The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that my post about a rather hot lentil soup included some sort of crackers on the side. What were they? While I am sure that folk are not exactly lying awake at night, fretting with uncertainty, I’ll clear up the mystery – they were some terribly healthy Swedish-style rye crispbreads, and of course, they were home-made. We’re good like that round here.
Yes, for when you think about Swedish cuisine, you will pretty quickly get to the classic crispbread (via all the other stereotypes – cinnamon buns, amusingly named sweets like skum and plopp, meatballs, fermented herring…). I find crispbread – or knäckebröd (k-ney-keh-br-uh-d) in Swedish - to be something of a wonder. It’s incredibly simple, but very tasty when made well, and provides the perfect foil for all manner of toppings. It’s rich in fibre, so clearly good for you, but it also has that amazing crispness. Personally, I love the sort of crispbread that seems to shatter. Those crispbreads that are dry and a bit powdery don’t really do it for me. I prefer the stuff that is thin and slightly toasty, that gives you that noticeable crack as you sink your teeth into it.
For all my culinary Swedophilia (as seen from cinnamon buns, “vacuum cleaner” cakes and dream cookies), I’ve never gotten round to making knäckebröd. Until this weekend that is, and I’m happy to report that it was really rather easy, and the results really rather successful. I was particularly pleased with this picture, when the fellows stacked up neatly like a pile of crisp autumn leaves. They’re probably supposed to stay flatter than mine did, but I actually like the mad, warped shape these guys developed in the oven.
I used a dough which was mostly rye flour and a little plain flour (about 4 parts rye, 1 part plain) in the hope this would make the dough a little easier to work with. Did it work? No idea, as the dough was predictably heavy, as you’d expect with mostly rye flour.
I also went for a yeast dough. It would have been simpler and quicker to just make a plain dough without the yeast, but I wanted to have as much flavour in the crispbread as I could get. I wasn’t using much more than rye flour and salt, so this fermentation stage was going to matter. I started the yeast using some honey and warm water, then mixed up the dough and left to prove overnight. All that rye flour meant that the dough was extremely dense, and while it had not exactly puffed up overnight, it was clear that the yeast had worked it magic, and there was a distinctive sour aroma when I removed the lid from the bowl. The use of yeast was wise indeed.
Now, it was time to bake these bad boys. The trick, I have now learned, is that you need to work in batches. No point in rolling out all the dough, as you are aiming to get something that is about a millimeter thick. If you roll all the dough in once go, you’d better have a very large kitchen. Trust me – small batches here work wonders, and it’s much easier to take out your frustrations with the rolling pin to roll it out to wafer-thinness.
Some people also have nifty little rolling pins that make the characteristic holes all over the knäckebröd, but I had to make do with a fork. In fact, I quite like the randomness of them, they look a little but more artisanal. Sometimes it is nice to get things that look absolutely perfect. Macarons should look perfect. Crispbread…well, it should look very rustic, no?
After the baking, it was time for the taste test. I could not have been more thrilled with how they turned out. At first the toasted flavour comes across, giving way to a tinge of yeast and the sour tang of the proving process. But most thrilling of all (or as thrilling as things get when it comes to crispbread) was the proper, sharp crack as you bit into them. It was beyond doubt that these guys were seriously crisp.
So there you have it – a super-easy recipe that makes excellent crispbread. But keep in mind that I’m not Swedish, I’m not an expert, and I’m probably biased. In some ways, I have to be, given that I now have a pile of 30 crispbreads in the kitchen, which are slowly being eaten for breakfast and with dinner (note that knäckebröd is not interchangeable with poppadom when eating curry, no matter how good you might think it would be…). That said, you can buy good crispbread these days, and I’m not sure this is something I’ll be knocking up on a weekly basis (if for no other reason than to avoid another glut of the stuff) but this is something that it will be worth tweaking with lots of seeds and/or extra spices in the dough to make crackers for a party. Now it’s just me going mano a mano with those 30 crispbreads…
Now, I said that I like the sort of knäckebröd that is so crisp that it seems to shatter? As you can see from below, I’m as good as my word!
To make knäckebröd (makes 30):
• 1 tablespoon dried yeast
• 250ml lukewarm water
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 125g plain flour
• 400g rye flour
1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the honey and three tablespoons of flour. Set aside somewhere warm until the mixture is bubbling.
2. Combine the rest of the flour, the salt and the yeast mixture until you have a smooth dough. It should be firm, but if it seems too dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, and work until smooth. I ended up adding three extra spoons of water.
3. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the rest overnight. The mixture will only expand slightly, but should smell “yeasty” and slightly sour the next day.
4. The next day, prepare to bake the crispbread. Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, but do not grease.
5. Take one-quarter of the dough. Place on a well-floured work surface (use more rye flour) and roll out as thin as you can – around 1-2mm is idea. Use a bowl as a template to cut out rounds and transfer to the baking sheet (I baked four at a time). Use a fork to prick all over the surface of each crispbread.
6. Bake the knäckebröd for around 8-10 minutes until the pieces are browned. Watch carefully as there is not much difference between done and burnt!
Worth making? An easy recipe with great results. As good as the stuff you can buy, which might put you off, but nice to try if you want to put some unusual flavours in the mixture.