Thursday, November 13, 2008

Norwegian Whole-Wheat Bread

Tuesday, November 11, 2008
My book club read Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson, this month--a novel about a taciturn 67-year-old widower who retreats to a rustic house in an isolated spot in Norway. I know, it sounds like a real page-turner, doesn't it? But it's a marvelous book, and beautifully written. Our book club eats well, with the host providing the main course and the rest of us filling in. It was my turn to bring bread, and I wanted to make something appropriately Norwegian.
Most of the Norwegian bread recipes I came across were for lefse. There are many Norwegians in Minnesota, and they go crazy for lefse around Christmas-time. Lefse is a potato-based flatbread that's apparently too bland even for Scandinavians in its pristine state, but they claim it's terrific if you put lots of butter and sugar on it. Or maybe it just tastes good compared to ludefisk, the other Norwegian Christmas taste treat--that's the yummy lye-cured fish. Anyway, I didn't want to make lefse (or ludefisk, for that matter).
I finally found a recipe for this Norwegian wheat bread in James Beard's Beard On Bread cookbook. According to Beard, this bread is taught in the Norwegian Government School for Domestic Science Teachers in Oslo. Sounds like a cheery bunch of folks. It's made with whole wheat, rye, and white flours, milk, yeast, and salt. He describes it as a "very dense, coarse bread full of honest flavor." The word "honest" should have given me a clue that it might be the kind of bread that seems good for you, like you will get points in heaven merely for eating it. Unlike a croissant, for example, which gives you no points, but is heavenly to eat. Beard does give fair warning that the dough will be "stiff and difficult to knead." And it was.

This dough almost killed my KitchenAid mixer, which started to groan and get over-heated after about five minutes. I took the dough out and kneaded it by hand, or attempted to knead it. I whacked it and pounded it, and it barely moved. Then I tried to shape it into a round loaf.

I could not shape this bread for the life of me. I finally decided that since it was supposed to be free-form and rustic, that's what it would be. I thought that the ladies at the Norwegian Government School for Domestic Science would not be happy with this attempt, but that Trond, the hero of the book, probably wouldn't much care. I also harbored a secret hope that it would somehow reshape itself nicely while it was baking. No such luck.
This is its most photogenic angle:

This is its least photogenic angle:

I sneaked the bread over to Sally's house in a plain brown wrapper so no one would see its deformities, and I craftily sliced it in the kitchen, away from prying eyes. It looked ... honest ... and sturdy.

If you imagined it in a sunny Norwegian kitchen, freshly sliced and slathered with sweet butter, it sounded pretty good. But if you imagined it on a dismal, gray, winter day, day-old and eaten with that nasty brown gjetost cheese, well, you could do better.


Melinda said...

Well I couldn't sleep so I finally got up and decided to look up my blog friends. I was delighted to see a new post from you.
So funny! I think I laughed so loud I may have woken up Ian.
I loved the photogenic Norwegian bread and then suddenly the not-so-photogenic side appears! But, it actually doesn't look that bad sliced. Well done!
I now want to read your book club book, that I have never heard about before.
But I don't ever want to taste ludefisk.

breadbasketcase said...

I couldn't believe that you posted a comment ten minutes after I wrote this. I said to myself, does that woman never sleep? And then I read that you couldn't. I hope my post helped put you to sleep. My book club never agrees about a book, but everyone liked this one.
I hope you never have to taste ludefisk!

jini said...

several years ago i was working in a nursing home and the administration at that time decided it would be "fun" to have some ethnic meals to match the ethnicity of our residents. for christmas it was lutefisk and lefse and we had one brave norwegian sign up for the meal. the poor guy was sick most of the night, so please do not try it melinda or marie. it's nasty stuff altho i have friends who can't wait to have that special treat for the holidays!
i am sure you are a better person for having made this bread marie. part of the betterness is for rescuing your kitchenaid before it breathed its last!! it does look wholesome and a bit too healthy to me!

June said...

Sometimes I wonder about the logic of including recipes in cookbooks - if the resultant bread is not particularly tasty, if it's difficult to prepare - why publish the recipe? Good for you for persevering, though.

breadbasketcase said...

That's a sad story--poor old Norwegian guy gamely going to an ethnic celebration where he's the only person there and the food makes him sick! I can always use "better person" credit, so if that's the case, I'm glad I made the bread.

I agree. That's why it's so nice to find a cookbook where you can count on all the recipes to be good! (I'm not sure I've found that book yet, but I'm always looking).

evil cake lady said...

I guess I like boring dense healthful bread because that loaf looks really good to me! But you're right, BCC, freshly sliced and slathered with sweet cream butter is pretty much the best way to enjoy bread like that. In Germany I figured out how to make grilled cheese sandwiches with bread like this and it required a whole lot of butter. Like, a whole lot.
Anyway, good for you for being adventurous!

Anonymous said... time you will skip the bread and make ludefisk?

Seriously, I LAUGHED SO HARD reading this, and it was at a moment when I needed a laugh. Thank you, Marie.

Laura NYC

breadbasketcase said...

Oh, I like the idea of a grilled cheese with lots of butter and lots of cheese. I notice that we are both dairy girls.

Laura Lee,
You are welcome. Actually, I always find that it's much easier to write about projects that don't go quite as planned than the ones that turn out perfectly, especially when you add just a little bit of exaggeration (just for the sake of the story of course).

Doughadear said...

Marie, you have been very busy, it seems that every time I check your blog there is something new. As always very amusing write up. I too will pass on the ludefisk but will gladly accept a piece of your bread with butter of course.

breadbasketcase said...

I've been so busy baking that I have the equivalent of two loaves of bread in the freezer, so I didn't bake anything this weekend. Feast or famine....

Goody said...

Thanks for the warning about that recipe. I've had the book for years and every so often would think it looked interesting, but I never did make it.

I live in a very small town in Nebraska where you can actually buy pre-cooked and frozen lutefisk at the corner market. I haven't been brave enough for that yet, though it does save that frightening step of the lye bath.

breadbasketcase said...

I've had the book for years too, and I think I've only made one recipe--the "Cuban bread"--before. After I selected this recipe, I noticed that he had a few other Norwegian recipes, but I'm not sure that Norway is really known for the quality of its cuisine. (See the lutefisk comments). I don't actually understand why people still make lutefisk with the lye bath. Wasn't the whole point that lye was a preservative? And now that there are so many other less toxic means of preserving, why would you still use lye? I guess it must have something to do with tradition.
Let me know if you ever get brave enough for the frozen lutefisk!

Anonymous said...

I am a first generation Norwegian here in states and I can tell u n your bloggers that there is Nothing more delicious than fresh coarse bread from Norway with Delicious gjetost and butter. You don t know what delicious brød is if u haven't tasted that.

Prof.Dan said...

Actually, Norwegian fish (salmon is my favorite!), potatoes, white sauces, bread, cheese, and other dairy are delicious, as are wild berries and apples and other fruits. When I visited relatives there in 1977(!), we were driven to every house in the valley, and each one had arranged to feed us a different food. The ham and cheese souffle, waffle cookies, and homegrown apples were memorable.

Prof.Dan said...

However... the best recipe for lutefisk is a well-known one. Take a thin pine board, put the reconstituted lutefisk on it, add oil, salt, and pepper. Then throw away the fish and eat the board. ;-)