Don't Buy Crackers When You Can Make Swedish Crispbreads
This recipe for Swedish knäckebröd comes from Emma Bengtsson, the two Michelin–starred chef of Aquavit.
Chances are, if you’re a Millennial, at least a few of your friends have gotten really into baking bread. But it’s a lot to take in, and a lot to learn, and if you fuck it up, there’s your IG moment ruined.
Swedish crispbread, however, gets you the best of both worlds: It’s got the broad strokes of bread baking, like those good yeasty smells and a little kneading, but it’s pretty hard to mess up . And unlike a loaf of bread—which you can eat in much less time than it took to make—a little time spent on a weekend can yield crispbreads forever (OK, more like up to a year, but still).
In Sweden, where the crispbread is known as knäckebröd, they can be used for basically every meal, according to Emma Bengtsson, the two Michelin–starred chef of Aquavit. Bengtsson—who eats crispbreads everyday for breakfast—stopped by the test kitchen to show us how easy they can be, and shared her tips for making the best crispbreads.
For starters, the crispbread is made from a firm but yeasted dough that’s rolled thin, pierced repeatedly to prevent puffing, and then baked quickly. It doesn’t take long, but will make you feel like you achieved a weekend baking project. Sure, store-bought crispbreads exist—but come on, you’re trying to learn something here.
Bengtsson mixes everything into the bowl of a stand mixer, and mixes it very slowly using a dough hook. (A mixing bowl and a wooden spoon is fine, too.)
She mixes everything slowly until the dough forms a firm ball. Crispbread should be crispy, so taking care to work it gently will prevent from activating too much gluten, which makes for sticky dough and chewy loaves. “You don’t want it going too long in the machine,” says Bengtsson. “It’s going to get too much stretch, and that’s not what you want in this kind of bread.”
Because bread is a living product and relies on factors that can vary—like the humidity on a given day—it’s not going to be the same every time when it comes to how much milk to add, for example. The recipe Bengtsson gives us is a good starting point, but the more you make it, she says, the more you’ll get a feel for when it needs a little more milk, or a little less.
Bengtsson turns off the mixer, scoops the dough out, and kneads it a few times by hand on a lightly-floured surface, just to get a feel. “He’s a little sticky, but he’s also holding up. He’s very tense,” she says, of the dough. “I don’t want people to be afraid when they see a lump. It’s very much a hard bread.”
She puts the dough into a bowl, covers it, and lets it sit until it doubles in size. When it’s properly risen, Bengtsson says, you should be able to press down on the dough, and it should come back up very, very slowly. (If you’re in a pinch, the dough can sit in the fridge for up to a week to be shaped and baked later.)
Using a rolling pin, Bengtsson flattens the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Then, she presses it down to prevent puffing. In Sweden, crispbread makers would use a studded rolling pin, Bengtsson says, but at home, you can improvise with a fork. She makes indents along the entirety of the dough using a cocktail muddler, and then sprinkles on a little water and some flakes of salt.
The crispbreads go in the oven for just about 10 to 15 minutes, and Bengtsson recommends staying close. “There’s no rules on turning or flipping it because every oven bakes differently,” she says. “You kind of want to babysit it—I think that’s why a lot of people call the dough ‘him’ or ‘her.’”
Once the crispbreads look crunchy and golden, she takes them out of the oven and breaks them up into chunks. They’re good alone, but easy enough to turn into a meal; Bengtsson makes us her breakfast special by topping them with slices of hard-boiled egg, and then finishes with a swirl of Kalles-brand cod roe.
If you make a big enough batch, crispbreads can last a year, Bengtsson tells us, and that’s why they’ve been served as part of Sweden’s history for so long. She recommends making the crispbreads and then storing them in out in the open, like one might hang garlic to dry (an airtight container will make them lose their snap).
“Back in the day, when my grandma was making them, they would make a big batch,” Bengtsson says. “The traditional ones were wrapped, with a hole in the middle [to hang them], and kept by the fireplace. It would keep them crispy and they wouldn’t go stale.”
The forecast is still gloomy, so grab a cup of coffee, settle into this project, and enjoy those cozy vibes.