Most of the remains of bread that have been found by archaelogists is flat bread, baked on a stone or a shard of pottery over a fire. However there are references to the more wealthy homes baking fermented bread in an oven. It seems likely that this would be something like a modern sourdough.
At Birka they have found pieces of bread made using combinations of rye, wheat, spelt, oats, barley, emmer wheat; linseed, peas and a mix of unidentified legumes. Most of the examples seem to combine barley with other ingredients, so that is what I am using for my attempt at a Viking bread
To begin with we need to make a sourdough starter – this is done by mixing equal volumes of flour and water and leaving it to ferment, it will take several days and needs to be fed more of the same bread water mixture each day. I used a 50:50 mix of rye flour and wheat flour, starting with 1 cup of flour and one of water and adding the same again every day for 4 days – it’s quite warm at the moment so it didn’t take long before there were bubbles in the starter which showed it was active.
After a few days it was time to bake – I put most of the starter into my mixing bowl but kept a cup back to feed for the next time so I didn’t have to wait so long. If you do this at home you can keep the starter in the fridge between uses, it will go dormant until you warm it up again so take it out and feed it the day before you want to bake.
On the day of baking I started at breakfast when I added rye flour and more water to the starter until I had a thick dough. I had about 2 cups of starter, added 3 of flour and 1 of water, the dough should be quick thick, if you add too much water it is hard to shape when it comes time to bake. You don’t need to knead the dough, just stir the ingredients together.
The next step is to leave it – I left mine all morning and went back to it after lunch, by which time it had risen to fill the whole of the mixing bowl. At this point I added a tablespoon of salt and stirred again. Then forgot about it again until the evening.
I was using a dutch oven to bake in, as that is something I can do over a fire or in a regular oven at home. I turned the oven up to full and put the dutch oven in to pre-heat.
Unlike normal bread this one doesn’t need a lot of kneading, just shaping – so I dropped it out of the bowl onto a floured surface and made it sort of round. It’s a very sticky dough so this wasn’t easy, wet hands helped.
I then left the dough again until the dutch oven was fully up to temperature then dropped it in and got it back in the heat as quickly as possible. The dutch oven keeps the steam from escaping which gives a nice chewy crust. It took about 40 minutes on high before the bread was ready
The bread was a bit chewy but really tasty. Perfect for dunking in a tasty soup or stew