Week Fourteen: Take Two!
The first time I made knackebrod for this project, it ended up being one of the greatest culinary failures I’ve created in recent memory. Though I may strive for it, I don’t expect perfection from every dish I make. But at this point, I feel that my prowess in the kitchen is such that I can at least expect something good, if not great, with every attempt. That those crackers turned out so completely inedible was not only disappointing, but it actually wounded my pride a little. Naturally, those little buggers were the first things I added to the list for this week. Do I want another crack at them? Do I ever! Bring on the knackebrod!
If you’re not familiar with knackebrod, it’s a Swedish term for a flat, crisp bread, very hearty in nature. Traditionally unleavened and made with rye flour, the crackers would keep very well through the long, Scandinavian winter. Today, though, they are made with any number of various grains, and are more airy in nature. You may recognize the brand names Ryvita, Wasa, and RyKrisp. Oh, and they sell them at Ikea, too.
The recipes I used took two completely different approaches. The first one – the one I had originally made – was more traditional, using rye flour exclusively, yeast for leavening, and using water as the liquid. And as it turns out, there are several problems with that approach. Long story short, rye flour needs some sort of acidic environment to work properly in most breads. This can either come in the form of an acidic liquid (like buttermilk) or with the use of a sourdough starter.
I had assumed that since I was aiming for a cracker, rather than a traditional bread, that this would not be a problem. I had assumed incorrectly. Not to mention, the consistency of the dough was far too thick and stiff to roll out properly. No good came of it, and I actually ended up throwing the lot out. (Just so you know, I absolutely hate to throw food out. It’s rather a last resort for me.) Apparently, there’s some major industrial tricks they use when making pre-packaged crispbreads to get them so fluffy. Unless your Swedish grandmother taught you how to make them right, it’d just be a guessing game as far as producing the right texture in my home kitchen. I have neither the time nor the patience for that sort of thing.
So this time around, I decided to scrap that first recipe entirely, its authenticity notwithstanding, and take on a wholly different method. Scouring my cookbooks, I found a recipe that used standard bread flour, oats, buttermilk, and baking powder for leavening. That’s more like it! This combination would produce a fluffier cracker, more like a hard biscuit in texture. The only caveat was that I needed to not overwork the dough, which would make the crackers tough.
Substituting some whole-wheat flour gave the crackers a heartier texture, which I felt was more appropriate. A hint of sugar lent a welcome sweetness, and a combination of rolled and steel-cut oats brought a toothy bite to the party. The dough came together beautifully – no dry, hard lumps this time! – and rolled out with absolutely no problem. Now, these do include some shortening, which certainly helps with the rolling out. Again, if you can find un-hydrogenated shortening, please use that. (If you have some really superlative dough-rolling skills, I suppose you can try using all butter; but as for us mortals, I’ll stick to my Jungle Shortening, thank you.) The crackers then bake in a low oven for 30 minutes, more to dry them out, as opposed to just cooking them quickly.
And did they turn out better the second time around? Oh, my, did they ever! I actually can’t stop eating them. They’re wonderfully crunchy, not too hard, not at all tough. The two types of oatmeal have such a great texture together, and the hint of butter and sugar together are just right. I think I’ll be enjoying these for my afternoon snack for as long as I can manage to keep them around!
Adapted from Bo Friberg
Makes 2 big sheets, or about 6 dozen small crackers
2 ounces un-hydrogenated shortening (about 1/4 cup)
1 ounce unsalted butter (2 tablespoons), room temperature
1 ounce sugar (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
2 tablespoons steel-cut (pinhead) oats
8 ounces bread flour (about 1 3/4 cups)
2 1/2 ounces whole-wheat flour (about 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat the oven to 325º F. Cream the shortening, butter, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Whisk together the flours, oats, salt, and baking soda.
3. On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture in 2 installments, alternating with the buttermilk. Do not overmix. The dough will look a bit sticky. Add additional flour by teaspoons if necessary to be able to roll the dough out very thinly. Keep in mind, though, that the softer the dough, the crisper the finished product.
4. Divide the dough into two pieces. Cover the one not being used. (If you like, you can freeze the unrolled dough at this point for several weeks.)
5. On a well-floured surface, and flouring the top of the dough and the rolling pin, roll each piece of dough out to a rectangle measuring about 12 x 14 inches. It should be very thin.
6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drape the dough over the top of the rolling pin to help lift it, and transfer it gently to the prepared baking sheet. Liberally dock the dough with a fork. Using a bench scraper, or the back of a long knife, score the dough into the shape and size you want for your crackers. Don’t cut all the way through the dough; it’s okay if you only press about halfway through. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the remaining piece of dough.
7. Bake at 325º F for 30 minutes, or until the dough is completely dry and doesn’t feel soft in the middle when pressed lightly. Let cool completely on the the pans. When cool, break apart on the scored lines. Store in airtight containers.
1. If you can’t find steel-cut oats, just substitute an equal amount of plain rolled oats.
2. If you freeze the dough, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then let it come to room temperature before rolling out.
3. These crackers should keep for several weeks at room temperature, stored in an airtight container.