It was December 2008. I was about to move to a new flat and had just left the previous one and lived in my mum’s flat the period in between. Keith, my boyfriend, was visiting us. My mum had all those things in the cupboard that a then-19-year old like me never buy, but that you still enjoy when it’s there. Things you overlook, but a few years down the line without someone buying them for you you start to miss them. One of them was shop bought vörtbröd. Soft, spongy the way shop bought bread is, with a rich, sweet flavour of rye, treacle, various Christmas spices and with a few (too few) plump raisins hidden in it like juicy treasures waiting to be found.
I had a lot of vörtbröd that winter. A new phrase I started using was: “Can you please get me a thick slice of vörtbröd and butter it everywhere?”. Thick being a few centimetres thick and butter it everywhere meant butter on top, on the bottom and on the sides…
When I was small my family used to have two Christmas dinners, one with the closest family on Christmas eve and the other with the rest of the relatives a few days earlier. My aunt would often bake vörtbröd for the first Christmas dinner and every time I smell vörtbröd I think about those childhood Christmas dinners, so full of snow, presents, adults twice as tall as you and lots of food.
Vörtbröd is so Scandinavian if you think about it. Bread with rye and sweetened with treacle is common in Sweden. According to Wikipedia (Swedish article, sorry!) the sweetness of the bread was a luxurious touch and I supposed it was one of those more expensive things (Like saffron!) that people ate to make the food around the Christmas period more special. Traditionally you add malt extract to the dough and people in the past did this because they got some from the beer brewing they made in the period up to Christmas.
What do you eat vörtbröd with? Firstly, since it’s a Scandinavivan bread it’s only fitting you eat it in the shape of an open sandwich. The most commonly made sandwich using this bread must be the leftover Christmas ham sandwich with extra mustard on top. Or why not a leftover Christmas meatball sandwich? I also recommend cheese, marmalade or just plain butter. Christmas ham and meatballs are both Swedish Christmas foods and the leftover ham/meatball sandwich is a little bit like U.K’s leftover turkey sandwich.
Now, many people think that there shouldn’t be any raisins in the vörtbröd but I always add lots of raisins in the bread I make, because I think they complement the treacle and the rye very well. This is up to you. I like to use ginger, cinnamon and cloves in my bread but some people like to use cardamom and dried and ground bitter oranges as well. I didn’t have any dried bitter oranges at home but I do recommend it.
I used a recipe from Pain de Martin because I didn’t want to experiment and make my own recipe seeing as I only wanted to bake vörtbröd once this year and know that you can trust Martin. I made half a batch, swapped julmust (A Swedish Christmas soft drink) for beer, replaced the light brown sugar and the honey with treacle and added raisins.
Pain de Martin’s vörtbröd with a few alterations
In the morning:
75 g beer
50 g wholegrain flour
5 g fresh yeast
Early afternoon and evening:
50 g beer
125 g cold water
13 g fresh yeast
63 g treacle
50 g malt extract
325 g strong white flour
50 g rye flour
The dough you made that morning
10 g salt
1 g ground cloves
1 g cassia cinnamon
1 g ginger
However many raisins you see fit
Boil the beer to get rid of the alcohol. Mix in a bowl and let stand for 4-6 hours. Boil the rest of the beer. Soak the raisins in boiling water. Put all the ingredients apart from the salt and the spices in your kitchen machine and run it for three minutes on a slow speed. Let it stand for 20 minutes and put the spices and the salt in the dough and run the machine for 6-7 minutes, speed up the machine a bit towards the end. Lastly, drain and mix in the raisins. Grease up a mixing bowl with oil and put the dough in it and let it rest for a few hours until it looks like it’s more than twice the size. Put the oven on 250 degrees C (220 degrees if you’re using a convection oven). Flour a work top surface and put the dough on it. Stretch it ever so slightly into a rectangle and fold once. Put it in the oven for about 25-30 minutes.
Let it cool on a cooling rack but make sure you still have some while it’s warm! My bread didn’t raise quite as high as Martin’s, if that’s because I did something wrong or because I didn’t use a baking stone I can not say.