Swedish Flatbread: When You’re Out of Bagels

Sandwich made with Swedish flatbread

I don’t know about you, but all the days of the week have been blurring together. Last Wednesday blew right past me, and I didn’t even notice until Friday, at which point Easter was upon us. So I’m sorry that I missed last week’s recipe. I remembered today!

My elder daughter loves bagels for breakfast. She would eat them for lunch and dinner, too, if I let her and often snacks on them. But bagels are hard to come by right now, when I’m trying to avoid going to the grocery store for as long as humanly possible. Fortunately, there’s a type of bread she loves even more than bagels. When we visited Sweden in the summer of 2018, my daughter fell in love with the flatbreads that most Swedes eat for breakfast with butter, cheese, and ham or other cold cuts. The bread is light and fluffy, even though it’s thin, rather like a very slender bun, and it’s slightly sweet. It forms the base for a simple, relatively healthy breakfast, and I resolved to try making this odd bread.

However, finding a recipe has been harder than I expected. Part of the problem is that I don’t remember what they’re called. Some searching turned up a bread called hönökaka, named for the island of Hönö from which it originates, but this bread is twelve inches in diameter, whereas the breakfast breads we remember were just six inches wide. I decided to try it anyway and adjust as best I could, rolling out nine flatbreads instead of six. These turned out to be too thick but otherwise quite acceptable and tasty. We just sliced them in half and used them as sandwich thins. I also had to use brown sugar instead of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which was recommended in most hönökaka recipes, but I am hoping to acquire some for my next batch. I based this largely off of this recipe but made some obvious modifications. Here’s what I came up with:

Swedish Breakfast Flatbread

  • 1.5 tablespoons dry yeastSwedish flatbreads rising on a pizza peel
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup soft light brown sugar or 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
  • 2-3 cups rye flour
  • 3-4 cups white flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 7 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • Optional: one tablespoon butter, melted
  1. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix for a minute or so, then add the sugar/Lyle’s golden syrup and mix again to dissolve. Add two-thirds of each of the two flours, plus all the salt, and start mixing. You may not need all the flour, which is why you start with the amount indicated, then add more of each as you need it. Add the 7 tablespoons of softened butter and keep mixing until it is incorporated. Add more of the flours as needed. When the dough starts letting go of the sides of the bowl (after around 5 minutes of kneading in the machine and with enough flour added), cover the dough and leave to rest in a warm place for around an hour, or until it has doubled in size.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead, then cut it into twelve equal-sized pieces. Roll each one out to a circle with a diameter of 6 in., then prick all over with a fork and place on baking parchment or a floured pizza peel. Leave to rise again under a tea towel/dish towel for around 40 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 475°F. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven. Otherwise, place baking sheets in the oven at this stage, as placing the hönökaka on a hot sheet or pizza stone speeds up the baking on the underside of the bread.
  4. Prick again with the fork just before you pop the bread into the oven (you may need to bake them in batches). Bake for around 8 minutes, but keep an eye on them, as they can go brown quickly due to the sugar content. You want them slightly golden but not overly brown.
  5. Remove from the oven and move to a cooling rack. If you want a softer crust, brush with the melted butter.

Swedish flatbread sandwichWhile the traditional method is to eat them with butter, cheese slices, and ham, I made myself a nice thick sandwich using leftover Easter ham, Swedish mustard and hot mustard, mashed avocado, green tomato relish, red tomato slices, and slices of Jarlsberg cheese. Delicious!


Wednesday Recipe: Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies

Chocolate Fibonacci Cookies

I’ve been meaning to try this recipe forever. It came with a set of copper gear cookie cutters I bought many years ago. I’d purchased Fibonacci cookie cutters for my (alas, cancelled) book launch, and I thought this recipe would be perfect to try them out on. They’re not incredibly tasty – not too sweet or nor very rich, but I think they’re meant as substrates for icing, in which case they work very well.


1-3/4 c butter (no substitutes)
2 large eggs
2 c brown sugar
2 t vanilla
1 t water
4-1/2 c flour
1/2 c cocoa powder

Cream together: butter, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and water. Gradually add cocoa powder and flour. Divide dough into 3 balls, wrap in wax paper, and chill.

When ready to bake cookies, let dough soften slightly, roll out onto floured board to 1/4″ thickness, and cut out with floured cutters. Place on lightly greased baking sheets (I totally forgot to grease the sheets, and they came off just fine), and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute (this is important – they fall apart otherwise) and then remove to cooling rack. Cool completely before you decorate.


Chocolate Fondue

Hi, everyone! Our internet is down due to a manhole fire somewhere in Boston, and we have no idea when it will come up again. So rather than doing my planned post on Scandinavian food, I’m just going to post a quick and yummy fondue recipe. It’s easy to make and has the advantage that you can dip whatever you have handy in it: fruit, pound cake, brownies, whatever won’t fall apart when you dip it.

