Soft Wheat And Rye Cakes / Hönö Cakes
These slightly thicker, quite sweet flatbreads are named after Hönö Island just outside of Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast. Hönökaka are usually sold in halves and are a traditional form of bread baked by the families of the fishermen in the region. Historically, they were, like many other flatbreads, baked with a hole in the middle so that they could be hung up to dry. Now they are mostly consumed fresh and soft as a sandwich. Today most hönökaka sold is baked commercially and it can be a challenge to find a good quality version to buy. The chances of finding authentic examples will be best around big family holidays, like Christmas, when people sell them in open-air markets and fairs.
[Ed. Note: Magnus Nilsson talks about documenting Nordic baking traditions for The Nordic Baking Book in this interview with Shauna Sever.]
The Nordic Baking Book
by Magnus Nilsson
Fire up a traditional wood-fired flatbread oven.
[Ed. Note: If you don’t have a wood-fired oven, see note below on cooking this recipe in a skillet or pizza oven.]
Combine the milk, butter and golden syrup in a pan and heat gently until the butter and syrup melt. Leave to cool to body temperature (37ºC/98.6ºF).
Dissolve the yeast in the milk and pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the flours and salt. Knead with the dough hook at medium speed for 10 minutes, or until smooth and shiny. It will be quite sticky. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and leave to rest for 20–30 minutes.
Tip the dough out onto a floured work counter and divide it into 5 equal pieces. Shape them into equal balls without incorporating any excess flour into the dough. Cover with a clean dish towel and leave to rest for another 25 minutes.
Flour the work counter generously and roll each dough ball into a round cake, about 1 cm / 1/2 inch thick. Roll the round again, once in each direction, using a naggkavel (a knobbed rolling pin) to prick it and to prevent it turning into a pita pocket when it is baked. Use a soft flour brush to gently remove any excess flour from the flatbread.
Transfer the rolled out and pricked cake onto a bread peel. Slide the hönökaka off the peel in the centre of the oven, then using a stick, rotate it so that it cooks evenly all round. If you are too slow doing this it will burn towards the back of the oven. Bake until golden.
What if I don’t have a huge wood-fired stone oven or a traditional Norwegian flatbread griddle?
As this is a documentary book, it has been very important to me to reproduce the recipes the way they are actually executed where they originate. I don’t want to give you a bunch of already modified recipes, as this would make the documentary Nordic baking book a lie.
That said, I realize that a baking book from which almost no one can bake, because they haven’t dedicated a quarter of their house or a whole garage to the construction of the necessary oven, is hardly a good idea either. As I have said many times in the book, I think it’s perfectly fine, or even good, if you adapt the recipes to suit yourself and the circumstances under which you might cook and bake.
For this flatbread chapter, with all its specialized ovens and griddles, there is one method for cooking them all in your home, and this is to use a frying pan (skillet). An ordinary frying pan over a medium–high heat will do the same as a traditional flatbread griddle except that it is much smaller so you have to figure out the scaling of all of the measurements of the breads yourself to fit your particular pan. An ordinary frying pan over a medium–high heat will not do the same thing as a wood-fired flatbread oven, but it will cook the dough, and even if the result won’t be exactly right, it will be tasty so it’s worthwhile doing.
Alternatively, heat a pizza oven to as high as it goes or preheat your kitchen oven to 250ºC/500ºF/Gas Mark 9 (or to its highest temperature) and bake the flatbread on a preheated heavy baking sheet.
In the recipes for griddled flatbreads it’s written in the method if they need cooking on both sides. For flatbreads traditionally baked in a stone oven, the construction of the oven means that they will cook from both sides at the same time. If you use a frying pan you will need to flip it over. Oh, and there should be no fat in the frying pan when cooking. A cast-iron pan is also much better than a nonstick one as the nonstick surface tends to melt if it sits on the stove for too long without anything wet and cold in there to cool it down.
