Saturday, April 09, 2011


Last summer I was in Sweden with M, hanging out in a college town called Lund and taking a couple of shorter trips to Copenhagen and Stockholm. We didn't have a mad touring week planned --we mostly wanted to slouch around and enjoy the long, sunny summer days. So it seems that what we did mostly was eat and drink. Always a good vacation plan in my book.

The friend who had lent us her apartment had highly recommended lunch in a popular restaurant in town. It took us three tries to find it open, which we finally did on our last day. It was a great little bistro -- jam packed -- that included a salad and bread bar with the meal. One of the breads I picked up was dark and spicy smelling. When I tasted it, I knew I'd found something extraordinary. The waiter couldn't tell me what was it was, but said it was 'everyday' (I assume he meant nothing special) and came from the bakery next door. We finished lunch and rushed over; they were closed. We went back the next morning, and they gave me the Swedish name (filmjolkbrod), and called it 'sour bread', but didn't have enough English to tell me what was in it. I bought two loaves and brought them home.

We knew it had something anise-y in it and probably molasses, but that's as much as we could figure out from tasting it. I couldn't even tell for sure whether it was a yeast bread or a soda bread: it wasn't yeasty, but it wasn't dense like a soda bread, either. I did a Google search on the Swedish name and came up with nothing, so I figured it just wasn't meant to be anything but a pleasant holiday memory.

Now, I am in the habit of buying cookbooks everywhere I go, and in Stockholm we had visited an open air museum that was kind of like their version of Williamsburg -- a sort of 19th century re-enactment town, with glass blowers, furniture makers, etc. In their museum gift shop, I picked up a couple of books: one was cookies (of course) and the other was basically a family recipe book of desserts, pastries, etc. Rather amateurish, rather homespun-looking, but full of traditional recipes presented with family anecdotes. My kind of book.

I tend to read my cookbooks like novels, and a couple of weeks after I got home, I picked up the family recipe book and started reading it. And there on page 28 was a picture of a homely little loaf called "Soured milk bread". I read the recipe, and sure enough -- molasses, aniseed, fennel, rye flour (of course!) -- it had to be something like. I made it, tasted it, and was brought right back to the bistro in Lund.

And best of all, it is just about the easiest loaf of bread I have ever made. I frequently make it when we have weekend guests; I can throw it together before anyone else is up, and by the time the rest of breakfast is ready and the coffee is brewed, it's out of the oven. It's a big loaf and will last for days (if it doesn't get eaten before lunch on the first day). It makes excellent toast and also freezes well. It's super in a ham and cheese sandwich or with cream cheese and jam, or just with butter. And since just about everyone I have made this for wants the recipe, I figured it was time to type it up.

The original recipe calls for "3 tsp ground aniseed and fennel" and it is unclear to me whether they meant 3 tsp mixed or 3 tsp each. I like the spice to stand up and be noticed, so I use about 2 tablespoons of each. Play with it yourself. The only other caveat is the pan: I happen to have a 2 liter loaf pan, which is what is called for in the recipe. If you use smaller pans, you’ll have to keep checking for doneness, and I have no idea how long smaller loaves would take. In my pan, 1 hour is perfect. I apologize for the American measurements; I use the stir/scoop/swipe method for measuring flour, and mix it all in my standing mixer.

Swedish Soured Milk Bread
(from In Grandma’s Arbor, by K & M Jonsson)

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients:
1 ¼ cups rye flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon (tsp) salt
1 to 2 tablespoons ground aniseed
1 to 2 tablespoons fennel seed
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

In the mixer, mix the wet ingredients:
½ cup molasses
1 ¼ cup buttermilk (soured milk or plain yoghurt will do)
2/3 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients into the liquid until well combined (don’t over work it); the dough will be sticky. Spread the dough in a greased 2 liter loaf pan, smoothing it out evenly (a greased spoon helps). Place in the middle of a COLD oven, set the temperature for 200 C (400 F) and bake for one hour. Cool in the pan until it comes out easily. Wrap any leftovers in aluminum foil.
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