Rúgbrauð or Icelandic Rye bread
When we lived in Iceland previously I fell in love with this bread. That, and of course Icelandic Skyr, a deliciously thick and creamy yogurt-like confection that has been made in Iceland since the 9th century. Rúgbrauð has also been made in Iceland since antiquity. In times of need, it’s simple ingredients fed hungry families in the same way that Yorkshire puddings, made famous by Hannah Glasse in First Catch Your Hare. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy in 1747 kept the stomachs of countless Britains full and satisfied. This version is adapted from the recipe my friend Kristín uses. Kristín bakes hers in a greased and lined Quality Street tin. Purists may insist on baking the bread at a lower temperature for a longer time, but Kristín says she always has excellent results with the timings included here. Kristín still remembers her mother baking her bread in a sealed tin lowered into a hot sulphur spring near to where they lived in the countryside. Having tasted bread baked that way at Hveragerði in Southern Iceland, I can vouch for the very special flavour and texture of the finished loaf. However, even if you don’t happen to live near a hot spring (and lets face it, who does), you will not be disappointed with the results of your culinary endeavors.
- 750g rye flour
- 400g whole-wheat flour or wholemeal flour
- 4 tsps baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- 1 tsp salt
- 200 mls of golden syrup* or 200 grams of golden caster sugar**
- 450 mls of buttermilk, yoghurt, kefir or fresh whey.
- Extra milk if needed
*Lightly oil the spoon you will use to remove the golden syrup from its tin. This will ensure the syrup falls easily from the spoon. **If using sugar, you may need to increase the amount of liquid slightly to achieve a soft dough.
Method: Preheat the oven. Add all the ingredients to a large bowl, first the dry and then the wet. Mix gently until everything is thoroughly combined. You should end up with soft, pliable dough. Add a touch more milk if the mixture seems a little tight or dry, or more wholemeal flour if it seems too loose. Empty the dough in a greased and lined Quality Street tin or another suitable container with a lid. Do not fill the container more than halfway. Put the lid on the tin and put into the preheated oven at 170° (150° if using a fan oven), gas mark 3, for approximately 3½-4 hours. Start checking after three hours. The bread should be fairly well risen and evenly browned.
If you want to recreate the steamy conditions of a hot sulphur spring, place a roasting tin full of warm water on the lowest shelf of the oven just before you turn it on. By the time the oven comes up to temperature, you will have wonderfully steamy oven. Remember to top up regularly with boiling water from the kettle, as your roasting tin may be damaged if the water is allowed to evaporate completely. When cool enough to handle, remove the bread from its tin and cool on a wire rack. Once cooled, wrap in greaseproof paper and return to the (now cleaned) container it was baked in until needed.
Serving suggestions: Rúgbrauð is delicious still warm from the oven, thinly sliced, spread thickly with butter and topped with a thin slice of cheese. It is also ideal to serve as an appetiser, buttered and topped with thinly sliced smoked salmon and a frond of dill or parsley. To be honest, it will go well with any pâté or spread you may have lurking in the fridge. This bread freezes well for up to a month. Simply cool the bread completely, wrap tightly in greaseproof paper or cling film, place in a plastic bag and seal.
This recipe was recently published in a book by Cooks&Kitchens to raise funds for St Teresa’s Hospice in Darlington. For more information on how to purchase a copy of the cookbook, please contact Cooks&Kitchens.
“Never eat more than you can lift.” Miss Piggy