SMORGAS means sandwich and bord means table, but smorgasbord translates into something far more than sandwiches. While the vast array of seafoods and salads on a well stocked bord may make other choices difficult, the first one is easy. One always begins with bread and butter.
A few breads show up consistently on the Swedish smorgasboard. In addition to hard, white rolls, there are dark breads -- a rye bread with or without flavorings such as caraway, fennel, anise or dill seeds; black bread that is pungent and chewy like Russian black bread -- and hard bread, which is a selection from several types of whole-grain crackers. Occasionally, a firm, sliced white bread will be served, and often a sweet yeast bread.
The often dark and always dense bread is particularly efficient at soaking up the sauce of eight or 10 different kinds of herring, to hold every flavorful morsel of sliced salmon and to provide a suitable chaser for nosey Scandinavian cheeses.
Swedish breads often require roughly ground whole rye (rye meal) and nearly always call for the lighter rye flour that is ground finer and has much of the bran removed. Any bran that remains in this lighter rye is ground as finely as the flour itself. The meal may be purchased in some health food stores and co-ops. If rye meal is unavailable, a coarse bread may be made from the stone-ground wheat flour combined with conventional rye available at most supermarkets. In a pinch, use a little wheat bran in addition to rye flour.
Rye flour contains virtually no gluten and therefore yields a sticky, rather unresponsive dough that might unnerve even experienced bread, bakers accustomed to lively springiness of hard wheat or all-purpose flours. (Gluten is the stretchy protein that catches the gasses given off by the yeast and makes the bread rise.) For this reason, rye breads must contain some wheat flours, and even then will remain somewhat tacky.
In olden times, grain grinding wasn't as efficient, or as clean, as it is today. Toasted crumbs from old, dark breads and the dregs from beer brewing (often added to the dough) all contributed to making bread black. Modern Swedish bread recipes require molasses and roughly milled rye for the resulting dark bread. In America, the relatively recent popularity of extremely dark Russian-style black breads has resulted in recipes with added coffee, cocoa and even heavy ale. These modern additions give the bread a bitterness reminiscent of more primitive loaves. RYE BREAD (2 large loaves) 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flat beer 1 1/4 cups rye meal 1/3 cup molasses or malt 1 package active dry yeast 1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature 3 tablespoons butter 1 teaspoon salt Grated zest of 1 orange 2 cups rye flour 3 cups or more unbleached flour Vegetable oil for rubbing on surface
Bring beer to a boil. Combine it with rye meal in bowl. Cover and allow to stand 1 hour. Add malt, yeast, milk and butter to meal mixture. Stir to combine. Add salt and orange zest. Stir in rye flour, 1/2 cup at a time, then add unbleached flour 1/2 cup at a time. When the dough gets too firm to stir, turn it out on a floured board and knead until it is smooth, about 10 minutes. Rub with vegetable oil to coat the surface lightly and place in a clean bowl. Cover with a cloth and allow it to rise until double in bulk, about 90 minutes. Punch the dough down and divide it in half. Shape into rounds. Place on a greased baking sheet and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Prick the loaves several times with a skewer. Bake at 350-degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, brushing the loaves several times with water during baking. Cool on a metal rack.
Adapted from "The Great Scandinanvian Cookbook" RYE CRACKERS (30 biscuits)
These crackers are unlike "hard bread" because they are too short (buttery) to be crunchy. With a slight bite of cumin and a pungency of rye flour, they are delicious eaten alone as well as with smorgasbord selections. They are easy to make. 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds 5 tablespoons butter 7 tablespoons milk 1 cup rye flour 1/2 cup unbleached flour 1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
In a dry, metal measuring cup, toast the cumin seeds over medium flame, shaking the cup constantly until the seeds give off a nice aroma and begin to smoke a little. Pound in a nortar and pestle or grind in spice grinder. Melt butter and combine in small bowl with milk, flours and salt. Add ground cumin. The dough will be fairly soft and tender but rollable. Place the dough on a flat baking sheet and roll to 1/4-inch thickness with floured rolling pin. Prick with fork and cut with pastry wheel (preferably fluted). Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.
From "The Great Scandinavian Cookbook" BERNARD CLAYTON'S PUMPERNICKEL RYE (2 small loaves) 3 packages active dry yeast 1 1/2 cups warm water 1/2 cup dark molasses 1 tablespoon caraway seeds 2 teaspoons salt 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 cups rye meal (whole rye flour) 3 to 4 cups all-purpose or bread flour
In a large bowl, combine yeast, molasses and water. Stir to dissolve yeast. Set aside until small bubbles form on the top of the mixture. Add caraway seeds, salt, oil and rye flour. Beat 100 times with a wooden spoon. Add all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is stiff and cleans the sides of the bowl. Turn out into lightly floured work surface and kead until dough is smooth and pliable. Because of rye flour it will never become as responsive as white dough.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to cover the entire ball with a film of oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until an indentation remains when you poke it with your finger (1 1/2 to 2 hours). Turn dough onto work surface and divide in half. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes. Form each piece into a smooth ball and place in opposite corners of a greased baking sheet. Cover with a sheet of waxed paper and allow it to rise about 45 minutes.
Stab each loaf a dozen times with a metal skewer. Bake in 350-degree oven 40 to 50 minutes. For a chewy crust, brush tops of loaves with water several times during the last half of baking. Also, move the loaves once or twice during baking so they cook evenly. Remove from oven and plce on metal rack to cool. This bread keeps well.
Adapted from "The Complete Book of Breads"