In the Kantine Kitchen: Swedish Rye Crispbread
Several years ago, when I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, my family and I bought a small cottage in Sweden, about an hour’s drive away. We bought the house on a whim after falling for the Swedish landscape and nature over the course of several road trips.
Our brick-red cottage stood alone in a clearing at the end of a long, pine tree-lined dirt road. The rare passersby were typically either hunters on their way into the woods after deer or wild boar, or foragers in search of mushrooms.
Wildflowers and tall grass surrounded the house, and I carved out a small patch of soil to grow asparagus. For other fresh produce, we’d often head to the local farm stand, where one day I coincidentally had my first taste of authentic Swedish crispbread.
The round, vinyl record-sized crackers, made by the farmer’s wife and baked in her wood-fired oven, were like no other I’d tried before. They were wafer thin, brittle and with just the right amount of crushed caraway seeds and sea salt.
Crispbread—knäckebröd in Swedish—is literally translated as “cracking bread” because of the bread’s distinctive crispiness. Traditionally, the breads were baked, threaded onto wooden dowels and stored just below the roof to stay moisture-free. Though new to me at the time, crispbread is a historic staple of Swedish cuisine, much like rye bread is to the Danes. Normally, shards of crispbread are topped with fish, cheese, sliced meat or vegetables and enjoyed for lunch or as a snack.
Now that we’re here in San Francisco, and Sweden is so terribly far away, I’ve been forced to make crispbread myself. Surprisingly, the results have been surprisingly good, despite my not having a wood-fired oven for baking.
Just last week, I made a batch and paired it with some blanched asparagus (in season now) and a creamy goat's milk cheese. Simple and scrumptious, crispbread is slowly becoming a staple in my own home kitchen too.
Makes 8 (8-inch) crispbreads
½ ounce fresh yeast, or 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
4 cups coarse rye flour, plus a bit more for dusting
1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed (optional)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Flaked salt, as garnish
In a large bowl, stir yeast and lukewarm water together until yeast is dissolved. Allow to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Stir in 4 cups flour, butter, caraway seeds (if using) and kosher salt. The dough may seem a bit wet, but that can be adjusted later. Cover and let rest for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough in half, and then divide each half into 4 balls.
Sprinkle rye flour on the work surface and roll 1 ball out into a disk, about 8 inches in diameter and very thin. If the dough seems too sticky to handle, be more liberal with the rye flour. Gently transfer the disk to parchment paper. Roll a decorative rolling pin over the disk or, alternatively, prick it evenly with a fork. Punch a 2-inch hole in the middle of the disk using cookie cutter or glass. Sprinkle a bit of water on the disk, followed by a dash of flaked salt.
Bake for 5 minutes, turn the bread over and return to oven for additional 5 minutes. The bread should be cooked through and just beginning to color. Transfer to rack to cool completely before storing in airtight container. Repeat process with remaining dough balls.
The breads should crisp up considerably when cooled. If not quite crisp enough, return to the 350°F oven for 7-8 minutes.
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