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).
We joined right in and a few hours later, with floury aprons and much good cheer, we all emerged from the baking house with armfuls of flatbreads. These will be enjoyed with smoked salmon, lox or crab paste, cheese, jams or just plain butter all through the holiday weekend and even later since the habit is nowadays to freeze whatever isn't eaten immediately.
In the old days, families and friends met a few times a year to bake this bread, not only at Christmas time. So when the owner's family moved from northern Sweden to the Northwest, they had a brick oven built in a little house in the backyward and it became a tradition for the neighborhood Swedish immigrants (there were quite a few in the old days) to meet there and bake. The tradition has survived the generations and today the bake house is still very much in use.
The thin breads can only be made one at a time in a woodfire oven. They are never flipped, just rotated to ensure an even bake. The dough is typically mixed at home and brought to the bake house at the appointed time (families book oven time long in advance).
It is then scaled, rolled out (with lots of extra flour as it is pretty sticky), flattened into round pancake-shaped loaves, thinned out with specially grooved rolling pins, brushed to remove any flour which might still be clinging to the dough and then deftly lobbed onto the oven sole in front of the flaming wood. They are folded immediately while they are still hot. (I hung a few on my pasta drying rack to dry out completely when we got home as condensation had accumulated in the Ziploc bags. As soon as they were perfectly dry, I packaged them again).
What follows is Eva's recipe. Thank you ever so much, Eva! I used a blend of light rye and white whole wheat flour but I'd be tempted to add oat, barley or buckwheat flour next time or maybe use dark (whole) rye, just to vary the taste as the Swedes apparently like to do.
Ingredients (for 30 large thin breads):
- 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.
The Swedish Thin Bread is going to Susan for Yeastspotting, her weekly roundup of breads and other baked goodies.