• Rohan Kamicheril

Buckwheat Knekkebrød


If you’re like me, and I hope you are in this sense, you are obsessed with crackers. Crackers, crispbreads, flatbreads, call them what you want, I just can’t get enough of them, no matter what national or regional iteration they appear in.

Part of this mania stems, understandably, from growing up in India, where crisp bread-like things are legion no matter what part of the country you stray into. From lentil-based papads to wheat khakhara to rice sandige, I’m constitutionally drawn to those crisp things that lurk on the edges of the meal: crumbled on top of dishes, eaten between meals, scarfed down on investigatory trips through your mother’s kitchen when you think no one’s looking.

So it’s only natural that knekkebrød and I were destined to become fast friends.

I first encountered these Norwegian flatbreads around the time I was getting married. Inspired by some mad impulse, my husband and I decided that we should cater our own wedding. That’s a (crazy, amazing, frustrating, rewarding) story for another day, but needless to say, cocktail hour was prime among my concerns as the day approached and, honestly, what kind of cocktail hour doesn’t have some kind of cracker with some kind of delicious business schmeared on top of it? I know the crackers-and-spread thing is becoming more and more old-hat in these days of high-concept, pyrotechnic hors d’oeuvres but, for my money, there’s gold in the simplicity of this simple little nibble. We finally decided on knekkebrød with a brown butter labneh and pickled mango.

Why knekkebrød? I can’t say for sure: the name, certainly, which is delightfully onomatopoeic—it literally means “cracking” bread or, more idiomatically, crispbread. And the crack of the word is palpable every time I say it—I can’t say it without thinking of the sound of chopping wood. It’s all very Scandinavian, which, to the Indian kid in me, just seems intoxicatingly exotic.

The only problem was that, despite having high hopes for this dream crisp bread, the store-bought knekkebrød that we ended up using was a huge disappointment. Tasting melancholy, dusty, and remarkably, I imagined, like (barely) edible corrugated cardboard, the whole experience put me off knekkebrød for the longest time.

Well, not the longest time, but for five years anyway. Because five years later, to the day, my husband surprised me with a breakfast of recreated appetizers from our wedding day. The sweetness of the gesture aside, I was skeptical about the knekkebrød, still nursing that memory of sodden cardboard in the back of my mind.

Happily, though, he’d been resourceful enough to find a new and vastly improved knekkebrød, beautifully crisp and jammed full with all manner of seeds and baked to the color of a lovely, dark winter’s wood. Why, I thought, knekkebrød is delicious! The dream was alive again.

Now I could just send you to the very delicious and beautiful Great Northern Food Hall, which is where these anniversary crispbreads were from. I could do that, but also: we could just make them ourselves because this version is so easy and so fantastic that I guarantee that you’ll be making them all the time.

Though they are delicious, I have to admit that the main appeal of these crackers for me, since I’m incredibly lazy when it comes to fussy baking tasks, is that they involve no complicated rolling, cutting, brushing with oil, dusting with spices—none of that nonsense. You just make a loose batter filled with your choice of nuts and seeds, pour it into a greased, parchment-lined baking sheet, and then just let it slowly bake till crisp.

I should note, too, as a disclaimer to the authenticity police, that knekkebrød are traditionally made with rye flour. Now, I love rye bread, and there’s no reason that this recipe shouldn’t work with rye flour, too, but I was in the mood for something made with buckwheat flour, so my version, delicious chimera that it is, is made with a mixture of whole wheat flour, buckwheat flour, and oatmeal flour. I found that the ratios below gave a nice balance of flavors and textures but feel free to play around with them and see what proportion of flours you like best. A word of warning, though: both oatmeal flour and buckwheat flour lack the elastic gluten that gives wheat flour doughs the structure to hold together when baked, so be careful when reducing the quantity of wheat flour—reduce it too much and you risk ending up with a cracker that crumbles rather than cracks when you bite into it.

BUCKWHEAT KNEKKEBRØD

makes 1 11x17-inch pan

INGREDIENTS

½ cup whole wheat flour

¼ cup oatmeal flour

¼ cup buckwheat flour

2 tbsp olive oil

½ tsp fine sea salt

¼ cup shelled, raw pumpkin seeds

¼ cup black sesame seeds

¼ cup flax seeds

1 cup warm water

1 tbsp olive oil for greasing pan

Flaky sea salt for seasoning

PREPARATION

Place a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350°F.

Line an 11x17-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly grease the parchment paper with 1 tbsp of olive oil.

In a large bowl, mix together the seeds, flours, and salt. Add the olive oil and use your fingers to mix it into the dry mixture.

Slowly pour the warm water into the bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon as you do. You should be left with a loose batter that’s about the consistency of lumpy pancake batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking sheet, scraping the bowl to get every last bit out.

Use a plastic spatula to level the batter in the pan and to get it to spread to the edges of the pan. Make sure that the batter is an even thickness throughout—any thin spots will catch in the oven and burn before the rest of the cracker is cooked through. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, until the surface of the batter has just begun to firm up.

Using a pizza cutter or a small knife, divide the sheet of batter into a grid to outline the approximate shape of the crackers you want to end up with. Don’t worry if the blade doesn’t go all the way through the batter—the idea is to just perforate the dough enough to help you divide the baked cracker into regular shapes later. If this feels needlessly fussy to you, don’t worry about it: bake the cracker in one piece and just crack it by hand into irregular shapes later. The effect is rustic and charming and it’s certainly less work, which is always a good thing.

Put the baking sheet back in the oven and continue to bake for another 25 minutes or until the cracker is firm and unbending and a deep walnut brown.

Take out of the oven and let cool for at least 20 minutes before breaking into individual crackers.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Serve, obviously, topped with some kind of delicious spread (may I suggest some delicious chopped liver?) at your next cocktail party.

#knekkebrød #flatbread #norwegianfood #crispbread #buckwheat #northernfood

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