread hint at the simple elegance and hospitality that I so associate with the food of my heritage. Often, though, it seems like the bread is treated as merely the vehicle for the toppings, an afterthought rather than an important foundation. That shouldn’t be the case.

I hear people from time to time say they’d like a good rye bread recipe, one reminiscent of those they’ve had in Scandinavia, and I’m on a quest to find or develop some recipes worthy of the smørbrød that so many of us love.

The world of Scandinavian breads is rich and varied. In fact, Magnus Nilsson—two-star chef of Sweden’s celebrated restaurant Fäviken and author of The Nordic Cookbook—has said that bread is one of the things that all the parts of the Nordic region, with its wide range of natural resources and traditions, have in common. So rather than wait until I have my own signature bread recipe to share with you, I’m looking to an expert in Scandinavian cooking, Danish food writer Trine Hahnemann.

Recently the rye bread from her latest book, Scandinavian Comfort Food, caught my attention, and I asked the publisher if I could share it with you. (For more information about the book—and several recipes—see “Redefining comfort food, celebrating hygge” in The Norwegian American’s December 30, 2016 issue). Hahnemann’s recipe begins with a rye sourdough and builds from there with little more than stoneground rye flour, cracked rye, and water. Just look at the texture in the photo—this is bread that takes itself seriously.

If you’re new to making a sourdough starter—as I am—be patient and be prepared to have to give it a couple of tries. Starters are notoriously tricky to get just right, and Hahnemann herself has written (zesterdaily.com/world/danish-smorrebrod) that you shouldn’t give up if it molds the first time. Also, you may need to add more buttermilk to the starter than the recipe calls for.

This time of year, when it’s still cold outside and the night continues to come early while the days gradually stretch out their length, baking seems like one of the coziest things to do. I’m partial to the soft, yeasted buns, slightly sweet and fragrant with cardamom. Those boller conjure up some of the warmest memories of my youth and are the basis of a number of other Norwegian treats, from skoleboller to fastelavnsboller (for which I’ll be sharing a recipe in our next issue). But just about any bread baked with love—from the most rustic of baguettes to the densest ryes—serves a purpose and is worth giving attention to. Bread is the basis of many wonderful meals and its quality should not be chosen lightly.

Hahnemann writes in Scandinavian Comfort Food that her husband bakes rye bread weekly, and they enjoy it often for both breakfast and lunch. It occupies a space in their kitchen along with crispbread, dense breads packed with fiber and grains, and sweet bread for afternoon tea.

Bread baking creates space for hygge at home, she writes, as the rhythm of making the dough and waiting, then baking and noticing its fragrance, very much ties you to the moment.
I think that smørbrød is like that, too—its very form, a sandwich with piles of toppings artfully arranged, demands attention and time, a knife and fork experience that can’t be eaten on the go but rather invites the eater to slow down and savor the experience, ideally even within the company of friends.

Rye Bread
Reprinted from Scandinavian Comfort Food: Embracing the Art of Hygge, by Trine Hahnemann, with permission from Quadrille Press

Making rye bread needs some planning, as you have to start by making a sourdough starter. Read the whole recipe carefully before you start.

For the rye sourdough starter:
300ml / 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
300g / 2 2/3 cups wholegrain stoneground rye flour

Day 1:
sourdough starter from above
850ml / 3 1/2 cups lukewarm water
15g / 1/2 oz. sea salt
750g / 6 1/2 cups wholegrain stoneground rye flour

Day 2:
500g / 1 lb 2 oz. cracked rye
250ml / 1 cup cold water
a little oil for the tin

To make the rye sourdough starter:
Mix the buttermilk and rye flour well in a bowl, cover, and leave at room temperature for 3 days. It’s important that it doesn’t develop mold but starts bubbling, and a temperature of 23–25ºC / 73–77ºF is ideal for this.

Day 1:
If making your first loaf from the starter, dissolve all the starter in the lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl (for the next loaf use just 3 tbsps. of the starter; the whole quantity of starter is just for the first attempt, and the loaf will be a little bigger). Stir in the salt and rye flour, cover the bowl with a tea towel, and leave at room temperature for 12–24 hours. After you have taken out the 3 tbsps. for the next rye bread you are going to make, this starter does not need taking care of. Just let it rest in the refrigerator until next time you need it.

Day 2:
Add the cracked rye and cold water to the dough mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. It will be too runny to knead. Remove 3 tbsps. of the mixture to an airtight container and refrigerate; this will become your sourdough starter for the next loaf you make (it will need to rest for at least 3 days before you use it and will last up to 8 weeks).
Lightly oil a large loaf tin, about 30 x 10 cm / 12 x 4” and 10 cm / 4” deep. Pour in the dough, cover with a damp tea towel, and leave to rise for 3–6 hours or until the dough has almost reached the top of the tin.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / gas mark 4. Bake the loaf for 1 hour 45 minutes and then immediately turn the loaf out of the tin onto a wire rack to cool. This is great to eat just out of the oven, but as it’s difficult to cut, it’s better the next day… if you can wait!

Makes 1 large loaf.

Daytona Strong is The Norwegian American’s Taste of Norway editor. She writes about her family’s Norwegian heritage through the lens of food at her Scandinavian food blog, www.outside-oslo.com. Find her on Facebook www.facebook.com/OutsideOslo; Twitter @daytonastrong; Pinterest @daytonastrong; and Instagram @daytonastrong.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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