Updated: Jun 27, 2022
Eldbjørgdagen is the name for the 14th day of Christmas in the Norwegian primstav year (the ancient runic calendar). The day marked that the Christmas celebrations were over and that guests would go home. It is a day that focuses on keeping the fire going and the hearth warm. At this, the coldest part of the year, it was crucial to keep a fire going around the clock and letting it go out would be a catastrophe. Apart from constantly watching it and feeding it, there were rituals to avoid this like drinking to the memory of Eldbjørg and sacrificing beer, bread and meat to the fire.
After all the excesses of Christmas what could be better than a simple and healthy wholemeal bread recipe in keeping with the memory and theme of Elbjørgdagen. This recipe is adapted from a less well know bread, called Lågendalens landbrød (Lågen Valley country bread).
The Lågen is a beautiful fast flowing river that starts in the Hardangervidda plateau and flows through the counties of Vestfold and Telemark and Viken until it reaches the sea on the south coast in Larvik. The Lågen is one of Norway's most popular salmon fishing rivers and is dotted with small fishing cabins. In parts of the river you will see fishermen in the rapids fishing against the fast current. It's a favourite place for us to visit in both the summer (for ice-creams at the best ice-cream truck we know) and the winter when the river is wild and untamed. Of course, all this energy used to fish requires good food and this bread is hearty and wholemeal to satisfy a healthy appetite.
Lågensdalen Brød (Lågen Valley Bread). Makes 2 loaves
400g / 14 oz wholemeal flour, coarsely ground if possible
600g / 1 lb 4 oz plain, all purpose flour
4 teaspoons dark syrup, treacle or molasses
4 teaspoons neutral oil, such as sunflower, rapeseed or vegetable
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
50g / 2 oz fresh yeast, or 25g 7 1 oz dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons linseeds/flaxseeds
350ml / 12 fl oz culture milk. If you don't have culture milk you can use kefir, buttermilk or sour milk (simply leave your milk out of the fridge overnight)
100ml / 3.4 fl oz water
Putt all the dry ingredients, the oil and syrup into the bowl of your mixer (or a large bowl) and mix lightly together. Warm the milk to blood temperature (when you put your finger in it will feel slightly warm), and blend in the yeast. Add this to the other ingredients and mix together. Add enough warm water to make a soft dough. If you are using a mixer, set it to 10 minutes and allow it to knead your dough on a slow speed. If you are doing this by hand, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes by hand. It'll look a little rough because of all the seeds, but it will start to become more elastic.
Cover with a damp cloth and leave it to rise in a warm place until it's doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Knock back the dough and divide into 2 equal pieces. You can either use a loaf tin (I use a 2lb loaf tin that I have greased really well) or shape into a a nice loaf shape by hand or into any shape that you fancy. Lightly cover with the damp cloth again and leave to prove once more until nicely risen. This will take about an hour.
Preheat your oven to 200C/400F
Make a few slashes in the tops of your loaves, lightly dust with flour and bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes or until a golden brown.
Vaer så god!
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