Saturday, October 21, 2017

An Intriguing Answer to the Viking Flatbread Question

If you're like me, you have attempted to make a flatbread that the Vikings might have made.  I've read any number of suggested recipes, but the ones I've tried have led to breads that were too thick, doughy and unappetizing.

Tonight, I found the video to the right of this post, which was produced by a modern chef/blogger/YouTuber who goes by the name "Chef John".  In the video, Chef John wasn't talking about Viking flatbread, or any one ethnic version of flatbread.  He was focusing on technique, not ingredients in any real sense.  He blogs about his technique here

Here's what Chef John suggests you do to make flatbread:
  • Dump a quantity of flour (whatever kind of flour you choose to use), approximately sufficient to make as many flatbreads as you want, onto a smooth flat surface (such as a clean flat rock, a smooth board, a clean stone countertop).
  • Make a depression or "well" in the center of your mound of flour.
  • Slowly pour small amounts of water into your well.  Stir the water slowly into the flour.  As the water is incorporated into the flour, add a bit more and continue.  Stop adding water when you have a sticky dough that includes most of your flour.  Continue to mix the dough with your hand until it only sticks a little to your flat surface.
  • Let the dough sit, covered, for about an hour.
  • Remove a chunk of dough, and roll it into a thin disk-shaped piece of dough.  (Chef John points out that you can do this with a wooden dowel of a suitable thickness--you don't need a fancy "rolling pin".)
  • Put the rolled-out dough disk into a flat, UNGREASED pan.  (My guess is that this works best on cast-iron or a non-stick surface.)
  • Cook the dough until it forms bubbles.  Flip it over.  Do this until you have some char marks on both sides.
  • Remove the cooked bread from the heat.
The Vikings had portable griddles--a flatbread-sized iron disk attached to a long handle that it's believed were held over the fire to cook flatbreads.  However, Chef John's technique could have been used with those, too.  

I think this is worth trying out.  I don't think I'll have time to do that this weekend, but Chef John's technique sounds like a better way to make "Viking" flatbread than overly complex efforts to try to deduce the right mix of modern flours or other ingredients to use for a "Viking" flatbread.  One thing that convinces me that this technique might have been closer to what the Vikings did is the fact that it doesn't require measuring quantities or a long list of ingredients.  Best of all (from both my point of view and the way the Vikings likely cooked) is that you can make flatbreads in this way in any quantity from tiny to large, just by starting with more flour or less flour--you add the water bit by bit either way.  

I plan to try this recipe with barley flour first because it's clear that barley was used by the Vikings.  When I get to try this technique out, I'll blog my observations.

EDIT:  2/2/2018  Great minds think alike!  On the Facebook page of a Viking reenactment group based in Canada called Ðrottin I found a video showing the making of flatbread, using a very similar technique to Chef John's! The page can be found here. (You want the "How to Make Viking Style Bread" video.)  The comments on the video did point out that the Ðrottin video uses modern flour, and the Vikings would have access only to quern-ground flour, whether wheat or barley, and such flour would be quite coarse.  I'll try my modern fine barley flour anyway and see what happens.


  1. That sounds and looks pretty much exactly how I make my basic flatbreads for camp. And when I have some leftover whey to use instead of water, they're even better!

  2. Hi! Thanks for stopping by. I can well believe that the flatbreads would be tastier with whey, and using whey for them sounds like something the Vikings would do also; so, a double win!