Kavring, the Swedish summer classic

As written on June 20th, 2017:

I didn’t mean to be gone for so long; from the winter solstice to the summer one. Yes, now a few days shy of midsommar, half a year has gone.

Can we pretend that winter is barely over?

In many ways it is. At least for us in the North. Snow has creeped into our sky way into June, and it’s only been a couple of weeks since the birches’ foliage flourished into the lush mantle that now covers every forest. We celebrated the first summer rain a few days ago; and sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how something so mundane can cause such thrill, if it wasn’t for the fact that we almost skipped spring this year, or that our winters are most silent, with the world around us resonating in a felted echo.

Kavring

I come to you today with a Swedish summer classic: kavring. A soft, slightly sweet bread, traditionally eaten over Midsommar with sill [pickled herring] or gravlax, and even for Easter and Christmas. Yes, in Sweden, the holiday table stays rather unchanged throughout the annual festivities, with only slight variations, like a stronger focus on meat (köttbullar [meat balls], game, julskinka [Christmas ham]) for Christmas, while Easter and Midsummer are all about herring.

I would love to delve into kavring‘s origin and history, but then I would probably have to wait for a year or two before I’d be able to share this recipe with you. One that I’ve worked on for the past few weeks as we changed the menu at the café.

A good starting point, however, is the etymology, which I find especially helpful when it comes to the Nordic countries, where different languages and cultures have inextricably intertwined over the past centuries.

From Svensk etymologisk ordbok, Elof Hellquist (1922)

In E. Hellquist’s 1922 Swedish etymology dictionary (Svensk etymologisk ordbok), the origin of the word kavring is a complex one, dating from the early 1500 with the Russian kovríga that became the Danish kavring, which the Swedes embraced with a minor orthographical variation until recent times: kafring.

“Kavring (in the southern Sweden folk dialect), a sort of twice-baked sourdough rye bread or an oven-dried loaf. Kafring, in early modern Swedish, dated from 1544, possibly originating from Norwegian, while the word kavring was first encountered in the early 16th century in the Danish language from the Russian kovríga, a round bread, literally ring or circle in old Russian.”
ー Svensk etymologisk ordbok, Elof Hellquist (1922)

The etymology tells us more than the origin of the word itself, it tells us the story of a bread that travelled through the Nordic countries. Originally a crisp rye bread (which it still is in Norway), kavring then morphed into the soft, sweet and fragrant loaf in the late 1800, mostly in southern Sweden according to Å. Campbell’s The Swedish bread (Det svenska brödet, 1950), a wonderful read that gives an insight into the cultural contrasts in pre-industrial Sweden through bread traditions in its regions.

While I’m not surprised to see two spellings that eventually became one, I find it interesting to note that the Norwegian-originated spelling kafring was used in Swedish as late as 1915, like in this issue of the Idun newspaper where “Folket stegade till drängstugan för att öppna sina byttor och korgar och förtära sin enkla måltid, surmjölk, kafring och smör.” The people hurried towards the workman’s hut to open their boxes and baskets before consuming their simple meal made of sour milk, kavring and butter.

Kavring

Kavring

While extremely easy to make, this recipe necessitates a few ingredients specific to the Nordic countries, namely: rågsikt [sifted rye], brödsirap [bread syrup], and filmjölk [sour milk].
However, I can only think that these can be substituted as follows.

Rågsikt is a blend of plain flour and sifted rye flour, usually 60% plain flour and 40% rye flour.

Brödsirap is a mix of 80% molasses and 20% malt syrup, with a little salt thrown in. The closest I could think of is to mix 40% golden syrup, 40% black treacle and 20% malt extract.
Back when I lived in London, my favourite malt extract came from Hollands and Barretts, a small jar with a mustard yellow label.

Filmjölk, a cultured milk that is usually eaten for breakfast or mellanmål [literally “a medium meal”, snacks], can be replaced by cultured buttermilk, kefir, or even a runny yoghurt, unsweetened of course.

I’ll write both recipes down, in case you live as close to the polar circle as we do. If you try the “Anglicised” recipe, please let me know how it turns out <3 For the spices I decided stayed close to the classic trio of fennel, caraway and anis, only leaving the anis out, although I've seen recipes that call for cloves, ground ginger and even bitter orange zest, so it would be interesting to experiment with different flavours. I'm thinking an orange and lingon limpa [loaf] would be wonderful on our Christmas table.

Also, my recipe makes two loaves, because trust me, you’ll want to have one on your counter and one well-wrapped in clingfilm in your fridge where it will keep for up to two weeks.
A few ways to eat kavring in the morning: butter and thinly sliced cheese (comté is a favourite). Butter and a seven-minute boiled egg. Butter and orange marmalade. Butter. You get it!

Kavring

Makes 2 loaves


Kavring with Swedish ingredients
25 g fennel seeds
25 g caraway seeds
500 g rågsikt
360 g plain flour
20 g bicarbonate soda
20 g salt
275 g brödsirap
1200 g filmjölk

coarse rye flour, to sprinkle


Kavring with English ingredients
25 g fennel seeds
25 g caraway seeds
660 g plain flour
200 g rye flour
20 g bicarbonate soda
24 g salt
110 g treacle
110 g golden syrup
55 g malt extract
1200 g filmjölk subsitute
(read more above)

coarse rye flour, to sprinkle


Preheat the oven to 175°C/fan 155°C. Butter and line two 1.5L loaf tins with baking paper.

Crush the seeds in a mortar and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, crushed seeds, bicarbonate and salt. Whisk together to combine. In another bowl, mix the syrup(s) and filmjölk; pour over the flour mixture and mix using a silicon spatula until barely smooth.

Divide between the two prepared tins and generously sprinkle with coarse rye flour.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1h30, at which point the core temperature of the loaf should read 96-98°C.

Allow to cool down in its tin for 10 minutes, then unmould onto a rack and leave to cool down completely to room temperature. Wrap in clingfilm.

The loaves will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for a month or two, although the latter tends to make the crumb slightly drier.

4 comments

    1. Hi GS, I’ve just only realised the funny formatting and fixed it. The recipe is now up again! I hope you’ll give it a try. X

      1. Looks great now! I will definitely try it. We live in Sweden (originally from Malta) so will try the version with the Swedish ingredients!

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