1/3 cup whipping cream
1-1/2 teaspoons (packed) grated orange peel
8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

Bring whipping cream and grated orange peel to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low. Add chopped chocolate and 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier; whisk until mixture is smooth. Remove fondue from heat and blend in remaining 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier. Transfer fondue to a fondue pot. Serve with cake pieces and fruit for dipping.

Note that you can play with this recipe A LOT as long as you keep the proportions roughly the same. For example, my family prefers milk chocolate, so I use that instead of bittersweet chocolate (even though I like that better). You can use other flavored liqueurs, such as kirschwasser or amaretto or brandy. But unlike cheese fondue, you don’t actually need alcohol for chocolate fondue, so you can leave it out altogether and just add flavorings as you prefer.

You can even make it in the microwave!

I’m making fondue this evening. Hopefully, I’ll be able to update this post with photos once our Internet connectivity comes back.

Cooking is Magic, Part 6: Play with Your Food

Children view robot birthday cake

Robot cake I made for Nora’s third birthday party, with working sugar cookie gears

Writing a novel can be long, grueling work. It took me two years and two months to complete my first novel. The second came in at just under a year, and it looks like the third will be more like six months, so I seem to be getting better at it. Still, it’s sometimes disheartening to pour months of work into something that people will read in a day or two. Sort of like spending hours on cooking a really good meal that your kids then inhale in ten minutes, fifteen if my teenager goes back for seconds.

So why do it at all? Simple: because it’s FUN.

Cooking your own meals and desserts means you have total creative control to do anything and everything you like. Your three-year-old wants a robot birthday cake with moving gears? Sure! Your ten-year-old is obsessed with dragons? Make a cupcake tower with dragon cookies perched on them. Launching your first novel? Make a cake that looks just like your book! I love cooking and baking challenges, and my children do, too. One of my great parenting joys is helping them to realize their own crazy ideas in chocolate and candy and fondant.

And yet… cooking is limited to the available ingredients. In writing, anything is possible. I can create a character who grew up on Mars and needs an exoskeleton to visit Earth, or a frog prince obsessed with baseball, or a village where everyone is a monster, but they’ll never admit it. Right now, I’m writing about a thirteen-year-old elf girl fascinated by math and programming who’s been roped into helping rescue a magical, sentient baby tree who’s been kidnapped by someone who basically thinks he’s a Norse god, all because the elf girl’s grandmother has a secret agenda. Whaaaaat? How does that even make sense?

Well, it makes about as much sense as making candy sushi or books out of marshmallows and graham crackers. And you know what, I love every crazy second of it, even when my plot goes sideways and I have to spend ages revising. i love creating whole worlds and the fascinating people in them who live and strive and fail and pick themselves up and keep on going. It was inevitable, i think, that I’d end up writing about a young witch with a flair for magical baking. And I love that I get to share these stories, not just with my friends and family, but with everyone, everywhere.

For some examples of the crazy, fun, wild things I’ve made, please visit my Facebook page. And for more about that young witch and her friend, the pixie who discovers she has more of a knack for magic than she ever imagined, preorder A Pixie’s Promise before the Kickstarter ends in just a few scant hours. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until it comes out in September.

Cooking is Magic, Part 5: Cooking is Where You Find It

Cooked wild foraged mushrooms plus roasted asparagus

Wild oyster mushrooms

Wild oyster mushrooms. This cluster was about as big as my head!

Today’s post was going to be about cooking and culture, but sometimes the universe intervenes and hands you something completely different. Yesterday, while out walking along the bike path, I found and harvested two different species of wild edible mushroom. Before I go any further, a warning: DO NOT EAT WILD MUSHROOMS UNLESS YOU HAVE BEEN TRAINED BY AN EXPERT!!! I can’t stress this enough, so I’ll say it again. DO NOT EAT WILD MUSHROOMS UNLESS YOU HAVE BEEN TRAINED BY AN EXPERT.

I have been studying mushrooms for over ten years now and training with a group called Mushroom Hunters USA, which is led by professional mycologists. We do mushroom surveys, in which we hike through a section of forest picking every mushroom we find, then bringing them back for study. The mycologists explain which are dangerous, which are edible, which are interesting for other reasons, e.g., used as a dye for wool, and which are just fun to look at. After a decade, I’m now confident enough to harvest just six foolproof species – that’s mushrooms that don’t look like anything else and are very safe to eat, and even those have a few caveats. So it’s rare indeed that I find two different edible species on the same day. In this case, I found oyster mushrooms and dryad’s saddle (also known as pheasant’s back), both growing on maple tree stumps.

