This week, I’ve been channeling my inner Ned Stark. Winter is most definitely coming. That means preparing for the cold months ahead, and there are no better neighbours for us to learn from than our Nordic cousins. They are well versed in the methods of storing, preserving, and planning for the short days and long nights, with their winters being somewhat harsher and chillier than our own here in the UK.
As the seasons shift, so must our diet. It feels like a lifetime since I’ve had a salad. I can barely remember what it was like to feel the need for a cool refreshing ice cream. Instead, we turn to heartier fayre, favouring wholesome stews and deep-filled pies with their warmth and comfort – and of course their calories!
Stocking up for winter is the name of the game, both in the larder and around my waistband it seems. My summer body – a slightly less wobbly version of my winter frame – is mothballed and stored away until the sun returns. I’m preserving it perfectly beneath a comfortable layer of wooly jumpers and blubber. Still, it’s not just about consuming as much as I can. I still endeavour to eat healthily, preferring nutritious foods over pointlessly calorific garbage. My daily activity doesn’t diminish through winter, as I still walk the dog 5 or 6 miles in the rain or sun. As such, I require quality sustenance.
During summer, I prefer lean meats and fresh leaves, summer veg and bright colours. As the autumn leaves turn brown, so does my plate. The aforementioned stews, bubbling umbers with chunks of tender slow-cooked beef. Oxtail soup after a brisk walk in the perpetual drizzle. And of course, my mainstay in winter – bread.
White processed rubbish doesn’t cut it. Spongey flavourless cubes of dough with a fortnight’s shelf life isn’t bread. That’s not me being a snob (or perhaps it is) but it’s just a fact. The empty calories bring nothing to a meal. A sweet white slice might be fine for a quick & dirty cheese toasty, but it’s hardly something that can sustain you. I prefer wholemeal loaves, baked at home, and cared about every step of the way. I like to think that you burn off enough calories kneading a loaf to cover the cost of eating it. The butter slathered thickly onto it is another matter.
I also love the distinctive taste from rye breads. It’s a welcome addition to a staple foodstuff, even if a full rye loaf is a little dense for some. Searching for something packed with flavour, nutrients and calories, I discovered a Swedish loaf when I was in my mid 20’s. I haven’t baked it for a few years, and I wanted to introduce my wife to it this week. The recipe below is for my version of a Filmjölkslimpa (loosely translates as ‘soured milk loaf” in English) which brings together the rye and wholemeal flours and packs it with nutritious seeds, sweet molasses, and the essential sourness from buttermilk.
This dense, dark and super-seeded bread is incredibly versatile, and requires very little prep time. Just 10-15 minutes of stirring the ingredients together and about an hour baking gives you a loaf that you can have for almost any meal. For breakfast, you can top a slice with cottage cheese and jam (above). A thick slice for dipping into a stew works well. Even for a spot of fika in mid-morning or afternoon you can toast up a slice or two with whatever sweet or savoury accompaniments you wish.
Filmjölkslimpa (Swedish Buttermilk Bread)
Makes 1 loaf. Prep time 10-15mins. Bake time 1 hour.
280g Wholemeal Flour
280g Rye Flour
120g Molasses (Black Treacle is fine)
300g Mixed Seeds (I use mostly Sunflower & Pumpkin, with Flaxseed/Linseed & Sesame Seeds)
2 Teaspoons of Salt
1 Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda
Butter (for greasing)
- Preheat the oven to 180°c. Grease a loaf tin with a small amount of butter and dust lightly with a little wholemeal flour to line it. This will ensure a crisp crust and easy removal from the tin.
- In a jug, mix together the buttermilk and molasses thoroughly until it reaches an even caramel colour.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, seeds, salt and bicarbonate of soda and mix well. The more evenly you mix everything at this stage, the quicker and easier your loaf will form.
- Form a well in the middle of the dry mix, and pour in the wet mixture. Stir the wet & dry together until it forms a dough. You may need to break apart any large lumps to ensure the dough is even, and prevent clumps of dry flour from collecting as this can ruin the loaf.
- Once the dough is ready, there is no need to prove or knead the dough, as there is no yeast. Simply press the dough into a loaf tin and smooth over the top. You can add a long slash along the top if you wish, as this can create an appealing feature when it rises. Bake in the oven at 180°c for 50-60 minutes. You’ll know it’s baked when a skewer comes out clean, and when it sounds hollow if you knock on the base of the tin. Cool on a wire rack before serving.
My favourite thing about this recipe is how quick and easy it is. Essentially it’s mixing wet & dry in a bowl and chucking it in a loaf tin. Simple!
There’s no time spent kneading the loaf, or sorrying if you’ve let it prove for long enough. Sure, you need to make sure you mix it evenly, but that’s not hard.
Another great thing is that this loaf will keep for up to a week, although you’ll probably eat it all quite quickly. A little tip – once the loaf is a couple of days old, it’s best toasted. It’s so densely packed with seeds that butter doesn’t soak into it very well, but cream cheese or jam spread perfectly onto it.