How to work with fresh yeast and how to substitute it
Yeast is an amazing thing. It is what leavens our bread and makes it taste so complex. All the recipes in this book that use yeast to leaven are made with fresh yeast, and before you get all irritated about this I am going to explain why. First of all, I do know that fresh yeast is not readily available outside of commercial kitchens in some parts of the world, but the fact is that this is a documentary book explaining, first and foremost, how things are done in the Nordics, where fresh yeast is indeed available in all supermarkets, convenience stores, kiosks and even in many, where the road ends, petrol stations. I remember when growing up if you felt an urge for baking after the food store had closed, you could even take your bike to a news stand by the ferry station, which had a small stash of fresh yeast. In short, it’s available everywhere and freeze-dried yeast, which is the alternative option to fresh, is considered only as an emergency commodity. The second thing, which convinced me to write this book using fresh yeast, is that in most recipes it is a lot easier to work with and gives a more reliable result than dried. Even if you live in a part of the world where the news stand doesn’t carry fresh yeast you will do fine. I will spend a little bit of time explaining how to work with fresh yeast first and then get back to how to substitute it with the freeze-dried stuff if needed. Even where fresh yeast is not common in domestic kitchens, good bakeries use it, so if you go to one of those and explain what you need I am sure of two things. The first is that you won’t be the first one coming to them asking for fresh yeast, and the second, is that they will be happy to help by selling you a piece.
Fresh yeast is made in factories by allowing Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast fungi to multiply in a solution of water, various sugars and nutrients. Yeast can grow extremely fast and a piece weighing only 10 mg can theoretically grow into a 150 ton mountain of live yeast in only seven days, providing there are adequate supplies of nutrients, water and a perfect temperature for it to live in. When the yeast is grown and ready to be harvested it is washed by rinsing it with clean water, a process that removes dead yeast cells and other residue. After this, what is left is compressed into compact blocks, which can be cut. In Scandinavia all yeast cubes sold for domestic use weigh exactly 50 g/2 oz, which is the reason why most recipes from Scandinavia contain that specific amount or an amount evenly divisible or multipliable by 50.
All yeast strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae are not exactly the same. They differ in the sense that different strains are good at slightly different things. Some are better at consuming the carbohydrates in grains and some are better at consuming the refined carbohydrates in sugar. Fresh yeast for baking is therefore available in two variations. One especially well suited for dough with no, or only small amounts of added sugars, like bread dough, and another one especially well suited for dough made with lots of added sugar and fat, like sweet wheat bun dough. Standard fresh yeast works for all dough. The recipes in this book simply state ‘fresh yeast’, but it can take longer to leaven a very sweet dough with standard yeast, so if you can, do try to get the right yeast for the right dough.
To work efficiently, yeast cells need to be evenly dispersed within the dough itself right from the beginning. This is why the weighed-out piece of yeast should always be completely dissolved in some liquid before it is added to a recipe, or before flour is added to the liquid. If the yeast is added to the dough in lumps, even small ones, it will eventually rise, but it will take a lot longer because fewer of the yeast cells can actually get to the carbohydrates in the dough.
The recipes in this book call for a specific temperature for the liquid in which the yeast needs to be dissolved. Warm liquid means that the recipe is aiming for a shorter leavening time, and cold liquid that we want it to take a bit longer. There are many reasons as to why one might want a specific leavening time in a recipe and it will influence the end result quite a bit. In sweet dough, for example, the amount of added sugar is calculated so that what you end up with, once you have executed the recipe according to the indicated method, is just enough to give the right level of sweetness. If you let a dough like that leaven for longer it might, as an example, come out tasting less sweet than you would want it to. On the other hand, in a recipe for bread with a long leavening time the reason for this might be that you want the yeast cells to have a lot of time to work on the carbohydrates in the bread, and not just those that are digested very quickly by it. A lot of the flavours we associate with good bread actually come from this process and shortening an indicated leavening time by, for example, elevating the temperature of the dough, may produce a bread that tastes much less complex and delicious than expected.
Finally, when it comes to fresh yeast, the liquid should never be too warm as this kills part of or all of the yeast when it’s added. The rule of thumb is that it should not be more than body temperature (37°C/98.6°F). For dry yeast, there are many different brands across the world and they all seem to have slightly different suggested methods of use and slightly different concentrations. The ones we have in the Nordics are in 14-g/1/2-oz packages, which equates to 50 g/2 oz of fresh yeast. Not knowing the concentration of the yeast available to you, it is best to follow the package instructions. However, make sure that you use the amount of dry yeast equivalent to fresh yeast, rather than the same amount as fresh… And don’t buy dry yeast in bottles or jars, as it will inevitably lose vitality as soon as you open it for the first time and if you don’t use all of it. It’s better to buy small sachets if possible.
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