I have had a (huge) soft spot in my heart for Scandinavia ever since my beloved late mother-in-law Sigrid -who hailed from Charlottenlund near Copenhagen- introduced me years and years ago to the magic both of white summer nights and of Nordic Christmases. Juleaften (Christmas Eve) was her favorite holiday. She didn’t bake or cook but she filled our house with lights and love and I will cherish these memories for as long as there’ll be Christmas. So when Eva and Valter, our Swedish friends, invited us to a pre-Christmas bake party, my imagination (never idle) brought me back to these winters of long ago when I used to dream of snowy lakes and red cottages with glimmering windows and my heart immediately skipped a beat.
The thin breads are not part of the Danish tradition (at least not as I know it through Sigrid) but the elves (julenissen) very much are and the minute I stepped inside the Swedish bake house and saw these little creatures on the wall, I knew I was in the right place. Turns out, the elves were not only on the wall. They were rolling out dough, talking, laughing, snacking, tending the oven, counting seconds (it takes exactly 11 seconds to bake a thin bread in a wood-fire oven) and sipping glögg (mulled wine).
- 2.5 liters of milk
- 19 g instant dry yeast (28 g active dry)
- 5 g baking powder
- 56 g butter
- 130 g sugar (I might skip the sugar next time and that may sound like heresy to a Swede! I’ll have to ask Eva)
- 210 g syrup (I used maple but you can use any pancake syrup or a mix of molasses and syrup)
- 13.5 g salt (I will use 2% of the flour weight next time as we like our breads a tad more salty)
- 1815 g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 913 g light rye flour (or a mix of rye and whole wheat flours)
- 11 g ground fennel seeds (Eva leaves some fennel seeds whole or barely crushed)
- 11 g anise seeds
- Mix all dry ingredients with hand or a wooden spoon
- Warm milk, butter and syrup to 120-130°F/49-54°C
- Mix everything together in a large shallow bowl
- Let it rise, covered, until needed (I gave it one fold as it looked really batter-ish)
- Divide into 30 pieces and proceed with the shaping and baking as per video above.