I recently purchased a few books on Scandinavian cooking and baking and was literally salivating at the recipes and photographs contained within them. All I wanted was to be holed away in my kitchen for the next month with a store cupboard full of all the ingredients I would need to try out all the recipes!
Most of the ingredients used in Scandinavian cookery are fairly easy to come by in this country though, as with most regional cuisines, there are a few that I think that I might have some trouble sourcing in the west of Ireland! Having said that, I was itching to cook something, so rather than do something completely alien, I decided that I would make rye bread.
I have always loved the fact that rye bread is denser in texture but also higher in fibre than the breads that we are more used to which are mainly made from wheat flour. This makes it a perfect vehicle for creating the open sandwiches so beloved in Scandinavia as the bread has a certain stability to it and doesn't collapse or buckle under the weight of the toppings it carries.
I made a few loaves of bread by way of experimentation, trying out different proportions of wheat to rye flour, but this was the one that I settled on and that I found worked best. I decided to add some roughly chopped walnuts and a tablespoon of caraway seeds to my dough and really liked the slight tannic bitterness they brought to the finished bread. In many ways I thought the caraway seeds had an almost palate cleansing effect making the bread seem less dense than it was. In any event, you can omit either or both the walnuts and caraway seeds if you are not a fan ... or you can substitute other nuts or seeds if you wish.
Rye flour creates a dough that feels stickier when kneading, but don't worry about this; this is the way that it is meant to be. Don't be tempted to add extra flour, because you will only end up with a bread brick after baking!
This bread was delicious with smoked salmon (Irish of course) and also the smoked mackerel pate that I love to make every now and again. In the accompanying photographs you will see that I actually enjoyed it with some Cashel Blue Cheese, which was also fab.
Ingredients:200g rye flour
100g wholemeal flour
100g strong white flour
7g fast action yeast
1 tsp fine sea salt
300ml warm water
2tblsp malt extract (or treacle)
60g roughly chopped wlanuts
1tblsp caraway seeds
1. Put the rye, wholemeal and strong white flours in a large mixing bowl along with the yeast and salt and using your hands, agitate so that everything is mixed well together.
2. Stir the malt extract into the warm water and pour this into the flour mixture mixing well to form a slightly sticky dough. You can use a wooden spoon to do this, but to be honest; I find it far easier with my hands. Form the dough into a bowl and then turn out on to a very lightly floured work surface and knead, pulling and stretching the dough as you go for 7-10 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Set aside in a warm place for 1 hour until the yeast starts to do its job and the dough rises to just under double its size.
3. Remove the dough from the bowl and knock back, removing the air. Knead again adding the walnuts and caraway seeds. Shape the dough and place into a greased and floured 900g loaf tin. Cover loosely with a clean tea towel or some cling film and allow to rise for 45 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 220C/Fan Oven 200C/Gas Mark 7. Dust the top of the bread with a little rye flour before baking in the oven for 30-35 minutes. The bread should be well risen with a dark golden brown crust. Remove from the oven and allow sit in the tin for 10 minutes before removing from the tin, transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
Makes 1 loaf.