Rugbrauo: Icelandic Thunder Bread
One of my favorite things about living and traveling in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia is the prevalence of dark, hearty grained breads and crackers. I was recently attracted by a recipe for rugbrauo, or Icelandic steamed rye bread. (It’s also called “Thunder Bread,” because of what happens if you eat too much of this high-fiber bread at one sitting…! Or perhaps because it is served at Thorrablot, the Viking festival honoring Thor, the god of thunder.) Traditionally, this bread was steamed in bowls in Iceland’s geothermic springs. Since I love Steamed Boston Brown Bread, but hate the hassle of babysitting the cooking pot to prevent the water from boiling off during its four-hour cooking time, I was also intrigued by the idea of using a slow cooker to steam the rugbrauo.
The recipe below combines the cooking method and ingredients of several other recipes with a recipe collected by Daphne Miller, MD, for her book The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World and How to Make Them Work for You. Tailor the ingredients to your own preferences (or what you have on hand in your larder). I highly recommend the slow cooker steaming method; it was effortless and produced delicious results. Using whole wheat instead of all-purpose flour will result in a bread with a coarser texture, but more nutrition and fiber. Rye flour is what Daphne Miller calls a “slow-release” grain, which means it doesn’t cause the spikes in blood sugar that other quick-absorbing grains can. Rye may be such a prevalent grain in Russian, Scandinavian, and Icelandic baking because it is so cold-weather tolerant.
This slightly sweet, dense bread is delicious warm and spread with butter, but my favorite way to enjoy it is cold from the refrigerator, spread with cream cheese and layered with smoked salmon. The bread’s dense, nutritious grains and the salmon’s protein and omega-3s make this a perfect breakfast sandwich for a wintry morning. The Midwestern Gentleman, true to his Midwestern roots, does not believe in fish for breakfast, but he agrees that this bread is delicious topped with butter, jam, or soft cheese — think goat cheese and honey! (Scroll down past the photos for the recipe.)
Icelandic Thunder Bread
1 1/2 cup rye flour
3/4 whole wheat or all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar or honey*
3/4 cup warmed buttermilk*
(*If using honey instead of brown sugar, decrease buttermilk to about 1/2 cup)
Makes 1 round loaf, about 8 slices/4 servings. Set some water (about 2-3 cups) to boil in a tea kettle. Butter the inside of a ceramic or Pyrex bowl that has an approximate 3 cup capacity. Set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Stir in the brown sugar (if using). In a measuring pitcher or another bowl, combine the warm buttermilk and molasses. If using honey instead of brown sugar, then stir the honey into the buttermilk as well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine into a thick dough. Knead the mixture for a few minutes, until all of the flour is incorporated, and the dough is soft but not sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the buttered bowl.
Tent a sheet of foil over the bowl, and secure it tightly to the bowl with a rubber band or some twine. Place the bowl into the slow cooker, and add enough hot water to the slow cooker to come about halfway up the outside of the bowl. Put the cover on the slow cooker and set the temperature to “high” or “4 hours.” Steam the bread in the slow cooker for about 2 hours plus 30-45 minutes.
When the bread is done, turn off and unplug the slow cooker. Remove the lid and let cool for a few minutes. Carefully lift the bowl from the slow cooker (use potholders!), remove the foil, and tip the bread out of the bowl. If you do this while the bread is still warm, you shouldn’t have any trouble with the bread sticking to the bowl.
Let the bread cool completely before wrapping it tightly and storing it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Because this is a quick bread, not a yeast bread, it will not keep well at room temperature. However, it does freeze well.