Thoughts on Viking Bread

Earlier yesterday morning, I was contemplating the part bag of lovely barley flour I got at Caudwell’s Mill earlier last month (see my post At the Mill). While wondering what I could make, I considered more barley pancakes, or better yet, pancake’s sister food – waffles. The latter thought was sparked by the upcoming Swedish food holiday, Våffeldagen or waffle day, listed on my kitchen calendar for March 25th. Våffeldagen is a celebration for “Lady’s Day”, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary in the Christian liturgical year. However, since I only possess a rectangular waffle iron designed to make thick Belgian waffles, I could not produce those cute heart-shaped Swedish ones. That put a bit of a damper on waffle-making.

contemplating_barley_viking(Apologies Rodin!)

But, pondering things Scandinavian, reminded me of the new Viking Exhibition that has begun at the British Museum (6 March to 22 June 2014). I’ve been seeing it announced on Facebook for quite some time and would really like to travel to London to see it. Thoughts segued onto Viking food. A little googling on what Vikings ate circled me back to the barley flour. Apparently, the Vikings ate a barley flatbread, a predecessor to Swedish Osyrat Kornbröd and Finnish Ohrarieska.

I recently read a DNA study that indicates that millions of Scots and English are descended from Vikings. I have to say that this does not come as a surprise – science confirming what archaeology and history already knew. But, back to that barley bread… I had a strong suspicion that barley flatbread probably also occurred in Britain, especially given those Viking connections. According to Elizabeth David in English Bread and Yeast Cookery, similar barley breads are traditional in Scotland (barley bannocks), Wales (bara barlys) and Northern England – mainly in those areas Vikings were known to raid or settle. Many of these traditional barley flatbreads are made on hot griddles – a common form of “baking” in an era where ovens were either nonexistent or not common in every household.


Barley Flatbread
My version is strictly not traditional, but contains the basic ingredients of those primitive griddle-baked barley breads. But, I’ve used yeast as a leavening agent and baked it in the oven – more like a barley version of a focaccia. It’s studded with sesame seeds the way Cretans decorate their traditional barley bread (but, more on that tradition some other time). It is extraordinarily delicious with sharp cheeses, like a good English Cheddar or Wensleydale.

  • 2 cups barley flour
  • 1 cup bread (strong) flour
  • 1 teaspoon dried yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 egg
  • Sesame seeds

Place the the flours, yeast and salt in your mixer with a dough hook attached. Add 1 cup of warm water while it is mixing on a low speed. If the consistency of the dough is still dry looking after a little while, add more warm water, a little at a time. Remember the amount of water flour absorbs depends on the amount of gluten (protein) in your flour. Strong (bread) flour has a high gluten content and barley flour also contains some gluten.

Once the water has been completely absorbed, put your mixer on medium speed to knead the dough – the process of generating elasticity in the dough. The final consistency should be soft, but not wet and sticky. The dough should not stick to the bottom of the bowl, but has “wrapped” itself around the hook. The dough will be soft. In a liberally oiled bowl (using good olive oil), place the dough ball, rolling it around the oil and flipping it until it is completely coated.


Place cling film (= American Saran wrap) over the bowl and place a clean tea towel over that. Let it stand in a warm place for 2 hours or more until the dough has nearly doubled in height. Given the amount of barley flour, this bread dough will not rise as quickly or as much as normal bread dough.


Preheat your fan oven to 425 degrees F. Take the dough out of the bowl and roll it out in a rough oval or rectangular shape, approximately 1/2 inch thick.


Prick the surface all over with the tines of a fork.


Transfer the bread to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Beat the egg in a small bowl and brush over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let it sit while the oven gets up to temperature.


Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove, cool on a rack, cut and serve.




    • I was feeling cheeky and wanted to play with Photoshop… but, you are right, the bread was delicious. I made it for guests at a dinner party and every last crumb was devoured.


  1. As always i love to read your posts… going through your thoughts
    ..ans history and food stories… i love tjis barley bread and as i have the heart shaped waffle makervi think i’ll try to find and try tje recipe for the swedish waffles!:)


    • The barley bread was absolutely delicious. I made it for guests at a dinner party and not a crumb was left by the end of the dinner. I envy you the heat shaped waffle maker, but it seems an indulgence to own two waffle makers. I love my Belgian waffles.


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