Wild foraged dryad's saddle and oyster mushrooms

Dryad’s saddle or pheasant’s back (photobombed by the oyster mushrooms, gill side up)

I love foraging wild species, particularly things most people consider weeds. Quelites, also known as lamb’s quarters, are as delicious to me as spinach. Garlic mustard, an invasive species, is a fine addition to my skillet. Wild garlic and onions as well as wild sorrel are tasty additions to any salad. These all fall under the category of usufruct, one of my favorite words. Say it with me: you-suh-fruct. It means the legal right to use something found on someone else’s property or belonging to someone else. In other words, one man’s weed or infestation is my treasure. I have frequently offered edible mushrooms to the owners of the property on which I found them (including the oysters yesterday, which happened to be right behind a friend’s backyard). No one has ever wanted them.

Finding an edible mushroom gives me the same thrill as hooking a fish or tasting a surprisingly good wine (very surprising – I’m not at all fond of wine). And cooking with them is even better. It’s a moment of spontaneity, an opportunity to do something creative and new. This was the first time I’d found dryad’s saddles fresh enough to use, so today I cooked them for the first time using a recipe I found online. Warning: I set off the smoke detector frying them up. All worth it. The edges were tender and delicious, the inner parts a little tough. Next time, I’ll reserve the flesh close to the stem for stock.

This moment of unexpected spark happens all the time in my writing. I’ll come across something – an article on a comet swung out of its long ellliptical journey by Jupiter or a conversation with the caretaker of a Masonic museum or an NPR discussion of the history of marshmallow fluff – and that random discovery becomes a found ingredient, something I may throw into the writing pot, today or tomorrow or ten years from now. Every day is an opportunity for discovery and spontaneous inspiration.

I usually end my posts with a recipe, but this time I’ll leave you with instructions on wild mushroom foraging.

  1. Train with an expert. There are many, many books out there, but nothing beats first hand experience. Look up your local mycological club or chapter of Mushroom Lovers USA and sign up for a tour or a mushroom survey. Ask LOTS of questions. Eat only what a trained mycologist gives you.
  2. Now get the books anyway. It’s good to have backup when you’re trying to positively identify a mushroom. Most of the mushrooms you find won’t be edible at all, but it’s interesting to learn more about them. I recommend starting with Mushrooming Without Fear bu Alexander Schwab. Their first rule, never pick a mushroom with gills, is a good one, and I only break it for oysters, which are pretty foolproof. After that, find guides to mushrooms in your local area. You’ll find different mushrooms, and at different times of the year, in different regions. I have two or three guides specific to New England.
  3. Learn the distinguishing features, as well as the lookalikes. Morels have a hollow stipe (stem), false morels do not. Chicken mushrooms that grow on pine trees make some people ill, so I steer clear of those. Jack o’lantern mushrooms are a mildly toxic lookalike to chanterelles, but they glow in the dark (hence the name). Chanterelles have a distinctive apricot smell, and dryad’s saddle smells like watermelon rind. Pay attention to the tree you found the mushroom on or near. There are 20,000 species of mushroom, but only 400 species of tree, and many mushrooms only fruit in the presence of certain trees, e.g., chanterelles with oaks or maples, morels with pines. Oysters are a notable exception. They will eat ANYTHING: sawdust, compost, manure, even oil spills. But you’ll never find them on a healthy tree because they only eat dead matter. And that’s another clue, where they fruit: on dead wood, in the ground, on living trees. It’s a good idea to take a picture of the location where you found the mushroom.
  4. The first time you think you’ve found an edible mushroom, take it to an expert to confirm the identification. If you can’t bring it in person, get a spore print, take pictures, and email them in. There are many mushrooming groups on Facebook that will help with identification as well, but it’s better if you can speak to someone you trust.
  5. ALWAYS COOK YOUR MUSHROOMS. Many edible mushrooms are toxic when raw, such as the delectable morel mushroom. And mushroom expert Paul Stamets says that mushrooms have no nutritional value unless they are cooked. (Fun fact: if you leave a mushroom in the sun for an hour, it will produce your day’s supply of vitamin D, the only vegan source, in fact.)
  6. NEVER CONSUME WILD MUSHROOMS WITH ALCOHOL. Wild mushrooms tend to absorb more toxins from their environment, which can interact badly with alcohol.
  7. The first time you eat a wild mushroom, eat just a small amount. Some people have reactions to wild mushrooms, even after taking all the precautions.

If you like the idea of fresh mushrooms and varieties other than buttons, portobellos, and shiitakes, but you aren’t willing to risk wild foraging, you can also grow mushrooms from kits at home. There are several providers, but my favorite is Fungi Perfecti. Around here, you can often buy them at farmers’ markets. It is amazing fun to watch them fruit, and many kits will fruit several times, after which you can add the spent medium to your compost, and you may get even more. Enjoy!