Sourdough baking in Sweden

Surdegsbakning i Sverige

Sourdough bread on the shelves of a bakery in Sweden

In recent years sourdough bread has become popular in Sweden with many new bakeries specialising in sourdough bread opening. But it hasn't always been like that as Swedes have tended to buy pre-packed bread in a supermarket, so life has been tough for small bakeries.

Research carried out for the EU in 2011 showed that about three quarters of the bread bought by Swedes was pre-packed and only a quarter was freshly baked, almost exactly the opposite of the situation in France or Italy.

Not surprisingly, earlier research in 2006, showed that the vast majority of bread bought in Sweden was supplied by industrial bakeries, with artisan bakers getting only a tiny slice of the market. Indeed, within Europe, only Estonia and Ireland bought less bread from artisan bakeries.

Fortunately the situation is improving. Although there has been a decline in bread consumption across Sweden, the quality has improved and new bakeries have emerged. Generally in Sweden, across all foodstuffs, there has been an increase in demand for "natural" products and "healthier" food. As sourdough bread is widely perceived as healthier and more natural the demand for good sourdough bread has steadily increased, despite the overall decline in bread consumption.

Rye is king

A loaf of rye bread flavoured with lingon

Of course, sourdough bread in Sweden is fairly similar to sourdough anywhere else, with levains and baguettes being particularly popular, but a few differences do standout. Swedes love rye and so it is more widely used than in the UK. Also bread in Sweden is more often flavoured with aniseed, caraway or fennel than in the UK.

Artisan bakers in Sweden also tend to follow the seasons more. For example some popular flavourings for bread in Sweden include:
Spring
Nässlor, anis och gräslök (Nettles, aniseed and chives),
Grön sparris och valnötter (Green asparagus and walnuts),
Summer
Rabarber (Rhubarb),
Potatis med kummin och dill (Potatoes with caraway and dill),
Autumn
Äpplen (Apples),
Pumpa (Pumpkin),
Lingon (Lingonberries),
Winter
Saffran (Saffron),
Vört (Wort).

Jan Hedh

The cover of Jan Hedh's bookThe cover of Jan Hedh's book

Much of the increased popularity of sourdough bread can be attributed to the work of Sweden's most famous baker: Jan Hedh. He runs a bakery and café, Olof Viktors (note: the link is in Swedish), in Glemmingebro, near the coastal town of Ystad in southern Sweden. The bakery is surrounded by fields and is really rather isolated, but the car park seems to always be full as people flock to enjoy his fantastic baking.

Jan is a gentle giant of a man. He is deeply knowledgeable and a real craftsman using wood-fired brick ovens. Not only does he try to maintain traditional Swedish recipes and techniques, but he has also been responsible for the training of a new generation of talented bakers.

New bakeries

A sourdough loaf and a candelabra at a Fabrique store in StockholmA sourdough loaf and a candelabra at a Fabrique store in Stockholm

Fabrique is one of the many new bakeries to emerge in the last ten years or so. Their candlelit stores concentrate on sourdough bread, baked in brick ovens using high quality ingredients. They have become very popular and now have stores all over Stockholm and have also opened stores in London. For more information (in Swedish) click here.

Home-baking

A page from a website for a sourdough hotel at Stockholm's Arlanda airport

Sourdough baking is not something reserved just for professionals in Sweden. Such is the popularity of baking sourdough at home in Sweden that rich Swedes can even check-in their sourdegskultur to a hotel at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport for someone to look after it whilst they are away!

"We take care of the starter", says Ronny Latva, owner of hotel. "We give the dough all our love, feed it with organic flour and make sure it is kept in top shape."

Baking your own

A round white sourdough loaf

Whether you want to bake flaky sourdough croissants, Neapolitan style pizzas or large white round loaves, you need a starter, sometimes called a leaven, before you can begin. It uses naturally occurring yeasts that are all around us, so it can be made by just mixing flour and water together until the fermentation produces lots of bubbles.

A bubble sourdough starter made with rye flour and water

I recommend making a rye based starter which can be used as a basis for a 100% rye bread, but it can also be used for all other sourdoughs including those made using mainly wheat flour. For our sourdough starter (leaven) recipe click here.

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