Monday, January 25, 2010

Viking Bread

Making my "Anglo-Saxon" stew after so long a time has made me think about period foods to serve with it.

Since I usually eat stews with bread, the first thing that I thought of was a plausible Anglo-Saxon or Viking bread. (The cultures were contemporaneous in time, after all, and ate many of the same types of foods.)

A casual search revealed this recipe, from the Viking reenactment group Hurstwic. It uses a mix of wheat, oat, barley, and rye flours, and buttermilk. As is consistent from what we know of Viking cooking technology, it's an unleavened bread, cooked on a flat pan (period pans looked like this one now in the Bergen Museum), but one could make the same type of bread in a broad, greased modern skillet).

Of all the "Viking" bread recipes I've seen, this one strikes me both as one of the more plausible and the simplest to execute. I plan to make some after my next batch of the duck stew. Watch this space to see how my experiment with it comes out.

For the curious, other modern attempts at coming up with a plausible Viking bread recipe can be found at the following URLs: (Scroll about a third of the way down the page to see the recipe I'm referring to here. However, this page contains several Viking bread recipes, including the preceding one in this list, in addition to non-bread recipes.) (This page also contains several bread recipes, as well as non-bread recipes.)

EDIT: The Viking Answer Lady also has a proposed recipe, here. (The recipe in question is located about halfway down the page.) This recipe is an all-barley flour variety that seems as though it would be more like a Viking crepe than a flatbread, but it would probably be tasty, and easier to digest than the Hurstwic recipe. I may try it next.


  1. A friend of mine tried to make the Viking Answer Lady flatbread recipe and it turned out awful -- truly flour and water alone do not make bread.

    I've only done a Viking Age inspired bread recipe once, and the heavy grains, while very tasty (and honey went superbly with it), were hard to eat (even fresh out of the oven) and harder to digest. But I've found one recipe that seems to have a solution to that and which I really need to try soon -- Aoife posted it on the Norsefolk list. It uses a sourdough to leaven the bread, and from her post, looks like she put a good amount of research and thought into it.

    Here's the link to the recipe:

  2. Thanks for the warning about the Viking Answer Lady's recipe; you've saved me some frustration (and precluded the possibility of a serious ribbing from my husband).

    I will look at Aoife's recipe. I'm not sure I'm quite ready for a sourdough recipe--that may be a bit more trouble than I'm prepared to accommodate--but it sounds interesting.

    If I make the Hurstwic recipe again, I will make a smaller amount, and probably cut out most of the rye flour in favor of increasing the oat and barley flours. My husband suggested that, and I think that would make the result lighter and the taste more pleasant.

  3. Glad I could help.

    Also, if I recall correctly, when my college group hosted a Beowulf event, the head cook used Þóra Sharpetooth's recipe, and she found that the trick with that one is to knead the dickens out of the dough. I haven't had the inclination to try it myself though -- I worry when the recipe warns that there's a fine line between too doughy and too burnt.

  4. Interestingly, I found that the Hurstwic flatbread I made had a similar problem; it was difficult to fry it long enough to avoid doughiness without blackening the outside. It would be most informative to know whether the Vikings actually had this problem or whether they did something to their bread recipes to avoid it.

  5. Hi

    Maybe this will help. From what I understand, the Vikings flattened their dough very finely (as you do when you make Indian bread or pita) and then they cooked it on a flat iron on coals. Other Viking breads I've seen were cooked in a Viking oven (Denmark) which is quite similar in method to the way wood-fire ovens operate.


  6. @ Gaviota: I think you're right about the flattening. I haven't the resources at this point to cook them over coals on a flat iron, or in a wood-fired oven, but I'm definitely trying to roll them out very thin the next time I make any. Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments.

  7. Just watched a great documentary about how the Vikings spread throughout the North, East, South and West, on the BBC. I guess for those simple adventurous Viking trading/warring folk pitching up in an unknown place in the pissing rain and freezing cold, you would want to make something simple that was wholesome and quick to make that didn't require too much dexterity (cold, tired hands) or ingredients (troublesome to carry) when you simply just needed to eat. That to me points immediately to a basic dough squashed down on a flat pan and cooked for a few minutes on each side before being wolfed down with some fish/meat. Perhaps the oil to fry the bread would have been from taken from the animal fat, of which the meat would have been eaten along with the meal (remember, the bread should not have been too chewy as its meant to soak up meat juices). I can just imagine a bunch of Vikings upturning their boat and holding it aloft at one end with their oars and sitting underneath with a large fire just outside of it with the long-handled bread pan cooking a meal of fish or squirrel and their pan-bread to eat with it! I bet "dessert" was blackberries / plums / apples / pears. Yum, yum!

  8. @ Anonymous: I think the theory you describe of Viking flatbread is pretty plausible, though I have a hard time imagining Vikings carrying around much flour or dough on their voyages.

  9. I second anonymous's suggestion. The bread that the everyday people of Iron Age Northern Europe ate probably wasn't very fancy. It had to be simple to prepare and made from readily available ingredients. Probably something like an unleavened bannock made with hearty grains like barley or rye. Water and animal fats could have made up the rest of the bulk of the bread.

    It could also have served double duty as a plate and probably would have softened up considerably when soaked with grease and the juices from vegetables.

  10. Thanks, Amy, for visiting my blog.

    Yes, a good hearty flatbread could have doubled as a plate. Since a lot of the cooked foods Vikings ate were porridges or stews, I see flatbread being used more as a utensil. One would stick a piece of bread into a bowl of stew or porridge to scoop the mixture up to eat it.